Chicago Bulls at Philadelphia 76ers (7:00ET on NBATV): Sixers lead series 3-2
- Stat: In Tuesday’s 77-69 loss, the Sixers shot 8-25 at the rim for a conversion rate of 32%.
- Take: Without Derrick Rose and facing a defense the caliber of Philly’s it’s become obvious Chicago is woefully ill-equipped to score with efficiency or consistency. Their average offensive efficiency since game 2 is a lowly 90.85, a number that would rank 14th among 16 playoff teams and is almost 15 full points below their regular season mark. And without Joakim Noah in the lineup (he’s questionable for game 6), Chicago is missing a player they rely on for much-overlooked but much-needed offense via offensive rebounds, finishing off of pick-and-rolls, and proverbial hustle baskets. It’s a good thing, then, that backup center Omer Asik provides defense – most notably rim protection – that Noah doesn’t. Philly’s truly awful shooting numbers at the rim in game 5 are no fluke; Asik and Taj Gibson protect the paint better than any pair of bigs in the NBA and have been doing so for the better part of the last two seasons. They combined for 55 minutes and seven blocks in game 5 with Noah sidelined, and along with active hands from players like Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng severely limited Philly’s previously solid proficiency at the rim. If Noah plays – an obvious plus for the Bulls – they’ll have to compensate elsewhere for his inability to challenge penetrators like Asik does, and it most likely will be at the other end of the floor. For while Asik is undoubtedly one of the league’s best defenders, the discrepancy between he and Noah on defense is small, and that can’t be said for their relative impact on the Bulls offense.
Atlanta Hawks at Boston Celtics (8:00ET on TNT): Celtics lead series 3-2
- Stat: Paul Pierce’s offensive rating in the playoffs is 94.9, just .2 points higher than Boston’s series-long average of 94.7.
- Take: It’s often said Boston goes offensively as Pierce goes, and on the surface and for most of the last few seasons that’s made sense. Pierce is the only Celtic capable of consistently producing his own offense, and the numbers consistently show Boston is more positively influenced by Pierce on that end than any other player. That hasn’t been the case thus far in the playoffs, though, as Kevin Garnett (102.4) ranks as Boston’s most effective offensive player, and Rajon Rondo (100.2), Ray Allen (97.8), and even Avery Bradley (97.0) outpace Pierce in offensive rating. This is hardly indicative of Pierce’s true value to the Celtics against Atlanta, obviously, but to suggest a Boston attack without a full strength Pierce – he’s been bothered by a knee injury since game 4 – is doomed to doldrums of non-scoring just isn’t the case.
Los Angeles Lakers at Denver Nuggets (10:30ET on TNT): Lakers lead series 3-2
- Stat: Denver’s backcourt combination of Ty Lawson-Andre Miller’s playoff plus/minus is +16.9 per 36 minutes.
- Take: We all knew coming into this series that Denver would have to use their advantages of speed and quickness to push the much bigger Lakers into the type of uptempo game Los Angeles tries to avoid. So it should be no surprise that employing two point guards in the backcourt has netted such overwhelmingly positive results for the Nuggets. That those players have the differing and diverse skill-sets of Lawson and Miller while maintaining a shared love of extreme pace is absolutely perfect for how Denver needs to play to enjoy sustained success in this series. Lawson and Miller have been paired together for 79 minutes, while the former has played 90 and the latter 69 without his favorite and most effective – if stylistically unorthodox – backcourt mate. The on-court numbers for each without the other are just as negative as the opposite are positive, best indicated by Lawson’s +/- of -8.8 and Miller’s mark of -11.5. Lawson’s play, though, is especially influenced when he’s on the court with Miller. He averages 11.1 fewer points, six fewer assists, and shoots 25% worse from the field when he’s the true point guard in a traditional NBA lineup with an established shooting guard and small forward at his side. George Karl has never been averse to playing with lineups that defy conventional position ideals and give his team a plus on one end even if it nets a negative on the other. With these two, though, that’s not a problem, as Miller is perfectly comfortable defending the LA wing opposite Kobe Bryant. So as the expected offensive gains of playing these two together have played out, so haven’t any major deficiencies on defense. As Denver faces an elimination game tonight, expect Karl to go to the Lawson-Miller backcourt more than he ever has, and don’t be surprised if they lead the Nuggets to what just a few days ago looked like an improbable seventh game.