ROUND TWO IN NBA

Posted: May 2, 2011 in NBA

Once again I find it hard to stand up for the first round of NBA playoffs as a whole. I am an avid basketball fan and player through the many years of my life, but sadly I cannot defend the first round of the playoffs as must see TV in recent years and this is one of them. Sure I was excited to see if the Heat might fall on their face this being their first time to the dance, or if Chicago really was in for a test as Michael Wilbon warned they would be his ESPN show Pardon the Interruption (PTI). However in the end, we are set up with huge match ups for the second round but not before a quick recap of the first.

 The Eastern Conference held face more or less minus the slip up of the Orlando Magic to the Atlanta Hawks in a stunning six game upset of the 2009 NBA Finals attendees. Dwight Howard played absolutely spectacular basketball averaging 27.0 points and 15.5 rebounds per contest. Sadly, their perimeter shooting or lack there of, led to their eventual defeat.Atlanta figured out that with a roster of big bulky journeymen padding the bench, they could swarm Howard, foul him countless times in 1-on-1 matchups and let Orlando’s reliance on the 3-point shot be the deciding factor. As we all suspected heading into the playoffs years ago with this team, when you leave your chances up to fate, I mean the three ball, more times than not you’re watching the finals at home. Boston, Miami and Chicago moved on with ease. Boston was the only team in the NBA to sweep their series, beating New York 4-0 while Miami handled Philadelphia rather easily in a 4-1 cruise. I would say that Chicago won easily as well, however if you watched those games against the Pacers the Bulls were given a run for their money. They have come out on top but I hope other teams watched these games and saw whatI ndiana was doing to make life difficult for the Rose (co-MVP in my books) led Bulls. All in all what we expected to happen happened, and once we saw Atlanta win their first game with the hack-a-Shaq game plan there was a feeling that Orlando was going down.

 On to the West now, where everyone from coast to coast seems to feel the reigning champion Lakers are destined to emerge champion and once again three –peat under Phil Jackson before sending him off into retirement land. I for one predicted in a previous entry that I saw the Thunder coming out on top after last years progression and the addition of big man Kendrick Perkins during the regular season. But enough about the hypotheticals it’s recap time! LA took care of business as did two others of the top seeds. Oklahoma City (OKC) beat the recent post-Carmelo surging Nuggets in five quick games. I for one was somewhat disappointed to see that as I want nothing but the best for George Karl. When you go through throat cancer radiation therapy while still coaching, while being a father, and still being simply one of the best guys around you want good things for that person. He also was reportedly very distraught during the Carmelo days as he was constantly trying to bond with his star but never quite got through to him. Hopefully they can pick up next season where they left off this year and make a deeper run. The Thunder looked strong as Durant was his usual scoring machine self and Russell Westbrook reminded us again why he’s considered one of the best PG’s in the game, although some character issues started to surface near the end of that series. Questionable shot attempts and selfish play may lead to some reduced time if he can’t learn to understand that he’s the 1A talent to Durant, even though Durant would never look at it that way. Dallas looked strong, at times, during their victorious series against the Trail Blazers. I heard a lot of writers looking at this series as a potential upset as well, however Big D came through and continued their quest to make it to the finals before Dirk’s time is done. San Antonio was the shocker in the West. Many people speculated that the Grizzlies actually threw several of their final games of the season to match up with the old and slightly slumping Spurs, this proved to be a spectacular strategy. Now let’s not forget that Memphis still has a strong team, even without recently paid star Rudy Gay in their playoff roster. OJ mayo, regardless of the stupid steroids suspension (stupid because in the NBA he would’ve still been great without the bulk) is a great player and contributes for this team. Zach Randolph, for all his reported short comings on D or as a competitor, still averages 20 and 10 for five of the last six seasons and has been bringing it in the playoffs. Combine that size and productivity with monstrous 7’1 Marc Gasol. He may have only averaged almost 12 points and 7 rebounds in the regular season, but his size and intensity make him invaluable on the floor in these playoffs. Bringing almost KG like intensity on the defensive end and playing hard every possession has made every player on this starting five a contributor. Lest we forget the defensive prowess of Shane Battier who is always a handy player to have on your roster, and Mike Conley, whether you agree with his contract extension or not he is the floor general of this team and right now he seems to be pointing them straight to the promised land.

 So now we’re set up with the second round of the playoffs and they look something like this:

EAST

#1ChicagoBulls vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks (Bulls won regular season series 2-1)

#2MiamiHeat vs. #3 Boston Celtics (Celtics won 2008 Title, Celtics won regular season series 3-1)

WEST

#2 LA Lakers vs. #3 Dallas Mavericks (LA two-time defending champs, won regular season series 2-1)

#4Oklahoma Cityvs. #8Memphis(Memphiswon regular season series 3-1)

 All of these matchups are interesting because of the obvious, that they all won the previous series so they’re coming into them playing well, but also because we see old favourites and the young teams that will be instrumental in the changing of the guard in the NBA. We get to see what the talented trio in South Beach can finally do on the biggest of stages and if they can figure out a way to work together when playing the vets over a seven game series. I will definitely be watching all I can of this as I want to see if Boston, the original “Big 3” are at their end and have to ride off into the sunset and how the new Big 3 will adapt to each other and find ways to win. LeBron and D-Wade have been waiting all season to finally come together and display their immense talents together when it matters most. The Chicago/Atlanta series I’m not particularly interested in because I feel that Chicago will handle it easily, as they should. They’re the #1 seed in the East, Atlanta historically does not perform that great in the playoffs and frankly there’s just too much else on to make this a priority when I don’t root for either team exclusively.

As for the Western matchups LA and Dallas will be interesting as we finally get to see Kobe and Dirk face off in the playoffs. Now granted this isn’t like seeing LeBron andKobe matchup as they would probably guard each other. Dirk will certainly not be given responsibility of taking Kobe on the defensive end because frankly, he can’t. But they each provide their own history with each team and although Kobe is undeniably one of the most decorated NBA stars Dirk has more quietly had a very successful career. A product of Germany, he has carved out a very nice career for himself in Dallas, but sadly the elusive championship is still avoiding him and I just don’t see him getting one in this environment. He might have to take a minimum contract somewhere in order to achieve that one last goal on his to-do list in the NBA before his time is done. OKC and Memphis will be great because we get to see two of the youngest and more exciting teams in the West go head to head. It’s unfortunate that these two will not be battling for the chance to play in the NBA Finals, but a place in the conference finals will have to do. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will hog the highlights of this series but don’t count Memphis out. After strong overall play against the Spurs this team can easily make a run to the conference finals and maybe take some teams by surprise.

To sum up, the first round was predictable as usual for the NBA first round series but many games were worth watching. The NHL won the playoff battle this time around with HALF their series going to a game 7, but make no mistake round two in playoff town is a whole new ball game and the NBA can still redeem itself with playoff excitement. The only way to know is to find out, and I plan on doing just that.

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