The one thing I probably dislike most about the modern NBA is obvious mysticism shared in lieu of observable facts. For instance, Tim Legler was on Brian Kenny's radio show last night, and -- I'm paraphrasing, since the segment's not uploaded as of this writing -- Legler went on and on about how the Suns lost to the Blazers in Game 1 of their series in large part because, and I'm not making this up, Phoenix lacked mental intensity. Now, maybe Legler doesn't think it's a big deal that Robin Lopez is out with injury and the Suns have actually been throwing Jarron Collins out there. Maybe he thought they looked listless on the court. Either of those insights would be fine, because they're observable facts. However, note that Legler instead chose the mystical, judgment of character, route, because that's what "experts" do with the NBA. They assign morality to the proceedings where there is no hard reason to do so.
I'm picking on Legler because it's the most recent example I have, but he's not alone. It happens all the time in the NBA and sports coverage in general. And I think I was a little guilty of it in my judgment of our opponents before this series. Here's what I think Game 1 taught us about the Magic and the Bobcats in light of some mystical "observations" getting thrown around.
1 -- Here's a long passage of what I wrote in my Game 1 Preview:
I know it seems like Orlando got a little bit better this year, and it's entirely possible, even likely, that letting Hedo Turkoglu go and trading for Vince Carter was the most correct thing to do (I love me some Courtney Lee, but I also love me some Ryan Anderson). However, last year, Hedo was what made them a special team, not just an excellent team. With Hedo, Lee, and Nelson out there splitting ballhandling duties, they presented an unconventional matchup issue for every team that faced them. Don't get me wrong: I'd be happy to have Vinsanity, Matt Barnes, Mickael Pietrus, and J.J. Redick as my team's wing corps, but I'd trade that in a heartbeat for 2009 Hedo, 2010 Barnes, 2010 Pietrus, and 2010 Redick. The Cats know who's going to be bringing the ball up. They know who's going to be covering which guys. They know how they're going to defend the Magic offense. There will be no harrowing help-or-don't-help decisions when Hedo drives the lane. Orlando may have simplified what they do to their own benefit, but it made them easier to defend for elite defenses, too.
The most surprising thing in the game was seeing Jameer Nelson's lane penetration. That was exactly what Hedo and his long strides did so well at important moments of games, but I failed to imagine that Nelson would be so effective at getting past the Cats' perimeter defense. One-In Four-Out works really well when the one guy inside can make a lot of his own offense in one-on-one situations, because that forces the defense to make a two-way choice: double the post and leave a shooter open, or take your chances with the post player beating his man on the block.
It's tough enough having to defend those two choices when the offense walks it up and dumps it to the low post, but it's even tougher to defend three choices, which happens when the ballhandler gets by his man and into the lane. When that happens, the defense has to choose whether to help on the dribbler, help on the big man, stay home and take their chances with the dribbler getting to the rim -- it's just a nightmare when four guys can shoot threes, the lone big can't be defended by one man on the block, and the dribbler can get into the lane.
Like I said, in Game 1, Nelson did everything I loved about Turkoglu's game last year. Ideally, the best way to defend the Magic is to find a couple guys who can deal with Howard themselves in the post (Tyson Chandler and Theo Ratliff?), and to not let the dribbler get easy penetration. Defense can't stop everything, but it can limit the offense to two avenues of success instead of three.
2 -- The Bobcats have plenty of playoff experience. Please don't pretend otherwise. The most important adjustment is getting used to the hype and attention that comes with the playoffs; the games themselves aren't all that different. Raymond Felton was the only starter who hadn't been through it before, and Larry Hughes, Tyrus Thomas, and Tyson Chandler have all done it, too. In fact, Felton and Augustin, the two homegrown talents, were the only rotation guys who were in the Big Show for the first time. Ascribing early-game struggles to inexperience is grasping for explanation.
3 -- Respect Stan Van Gundy. The man had a championship-caliber team taken away from him in Miami, and now he's coaching a great team in Orlando with very different personnel. Bill Simmons said something about Larry Brown having a chance to out-coach SVG, then Mike Woodson, and I'm pretty sure even Hawks fans would agree that Woodson isn't in Brown's coaching class, but SVG deserves to be included in the same group as the other elite coaches in the NBA. Maybe he's behind Jackson, Popovich, and Sloan, but at this point, there's no way you'd put Rivers, D'Antoni, or Carlisle clearly ahead of him. Whatever adjustments the Cats make, you can be sure he'll notice them and adjust his team to counter.
4 -- Channeling my inner Donald Rumsfeld, Stephen Jackson is a known unknown. We know that we don't know how he'll react to his knee injury, which we know will bother him, even if we don't know how much his game will be tangibly affected. Here's hoping it turns out completely positively, with a reduction in contested shots, spurred on by newfound caution.