First-round ramblings

First-round ramblings


First-round ramblings

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Storyline: Derrick Rose injury was costly and most definitely has ruined the Bulls' aspirations of winning their seventh NBA championship.

Take it from someone who played a high number of minutes his first six seasons in the NBA and did not miss a single game until one day I awoke with a back injury.

That was my first injury but unbeknownst to me that injury would be the catalyst for my many injuries to follow. The toughest adjustment for young players is recognizing the signals our bodies send us. Rose no doubt was nowhere near 100 percent and because of it he tried to compensate, but when you do it puts pressure and fatigue on other parts of the body and leaves it vulnerable. That move he made was the same move he has made consistently throughout his basketball career, but this time because of weaknesses elsewhere it caused too much stress and his knee relented.

The Bulls are now left to wonder what could have been and trying to figure out if John Lucas and CJ Watson can somehow produce together enough to win three games. 

Notes: Chicago can't allow Philly to have overpowering quarters like they did in Game 2. Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer have to score consistently, especially in crunch time.

Philadelphia has to force turnovers and use its athleticism to score baskets quickly. Doug Collins knows all too well the 76ers will not shoot the ball consistently against the Bulls' stifling defense.

Forecast: Chicago still has the ability to win three more games against the eight seed despite losing Rose and I expect them to do just that, but if Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner continue to take advantage of matchups and the Sixers keep Deng and Boozer in low double-figure scoring then they will move on to the next round.

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Storyline: LeBron James has been a freight train. He seems to be committed to attacking the rim against a solid Knicks' defense that has been as good as any since the All-Star break.

Amare Stoudemire did not do anything differently than me or many teammates over the course of my career. I remember being so mad during a Western Conference playoff that I kicked a chair so hard I thought I broke my toe. I have seen teammates punch, kick, throw and any of those actions could have led to injury. It's unfortunate, but anyone thinking he meant to slice his hand in half on purpose is downright ignorant and lacks a sense of competitive stress.

The Knicks' loss of Iman Shumpert (ACL) was huge because he was their best perimeter defender.

Notes: The Miami Heat struggle when they trail. They have controlled the tempo in both games and have won seven of the eight quarters played so far.

Also, the Heat has gotten good offensive production from their bench and that might be the biggest surprise of the series so far.

The Knicks knew it would be tough to score consistently in Miami, but they are a different team at home. Carmelo Anthony can't continue to be a roller coaster offensively. The 30 he scored in Game 2 will need to be repeated in both Games 3 and 4.

Forecast: The Heat will come out and play Game 3 like a Game 7. They want to get this series over quickly, especially in light of the Knicks' injuries to key players. I expect Anthony to face fresh defenders for 48 minutes and you can count on James and Dwyane Wade attacking the basket non-stop.

The Knicks need someone other than Melo to step up with a 20-plus outing. JR Smith is the best candidate and so I expect him to put up shots early and often.

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Storyline: The loss of Rajon Rondo really seemed like a great advantage for Atlanta, who made every clutch play in Game 1. But sometimes that forces a sleeping giant to awaken and Paul Pierce did just that scoring 36 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in the Celtics' Game 2 victory.

The Celtics have to be ecstatic about going home 1-1 despite not having Ray Allen and Rondo (for a game), while the Hawks now have to deal with Josh Smith's knee issues.

Marvin Williams has been a no-show and there is no way the Hawks will win another game with only three scorers in double figures in the series.

The biggest mistake of the series so far was not doubling Pierce early and often once it was obvious he was going for it.

Notes: Key efforts from bench players have been vital for both teams in both victories. Ivan Johnson's defense and timely baskets were key in Game 1 for the Hawks and Keyon Dooling's three-point shots allowed Pierce to stick the dagger in game 2.

Boston continues to show that pride and veteran leadership are big when it comes to wining games in the playoffs. When the challenge seems immense, they stand tall.

Forecast: If Josh Smith can't produce double-doubles because of injury, the Hawks have no chance.

I expect Rondo's level of play to explode the rest of this series. His ability to dominate in all areas could be the defining issue for the Celtics and that has to strike fear in the Hawks.

