Stuck in neutral

Stuck in neutral
By Steve Kerr, Yahoo Sports
May 14, 2006

Steve Kerr
Yahoo Sports
Heading into their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Miami Heat, the New Jersey Nets had plenty of reasons to believe they could beat the Heat, namely because of the matchup problems Miami would have on the perimeter.

But unlike the Chicago Bulls, who gave the Heat so much trouble with constant penetration, ball movement and screen setting, the Nets have been entirely predictable and stagnant.

Too often in New Jersey's 102-92 loss on Sunday, Vince Carter, Jason Kidd or Richard Jefferson would simply try to take on the defense with one-on-one dribble moves, and the Miami defense was ready. The Nets shot just 43 percent from the field and lost despite getting the performance they needed from Nenad Krstic, who scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.

Still, New Jersey never could put much pressure on the Heat, who pulled away for their second straight road win and took total control of the series. Miami heads home for Tuesday's Game 5 with a 3-1 lead.

ROLE PLAYERS OF THE DAY

Udonis Haslem and Antoine Walker – Each played a huge role in the Heat's game-defining spurt. Walker made two three-pointers and Haslem added three jumpers as Miami turned a tie game into a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Nets hung in thereafter but never could get any closer than three points. Haslem and Walker each finished with 20 points, combining to make 15 of 22 shots. Pat Riley knows what he's going to get every night from Dwyane Wade, and he knows that Shaquille O'Neal will have a huge impact, too. But when he gets bench support from guys like Haslem and Walker – or James Posey and Gary Payton – the Heat become very tough to beat.

STAR OF THE DAY

Dwyane Wade – How good is this guy? Wade bobbed and weaved his way through the New Jersey defense for 31 points and eight assists. Nets coach Lawrence Frank called him "a human corkscrew" before the series for his knack of spinning and twisting into the paint, and indeed Wade's penetration on Sunday proved too much for Jason Kidd and Vince Carter to handle. Wade is a special player with a terrific balance to his game. He scores when he wants, gets teammates involved when necessary and loves to take over with the game on the line. And when O'Neal struggles – as he did in Game 4 with just 16 points and eight rebounds – Wade is there to dominate.

COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE DAY

Sam Cassell – After suffering through a dismal Game 3, Cassell rebounded with a terrific effort in Game 4. He fell one assist shy of a triple double, scoring 28 points, grabbing 11 boards and dishing out nine dimes as the Los Angeles Clippers evened the series with the Phoenix Suns at 2-2. Cassell's three-pointer with 27 seconds left sealed the win and thwarted a frenzied comeback by the Suns, who had scored 11 straight points before Cassell's big shot. The heroics capped a huge night for the Clippers' point guard, who has to be considered in any conversation about the NBA's all-time clutch playoff shooters.

ADJUSTMENT OF THE DAY

With Chris Kaman benched due to a shoulder injury, Vladimir Radmanovic started in his place. But it was Mike Dunleavy's decision to start Corey Maggette instead of Quentin Ross that set the tone for L.A. Maggette's presence in the lineup meant that Shawn Marion couldn't guard Cassell, as he did in Game 3. Maggette's size and strength forced Phoenix to commit a bigger defender to him, meaning Cassell was free to work against Steve Nash. Without the athletic, long-armed Marion hounding him, Cassell was able to be his usual aggressive self. And as an added bonus, Maggette dominated the glass with 15 rebounds to help the Clippers enjoy a resounding 55-37 advantage on the boards.

VIEWERS GUIDE FOR MONDAY

Game 4: Detroit Pistons at Cleveland CavaliersRasheed Wallace said after Game 3 that the Pistons will win the series. He's probably right, but in order to avoid any major anxiety, they need to win Game 4. Detroit's Game 3 loss wasn't the result of a letdown, as was the case in Game 3 of their first-round series against Milwaukee. The Pistons came to play and had the tempo going their way all night, but LeBron James took over the game late and made one huge play after another. Detroit can withstand another James explosion, but it must make sure not to get beat by LeBron's teammates. The key to Game 3 was losing sight of Anderson Varejao, who teamed with James on several effective screen-and-roll plays to get easy scores. If the Pistons do a better job shutting everyone else down, even James can't win a game by himself. Look for Detroit to tighten up the screws and take control of the series.

Game 4: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks – The Spurs have never won a playoff series in the Tim Duncan era in which they have trailed after three games. Down 2-1 to the Mavericks, Duncan called Game 4 a "must win." Obviously, the pressure is on San Antonio, but one victory in Dallas gives home-court advantage back to Gregg Popovich's team. In order for that to happen, Tony Parker has to be dominant. He has been outplayed by young Devin Harris for two consecutive games, and that's a battle the Spurs must win. San Antonio received great performances from Duncan and Manu Ginobili in Game 3, but Parker was so-so. Normally, Popovich can rely on his team's defense to win games, but the Mavericks have proved to be a tough nut to crack. Dallas' team speed is bothering the Spurs, and the Mavs' attacking nature has made them difficult to cover. San Antonio got into major foul trouble in Game 3 and sent Dallas to the free-throw line 50 times. If Robert Horry can stay on the floor – he played just 11 minutes in Game 4 – the Spurs can match up with Dallas and allow Duncan – who is playing his best basketball of the season – to take over.

Steve Kerr is Yahoo! Sports' NBA analyst. Send Steve a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Monday, May 15, 2006 2:07 am, EDT

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