Hoosiers In The NBA: Hornets Tie Playoff Series And Zeller’s Improvement From Two Years Ago

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.

Monday saw both the Charlotte Hornets and the Portland Trail Blazers even up their playoff series and also saw momentum swing in their favor. Let’s see how both series are progressing after four games:

 


Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: (6) Charlotte Hornets vs (3) Miami Heat (Series Tied 2-2)

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. (-20 plus/minus)

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. (0 plus/minus)

Game 3: Charlotte 96, Miami 80

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 12 points (4-8 FG)(4-4 FT), 8 rebounds, block, 2 turnovers, 5 personal fouls, 26 minutes. (+18 plus/minus)

Game 4: Charlotte 89, Miami 85

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 8 points (3-4 FG)(2-2 FT), 4 rebounds, turnover, 4 personal fouls, 21 minutes. (+20 plus/minus)

It was just four days ago that many thought the Miami Heat were well on their way to sweeping the Charlotte Hornets. After all, the Heat had won the first two games by breaking multiple team playoff records and the Hornets were a defensive mess who now had to play without their do-it-all wing Nic Batum.

Now the Heat return to Miami, but instead of preparing for their second round matchup they are frantically searching for a solution to the Hornets’ new rotation.

Charlotte Head Coach Steve Clifford matched Miami’s size by rotating Marvin Williams over to small forward (in place of Batum) and starting Frank Kaminsky at power forward. In addition, Clifford had Al Jefferson replace Cody Zeller as the starting center so Jefferson could add some offense to the first unit and Zeller could add some defense to the second unit.

Every move has worked as not only have the Hornets tied the series but their defense has also returned to form, holding a Heat team that averaged 119 points in the first two games to just 82.5 points per game over the last two.

Maybe the biggest surprise is how well Zeller has played despite losing his spot in the starting lineup. Just take a look at his stats through four playoff games and compare it to his averages during his first playoff series (which was also against the Heat) where his team was swept in four games:

  • Cody Zeller’s 2014 Playoff Averages (4 games): 2.0ppg, 2.3rpg, 0.5apg, 0.75bpg, 0.5tpg, 0.8fpg, 33.3% FG, 50.0% FT, 13.3mpg.
  • Cody Zeller’s 2016 Playoff Averages (4 games): 9.3ppg, 6.0rpg, 0.3apg, 0.25bpg, 0.8tpg, 3.5fpg, 59.1% FG, 84.6% FT, 20.3mpg.

They might not be the flashiest stats, but they are a monumental improvement from what he contributed just two years ago. But it’s not just the boxscore stats that make him an irreplaceable presence for the Hornets. It’s the impact he has on the game, as the Hornets have outscored the Heat by a combined 38 points over the last two games when he’s been on the court.

Offensively he’s been the equivalent of a fullback or an offensive lineman. He has been able to set perfectly placed screens to get guards Jeremy Lin, Courtney Lee, and Kemba Walker the space they need to either drive to the basket or get an uncontested three-point attempt. He has also improved on rolling to the basket on pick-and-roll plays and as a result has scored the majority of his baskets on these plays.

Defensively, Zeller has always been an asset but he has really proved his worth in this series. While he’s at a weight disadvantage when guarding other centers, his quickness, athleticism, and length allow him recover very quickly. So if an opposing big man backs Zeller down, the former All-American at IU is able eliminate any separation almost immediately. Zeller has used these three traits to stop slashers like Dwyane Wade and Goran Dagic in their tracks, and recently in game four he used them to contest more than a few three-point attempts that would have been wide open.

It’s because of all of these factors that Clifford still has Zeller and not Jefferson playing center during crunch time. As a result, Zeller is actually earning more minutes coming off the bench than he was when he was starting.

Game five may decide the series as a Hornets’ win would give them the opportunity to win the series at home. Just know that when Wednesday’s game is on the line, Zeller will be on the court and his play will be one of the major keys that will determine the outcome.

 


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

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.

Game 3: Portland 96, Los Angeles 88

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: DNP – coach’s decision

Game 4: Portland 98, Los Angeles 84

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: DNP – coach’s decision

Even though Noah Vonleh didn’t leave the bench again, things are looking great for his him and his Portland Trail Blazers.

While it is unfortunate that Vonleh is only able to see the floor during blowouts, the likelihood of blowouts has greatly increased after Chris Paul left game four with a broken hand. Add in that Blake Griffin is banged up and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if the Los Angeles Clippers end up losing the next two games.

Whether or not Vonleh has a better chance at playing meaningful minutes in a potential second round matchup with the Golden State Warriors is yet to be seen, but it’s always good to have more opportunities.

 

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