by Zagrieb Zano
As we continue to slowly get closer to crowing the Rage as Champions again, we have to find interest in any other potential storylines that are worth covering. The playoffs thus far has continued pretty much as I have predicted thus far. There is a chance that we will get some interesting games for the conference finals.
#2 Cancun Outlaws vs #4 Capetown Zulus
Cancun has proven that they don’t need to really change things around to be successful. Their slow down pace and suffocating defense have proven to be incredibly difficult to break. With London coming off the upset win over Milan in the first round, they had to been feeling hopeful that they had enough secret sauce to put Cancun in a corner. Nobody puts Cancun in a corner. The basic idea was that if you could score at least 100 points, you would have a chance to beat Cancun, because they are simply not built to score a ton of points. London actually achieved this goal twice. Only to have Cancun remind them that while London may have a group of players such as Parks and Crowley that can cause lots of problems. Cancun has a Trentesols, and when he decides to win, the other team must submit. In both games that London scored at least 100 points they shot over 50%. It didn’t matter as Cancun simply did enough to advance. London has to be pleased that they were able to do what most teams couldn’t against the Outlaws, but the result is as expected. Broom sells were through the roof from the local gift shops.
Is it possible that we simply don’t give Capetown enough credit? Often overshadowed by the one great Toronto Dinos, and now of course Cancun. Let us not forget that this is the third conference finals in four years that the Zulus have been too. Last season they met Cancun in the second round which would have the Outlaws winning. In fact, the Zulus have not beaten the Outlaws in the last several playoff matchups. Is Cancun the proverbial Kryptonite for Capetown? Is this the year that the “son” of ka-el can beat the evil Zod to advance? Capetown has come into these playoffs as one of the most underrated 4th seeds in recent history. With a sweep of Gabon, they took on the top seeded Barcelona. And nearly everyone predicted Capetown to topple the best team in the World conference. I don’t remember a time when a lower seed was favored so badly over the top seed.
Does Pat Fullum have anything to fear when facing Capetown? Recent history in the playoffs has proven that Cancun simply finds a way to win. I would say there is a lot of concern. Even though Cancun finished 5 games ahead of the Zulus in route to another division title. Capetown won the season series 3-1. In fact one game they even blew the Outlaws out by 17 points. In all three of Capetown’s wins they scored over 100 points. In three of the four games Trentesols played like you would expect putting up over 27 points and grabbing a bunch of rebounds. Cancun, often moves Trentesols to center so that he doesn’t have to matchup with all-stud Abdiel Gordon. This is a series that Justin Hill really needs to play out of his mind. He of course is out matched against Gordon, but he has the ability to hopefully cause Gordon to work harder than he is used too. This is not a series that Cancun can only rely on their Frenchie to simply will them to victory. While I have no doubt that the Frenchie will have a tremendous series. I believe that the key will be based on the play of Ed Summerall. Capetown doesn’t have a great point guard, although they have moved Ahmed Dougherty from his natural small forward position to play the point. Summerall who is not really an outstanding scorer needs to summon his inner Bishop Stein take a good amount of shots. Cancun is going to have to choose how they defend the Zulus, knowing that they will be allowing someone to have a great series in the process. It is unlikely that they will try to stop Gordon. They simply figure that he will get his 30 point average. They are more likely to focus on Casey Pointer and Dougherty. Especially if Ahmed plays the point again, they will want to pressure him to help cause turnovers. Capetown is not a team that can easily be brought down to the slow and dismal pace that the Outlaws want to play. If Cancun gets into foul trouble, they will have a very difficult time advancing to the finals.
In Gordon we trust. Abdiel has brought his game to a whole new level during these playoffs. He has put the team on his back and said, don’t worry kids, I will get us to where we need to go. Here is a fun statistic. With Gordon’s 31.1 points per game in the playoffs, he is getting paid just over 530 thousand for each point he scores. His 16 million salary is one that he is well deserved of. Knowing that they are able to score over 100 points against Cancun, one wonders if they might increase their game pace. If they are able to force the game to be more wide open that has to favor them. Behind Gordon, Pointer and Dougherty are really playing well. These two wingmen will need to continue their stellar play if there is any chance for the Zulus to advance. While the team is not outstanding at passing the ball, they need to force Cancun to move on defense. Their ability to make three-pointers should cause the Outlaws some problems. Gordon leads all playoff teams hitting a blistering .566% of his attempts. They should also have an advantage on rebounds. So much so that the ability to rebound could be what turns the tide over towards Adrian Arceo’s team. Capetown has what it takes to pull off the upset. They are going to need to ensure that they make adjustments to what Cancun does. If they fail to do so then the glory of Africa will once again be denied.
