Tony Parker's Mean Face....try not to laugh.

(SB Nation Arizona) The 2012 NBA Playoff schedule rolled on through the busy weekend and gave us some historic moments. LeBron James reminded the entire sporting world why he's a three-time MVP. Facing a desperate situation, he dropped 40 points, 18 rebounds and 9 assists on the Indiana Pacers to even that series 2-2. Put aside whatever animosity you hold for James' other faults and marvel at that performance.

Also you can blame the Pacers for ignoring their size advantage in the paint and relying too much on Leandro Barbosa. Indiana's depth, however, still should give them an edge against the beat up Heat who can't possibly get 70 points from James and Wade in every game.

Meanwhile, the Spurs don't care about James and don't need one player to be Superman to win games. They are deep and dangerous and have now won 18-straight games, including many late in the season where their best players didn't even dress. San Antonio completed their second sweep of the postseason with a set of back-to-back road wins over the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Borg rolls on.

Not surprisingly, the Oklahoma City Thunder are up 3-1 on the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant was brilliant but Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and James Harden showed that three stars are better than one (and whatever Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are).

The Philadelphia 76ers have locked up the Boston Celtics 2-2 in their series. The Sixers best strategy is to grind down their elderly foes. The longer this series goes, the best for Philly.

2012 NBA Playoff Schedule for Monday:

Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics at 7:00 p.m. on TNT

Each team has won on the road in this series so playing in the "Garden" shouldn't intimidate the Sixers. If they can continue to use their size and athleticism advantage and win the rebounding battle, they can steal Game 5 and take control of the series. Like most of these Eastern Conference games, it will be ugly, but it should also be a grind.

Los Angeles Lakers at Oklahoma City Thunder at 9:30 p.m. on TNT

No one can really explain why the Lakers can't get more consistent performances from Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, but maybe Kobe Bryant taking all the shots has something to do with it. Meanwhile, the Thunder penetrate at will and should close out this series in five games on Monday night.

Here's SB Nation's own Bomani Jones arguing against good basketball and in favor of ratings so the NBA can make even more money.


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The drama of the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers again takes center stage in the NBA playoffs, as the Lakers fell to the OKC Thunder 103-100 behind 37 points from Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, and the Heat face a 2-1 deficit to the Indiana Pacers heading into today's game four in Indianapolis.

Westbrook is often criticized for shooting too much and not distributing enough as a point guard, and last night he attempted 26 FGs while dishing only 5 assists. Of course, it's hard to complain about his shooting when he hits 57% of them as he did in game 4, leading the Thunder to a 3-1 series advantage.

The Heat find themselves in an unexpected hole after being shellacked by the Pacers in game 3 Thursday, and will try to even the series up this afternoon, still missing injured Chris Bosh, and after Dwyane Wade and coach Erik Spoelstra deny that there is friction between them.

In the other remaining series, the Spurs are fully in control 3-0 over the Clippers after coming back from a 24-point first half deficit to teach the young Clippers a painful lesson, and the Sixers continue to surprise, now even at 2-2 with the Celtics.

More after the jump.

Yesterday's recaps:

Welcome to Loud City: Thunder 103, Lakers 100: Why Can't I Hold All of These Comebacks? (2012 NBA Playoffs WCSF Game 4 Recap)

Westbrook and Durant were a combined 25 of 44 from the floor tonight, the rest of the team was 13 of 33. They shot 17 free throws, as well. They were both incredibly efficient tonight, always looking for great looks.

But Serge Ibaka, he was 7-11, pretty much accounting for the majority of makes from the rest of the team. Since he continued to miss jumpers tonight, it felt like he did a lot worse. But the truth is, he was down there getting some great offensive boards, and he had a few nice opportunities on the pick and roll as well.

