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Who is really better?

May 25, 2009
Nadals reverse forehand puts an ungodly amount of spin into the shot that it seemingly picks up speed after it bounces up to an uncomfortable height.

Nadal's "reverse forehand" puts an ungodly amount of spin into the shot that it seemingly picks up speed after it bounces up to an uncomfortable height.

Happy Memorial Day.
The French Open is in full swing, and much of what I’ve been reading about Nadal/Federer seems to be occupying and haunting my thoughts about how it relates to the NBA playoffs– particularly in the East with ORL and CLE.

In two recent articles I’ve read about Nadal and Federer, one in SI and the other in ESPN Magazine, writers have talked about Federer’s strength as a tennis player (tactful, precise, strategic) and Nadal’s strengths (spins, power, defense, attack, athleticism).  In both articles, the writers did a beautiful job of carving out why each player is amazing in their own right, but when it boils down to it, Nadal just serves as a difficult matchup for Federer. Before the ascent of Nadal, Federer was #1 in the tennis world since the Big Bang. Then all of the sudden, a young Spanish lefty comes along with a cross-court “reverse forehand” that causes the ball to have an infinite amount of spin that causes the right-handed Federer to back up and hit a backhand that almost rips his shoulder off every time. The spin on the ball seemingly picks up speed off the bounce and then shoots up at a height that is well past the point of hitting a comfortable back-hand.

Is Federer a better player? A lot of people would say yes (Hiebs, especially)… but then again, how can you make that argument if Nadal has been consistently beating Federer in the last year and change? A logical person would say whoever is winning in these match-ups is the better player.

But, is that really the case?

Is Nadal really better because he does 2 things especially well that play into Federer’s weaknesses: Nadal’s nasty forehand with ludicrous amounts of spins/hops and his ability to play defense by chasing down anything Federer sends his way? In this climate, I do think Nadal is better because he is developing his game more rapidly to beat Federer in different ways: increasing his accuracy and speed in his serves, cutting down on unforced errors…

2/3 of the problem.

2/3 of the problem.

Back to the NBA playoffs. This Nadal/Federer debate reminds me so much of the ECFinals match-up between the Cavs and the Magic: are the Magic really better than the Cavs because they are up 2-1 and create so many difficult match-ups for Lebron and company? Logically, yes: the Magic are better because they have won 2/3 games and could easily be up 3-0. They pose match-up difficulties at the 5, 4, and 3 spot. They also have one of the best perimeter defenders in this post-season in Courtney Lee. He’s shutting down whoever he is charged with guarding. Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Hedo Turkoglu make coaches’ heads spin: how the hell do you guard an incredible athletic 6-9 to 6-11 front court? Guys that are big but can move and play at positions much smaller?

The Cavs are by and far the best team in the league. They proved it in the regular season by finishing with the best record and steam-rolled through the first two rounds of the playoffs. If the Celts were playing the Cavs, we’d probably be seeing Lebron and his army up 3-0 on the Celts. If the Cavs were playing the Lakers right now in the finals, I’m sure they’d be up 2-1. But instead, they find themselves down 2-1 to Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals. A peculiar situation to be in for being the clear cut favorites and  hands-down the best team in the association.

So why are they down 2-1? Again: the Magic pose difficult match-ups in the front court. Orlando certainly doesn’t have a better backcourt, they don’t have a better coach, and this roster has no experience this deep in the playoffs. I will give credit to the Magic bench: Johnson, Pietrus, and Gortat have been stellar. But when it boils down to it, ORL have 3 guys that are difficult to guard. Does this really make the Magic a better team?
I don’t think so. The Cavs are better… but the Magic have the makeup to win this series. Even if the Cavs lose this series, they will be the better team. I didn’t want to believe it, even though if you look at the numbers, Orlando has had Cleveland’s number for the last 2 seasons. I picked Cleveland in 4 games because of how the Cavs have been playing. That was a mistake on my part.

I guess in the end, it doesn’t matter who is better, it just matters who can win. If tennis can teach us anything, match-ups matter more than who is really better.
So we could be looking at a Laker-Magic Finals. How boring is this going to be!??

1997, Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, Stockton nails the winning shot to send the Jazz to the Finals for the first of two times.

1997, Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, Stockton nails the winning shot to send the Jazz to the Finals for the first of two times.

Endnote  •  Dave Berri at the Wages of Win blog just gave some statistics that made my heart flutter: John Stockton is statistically the best player in the history of the Utah Jazz. And of course, I could have told you this empirically: ever watch him play?

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