Playoffs Day 5: Previews of Jazz-Spurs, Pacers-Magic, Clippers-Grizzlies

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The Coach of the Year was announced Tuesday, with Gregg Popovich coming out on top by a wide margin.

It was certainly well-deserved, but there were plenty of other coaches that warranted attention as well.

Thirteen coaches received votes, including Frank Vogel, Lionel Hollins, Tyrone Corbin, Stan Van Gundy and Vinny Del Negro – mid-season crisis and all.

The work of these fine coaches will be on display tonight as we look into the preview of three playoff games on Wednesday night.

Utah (0-1) at San Antonio (1-0):

spurs small logoWe’ve seen a lot of drama and unexpected outcomes in these playoffs, but there hasn’t been much of a story out of this series so far.

Tony Parker made sure he would be the only story worth talking about after Game 1, doing anything and everything he wanted against the defense of the Jazz.

Utah vowed to be more physical with the speedy point guard, to which he scoffed.

From Jeff McDonald of San Antonio Express News: “The Utah Jazz flew back to Salt Lake City after Sunday’s 106-91 Game 1 loss at the AT&T Center, ostensibly hoping an answer to their Tony Parker problem would arrive out of thin mountain air. Apprised after Tuesday’s practice of the solution put forth by Utah’s Devin Harris — “Maybe give him a hard foul or two” — Parker did his best to stifle a yawn. “It’s not the first time somebody has said that,” Parker said. Indeed, it isn’t a playoff series until some opponent offers to deposit the Spurs’ All-Star point guard on his French derriere. After Parker ran unfettered for 28 points and eight assists in Game 1, he would have been almost insulted if nobody from Utah promised him bodily harm in tonight’s Game 2 at the AT&T Center. “My answer’s still going to be the same,” Parker said. “I’m going to stay in attack mode.” For the eighth-seeded Jazz, who returned to the Alamo City on Tuesday evening, Parker isn’t the only impediment in their quest to even the series against the top-seeded Spurs. Just the biggest one. Parker accomplished whatever he wanted in Game 1, often turning Harris and his backup, Jamaal Tinsley, into traffic cones on his frequent excursions into the paint.”

jazz small logoMake no mistake, Parker is and will be the main focus for Utah moving forward.

“We have to be more physical,” said Devin Harris. “… You have to use your fouls — a little bit — and try to slow him down.”

”The playoffs is physical,” said Al Jefferson. “We just can’t let him feel like he can come down in that paint any time he ready.”

From Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune: “So how can the Jazz slow Parker, who quarterbacked the second-highest scoring team in the league this season? ”We have to give him different looks,” Corbin said, “… whether that’s [focusing] on him or trying to take something else away at different times. You can’t give him a steady dose of the same thing or he’ll pick you apart.” The Jazz must do a better job of battling the screens — usually set by Duncan — that are so effective at getting Parker the bit of daylight he needs to break down the defense. ”You don’t know what side they are coming from,” Utah’s Jamaal Tinsley said. “You don’t know what angle they are coming from. … As guards, we have to put more pressure on the ball and not worry about where the screens are coming from. And our ‘bigs’ have to do a lot of talking.” Said Paul Millsap: “The key is going to be keeping him out of the paint. When he gets in the paint, he can score or find other guys. When he’s doing that, they have all cylinders clicking.”

They also need to stay composed, starting with Corbin, who let his nerves get the best of him before the game even began, suffering an anxiety attack.

From Tim Griffin of San Antonio Express News: “During parts of the Spurs’ 106-91 Game 1 victory over Utah, the Jazz were out of sorts in their first playoff game since 2010. Utah coach Tyrone Corbin admitted to having an “anxiety attack” shortly before Game 1 that affected his preparation shortly before tip-off. Corbin expects to be more relaxed for Game 2 tonight at the AT&T Center, as well as his team. “We’ve been through the first game of it,” Corbin said at the Jazz’s shootaround practice this morning. “We know what to expect. And that’s going to be intense for us and for them, too. We just got to make sure come relaxed as well as we can and play the game.”

The Jazz also will need better production out of Josh Howard, who again will start tonight.