Liberty Ballers: Lavoy Allen Punks Celtics, Kevin Garnett Again

Kevin Garnett is not my favorite person. Loved him in Minnesota, then obviously not so much in Boston. He's a hell of a player and future Hall of Famer but his offensive game has gotten extremely obvious these days. Jumper or post-up turnaround. Not much else. Spencer Hawes has had trouble defending either, while Lavoy Allen has done a much better job.

Pounding the Rock: Spurs' Dominance Continues, Regardless

The Spurs, as we all know, are the deepest, most potent team in the league. We have 6 players that shoot better than 36% from three point land. We have great drivers and an incredible post player. The Spurs have built a team that never puts a lineup on the floor that can be manipulated. Our opponent always has to guard every Spur and that means they have no defensive flexibility.

Today's Games:

Peninsula is Mightier: An Open Apology to Chris Bosh

I myself have been as tough on Bosh as any other writer here at PIM, but his recent injury has taught me-in a new way-the wisdom of these words: "You never miss a good thing ‘til it's gone." I just want to go on the record on behalf of any and all Heat fans who have undervalued or badmouthed the guy and say, "Chris, I apologize. I hate it took you getting injured for me to realize this, but 18 points, 8 rebounds per game, and a strong interior defensive presence are hard to come by in this league. I am very sorry for taking you for granted."

Miscellaneous Stuff:

Phoenix Suns assistant Bill Cartwright will not return

After four seasons with the Suns, assistant coach Bill Cartwright's contract will not be renewed. Cartwright was hired by then-General Manager Steve Kerr, a former teammate, and then-Coach Terry Porter in 2008 to help Amar'e Stoudemire's defense, rebounding and post-up game and with an eye on drafting a big man later that month, which it did with Lopez.

The following story is off-topic, but not really. Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Chris Perez verbally unloaded regarding the negativity and lack of support from the team's fans in a tirade after yesterday's win over the Miami Marlins.

Athletes don't generally get much support when they rant against fans, but I can appreciate where Perez is coming from. There is a certain subset of fans who seem to get enjoyment out of bitching and criticizing players more than anything else. A lot of what Perez says is true, and reminds me of the tone our game threads sometimes descend to.

Chris Perez closes out Cleveland Indians' 2-0 win over Miami, then fires heat at fans for boos, low attendance

"After I struck out Montero, the mock standing applause just adds to it," said Perez. "You see their true colors."Perez ended the 10th by striking out Jesus Montero, but even that didn't ease his anger because the fans responded with a Bronx cheer. "They booed me against the Mariners when I had two guys on. It feels like I can't even give up a base runner without people booing me. It's even worse when there's only 5,000 in the stands, because then you can hear it. It p----s me off."


PHOENIX — Pretty soon it’s going to start feeling like Groundhog’s Day for Josh Childress. For the second straight season, J-Chill entered training camp with the expectation of being a rotation...

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Did you underestimate my performance last season?

Here at Bright Side of the Sun we take the words TOTAL COVERAGE pretty dang seriously.

While our beloved Suns are off taking nice vacations, we are still slaving away, attempting to provide you all with first class Suns coverage.

So friends, without further adieu, we present you with the Phoenix Suns Season in Review, 2011-12.

Up for discussion today is Marcin Gortat.

We've reached the end of our player analysis for this past season, and what better way to cap off these reviews then with one of the more hotly debated players on the roster?

Some believe Marcin Gortat is an all-star center in the making and should be a cornerstone of this team going forward, others believe he is nothing more than a glorified role player whose stats are grossly inflated due to playing with Steve Nash.

Will we finally get to the bottom of this argument once and for all? Probably not...but hey, continue on after the jump anyway as I attempt to shed a little light on the enigma that is the Polish Machine.

When Marcin Gortat was still on the Orlando Magic playing behind Dwight Howard, most analysts considered him the best back-up center in the league. Gortat rarely got much of a chance to display his skills though because he was playing behind arguably the best starting center in the league as well.

