NBA Mailbag

NBA Mailbag: How do players elevate their game in the playoffs?

Three-time Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford responds to playoff questions in the 2nd edition of the NBA Mailbag.

The NBA Mailbag is here to answer your questions throughout the 2023 playoffsHave a question for Jamal? Submit it at the bottom of this edition of the NBA Mailbag.

How do players manage to elevate their games in the playoffs and in clutch situations? How does it work?

— Pari in Vancouver

Players tend to really step up in big moments through preparation. Preparation happens in the gym, but it also happens by watching film and taking care of your body. It happens through a load of confidence, as well. Heightened confidence – kind of visualizing and seeing that game-winning shot going through the net before it happens. So then when it happens, you’ve already seen that moment and you have confidence you’ll come through for yourself and your team in that situation.

What city was hardest to play in? What was your favorite?

— Fernando in Kyle, TX

The city that was the hardest to play in was New York because they’re brutally honest. And I love that about them. If you’re not ready for that honesty, then you’re not ready for New York basketball. So that was the hardest, as well as my favorite along with L.A. because if you can rise up to the occasion in those spots, then you feel like you can play well anywhere.

With a lot of balanced matchups in the conference semis, which series do you think will go to 7 games?

— Malvin in Singapore

Warriors-Lakers. I feel like they’re so balanced and they both have their advantages. But I feel like it’ll come down to a chess match between great players having great moments. So I can see that one going seven games.

Thanks for checking in from Singapore!

Anthony Davis and L.A. powered past Golden State in Game 1.

Who do you think will come out of the Sixers-Celtics series and do you think whoever comes out will win the East?

— Xavier in Australia

I still believe the Celtics will come out of this series. With Embiid still not being 100%, even when he returns, that will play a factor. But it was nice to see James Harden go off and show that he can still go score at will.

I said it before and I’m holding onto it – the Celtics will represent the East in the Finals.

Thanks for tapping in from Australia!

What’s it like playing with such a smart player like Chris Paul?

— Kirk in Maryland

It’s special because besides the things you see – the talent, the IQ – it’s the things you don’t see, like his love of the game and his preparation, that stand out. I have so much respect for that part of it because very few I’ve played with love the game to the degree that Chris Paul does.

Who are the smartest (ball IQ) players you’ve ever played with? Starting 5 format.

— Tom in Union, NJ

Wow, I’ve never been asked that. It’s hard because I’ve played with so many legends. Let’s go with:

  • Chris Paul
  • Penny Hardaway
  • Scottie Pippen
  • Blake Griffin
  • Grant Hill / Chauncey Billups / Rick Brunson / LaMarcus Aldridge

There’ve been too many to keep it limited to five guys. And I’m sure I’m missing some others.

What is the biggest difference as a player going from regular season to postseason basketball in regard to preparation, practice, etc?

— Laine in Jacksonville

When you’re playing a team in the regular season, you’ll play them on a random January night in Utah and then only see them a couple of other times all season. So you only know a little bit about them. When you play a team in the playoffs, you know everything about them. You know about the eighth guy off the bench. You know about their favorite play calls. You have to know that team just as well as you know yourself. So that’s the major difference.

Who was the toughest player you had to guard in your career and who was the toughest defender to score on?

— Arsenii in Switzerland

That’s easy. The toughest player I ever had to guard in my career was Kobe Bean Bryant (Rest In Peace). He was so tough because not only did he have more skill than anybody, but he also had more will than anybody. He was fearless. He didn’t care how he was shooting – at any point he could become hot. And then it would be a long night. You lost sleep guarding Kobe.

On the other hand, Tony Allen was the toughest defender that ever guarded me because he didn’t care about scoring – at all! Scoring didn’t excite him. Getting a stop excited him. And playing against a guy like that was hell. I did not like it. It wasn’t fun. He was so good defensively.

Thanks for writing in from Switzerland!

How much of an impact does the team’s chemistry play into the team’s overall success at this point in the season?

— Adam in Indianapolis

It’s huge to have guys who are more worried about team success than their own success, especially at this point in the season. When you’re trying to win a championship, everybody has to be pulling in the same direction – from players to coaches to the front office. So if any one of those are off-kilter, it will show on the court.

What player’s performance has surprised you the most these playoffs?

— Michelle in Andover, MN

That’s a great question. I’ll say Jimmy Butler because I thought Miami would have a tough time scoring to beat some of the elite-level teams. But Jimmy just said, “You know what? I’m going to put the team on my back and average 36 points in the first round against the top-seed Bucks.” So I would say that was the most surprising, not because I didn’t think Jimmy could do that. I just didn’t know he alone would be enough to beat Milwaukee.

