Hoosiers In The NBA: Zeller One Of The Few Bright Spots During Hornets’ Blowout Loss

Both Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh kicked off their respective playoff series on Sunday but unfortunately both ended in embarrassment. The Miami Heat obliterated Zeller’s Charlotte Hornets 123-91 and the Los Angeles Clippers demolished Vonleh’s Portland Trail Blazers 115-95.

This week I’m going to give my observations regarding each of their performances. I’ll be doing the same for every playoff game that either play (thankfully both of them play on the same nights) until both have been eliminated from the playoffs. When that happens the following Monday will be my “End Of The Season” Report Card article.

I hope you all enjoy and for more coverage follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBAPlayoffs. Now let’s see how both played on Sunday:

 


Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: (6) Charlotte Hornets vs (3) Miami Heat

Game 1: Miami 123, Charlotte 91

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 9 points (3-4 FG)(3-4 FT), 7 rebounds, assist, personal foul, 20 minutes.

The Miami Heat were literally the living embodiment of their logo (a basketball with flames) when they poured in 41 points in the first quarter on 68.2% (15 of 22) shooting. The Charlotte Hornets never recovered and were run right out of the arena.

It was the kind of loss that makes one revaluate their strategy going forward. Will the Hornets be more likely to abandon both Cody Zeller and Al Jefferson in favor of putting five shooters on the floor?

Head Coach Steve Clifford has until Wednesday to make a decision but if I had to guess I would lean towards the Hornets not making drastic changes for two reasons:

  1. The Heat will not have a better shooting performance in the rest of these playoffs, let alone this series. Specifically, Luol Deng will not have another game where he scores 31 points one 11 of 13 shooting. Deng and Hassan Whiteside were the catalysts behind the dominant first quarter (Deng had 13 points on 5 of 5 shooting and Whiteside had 10 points on 4 of 4 shooting). It’s possible both could do it again but there’s no way it will happen at the same time again.
  2. The Hornets were the second best team in the NBA this season in limiting opponents from grabbing offensive rebounds and fifth in the NBA in grabbing defensive rebounds. On Sunday the Heat grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and held the Hornets to just 21 defensive rebounds. Take into account that at least five of Miami’s offensive boards bounced off a Charlotte player’s hands and I would definitely bet this won’t happen again.

As for Zeller, his playing time might actually increase as this series progresses.

On a dark day for Charlotte, Zeller was one of the team’s lone bright spots. Not only did he set playoff career-highs for points and rebounds, but he was also one of the few Hornets who played solid defense (well at least for three quarters). Every time Dwyane Wade drove to the basket, Zeller matched him stride for stride and prevented him from attempting a layup against him. Unfortunately it didn’t matter as Wade either threw it back out and found an open jump shooter or made a tough runner or floater with Zeller in his face.

But it was a stretch during the third quarter that has me convinced we may be seeing more of Zeller on the floor. With the offense collapsing three minutes into the third quarter, the Hornets ran three consecutive offensive plays for Zeller, which resulted in two made baskets (would have been three baskets if not for a bad pass by Kemba Walker trying to feed Zeller in the paint). Zeller’s defense is so much better than Jefferson’s that if Zeller can score in double-figures regularly then Zeller could see his playing time jump up from 24 minutes per game to 30 or 32.

 


Western Conference Quarterfinals: (5) Portland Trail Blazers vs (4) Los Angeles Clippers

Game 1: Los Angeles 115 123, Portland 95

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-2 FG), 2 rebounds, assist, steal, personal foul, 7 minutes.

I stated in my playoff preview last week that Noah Vonleh could realistically see meaningful minutes against the Los Angeles Clippers because more than likely one of the frontcourt starters would get in foul trouble. While this did happen when Maurice Harkless picked up two quick fouls, Vonleh wasn’t the replacement as instead Portland Trail Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts went smaller and subbed in Allen Crabbe.

However, Stotts did let Vonleh see the floor in the first quarter as he subbed him in for Al-Farouq Aminu just a few minutes later and Vonleh proceeded to play the final four minutes of the quarter.

Those four minutes would be the only meaningful minutes Vonleh would see on Sunday and you can’t blame Stotts after Vonleh performed like a deer caught in the headlights.

A minute after coming into the game, Vonleh got a pass at the top of the key and with no one guarding him he drove to the basket. That proved to be a bad idea as DeAndre Jordan easily stuffed Vonleh as he tried to go hard to the rim. To add insult to injury, the play resulted in a jump ball situation which Vonleh lost to Chris Paul (who is 10 inches shorter). He would get the ball one more time in the quarter with nobody guarding him and it resulted in a terribly executed running hook shot that had no chance of going in the basket.

To be fair to Vonleh, it was his first experience playing in the playoffs. With that being said, it was not an encouraging first impression.

 

 

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