Mike & Mike: No Rest Needed
Can Miles, Matthews Check Carmelo?
Carmelo Anthony finished Game 1 with 42 points, most of them at the expense of C.J. Miles and Wes Matthews. When a scorer as lethal as Anthony goes off to the extent he did, it's unfair to lay the entire blame on his defenders. But with Mehmet Okur now done for the series with a torn left Achilles tendon, the Jazz simply can't afford to give up points at the rate they did in Game 1 and have a chance to take the series. It will now be up to Miles and Matthews to check Anthony. They don't have to shut him down -- there is only so much mere mortals can do to combat certain forces of nature -- but the young tandem must make some adjustments.
Anthony will inevitably bury a few contested 18-footers from the right side of the floor, but he was able to post-up and then face up on the right block far too easily on Saturday. When Anthony got an early pick-and-roll from Nene, the Jazz defenders were helpless to fight over or around the screen. And when Anthony was roaming off the ball, Miles and Matthews were far too passive.
In coach Jerry Sloan's perfect universe, veteran defensive ace Matt Harpring would be the man charged with challenging Anthony -- and Sloan said as much prior to Game 1 (Andrei Kirilenko -- out with a strained calf -- would be choice No. 2). Harpring is a perimeter scorer's worst nightmare, but chronic knee and ankle injuries have forced the veteran into semi-retirement.
When you see Harpring at practice playing the role of onlooker, you can't help but wonder how things might have played out differently if he had been on the Pepsi Center floor Saturday night. "When you guard a player like Carmelo who has size and strength that he's got, you have to get him outside of his game," Harpring says. "When he crosses the 3-point line, you start bodying him up right away."
Playoff Schedule: Monday, April 19
ESPN The Magazine
CLEVELAND -- I've spent a lot of time around the Cleveland Cavaliers: holding in-depth conversations with members of their coaching staff; working with LeBron James on several feature stories for ESPN The Magazine; hobnobbing at photo shoots with LeBron and his teammates; playing ball at The Q with team employees; chronicling the joy, then pain, of last year's march toward postseason death in Orlando.
But I've never seen the Cavaliers like this.
There is a distinctively different feel around this team -- actually, it runs throughout the entire organization -- as it embarks on its quest for the 2010 NBA championship. Sure, the players, as fun-loving as any in professional sports, still fool around and rib one another. But there's a seriousness, a solemnity, that permeates the franchise like never before.
Have you noticed LeBron hasn't smiled at a press conference since the regular season ended?
On Saturday, as a reporter asked him a long-winded question about the Cavs' dismissal of the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of their first-round series, LeBron glared at him like a boxer about to touch gloves in the prefight stare-down. It had nothing to do with the reporter and everything to do with the club's grave approach to these playoffs. Hours earlier, someone close to LeBron told me he'd never seen the superstar so serious.
The Cleveland-Chicago series is a typical No. 1 vs. No. 8 matchup, in that it is a total mismatch. The Cavaliers have too much talent, are much deeper and have all the ingredients to win a NBA championship. The Bulls, on the other hand, sneaked into the eighth and final spot on the last night of the season. This series may go five games if Chicago can steal a game back home. But it would likely be because of a lack of focus or disinterest from the Cavs. Cleveland is on a mission to get to the NBA Finals and it knows the advantage of making this a short series and getting to rest before Round 2.
The biggest surprise of Game 1 was Shaquille O'Neal. I don't think anyone thought that O'Neal would have the impact he did in his first game back, but he played 25 minutes, scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds. But it was not his stats that were the story. O'Neal's mere presence was a difference-maker in this game.