NBA Playoffs: Adjustments for ATL-BOS, LAL-DEN

Notes on Tuesday night’s games. For my thoughts on how Chicago should play without Derrick Rose, click here.

Atlanta Hawks (1-0) vs. Boston Celtics (0-1)

The Celtics find themselves perilously close to facing a 2-0 deficit thanks to the suspension of Rajon Rondo and uncertain health of Ray Allen. The big question facing Boston is where they will find offense in the absence of two of their best creators. The answer honest to that question is simple; they won’t. Going into Game 2 the C’s main focus should be on slowing the pace, limiting possessions and doing their best to keep the game in the 70s.

Larry Drew, meanwhile, should be making any minor tweak he can to his scheme and lineups to do the exact opposite. To ensure a two game lead before heading to Boston, Drew must implore his troops to continue playing up-tempo and forcing a short-handed Celtics team to score with them. Jason Collins justified his minutes (and his mixtape) with his traditionally sublime post defense on Kevin Garnett, but Atlanta may want to go smaller with Josh Smith at the 5 in an attempt to make this game as much of a track meet as possible.

When Atlanta is in the halfcourt, they should use far more pick-and-rolls and much less isolation. Boston had quite a bit of difficultly keeping Jeff Teague out of the paint and Smith has been a terror as a dive man on the pick-and-roll. The Hawks should really only seek isolations when Smith has the chance to attack Brandon Bass or Greg Stiemsma in the mid-post.

The offensive explosion the Hawks had in the first half was mostly a mirage produced by Smith and a host of others making long, 2-point jumpers. To compound matters, Drew also seemed content to let Smith attack Kevin Garnett one-on-one, a proposition that will mostly go KG’s way (especially now that Garnett seems intent on forcing Smith to his right). If Atlanta continues to settle for poor actions when they have the means to get into the paint and earn regular trips to the freethrow line, they risk allowing Boston to hang around long enough to steal what should be very winnable game.

Los Angeles Lakers (1-0) vs. Denver Nuggets (0-1)

In Game 1 against the Lakers, the Nuggets played like the stage was a little too big for them. Despite the fact that Denver has been going to the playoffs for a decade, this current roster doesn’t have quite the postseason experience one might think. Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee are experiencing the NBA’s second season for the first time while Danilo Gallinari and Corey Brewer are only on their second go-rounds. Even Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo, while not new to the atmosphere, are experiencing it in new and bigger roles. That stage fright certainly showed as L.A. cruised to a 15-point win.

Thanks in part to those jitters, Denver was an absolute mess offensively. Gallinari was the only one who brought it, dominating in isolations and singlehandedly keeping the game from becoming a complete blowout. The Lakers don’t appear to have an answer for his combination of size and quickness, so look for George Karl to continue to featuring his budding superstar in isolations and pick and rolls all over the floor.

Karl also needs to restrict Al Harrington’s overzealous offensive outlook. Harrington has been a solid veteran influence on this team while gamely fighting through a knee injury, but he did the Nuggets no favors by going rogue and looking to attack far too often off the dribble. For Denver to have the most success, Harrington needs to simply limit his focus to spacing the floor and luring one of L.A.’s twin towers out from the paint.

There is a bright spot. Denver’s best stretches came with Faried screening on the ball then diving hard through the middle of the paint. His speed on that roll to the rim forces Laker defenders to rotate much quicker than do lumbering Kosta Koufas or Timofey Mozgov. Whether he gets the ball or not, his dives through the paint will collapse L.A.’s defense. That shifting, coupled with improved ball movement, could be the key to the Nuggets creating consistent offense the rest of this series.

With a game to adjust to the bright lights, the Nuggets can reasonably expect a few bounce-back performances, particularly from the likes of Lawson and McGee. Getting those, coupled with a few offensive changes, should go a long way in making Game 2 much more competitive.

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