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Storyline: Missed free throws and three-point shots beat a talented Pacer team in Game 1.

Dwight Howard, the top defensive player in basketball, was at home and the diminutive Magic pulled out a shocker. I was excited because I always root for the underdog, but I knew it would not last. If anything, it proved Stan Van Gundy can still motivate this team.

The Pacers should be ready for a sweep, but they still remind us at times how young they are with turnovers, missed assignments and an inability to close out games.

Glen "Big Baby" Davis has finally grown up, so if I were him I would do a name change and call myself Glenn "Grown-Up" Davis.

Notes: The Pacers lost Game 1 because Jason Richardson got free from three too often down the stretch, but I knew fool's gold would not last and in-the-paint points would produce a winner. The Pacers had the advantage going into the series led by Roy Hibbert and they are a plus 52 after three games.

The Magic are shooting 22-64 from three while the Pacers are 14 for 53.

George Hill is showing the San Antonio pedigree with solid play the last two games.

Davis has been the dominant force for Orlando and that's a great sign for next year.

Forecast: I can't be optimistic in regards to Orlando for the rest of the series. The Pacers are just too big. The only hope for the Magic is to get hot from three, but the Pacers seemed determined to run them off of it towards Hibbert.

It still will be interesting to see if the young Pacers are developing that closing gene down the stretch and especially on the road to seize total control of the series.

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Storyline: This was the worst matchup an eighth seed probably has had since the Bulls and Lakers were three-peating. The Spurs are clearly determined to correct the embarrassing defeat by the Grizzlies last year and seem to be on a collective path to not only beat the Jazz but humiliate them in the process.

San Antonio looks extremely energized and determined, which in my estimation presents them as the best team in the Western Conference.

The Jazz are out of their element and rightly so – they are young. But something happens to Jazz teams when they play in Utah in front of the best home playoff crowd in basketball. I expect them to play much better and compete in Games 3 and 4.

Notes: It is hard to win when you shoot below 40 percent and get outscored in the paint when you are the bigger team. That what's happened to the Jazz in the first two games.

Paul Milsap and Al Jefferson have been a combined minus 111 while on the floor the first two games.

Tony Parker deserves and will get MVP votes. He has had a tremendous year and it's continuing in the playoffs.

Forecast: This series seems to be over, but the Jazz will hold on to the premise that a series does not begin until someone wins on the other team's home floor. It's just hard to imagine that scenario not occurring based on what we have seen so far.

I do expect Tyrone Corbin to rally his troops and get a physical passionate effort, which undoubtedly will make for much more competitive games.

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What a difference a year makes. Last season the Mavericks, led by Dirk Nowitzki, seemed to find a way to close out playoff games with ease to win their first NBA championship. After watching the first two contests against the very team they beat to advance to the Finals, you realize things can change quickly. 

The Mavericks are trying to do what the Houston Rockets did by winning a second championship as a seventh seed. It will not happen if they continue to give late leads away and fail to execute down the stretch. The Mavericks quite frankly deserve the right to argue they should be up 2-0 and their only saving grace is that they blew those two games on the road.

The Thunder on the other hand are growing up. They are learning to win games despite having subpar shooting nights from star Kevin Durant, who is 15 for 44 over the first two games.

Russell Westbrook has been the MVP of the series. Dallas has no one who can guard him and he knows it. He is scoring at will with his ability to jump over anyone to get that mid-range shot off.

Notes: Westbrook is carving the Mavericks up with a 28 point spree in the first two games and Serge Ibaka is continuing to show why he had every right to be Defensive Player of the Year.

Shawn Marion is still showing why he has been the most versatile player in the NBA over the last 10 years. He can defend anyone and has frustrated Durant in the series so far.

A Derek Fisher sighting produced 11 points in Game 2. The Thunder will need more to counter the multitude of scorers Dallas can bring off of their bench. The Mavericks are a plus 16 off the bench after the first two games.

Forecast: This series is about to get real nasty. It started early in Game 2 and you can expect the heated moments to ramp up in Dallas. The Mavericks know all too well they can't fall behind 3-0 and so expect emotions to be sky high on both sides. 