However, after a disappointing start to the 2010-11 season for Robin Lopez, the Suns jumped at the opportunity to acquire Gortat in a deal that sent Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, and Earl Clark to Orlando in return for Vince Carter's expiring body contract, Mikael Pietrus, and of course the Polish Machine himself.

But because Gortat had received so little playing time in the spotlight prior to this trade, there were still quite a few relative unknowns about his game. Many Suns' fans expected a hard-nosed, physical center on both offense and defense...after-all, his name was the Polish Hammer, right?

Well as it turned out, not only were most of those preconceived notions about his game wrong, so was his nickname (he prefers the Polish Machine, not the Polish Hammer).

While Gortat is regarded as a tough defensive player, his offensive game turned out to be much more finesse than powerful. But that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

Many fans and analysts were shocked by his incredible agility and quickness around the hoop, and while he didn't dunk the ball as much as many fans hoped, he surpassed most expectations about his ability, and quickly became of of the most important components of the Suns' offense.

At the start of the 2011-12 season, the expectations for Gortat's production were high. And at least for the first half of the season, he not only met those expectations, but exceeded them as well.

Then came the second half of the season...

While the rest of the team was finally playing well together, Gortat seemed to regress. The player so many fans considered an all-star snub was suddenly being criticized from every angle.

But was he really playing as badly as it seemed?

Here is a comparison of Gortat's stats before and after the all-star break:

Split Value G GS MP FG FGA 3P 3PA FT FTA ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS FG% 3P% FT% MP PTS TRB AST
All-Star Pre 34 34 1142 230 410 0 0 80 119 90 355 33 26 53 51 73 540 .561 .672 33.6 15.9 10.4 1.0
Post 32 32 972 197 359 0 2 83 132 95 304 26 22 46 39 69 477 .549 .000 .629 30.4 14.9 9.5 0.8

The reason I wanted to show these stats in comparison to each other is that, in all honesty, I expected a bigger disparity between them...as I'm sure most of you who are reading this did as well.

While his first-half numbers are certainly better in every category, the drop off in production for the second half of the season doesn't seem nearly as drastic as our eyes may have perceived. Without going through each category, what it all boiled down to is basically one less point, and one less rebound per game.

So why did it seem like Gortat was so much less effective in the second half of the season?

I think it has more to do with perception than actual performance.

His play before the all-star break stood out more in a positive way since he and Steve Nash were basically the only two consistent players on the team. Similarly, since the rest of the team finally started playing well at the same time that Gortat's play began to decline, I believe it magnified his struggles and made them seem worse than they actually were.

Here are his overall basic stats for his last two seasons in Phoenix:


Here are his advanced stats for the last two seasons as well:

Looking at the above numbers, you can see that Gortat had a better overall season last year than he did in his first partial season with the Suns.

His rebounding average was more or less the same while his points per game, defensive rating, and PER were significantly better. In fact, he led the team in all of those categories plus blocks and field goal percentage as well. Not to mention, he was also the only player to play in all 66 games last season and also led the team in minutes played.

Here are his stats compared to the rest of the team:

If I were grading Gortat compared to other centers in the league I would give him a B+, but since I am grading him based on his play for the Suns and his importance to this team, I am going to give him a solid A for last season. I would grade his first half performance as an "A", and his second half performance as an "A-" because of his slight drop off in the second half of the season, which I believe was mostly due to being worn down and tired over playing so many minutes in such a compressed and intense season. But all-in-all, Gortat had an excellent year.

I believe his play last season was was much better than many fans and analysts think, and I believe he was instrumental in not only helping to carry this team in the first half of the season, but also to the impressive yet ultimately ill-fated playoff push the Suns made in the second half of the season--which many fans simply don't give him enough credit for.

*All statistics used were provided by Basketball-Reference.com

Poll
How would you grade Marcin Gortat's performance last season?

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Is Gordon the best available SG?

