Hoosiers In The NBA: Zeller Fades Quickly After Fast Start

I hope you all enjoy the game-by-game coverage of these playoffs and for more follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBAPlayoffs.

Things aren’t looking good for Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh as both see their respective teams trailing 2-0 in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. This weekend now becomes a must-win for both of their teams as each play their first home playoff game. But for right now, let’s recap what happened on Wednesday:

 


Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: (6) Charlotte Hornets vs (3) Miami Heat (Miami leads 2-0)

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.

Game 2: Miami 115, Charlotte 103

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 8 points (3-6 FG)(2-3 FT), 5 rebounds, 4 personal fouls, 14 minutes.

Things could not have started any better for Cody Zeller.

The former All-American at Indiana scored the Charlotte Hornets’ first five points and had a total of seven before taking his first breather at the 5:01 mark of the first quarter. Yet it was the variety of his scores that was most impressive. In order: he made a 20-footer, split two free throws, drove right at blockmaster Hassan Whiteside and converted a driving layup, and made a pull-up jumper from around the foul line.

Unfortunately, things would go south very fast for both Zeller and the Hornets. Zeller scored just one more point and played as many minutes the final three quarters as he did in the first quarter.

So how did Zeller go from a potential breakout game in the playoffs to now possibly losing playing time going forward? Here are the three factors that caused this weird scenario:

  1. As good as Zeller was in the first quarter, Al Jefferson was even better in the second quarter. It was a vintage performance from one of the few remaining traditional big men in the NBA as Big Al scored 16 points in the second quarter alone and did so on 8 of 9 shooting. Jefferson finished with 25 points on 12 of 17 shooting and also had seven rebounds.
  2. With Jefferson feeling it on offense, the margin of error became very slim for Zeller as Jefferson is still the better player when both are playing at their best. So the fact that Zeller proceeded to pick up two quick fouls when he returned in the second quarter had him right back on the bench. After a relatively clean first game, Zeller’s foul problems showed up at the worst possible time
  3. Yet despite still being within striking distance midway through the fourth quarter, Hornets’ Head Coach Steve Clifford chose to have neither Jefferson nor Zeller on the court and instead opted for reserve stretch-forward Spencer Hawes. I questioned the move in the moment, but in retrospect I admit to being wrong as it was a necessary gamble. The Hornets transitioned into becoming more of a free-flowing offense this past season, going with less post-ups and taking more three-pointers. However, Charlotte hasn’t been able to buy a three-point basket in this series having gone a combined 7 of 33 (21.2%) including 1 of 16 (6.3%) from deep in game two. Hawes may not be as good of a post scorer as Jefferson or as good of a defender as Zeller, but he’s a 35.3% career three-point shooter and shot 37.3% this past season. It’s become painfully clear the Hornets need to make threes in this series and that means this probably isn’t the last time we’ll hear from Hawes.

Whether or not there will be a change that affects Zeller is still to be determined, but after getting smacked by the Heat for the second time in a row, there needs to be some kind of change if the Hornets want to turn this series around.

 


Western Conference Quarterfinals: (5) Portland Trail Blazers vs (4) Los Angeles Clippers (Los Angeles leads 2-0)

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.

Game 2: Los Angeles 102, Portland 81

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-1 FG), 1 minute.

Unlike game one, Noah Vonleh was restricted to only playing in garbage time during game two, where he almost joined the playoff “Trillion Club” (a term by Mark Titus for when a player logs one minute in a game but records no other stats) but missed it by attempting a field goal, which he missed.

As the series now shifts to Portland there is still a small amount of hope left that Vonleh may still see more meaningful minutes in this series. However, even playing at home might not be enough to convince Portland Trail Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts to place Vonleh in the playing rotation especially after seeing reserve Chris Kaman get Vonleh’s potential minutes on Wednesday.

Vonleh needs to take this experience (or lack of) and use it to motivate him going forward so he never has to be in this position again. He has the talent to be a playoff contributor but at the moment it seems that he’s not even close.

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