The Mavericks have done a good job of contesting shots and I believe they will find success at home if it continues. What has to worry Dallas is the fact Durant has been underachieving. They had two chances because of Durant's errant shooting, but they know he is bound to break out with a monster game and unfortunately it could be on their home floor.

The Thunder understand the pressure that has been laid on them as the team to beat in the Western Conference and I expect a committed effort to send a message to the rest of the NBA that they are determined answer the call.

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Storyline: We became very familiar years ago with the Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant show and now we are witnessing the Kobe and Andrew Bynum show. I must admit it is quite scary how good Bynum has become. I have always said if you want to be considered as the go-to guy on any team, you have to will your way into it. Bynum has done just that and Kobe recognizes it and respects it. The inside-out affair developing among those two has to be a scary thought for every playoff team watching.

Kobe again is showing why he is up there with Michael Jordan as the greatest scorer this game has seen. Did you see how he has educated Arron Afflalo on the fact you can't stop great offense? His footwork is masterful and his desire is unmatched.

The Nuggets have proved one thing and that is they are the fastest team from end to end I have seen in a long time. Every time the Lakers took a bad shot or turned it over, it was a layup for the Nuggets.

Kenneth Faried is making every team that passed him up in the draft look real silly. We once thought we would never see another Dennis Rodman, but he is showing us differently. And he can score to boot!

Notes: It's quite obvious how the Nuggets can beat the Lakers, force turnovers and run and then shoot a good percentage from three.

In Game 2, they scored 21 points off 13 Lakers' turnovers, but they have not shot the three well and that has to change. 8 for 33 from behind the arc will not produce a victory in this series.

The Lakers' bench has been outscored by 37 points something to watch for in Denver.

Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks have been solid in filling in for suspended Metta World Peace.

Forecast: The Nuggets have no chance if they continue to shoot poorly from three and allow Bryant and Bynum to dominate. Their bench has produced well and it's up to the starters to set the tone early in Denver.

The Lakers are going to slow the tempo for two reasons, slow down the up-tempo Nuggets and fight fatigue because of the Denver altitude.

Bynum will not get huge minutes because of fatigue and pace and I expect the Nuggets to win a game or possibly two.

George Karl is a master at junking up a game and he will to the extreme in Game 3.

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Storyline: The Game 1 meltdown was of historic proportions. The Clippers basically played the most perfect last seven minutes of a fourth quarter I have ever seen and it was orchestrated by the best point guard in basketball: Chris Paul.

Everything Chris Paul was in this fourth quarter Mike Conley was not.

The one strait all great point guards had in the history of this game is emotional balance and Conley proved in Game 1 he still has some growing up to do. Point guards can't celebrate like their teammates because their responsibilities cover the team, but Conley was flashing three-point signs and jumping up and down and it was only the first half. If you watch Paul or video of any great point guard, they approached the act of scoring as something that was normal. Paul's demeanor after a great play or basket does not change and he stays in the moment. Conley left the moment and got caught up and ignored what this Grizzlies team is all about and that is ground-and-pound with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.

The Grizzlies recovered in Game 2, but the Clippers have seized home-court advantage.

Caron Butler's injury definitely will have an impact and Bobby Simmons will have to play big for the Clippers to win.

Notes: The Clippers have shot the ball extremely well, but will have to find a way to keep the Grizzlies off the free throw line. 39 attempts by the Grizz in Game 2 were far too many to win a playoff game.

OJ Mayo and Nick Young have been very good off the bench and this battle will be something to watch for in Games 3 and 4.

Conley was much better in Game 2 and his ability to get in the paint was huge.

Rudy Gay is the wild card. The Clippers really don't have anyone who can guard him and it showed in Game 2.

Forecast: The Clippers are explosive at home and the Grizzlies will have to play tough to put pressure on Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. I expect the Staples center crowd to be ramped up and the physicality of this series to match it.

The Grizzlies know how to win on the road and Lionel Hollins has done a great job in making all the right moves to get key victories.

I expected this to be the most exciting series and it has not disappointed so far.

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