View Full Version : 4/28 ESPN INSIDER (playoffs)

04-28-2003, 01:01 PM
Have we heard the last of Reggie Miller?
By Chad Ford

Who would've thought one week into the playoffs the three teams on the ropes would be the Pistons, Pacers and Blazers? OK, we'll give you the Blazers. They've been on the ropes for the past three years. But the Pacers (the most talented team in the East) and the Pistons (the best team in the East) down 3-1?

It's too late to play the blame game at this point. On paper, both the Pacers and Pistons are better than their opponents. But neither has been able to match the intensity of the Celtics or Magic. Interestingly, neither team has a "go-to" guy to help them down the stretch either.

The Pacers had Reggie Miller as a go-to guy, but I think it's safe to put that in past tense now, don't you? Through four games, Miller is averaging 9.8 ppg on 29 percent shooting. This from the guy who had the biggest statistical scoring jump of any active player from the regular season to the post-season (18.9 ppg to 23.4 ppg before this series).

The Pacers aren't ready to rush Reggie to retirement just yet. They claim the World Championships and a nasty ankle injury suffered there took their toll on the 37-year old sharp-shooter. He also has lost the quickness to really create his own shot, meaning a defender can crowd him on the perimeter and make it more difficult to get his shot off. Combine that with the inevitable regression you start to see in guards after the age of 35, and I think it's safe to say Reggie isn't going to drop 40 on anyone in the playoffs anymore.

That leaves Jermaine O'Neal (who did hit some big fourth quarter shots for the Pacers this season), Ron Artest, Al Harrington or Jamaal Tinsley to come up big in the fourth.

As deep and talented as the Pacers are, none of those guys come close to what Paul Pierce can do in crunch time. Until the Pacers develop a guy who can really take over the game at the end and carry his team, we're asking too much from them to make a serious run in the playoffs.

Miller's shooting woes this year will certainly raise issues about his salary next season. Miller, who becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1, has said he wants to keep playing, and the Pacers want him back. Regardless of how much he can give the team on the court, he's their most valuable player in the locker room.

He's been the guy in Artest's ear all year trying to keep the volatile one focused on the court. That alone is worth a couple of million. But with GM Donnie Walsh trying to find the cap room to re-sign O'Neal, Brad Miller and Reggie this summer without incurring the luxury tax, you know Reggie's going to have to take it on the chin with a major paycut.

Pistons' missing piece

The Pistons are in a similar dilemma. Critics have contended all year that the Pistons biggest flaw was the lack of a go-to guy down the stretch. That's never been more apparent than this week, watching Tracy McGrady at times single handedly foil the deepest team in the East.The Pistons retort all season was to claim they had multiple weapons capable of hitting the game-winning shot. But down 3-1, it looks like everyone's out of ammo.

The team is still trying to figure out what happened to Chauncey Billups. He averaged 23.4 ppg in April on 46 percent shooting from the field and 43 percent shooting from 3. In the playoffs, he's averaging 16.5 ppg on 32 percent shooting from the field and 18 percent (4-22) from behind the arc. Billups was stellar in the playoffs last season for the T-Wolves (22 ppg on 46 percent shooting) raising the question of whether he's already spent too much time around Clifford Robinson.

Super sub Corliss Williamson hasn't really brought his game either. He's averaging just 9.3 ppg on 38 percent shooting. Meanwhile, McGrady is averaging 36.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.5 apg on 52 percent shooting from the field. "Oh, man, just to be a young player in this league and be able to put a team on my shoulders," McGrady told the Detroit News. "For a guy like me, who's been bounced from the first round of the playoffs three straight years, to finally get to experience the second round, it just feels great."

Second round? Is anyone on the Pistons that confident?

You already know the answer, and so does Pistons GM Joe Dumars. The team knows it's one superstar away from being unstoppable. They have the right coach, the right defensive intensity, the right role players and a deep bench. But until they get someone who can take over the game in the fourth consistently (sit back down Chauncey) it's pretty clear they'll struggle to make it all the way.

They should have a decent chance of picking up someone like that this summer. The Pistons will get the Grizzlies' lottery pick, as long as it isn't the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. If they land the No. 2 or No. 3 pick, Carmelo Anthony or Darko Milicic could be that guy. If they fall to No. 6 or 7, the may attempt to package their two first round picks and an expiring contract or two (Michael Curry and Hubert Davis come off the books next summer) for a more reliable go-to guy.

Portland already planning changes

Speaking of go-to-guys, the Mavericks' Dirk Nowtizki is averaging 34.8 ppg in the playoffs. The Blazers don't have anyone close. Bonzi Wells did have that big 45-point performance in Game 2, but he has shot the ball terribly the rest of the series. Rasheed Wallace has been steady, and that's saying a lot. But it amazes me that it took Maurice Cheeks until Sunday to give Zach Randolph the ball. Randolph got 41 minutes on Sunday and responded with 25 points and 15 rebounds and the Blazers first win.

Randolph is the Blazers' best scoring threat in the post. Given the Mavs' notorious softness in the paint, Cheeks' decision to leave Randolph on the bench for the first three games is amazing. Yes, he's only 21 years old. But Randolph has the tools to exploit the Mavs biggest weakness.Insider isn't the only one who noticed this before Randolph exploded on the Mavs on Sunday. A league source told me embattled GM Bob Whitsitt pushed Cheeks to start Randolph at power forward after the Blazers kept failing to take advantage of their strength in the paint. Cheeks had been starting Antonio Daniels at the 2-guard, playing Bonzi at the 3 and playing 'Sheed at the 4.

When the Blazers get eliminated from the series, don't be surprised to see Cheeks kicked to the curb (though it'll be a lot tougher to fire the guy after he helped sing the national anthem). According to the same league source, Cheeks and Whitsitt haven't seen eye-to-eye all season. With Whitsitt already feeling the heat (word is he's already shown assistant GM Mark Warkentien the door) the pressure's on for him to make big changes this summer.

First, he'll try to lure Jeff Van Gundy out of retirement. If he can get a commitment from Van Gundy, who has shown interest in the Portland job before, Cheeks is gone. Second, the Blazers will shop Wallace. He's in the last year of his contract, and owner Paul Allen is pushing for change. Wallace, despite all of his off the court issues, is still the Blazers' best commodity. With the way Randolph is developing, the team can afford to move him for a younger, developing star.

04-28-2003, 02:44 PM
Are you still interested in Rasheed Wallace? Whats not to like he is a good post player when he is their and loves the three ball.

04-28-2003, 03:00 PM
If Cheeks gets fired there should be an investigation.