In a thrilling series that will prove that home court means nothing, Capetown will prove that the sun does indeed touch Cancun and they will upset another top seed in 7 games.
#1 Brooklyn Rage vs # 2 California Fighting Cocks
We all hoped for more but we got what we all knew would happen. Colorado never even challenged the Rage. They lost by an average of 23 points a game. Again, nobody is really surprised by this, but we would have liked to have thought that there would be something interesting to take away from this matchup. In fact during the third game, there was a mix-up at the TV station and instead of showing the rest of the game, instead viewers were greeted the 1937 classic Heidi. More astonishingly, the viewers felt this was more interesting to watch and so there were no complaints about the mix-up.
California had their hands full with Kansas City. But it seems that they may have finally figured out how to utilize all their talent. Morrell had some pretty impressive games against the Wild. The Wild really pushed California to the brink, it was rather uncharacteristic of Kansas City to not just go into the fetal position. Although, you could say that Kansas City may have some issues with the refs considering that that California was only called for 5 fouls in game seven giving the Wild a mere 2 free throw attempts in the 36 point loss in game seven.
So how does California have a chance against Brooklyn? Cali has had a terrific season with a franchise high of 66 wins. Yet, similar to nearly every other team in the league Brooklyn swept the season series and none of the games were close. The common theory on how to compete with Brooklyn is pretty simple …. In theory. You have to cause Brooklyn to get into foul trouble. Anything to disrupt their rotation. And while they did have a large free throw advantage over the Wild; the Fighting Cocks are right in the middle of the pack next to Brooklyn for free throw attempts.
When you look at these two teams on paper, they have some terrific matchups. Bishop Stein against the once great Omar Jefferson. Stein is a year older, but was still awarded to the All-Stud Second team. You would have to believe that he is a bit too quick for Omar. As has been the case his whole career, he isn’t much of a defender. Stein will probably score more than Jefferson, but it won’t be enough to make a huge difference in the series.
Bailey vs Mimi-Bailey. Clearly, Bailey has the advantage in any matchup at the shooting guard spot. However, Watt probably is the closest to making this an even matchup. It is expected over the next couple years for Watt to become the new best player in the league. Watt still needs to improve his defense to try to slow down Bailey. As good as Bailey is, he probably won’t completely shut down Watt. However, in their earlier games, Hassan Watt scored below his season average.
Kurt Beck vs. Jarius Miles. This is really where Brooklyn gains a major advantage. Miles is close to becoming the face of the Brooklyn franchise, and he knows it. While he is only scoring 20 points a game, he has been one of the top rebounders in the playoffs. And the stat that most people forget about. Miles is a passer. In fact if Jefferson were to get injured, they could easily move Miles to play the point. He is leading all playoff teams by making .627% off his shots (Bailey is second at .613%). Beck needs to be able to get that percentage down to more human like numbers. Beck is having a good playoff series and he does a lot of things well. Unfortunately, Miles just does everything better. California may have to consider putting a different defender on Miles to slow him up. Potentially, they could move Birkhead and see if his 8’4 wing span can cause some issues.
As we get to the front court, this is where it would appear that California has the advantage. Wally Birkhead will demolish Tyris Mays defensively. On the other hand, Wally isn’t a big time scorer typically, so Brooklyn would call this matchup a push. Jesus Morrell of course has the advantage of Reed Moses. However the team defense that Brooklyn uses allows for a lot of help defense. Brooklyn has the edge with backups, led by Chad Archer. I was talking with GM Rondall Reynoso prior to this matchup with California and the conversation flowed too his acquisition of Chad Archer. His response, and I quote, “I only got him because other GM’s are idiots.” While we now know how Reynoso feels about the rest of the GM’s in the league, picking up Archer has help confirm that they have the best backups in the league.
California has the talent to win this series, despite their lack of success during the season. While the rest of the league is rooting for California, they won’t get what they want. Brooklyn wins 4-0.