As we anticipate the free agent frenzy that engulfs the lives of players, front offices and fans throughout the NBA, we fall in love with player A or player B on another team while discounting the guy we saw play nearly every minute of the prior season.

We look at player A and say "I just love ____ part of player A's game! If this guy just gets better at ______, he could be awesome with the Suns!" We all assume that player A will fit in perfectly with the Suns, and that he will be just as interested in improving ______ as we are.

The Suns need more scoring and playmaking from the perimeter. Even Steve Nash, at the end of the season in context of what needs to improve for him to return next season, mentioned the real need for playmakers. He understands that the Suns offense stagnates when he is resting or playing off the ball or being trapped and forced to give the ball up to the mismatch.

With Shannon Brown a unrestricted free agent and Jared Dudley truly being more of a swingman than a pure shooting guard, the Suns have an obvious opening or two at the shooting guard spot.

One early ranking of overall free agents mentions nearly a dozen shooting guards, but only a few match the Suns' desire for youth and "value", having no intention to overpay a free agent this summer if at all possible. To fit the criteria of young prospects, all of these guys are restricted free agents who have yet to reach their prime years.

Some rules I followed, to determine the 5 potential signings here:

  • I looked only at the one ranking of free agents, so if I missed anyone it was an oversight due to lack of effort on my part and all blame should be foisted on me as a result.
  • I have purposely focused only on the shooting guard prospects in this article, since the Suns simply have to sign someone to share 48 minutes with Jared Dudley.
  • I have ignored older players, such as Vince Carter, Mo Williams and (not listed because he hasn't opted out yet) Jamal Crawford
As you'll see, the pickings are slim at shooting guard this summer. Much more plentiful are point guards, small forwards and bigs, though most of the best of those are RFAs as well. All numbers are from the 2011-12 season except for Eric Gordon's due to his injury.

Suns-sg-prospects_medium

Click on the pic to make it bigger, or click on this link to the page on basketball-reference.com.

In looking through the prospective free agents this summer, I found 5 potential signings and compared them to the Suns' Jared Dudley.

I included Dudley here for reference because (a) the new player would ideally be a better player than Dudley or the Suns are just treading water and (b) because Dudley makes $4.25 million per season for the next 3 years.

Certainly, Eric Gordon will and SHOULD make more than Dudley. He is a better scorer and better passer, though not a better shooter or rebounder. But simply, Gordon can create and make his own shots, and he is 3 years younger than Dudley.

But what about the others?

George Hill is a better passer than Dudley, a better defender and at least as good a shooter, but he is small (6'2") and is a better fit as a combo guard coming off the bench. Hill is a winner - an efficient scorer and defender - but is he any better than the role players the Suns already have? Hill is, at best, a 5th- to 8th-best player on a contending team. The Suns boast 5 of those already.

Courtney Lee profiles similarly to George Hill. He can shoot and defend, but is a bit undersized. His ceiling, as well, appears to be a 5th- to 8th-best player on a contender.

O.J. Mayo? He numbers look awfully pedestrian is this context of being compared to peers. He is a scorer and can pass pretty well, but is not a good shooter or defender. He is still young though, so his potential may still be tapped by a team willing to give him the minutes. The talent is there, but is the drive?

Which brings us back to Shannon Brown.

Brown wants to return and has already finished his half-season adjustment to a new team and a new offense. He knows the Suns, the staff, the defensive and offensive schemes and, especially, his role. His second half was of high quality, and given the options out there that fit the Suns' criteria he just might be the best one.

If they can get Eric Gordon this summer, that's great. He's young and talented and worth a whole lot of money.

But if Gordon is gone, there is no need to overpay for the next best option. One of Brown, Mayo, Lee or Hill will come reasonably this summer and will provide roughly the same value that Brown gave us this past season.

The Suns can then spend their money on a PF (Brook Lopez?) or SF (Nic Batum). Or just wait until 2013 to break the bank.


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