What’s the song or artist you always listened to get you fired up before a playoff game?

— Connor in Iowa

Before a playoff game, you’re usually tense and excited. So what I would do was listen to the same music I did in high school before games (Jay Z, The Lox, Mariah Carey – a little bit of everything) because I wanted that freedom and confidence I had in high school before a big game. So I used the music to get into that mode.

In one word, how would you describe LeBron James at this stage in his career?

— Cyrille in Murrieta, California


What’s it like losing to the underdog?

— Bradyn

It feels like the end of the world, especially in the social media era. You don’t want to walk outside because you feel embarrassed. You were favored to win, you were supposed to win … the whole country thought you were going to win. It’s tough if you lose a playoff game and you’re not the underdog. So imagine being the one that was supposed to win and you lose it. It really hurts.

If the Golden State Warriors win the championship again this season, will it be the team’s most impressive accomplishment in their history?

— Rishabh in India

Thanks for the question from India! I thought last year was the most impressive just based on what they had to go through and figure out from the year before. Now they’re the defending champs, so I still think last year was more impressive.

Hi Jamal, after your boy Paolo won Rookie of the Year, what do you think about the development of the Orlando Magic?

— Vicky in the UK

The Magic definitely have a bright future. They have so many pieces in place with Bol Bol, Cole Anthony, Franz Wagner and Markelle Fultz. And Paolo is right at the center of that. He’s what you want to represent not only your franchise but the entire league as well.

Do you ever go back and watch your own highlights?

— Jack in State College, PA

Yes! As crazy as it sounds, I steal from myself. So I will go back and watch different sets of moves I was doing when I was with the Knicks or the Bulls or all the way to the Clippers and beyond. Then I may work on that move I haven’t done in 10 years and bring it back, just to put it back in my arsenal. So yes, I do go back to watch my own highlights to steal and see how I could teach kids some of the things I was doing.

I’m a basketball player development coach. What is something I can really teach them that you feel can better their overall development?

— Tyrek in Lubbock, TX

I know a lot of kids right now want to get into their “bag” as far as ball handling. But working on the fundamentals over and over and over again will lead to more success. When you get your “bag” you’re fitting with a certain team. When you have fundamentals, you can play with anybody and play longer.

How did you balance your love for the game and your home life, especially if you were to make the playoffs and extend your season?

— Adam in North Ft. Meyers, FL

No matter what I was going through, basketball was always the one escape. Those two or three hours you could always kind of get away, just focus on the game and have fun. And it’s tough balancing family with that. I have a T-shirt that says “Ball is life” and my wife says that’s an understatement for me – basketball is everything. But you can’t accomplish anything without the support of your family. My wife is the best. She takes care of the whole family, the whole house. And it allowed me when I was playing to just concentrate on the game while she took care of everything else. I’m so, so, so appreciative of her. She made me a better basketball player.

Hey, Rainer Beach in the building! I want to know about your transition to being a broadcaster from playing basketball. What are some pros and cons of now being an analyst?

— Autumn in Seattle

I’ll start with the cons first. The con is that travel is tough. I don’t like to travel like that. But that’s really the only con for me. The pros are you get to be around the game. You get to talk about the game. You get to analyze the game. When I was a player, I didn’t talk much. So this is the first time people have really heard me talk this much on TV all the time. But you get to see the game from a different perspective and share it. When you’re talking, you’re teaching. And that’s a really cool opportunity for people to see you teach something.

Is it more beneficial for a team’s confidence and momentum to win a playoff series in dominant fashion or to win a tough, close series?

— Jeff

I think winning a tough, close series goes further for you. If you win in a dominant fashion, the second you see adversity you might not be prepared. But if you go through adversity and you still found a way to win, you can always lean on that and look back on it. You move forward knowing you can come through in an adverse situation.

Why are some players constantly wiping the bottom of their shoes with their hands? It seems like their hands would be more sweaty than the bottom of their shoes. And if it was effective, why wouldn’t all players do it? Is it just a nervous habit? Thanks for your input.

— Elijah

It’s funny you ask that because my son does it all the time. I think part of it is about grip and part of it is just an anxious release. It lets you know you’re in the game, you’re about to start running and getting into it. So I think it’s a little of both, but more so the anxious release of letting go of whatever you’re going through.

Have A Question For Jamal? Submit It Below!

Check back next week for another edition of the NBA Mailbag.