Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cerebral Matter (Playoff Variety)

I know. It's been a while. But there is something about the NBA Playoffs that pushes the pen and inspires inquiry. Perhaps it's a couple long, long-range Lebron jumpers and an effortless triple-double. Phil's insistence of fortuitous free throws -- followed by Durant's rousing roundball retaliation(s). A KG elbow. Lapses and collapses and relapses. How teams respond ... or just give up games on the road because it's "all about protecting home court." Psychological teasing. Crowd pleasing. A Noah remARK that Cleveland "sucks" and how a new kid will boost the young Bucks (see last segment).

All that and then some. Mainly, it's D-Wade that provokes playoff prowess. After all, he is No. 1 in Finals performances. It's mesmerizing to watch Wade do what he did this past Sunday, even though we may have seen similar sequences from others before his 46-point outburst. The fiery compilation produced a memorable scene of him screaming at his shooting hand.

"We were just having a little conversation," said Wade, who had 19 points in the fourth quarter, including 4 of 4 from the 3-point line. "I was just telling him he was hot."
Was it a case of his hot hand? Or more of a hot head (a.k.a. mentally tough mind) -- a strong feeling of confidence that shots will fall -- as in utter enjoyment and efficacious rhythm that draws on zones of optimal functioning or scarcely achieved flow states? A proposed simple explanation from a Caltech Ph.D. conveys the value of confidence, an innermost feeling that can override any sort of statistical analysis or physical fiber:
When you're learning to perform a task for the first time, a "hot hand" type of belief is probably both factually correct (you actually are more likely to get it right if you just got it right a minute ago) and also adaptive (do it right --> more confidence --> do it the same way again, do it wrong --> less confidence --> do something different.)

The basketball players under discussion have skills that are more or less mature; they're not going to get measurably better at shooting over the course of a game. But maybe part of the brain doesn't "know" that. From the point of view of this learning mechanism in the brain, maybe the fact that you just sunk a few baskets indicates that you've learned something new about shooting, so it's time to positively reinforce that learning with a flush of confidence.

Or maybe there were other factors that allowed Dwyane to wade through the Celtic waters with a one-man cast and pounce when the time -- and feeling -- was right.

Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com:

While Wade's glossy 46-point output -- the highest of his playoff career -- is hard to look past, particularly the way he single-handedly rallied the Heat at the start of the fourth quarter of a do-or-die game, the Celtics' mental lapses led to their 101-92 loss in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The Celtics pack a 3-1 series lead and head back to Boston for Game 5 on Tuesday.

For all their talk about being focused solely on Game 4, the Celtics sure didn't appear poised at the start of Sunday's game. The first quarter featured a slew of ill-advised shots and sloppy passes that handed the Heat a pair of big runs.

... and just catching up on some other mental game mentions ...

Jeff Caplan of ESPNDallas.com:

San Antonio's third-quarter Game 4 annihilation, a complete physical and mental domination of Dallas, will go down as the latest playoff collapse of the Mark Cuban era unless a team that appears mind-blown can regroup and somehow win three in a row.

"It's good, man," Jason Terry said, perhaps trying to convince himself, during Sunday's aftermath. "It's good because when your back's against the wall, you really find out who you are, not only as an individual, but as a team. I know what we have on this team and I know what it's going to take for us to get this job done."

Frances White of BleacherReport.com:

Speaking of growing up; Michael Beasley specifically is the one that Wade hopes will take the leap from JV status to Varsity play. Miami's hope of any advancement relies on this gifted athlete's ability to match his mental capacity with his physical tools.

At times he makes it look so easy he can drive effectively with either hand and he can extend the defense with his three point shooting. He even shows some toughness on the boards in spurts. Sadly, the Heat are not looking for spurts they are looking for consistency.

It takes longer for a big man to grow into his game so the Heat will have patience; even though he will be fodder for the big men of the NBA for now.

Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk.com

What gets overlooked with these Lakers is that when healthy, when focused, this was one of the best defensive teams in the league. They were for much of the season. If they return to that form they can shut teams down.

What really is the Lakers calling card is they have the mental game down. It hasn't looked that way lately but they do. Phil Jackson has two hands full of rings for a reason. Kobe is tough. Gasol is mentally tough. The Lakers have won a title, been to the Finals two straight years. They know what it takes more than any team in the West.

When you have the mental game to go with all that high-priced talent. You can win it all. They just have to flip the switch.

Jack Fertig of JackFertig.com:

Larry Brown has made the statement that he doesn’t know whether his Charlotte Bobcats can actually beat the Orlando Magic. Many in the field of psychology would be appalled if they heard the leader of a group say something that would plant a seed of doubt in his team. Being the underdog in the series, you’d think the coach would try to bolster the confidence of his club.

Why, then, would Brown make a comment like that? My guess is that what Larry Brown said is exactly what he believes - and he’s been around long enough and has had so much success that he feels it would be foolish to try to play mind games or use some other psychological ploy.

from NBA.com:

Skiles, no slouch himself running a team in his 10 years in the league as a player, has worked with Jennings at every step. No, Jennings' game is not much like his teacher's, but their vision on the court is something they share.

Now Skiles is waiting to see what Jennings can do in the playoffs.

When asked what he has seen in Jennings' mental makeup that makes him confident that the playoffs won't be too big for him to handle as a rookie, Skiles paused.

"I didn't say that," Skiles said.

Skiles seemed to be sending a message: show me, kid.

"It's going to be interesting to see how he responds," Skiles said. "I would have no problem believing that Brandon's going to come out and play very well in Game 1. You know, on the other hand, it's a different thing. It's something he's got to go through."

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