Cleveland vs. Detroit
It is pretty obvious that the mindset of these two teams are direct opposites. The Cavaliers are hungry and willing to please while the Pistons seem like a group ready for a vacation. I continue to laugh at people who think the NBA season starts in April. The reason the Cavaliers are good is because of the consistency they have developed during the year and the reason Detroit is playing poorly is because they treated the season like a training camp. I continue to remind people about how special Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Hakeem Olajawon, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan are. They never lost the hunger to win multiple championships. This Piston team has proven to us that they are a content group and the Cavaliers should sweep them if they don’t let down their guard.
The Pistons are paying a serious price for losing the leadership of Chauncey Billups. Combine that with the mistake of not drafting Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh in 2003 and Joe Dumars now has to blow up this team next year. I love Antonio McDyess, but the move he made by forcing Denver to buy out his contract to go back to Detroit will go down as one of the worst personal decisions he will ever make in his life.
I continue to marvel at LeBron James. He is on par with Kobe Bryant as the smartest basketball player in the NBA. We are watching a combination of skill and power that this game has never seen. The 38-8-7 night he had in Game 1 was a message to the rest of the playoff teams that King James is on a mission.
Chicago vs. Boston
I thought Chicago made a mistake when they took Derrick Rose over Michael Beasley. I understood the marketing aspect of it all, but I still thought Beasley was the right choice. Well, I was dead wrong. Rose has proven to me all year that he was the right pick and after the 36 points and 11 assists he put on Boston in Game 1, I would tend to think the Celtics are believers as well. Doc Rivers made a remark last year when people were applauding what a great coaching job he did in the Celtics championship run… He said, “I ran the same stuff the year before and got blasted for doing a poor coaching job.”
You do not have success in this league without great players. Kevin Garnett is a great player and most importantly is the emotional leader of the Celtics. Without Garnett, the Celtics are a 5th or 6th seed. So it is no surprise the Bulls were able to beat them and it was no surprise that Rose shredded their tough defense. I love Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, but they will need some tremendous defensive help from Kendrick Perkins, Leon Powe and the rest of the guys to make up for the loss of Garnett.
The Bulls are young and hungry and as I mentioned above in reference to the Pistons, it is hard to win back-to-back championships. I still think the Celtics have enough to win this series, but they will not if Rose continues to attack the rim and create opportunities for his teammates. This has quickly become the best series to keep an eye on.
(I wonder if Stephon Marbury realizes Derrick Rose is a mirror image of what people thought he would become with his combination of scoring, defense and the leadership he has portrayed this season).
Orlando vs. Philadelphia
I missed this game and I was extremely surprised when I saw the final score, but Philly has made a consistent effort to change people’s opinions come playoff time. Last year they had Detroit on the brink of elimination before they ran out of nerves and gas.
Orlando will now find out how difficult they are to beat. This was the worst matchup for the Magic because Philly is better at what Orlando likes to do. The edge Orlando has is Dwight Howard, but if he does not have monster games the Magic are in serious trouble.
The keys to this series are Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu. They cannot continue to shoot poorly and most importantly they have to get back in transition to keep Andre Miller out of the paint. Miller is the most underrated point guard in the NBA and he is a potential triple-double every game he plays.
The Magic better use the length of Lewis and Turkoglu to get more interior shots to slow the pace or the Sixers or they will suffer. Also, would someone please tell Rafer Alston that he is a point guard and not a shooter? He took 15 shots and made 5 and he shoots 38 percent for the year. Stan Van Gundy also needs to calm down or he will prove Shaq’s assessment of being a nervous coach down the stretch to be correct. A good team like the Magic should not be blowing 14-point leads in the fourth quarter. I am reminded that most great coaches will say, give me a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. The pressure is on them to solidify the win.
I think Orlando will win the series, but it will go 6 or 7, which will kill their chances to stay fresh enough to deal with Cleveland in the conference finals.
Atlanta vs. Miami
The Miami Heat are arriving in Atlanta on Wednesday, I assume, because they sent their junior varsity team on Sunday and the Atlanta Hawks spanked them and cruised to one of the easiest playoff victories I have seen in a while. Josh Smith had his own personal dunk contest going on throughout the game.
The Atlanta Hawks are a dangerous team and the scare they put into the Celtics last year is giving them the confidence to excel in this year’s playoffs. This Hawks’ version is much better defensively and extremely unselfish. Mike Woodson has done one of the best coaching jobs this year and it showed in his defensive plan against Dwyane Wade in Game 1. Wade was 8 for 21 in a devastating display of offense and defense from the Hawks.
The Heat played like a young team and left Wade alone on an island. That cannot continue to happen or this series will be over in a hurry. This victory is bittersweet for the Hawks because the challenge for Mike Woodson will be to get his team to believe that Game 1 was a mirage and the real Heat team will show up on Wednesday.