From Kurt Kragthorpe of The Salt Lake Tribune: “Jazz forward Josh Howard’s goal for tonight’s Game 2 against San Antonio is rather simple: “Hopefully, this time, make a shot,” he said good-naturedly after the team’s morning shootaround at the AT&T Center. Yeah, that would be a start. Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin is sticking with him ahead of DeMarre Carroll in the starting lineup, after Howard played 16 minutes in Sunday’s Game 1 loss and went 0-for-4 from the field. Two of his misses came on short shots after his offensive rebounds; the others were a 3-point attempt from the corner on the Jazz’s opening possession and a 13-footer in the last minute of the first half. So that’s not much of a sample size to lead to any conclusion that Howard played badly, but scoreless is scoreless. The Jazz need every point they can get to keep up with the high-scoring Spurs.

The Spurs will likely be without Tiago Splitter, who suffered a sprained left wrist in Game 1.

Indiana (1-1) at Orlando (1-1):

magic small logoThe Magic surprised everyone with their Game 1 road comeback victory against the Pacers.

Indiana made sure there would be no more surprises as it cruised to a 93-78 victory to tie the series.

Still, Orlando did its job in splitting the first two games and taking homecourt advantage as the series shifts to the Amway Center.

Orlando’s defense has been good enough in the first two games, holding Indiana to just 34.5 percent and 42.9 percent shooting in each respective game.

The Magic’s problem has been their own inability to be more efficient on offense, shooting just 35.5 percent and 32 percent from the 3-point line.

The size of Indiana has clearly bothered Orlando’s rhythm.

From Josh Robbins of Orlando Sentinel: ”Offensively, in terms of the halfcourt,” Van Gundy later explained to reporters, “we’ve got to hopefully find a better way to help our guys a little bit overcome their size and get us better shots. If I had the answer right now, then I would’ve had it in the game and maybe we would’ve played better. So I’m just telling you, right now I don’t know what that answer is.” An answer is necessary. The taller, more athletic Pacers have held the Magic to 37.6 percent shooting in these playoffs. Orlando’s postseason fate, including the critical Game 3 at 7:30 Wednesday night at Amway Center, obviously hinges on the Magic jumpstarting their sputtering offense. When Orlando ended its regular season, its concerns centered around its defense, not its offense. In its first 11 games without Dwight Howard, the Magic had allowed opponents to shoot 50.0 percent from the field. But the Magic’s own offense made 43.8 percent of its attempts and did a better job of moving the ball than it did with Howard on the floor. Scoring becomes tougher in the playoffs. That’s a given. But the Magic have not been able to overcome the Pacers’ height. Center Roy Hibbert, who is 7 feet 2, has blocked 11 shots in the two games. Hibbert and the Pacers’ other active big men have made it more difficult for Nelson to get to the rim, even on his bread-and-butter play, pick-and-rolls. And there have been times when the Magic have been too impatient, choosing to take ill-advised, difficult shots early in the shotclock when more ball movement could have led to better opportunities. According to the website HoopData, Magic center Glen Davis has attempted 13 shots from between 16 and 23 feet, where he’s not at his best. He’s gone 3-for-13 from that distance in the series. Earl Clark has gone 0-for-5 from that distance.”

pacers small logoIndiana will need to continue to take advantage of its size. The Pacers punished the interior defense of the Magic, scoring 50 points in the paint while limiting Orlando to 28. They also held the rebounding edge at 46-38.

Simply keeping up a strong level of intensity may be enough for the Pacers to win this series as their overall talent and depth far exceeds that of the current Magic roster.

From Mike Wells of Indianapolis Star: “The Pacers have to “push the intensity” because even though they evened the series at 1, the Pacers need to win tonight or Saturday’s Game 4 to reclaim home-court advantage in the best-of-seven series. The theme at practice Tuesday before the Pacers boarded their flight to Orlando was about intensity, aggressiveness and execution. The Pacers played without all three during the first six quarters of the series. They watched as the Magic pursued loose balls and attacked the glass. The Pacers finally got tired of the Magic beating them at their own game and became aggressive in the second half Monday.” We have to maintain our edge,” coach Frank Vogel said. “We understand how they were feeling after Game 1. Their focus is going to be sharper. Their determination is going to be better. We have to outwork them in Game 3. It’s that simple.”

Los Angeles Clippers (1-0) at Memphis (0-1):

Game 2 couldn’t come soon enough for the Grizzlies, who have had three long nights to think about what transpired Sunday.

What looked like an easy blowout victory at home instead became a historic comeback for the Clippers as they  tied a playoff record for erasing the largest deficit after three quarters – 21 points - to beat the Grizzlies 99-98.

The Grizzlies were up by as many as 27 points, and Mike Conley couldn’t miss a shot beyond the arc, hitting all five of his attempts from the 3-point line. But he could only watch his team fold down the stretch as a resilient Chris Paul kept attacking and creating until the Clippers had all the momentum.

