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CW: Probably Correct

Watching the Spurs-Mavs game last night, it was easy to forget that their second-best player was on the bench injured. The sort of depth San Antonio often seems to me to be an underappreciated factor. When Shaq gets hurt and the Heat become only okay, or when McGrady goes down and the Rockets become terrible, the tendency is to take that sort of thing into account as an excuse. "Well, they're better than that, Player X is hurt," etc. Which is true, as far as it goes. But injuries are, of course, a bona fide part of the game. The Heat were badly damaged in last year's playoffs by Shaq and Wade not being at 100 percent, and the reality of the situation is that it's actually highly unlikely that the team will be able to get through an entire playoff schedule without their two guys getting banged up somewhere along the way.

Which brings me to the Pistons, who are clearly an awesome team. The difference, however, seems to me to be that they're much more vulnerable to "bad luck" than the Spurs would be. Obviously, San Antonio without Duncan just isn't going to be the same team. But they have sufficient depth to more-or-less shrug off problems with anyone else. Detroit's not like that. Missing any of their five starters, you've suddenly got a radically weaker team. They've avoided that outcome for the past two seasons, but will their luck hold up?

December 2, 2005 | Permalink

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Watching the Spurs-Mavs game last night, it was easy to forget that their second-best player was on the bench injured.

Do you mean Spurs (Ginobilli) or Mavs (Josh Howard)?

Posted by: Al | Dec 2, 2005 12:14:48 PM

Or that the Mavs were missing their second and fourth best players?

Posted by: Jeff | Dec 2, 2005 12:17:43 PM

Let me add: or did you mean Mavs (Jerry Stackhouse)?

Detroit is a very good team. It's just amazing to me how efficient they are in the 4th quarter of games. As I saw again in the game Tuesday against my Nets, they keep up their very good defense in the 4th, but become much more efficient offensively. That impresses me very much, since usually opponents will bear down defensively in the 4th. But you're right their not having depth anymore - it's not good when the third guy off your bench is Darko.

Posted by: Al | Dec 2, 2005 12:23:39 PM

I think that's wrong. Detroit's front line is absurd; ultimately, it's what drives their success. McDyess is a better plug-in for that front line than the Spurs' replacements. Also, Detroit has spread the risk: five really good players means that if any one goes down, they're out 20% of their ability. If Duncan goes down, the Spurs are done.

The Spurs are,indeed, an unbelievably well-made team, but I don't think they're going to win it this year. But we'll see.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Dec 2, 2005 12:23:49 PM

"The Heat were badly damaged in last year's playoffs by Shaq and Wade not being at 100 percent, and the reality of the situation is that it's actually highly unlikely that the team will be able to get through an entire playoff schedule without their two guys getting banged up somewhere along the way."

Huh? Last year was the first season Shaquille wasn't near 100% for the playoffs. And I would bet heavily against the youthful Wade being injured at a critical time again this year. After the main two guys, the Heat are very similar to the Spurs in their depth.

----

"Also, Detroit has spread the risk: five really good players means that if any one goes down, they're out 20% of their ability."

In reality, if Detroit loses any one of their starting five, they won't be able to compete in the last two rounds of the playoffs.

But none of Detroit's players are in the high risk zone for injuries. Their perimeter players are young, and their front court players aren't too old.

It's important to remember that it's not usual for the key players on elite teams to be injured in May and June. Odds are good that Shaquille, Wade, Timmy, and the Detroit Five will all be near full strength for the crucial rounds.

(And I'm still not ready to count out my pre-season pick of Indy quite yet, even if they look hopeless at the moment...)

Posted by: Petey | Dec 2, 2005 1:20:42 PM

But you're right their not having depth anymore - it's not good when the third guy off your bench is Darko.

He's not the third guy off the bench. McDyess, Arroyo, and Maurice Evans are the top three subs. Lindsey Hunter, who's been hurt so far this season, will be in the mix as well when he comes back, and that'll make Darko the 10th man on the team.

Posted by: Haggai | Dec 2, 2005 4:17:29 PM

I'm not sure how unusual it is for playoff teams to have a starter injured during (or shortly before) the playoffs. During last year conference finals, half the teams had starters out due to injuries. And while Detroit big men are not too old, they are not very young either. If I were Flip Saunders, I'd try to get a backup center that can give me 15 min. a game of decent play in an emergency.

Posted by: Carlos | Dec 2, 2005 4:27:53 PM

Carlos, that's basically why Detroit signed Dale Davis in the off-season, experienced back-up big man insurance. Also to give fouls against Shaq in the playoffs.

Posted by: Haggai | Dec 2, 2005 4:57:05 PM

"I'm not sure how unusual it is for playoff teams to have a starter injured during (or shortly before) the playoffs. During last year conference finals, half the teams had starters out due to injuries."

But the point is that Miami and San Antonio can survive the loss of any starter other than Duncan, Wade, or O'Neill.

Detroit's situation is comparable to Phoenix's last year where the loss of any of the starting five would pose serious problems in staying with an elite team in a 7 game series.

"And while Detroit big men are not too old, they are not very young either."

The Wallaci are both 31, historically non-fragile, and able to play through pain. I like my odds with that.

Posted by: Petey | Dec 2, 2005 5:26:19 PM

"But the point is that Miami and San Antonio can survive the loss of any starter other than Duncan, Wade, or O'Neill."

Petey, I don't think San Antonio would get to the Finals, let alone win it, without Ginobli or Parker. I'm not sure, but say if Phoenix hadn't lost Johnston and San Antonio lost Ginobli, wouldn't we have had a Phx-Det finals? I mean, the series went 5 but they were incredibly close games.

And my beef with Miami is precisely that they are so dependent on two players -- I'm still not sold on JWilliams or Walker in the playoffs even if they remain completely healthy -- Indiana and Detroit are better teams, imho.

My point is that you could say what Matthew did about Detroit, but you can probably say that about every team in this decade (blame expansion), save (mayyyybbbbeeee) the Kobe-Shaq Lakers (and I'm not confident some of those teams get by Sacramento or Portland without Fisher or Horry).

Posted by: Chris R | Dec 2, 2005 6:16:26 PM

"I mean, the (Phx/SA) series went 5 but they were incredibly close games."

From the opening tip, it was reasonably obvious who was going to win the series. Philly played Detroit pretty close over 5 games, but Philly was still as overmatched as Phoenix was against San Antonio.

"I'm not sure, but say if Phoenix hadn't lost Johnson and San Antonio lost Ginobli, wouldn't we have had a Phx-Det finals?"

Then we would've had a pick 'em series between San Antonio and Phoenix.

"My point is that you could say what Matthew did about Detroit, but you can probably say that about every team in this decade"

In the last few games of the Eastern Finals, Shaq was 75%, Wade was 50%, and if Damon Jones had fed the post in the last couple of minutes of Game 7, Miami still would've won the series. If Shaq and Wade had both been close to 100% and Damon Jones or Eddie Jones had broken his ankle, Miami would've still won the title.

Posted by: Petey | Dec 2, 2005 7:07:41 PM

I think Wade operated at better than 50% capacity in Game 7 against Detroit. He was so hot in the third quarter of that game that even a completely healthy Wade couldn't have done any better. He faded badly down the stretch in the 4th quarter, and that almost surely wouldn't have happened if he had been healthy, but it's not like he didn't play pretty damn well as it was.

Posted by: Haggai | Dec 3, 2005 4:13:22 PM

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