I do not expect the Heat to shoot 36 percent again and struggle from behind the three-point line (4-23), but if they do they will need to grab more than the five offensive rebounds they had in Game 1.
LA Lakers vs. Utah
The Utah Jazz will be swept out of the first round quickly if they continue to shoot 39 percent while giving up 55 percent to the powerful Lakers. Logic tells me that this trend will not continue to happen especially if Mehmet Okur gets back in the lineup for Game 2. The Lakers toyed with the Jazz in Game 1. The Jazz hung around and probably could have made it a game if they did not blow the many opportunities the Lakers gave them around the basket.
The Lakers’ length is obviously a major problem for the Jazz, so in that instance they will need to get better outside shooting from Deron Williams, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and CJ Miles.
The Laker bench had 33 points to offset the 37 the Jazz bench produced. Utah has no chance to win one game if that trend continues because the Lakers starters will have a stranglehold on that scoring advantage all series long.
Trevor Ariza was huge with his 21 points on 8 for 10 shooting. The Lakers are looking to close this series out fast, but they better be very cautious about any letdown in Game 2 because Utah is the most difficult place to play, especially come playoff time. L.A does not need that kind of stress in their run for another championship.
New Orleans vs. Denver
This was a beat down of surprising proportions, but not unexpected if both Chauncey Billups and JR Smith shoot the ball like they did in Game 1. I think the Nuggets would have beaten anyone shooting the ball like that. Billups sent a serious message to Chris Paul and the Hornets by draining 8 three-point shots and scoring 36 points. Smith did not shoot it well. He was 0-7 from behind the arc, but he made some acrobatic jumpers in the third quarter to put the Hornets out of their misery and think about Game 2.
The Nuggets are a volatile team and usually come playoff time those teams eventually lose, but Denver plays emotional/physical defense and the Hornets seemed to back down from it in Game 1. Don’t expect it to happen again. I picked the Hornets to win this series and I still see it happening, especially if they can keep Carmelo Anthony under wraps, which is not easy. Also Billups will continue to play well, but not to the tune of 8 for 9 three-pointers and 36 points. And that means others will have to step up for the Nuggets to win the second game.
The Hornets’ goal is to win one game away because they know the Nuggets have struggled on the road this year and the emotion they rely on can backfire when things are not going well for them.
David West has to become a more physical presence in protecting Chris Paul from the over excessive contact from Kenyon Martin and Dahntay Jones. I am sure the best officials will be working the rest of this series because it’s about to become a fist-fight.
San Antonio vs. Dallas
The benches will be the difference in this series and the Mavericks have a big advantage as it showed in Game 1. The Mavericks led by Jose Juan Barea, Brandon Bass and likely Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry outscored the Spurs bench 39 to 14.
The Spurs are a beaten-down bunch and the patchwork job that Gregg Popovich has done over the last few years has finally taken a toll. Without Manu Ginobili, I can’t imagine the Spurs beating the Mavericks trying to rely on just Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.
The Mavericks have too many weapons and most importantly they are playing excellent basketball. We have to admire how good Duncan and Parker are. If you told me that 36-year-old Michael Finley, Matt Bonner and Roger Mason would be starting alongside them in a playoff series, I would have said they needed to explore what vacation destination they would be headed to after Round 1.
If Popovich finds a way to win this series, he will definitely become a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He already is the best smoke-and-mirrors coach I have ever seen, but if Josh Howard can stay healthy with that gimpy ankle the Spurs will need much more than that to survive a first-round ouster.
The player of the game was Erick Dampier. His 10 points and 11 rebounds were big, but his ability to keep Tim Duncan off the free throw line was huge. Duncan had only 1 attempt in 37 minutes.
Portland vs. Houston
Aaron Brooks is the real deal. People wonder why the Rockets gave Rafer Alston away. Now you know why. Brooks has replaced the offensive production of Tracy McGrady but in a more efficient way. The Blazers have no answer for Brooks and that might be the difference in this series before it’s over. He was 10 of 17 with 7 assists and 2 turnovers and I thought jumpstarted a Rocket team that all of sudden is looking like the one team that will make it extremely difficult for the Lakers before it is over.
I can’t ignore the perfect game Yao Ming sent the Blazers way in just 24 minutes of action. He did not miss a shot. 9-9 from the field and 6-6 from the line for 24 points.
The physical presence of the Rockets and the youthfulness of the Blazers jumped off the screen in Game 1 and it will be interesting to see how the Blazers react from the beating they received.
LaMarcus Aldridge will have to show up. He was a nervous puppy Saturday and I don’t expect him to be that way in Game 2, but will it be enough?
The Blazers win with energy, but the Rockets create a major problem with their half-court offense. Don’t be surprised if Nate McMillan gives seldom-used rookie Jerryd Bayless a look to try and put some pressure on Aaron Brooks on the offensive end if he gets it going again in Game 2.
I still give the Rockets the edge in this series based on experience.