Paul, who has had valuable time to rest his sore groin, is still trying to comprehend how the team won the game.

From Broderick Turner of Los Angeles Times: “Two days later and Chris Paul still couldn’t explain how the Clippers came from 27 points down in Game 1 on Sunday to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. ”I don’t know. I don’t have any answers for what happened in that game — in all seriousness,” Paul said Tuesday at practice. “It was just fighting and never giving up. We just played as hard as we could. I can’t say I knew that was going to happen. It was just one of those crazy situations.” As for Paul, the two days off in between games allowed his mild left groin injury to improve.”I’m feeling good, good enough to go tomorrow night,” Paul said Tuesday. “As long as I’m good enough to play, I’m good enough to be out there.” There was an eight-minute stretch in the fourth quarter Sunday in which the Clippers outscored the Grizzlies, 28-3. So many things went right for the Clippers. ”If we play that way for 48 minutes — just like every team in the league [wishes it] could do that for 48 minutes — it’s hard to beat you,” Paul said. “I don’t know if it was like the perfect storm — not necessarily a storm for us because it actually helped us. If they score one basket during that stretch, it may be over. You just never know.” Three of the Clippers’ starters, Foye, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, are in the playoffs for the first time.”

The improbable victory did come at a cost for the Clippers, however, with Caron Butler suffering a fractured left hand that will sideline him for 4-6 weeks.

Nick Young played a big role on Sunday and may have to step in as the replacement at the small forward position.

The biggest challenge for him may be having to guard Rudy Gay, something Butler did respectably.

From Baxter Holmes of Los Angeles Times: “Starting would be a different role for Young, who started just three games for the Clippers after coming to the team in a trade March 15. But he’s has been effective off the bench for much of the regular season. He was especially good on Sunday, when he scored a team-high 19 points and hit three consecutive three-point shots late in the fourth quarter to help his team complete an improbable 99-98 comeback win after trailing by as many as 27 points. ”He had a big role for us in Game 1 and he’s going to have a bigger role now that Caron is out,” Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said Tuesday. Though Young is expected to start in place of Butler, who suffered a fractured left hand Sunday, it’s not certain that Young will play the nearly 30 minutes per game Butler averaged during the regular season. Veteran forward Bobby Simmons might also play some small forward. Still, Young is expected to start, giving the Clippers a three-guard lineup — along with Chris Paul and Randy Foye — that should be able to spread the floor. ”I’m just ready for whatever,” Young said… ”It’s a huge challenge because Caron brings something to us, not just athletically and physically on the court, [but] just his personality and who he is,” Chris Paul said. “He’s definitely a strong force.” Butler scored 12 points in 23 minutes in Game 1 against Memphis, but his ability to guard the Grizzlies’ leading scorer Rudy Gay is what made Butler especially valuable.”

grizzlies small logoMemphis looked like a scary team for the first three quarters, and its goal is to simply not let up.

The Grizzlies also will have to come up with a better plan against Reggie Evans, who had seven points and 13 rebounds while repeatedly coming up with key defensive stops down the stretch.

From Nikki Boertman of Memphis Commercial Appeal: “Reggie Evans and Zach Randolph aren’t twins, but they should be. Because they are joined at the hip.And other body parts that the power forwards of the Clippers and Grizzlies, respectively, use to hammer each other while battling for rebounds or to establish low post position. When push comes to shove, Evans and Randolph prefer both. That’s what happened in the Clippers’ 99-98 comeback victory over the Griz on Sunday in their Western Conference first-round playoff series opener. More of the same is expected tonight at 8:30 when the teams meet in Game 2 at FedExForum… Evans, using his 6-8, 245-pound frame to lean on the 6-9, 255-pound Randolph, got the edge in Sunday’s game one. Randolph had 6 points on 3-of-13 shooting and collected 8 rebounds, but Evans countered with 7 points on 3-of-3 shooting and grabbed a team-high 13 rebounds. He provided one of the Clips’ most clutch offensive plays on a pick-and-roll with Chris Paul. Evans, who admittedly doesn’t have Velcro for hands, cleanly caught a steaming Paul pass through traffic cutting across the lane and laid it in for the Clippers’ first lead of the game at 97-96 with 50.3 seconds left.”

Tony Allen missed practice on Tuesday due to a sore knee but will play in tonight’s game.

James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. Follow him on twitter @nbatupark.

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