Answering a few questions after the Houston Rockets took a 2-0 series lead Monday with a 98-90 win over the Utah Jazz . . .
How Jazz can rebound
Jazz center Mehmet Okur's offense (Four points on 2-of-9 shooting) isn't there. Chuck Hayes too tough for him?
The real problem is Okur having to guard Yao Ming on the defensive end. By forcing him to play so physical on the defensive end, that's taken away from his effectiveness offensively. I think Okur's done a decent job, but Yao is so good and so skilled. It demoralizes a player when he has to expend his energy on a tough opponent like Yao.
What do you see for Game 3 Thursday in Salt Lake City?
As you see this series go back to Utah, we're probably going to see more open-court basketball. The Jazz need this. Even when Houston took some shots that might allow Utah to force the issue, the Jazz didn't attack. That tentativeness is a result of not having playoff experience.
Okur didn't play a lot in the playoffs when he was in Detroit, and when you talk about Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer, that's not a lot of experience. As the game got tight, I thought Williams played tentatively.
Any good come out of this for the Jazz?
I think they'll take some confidence out of this. They got their feet wet after having not played their best basketball down the stretch of the regular season. I thought defensively both teams played great. The ability of Yao and Tracy McGrady to score is a deciding factor. Boozer respond with a huge game, getting 41 points. That'll get his confidence up.
What's the key for Utah?
The guy who has to have an impact is the point guard Williams -- that's what's going to make it interesting. Utah's going to have its backs against the wall. For the Rockets, they come in thinking that you win Game 3, it going to go 5, if you lose, it's going to be 7.
I still think it can be a good series. Every game is like a series unto itself. Your approach changes with each game. Even though a lot of pressure is on Utah, there's now a great deal of pressure on Houston to finish them.
What's Jazz coach Jerry Sloan going to do now?
Sloan has the same objective he had at the start of the series. His team had to win one in Houston regardless -- and his team has to buy into believing it can do it. A team's spirit can be broken, and many times their ability to bounce back depends on belief in themselves and their confidence in a coach.
Confidence seems to be an issue for Kirilenko, who missed all three shots in 18 minutes while Matt Harpring gobbles up his PT.
As the overall talent increased around him, it has impacted him offensively and defensively. He went from being their best player to being their fourth-best player. That's a jolt because he doesn't get the amount of touches he used to. It's a difficult transition for a guy that young, and much easier if you're nearing the end like a Chris Webber -- but it's much harder to make the adjustment in the prime of your career.
Not an easy task ahead for Houston?
As dismal as it looks from the Jazz perspective, their home court is one of most difficult places to play for an opponent -- the energy the Jazz play with at home is completely different. If Houston wants to take total control, winning in Utah is the way to do it.
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Magic center Dwight Howard, who came into the game feeling ill, exits the court probably not feeling much better after scoring eight points in the Magic's Game 2 loss to the Pistons.
How hot are the Warriors now? My sources in Hollywood tell me reliably that Jessica Alba has requested a ticket for Sunday's Game 4 in Oakland. Yes: I'm well aware that Alba and Baron Davis are longtime pals. But I'll go out on a limb and say that it's still a rather momentous occasion when an actress of Alba's hotness, er, stature, wants to fly in for a courtside seat.
Chauncey Billups has won a NBA title, he's been named a Finals MVP and he's been a part of the past four Eastern Conference finals.
But there's a hole in his highly decorated résumé that particularly irks him.
"For as long as I've been here we've never swept a team in the playoffs . . . never," Billups said with some disgust.
After toying with the Orlando Magic yet again Monday, this time in ho-hum 98-90 Game 2 victory that was never really in doubt, Billups could finally clear up his sweep issues and help Detroit take a major step in storming through pedestrian Eastern Conference.
Despite all their success through the years and three championships, the Pistons haven't swept a playoff series since 1990, when they took a 3-0 first-round sweep of the Pacers. The last time the franchise used their brooms, Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and the Bad Boys ruled The Palace.
The Pistons' inability to close out a series came back to haunt them last spring. And after strolling to a 2-0 lead against Cleveland, Detroit lost its focus and lost three consecutive games to the LeBrons.
They ultimately won that series in seven games, but the toll it took on Detroit's aging roster left it vulnerable against a Miami Heat team out for revenge. Detroit had just a day to prepare for the Heat, lost Game 1 and squandered away the all-important home-court advantage in the series.
Miami won in six, and a Detroit team that breezed through the regular season with 64 victories, was left to watch the Heat hold a championship trophy they thought was theirs.
"It's important to take care of business as quick as you can in the playoffs,'' Detroit coach Flip Saunders said. ``If you can get people out of the way quickly, get them out of the way.''
If the Pistons can storm through the Magic in Thursday's Game 3 and Saturday's 4 -- and little suggests that they won't after beating the Magic four times during the regular season and twice in these playoffs -- they could flip the script on the defending World Champion Heat.
Miami is already down 0-1 to Chicago in what is expected to be an arduous series. If the Heat or Bulls are extended to seven games and the Pistons wrap things up by the weekend, they could be looking at a week of rest before ambushing the survivor.
That should be a scenario that would please Billups.
--John Denton at Palace of Auburn Hills
Pistons take 2-0 series lead on Magic
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Yao Ming (27 points) and the Rockets took a 2-0 series lead, leaving Utah's Mehmet Okur scratching his head.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
Mike (NJ): You still sticking with your prediction in the Nets-Raps series, or will you finally admit that the Nets might be capable of doing some damage?
John Hollinger: It's not like I said they'd sweep. When I said "Raptors in six" what I meant was that the Nets would win two of the first five games. Sorry if that was unclear ... Incidentally, the winner of Game 1 lost the last two playoff series involving the Nets.
A massively underrated factor in the Nuggets' Game 1 upset over San Antonio was Nene's ability to defend Tim Duncan one-on-one. Denver didn't give the Brazilian big man much double-team help, but he held Duncan to 7-for-17 shooting and five turnovers, and he was able to do it while avoiding foul trouble. In fact, Duncan finished with a meager two free-throw attempts on the night.
Because he was able to defend Duncan without help, it made the Nuggets' task against the other Spurs that much easier. And for all the talk of Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson both having 30-point nights, Nene was an underrated key there, too. His eight offensive boards helped the Nuggies overcome a pretty mediocre offensive night in most other respects, and might force the Spurs to switch Duncan onto him in Game 2 just to keep him off the glass: He was checking Camby last night.
Nuggets coach George Karl has the knack for using the pick-and-roll as very lethal weapon and he did just that in key spots. Frankly, the Spurs, who are generally great at smothering the pick-and-roll, seemed vulnerable when it involved Tony Parker and Tim Duncan.
The Spurs also switched the pick-and-roll when Allen Iverson ran it off Carmelo Anthony. When Parker ended up guarding Anthony on the pass back, there was a tremendous mismatch. The Spurs trapped effectively but could be vulnerable as the series progresses. You can bet that Karl will have an effective answer to this trap by the time they tip off in Game 2.
Playoffs are all about adjustments but it is a little unusual for a great team like the Spurs to be the team that has to do the majority of the adjusting.
Which brings us to the dilemma the Mavericks have as they enter Game 2. They seemed like they were a deer caught in the headlights when the Warriors got it rolling.