Ruminations on the new NBA

By Jason Wojciechowski on November 3, 2006 at 7:18 PM

There were two NBA games last night, both Western Conference matchups of teams that should be in the playoffs.

The first game featured two title contenders, with San Antonio making the trip to Dallas. San Antonio won by six after trailing by that margin at halftime. With the "losses" of Rasho Nesterovic and Nazr Mohammed, the Spurs are down to cookie magnate Fabricio Oberto starting at the center position. Will it matter? The rest of the starting lineup is still Bruce Bowen, T-Dunk, Manu, and Tony Parker, and of course Big Shot Bob and Michael Finley are still waiting on the bench. The worry for the Spurs has to be depth in big men, though, because the only big benchie I see is Francisco Elson. Horry's tall, and he's a good rebounder and defender (at least, he was six years ago, and his reputation has survived; his actual skills may or may not be around), but he's a perimeter offensive player (1-4 last night with two treys attempted). In other words, where are the bangers?

On the other hand, as Bill Simmons has noted many times, and as is becoming clear with these strolls through the box scores, size is out, and speed, quickness, and shooting are in. Look at Dallas's lineup, after all: Dirk was playing the four, and Josh Howard started at the three. The only big man who played off the bench was Erick Dampier (Austin Croshere will mix it up inside, but one indication of his game is his 2-3 mark on treys last night). Pops Mensah-Bonsu is also on the bench for Dallas, but you can't figure he'll get much time.

As to the game itself, it looks like it came down to Tony Parker getting to the free throw line. Jason Terry and Devin Harris finished with five fouls apiece and Parker shot 9-12 from the stripe (Beno Udrih, the backup one, shot 6-6). The Spurs as a whole, as a matter of fact, shot 19 more free throws than the Mavs.

The Clippers beat the Nugs in a game that produced a much more interesting box score (and, considering that the margin of victory was just one point, was likely an exciting game overall). Consider, for instance, Carmelo becoming the latest victim of the 'Sheed Rule, picking up two techs and thus finishing with just 21 minutes played. Marcus Camby nearly carried the team with a big-time Camby-type effort: 16 points, 18 boards, four blocks, just two fouls, and what appears to be a shutdown job in the paint: Chris Kaman and Elton Brand combined for just 14 points. The Nugs couldn't overcome Andre Miller's 0-11 shooting night, however, particularly since nobody could stop Sam Cassell (whether that was Miller or someone else, I don't know) on the other end. Sam the Man sprang for 35 while dishing six dimes and turning the ball over just twice.

No other starter for the Clips scored more than nine (Cat Mobley), but Tim Thomas was huge (Lakers-series huge, really) off the bench, hitting five of his eleven threes and finishing with 21 points.

Shaun Livingston got fourteen minutes for the Clippers off the bench but was awful: 0-3 shooting with four turnovers. He did somehow manage to block three shots and pick up two steals, though.

Given what was written above about the move away from bigs, one has to wonder how the Nuggets are going to cope. They've got two legitimate bigs at center (Camby) and power forward (K-Mart), a small forward who won't be among the quickest around ('Melo), and a bench that includes Nene (6'11", 270), Eduardo Najera, and Reggie Evans, bangers all, but not the type to keep up with the Tim Thomas / Corey Maggette breed of forward.

Normally, a mismatch works both ways: the banger can't run with the little guy, but the little guy can't match the banger in the post. The problem is that Najera and Evans aren't offensive threats, so the new-breed forwards won't have to face these matchup problems.