NBA Playoffs 2011: What to Expect from the Rest of the 1st Round
Each team has played through the first three games (except San Antonio vs. Memphis and Oklahoma City vs. Denver, but at this point they play in like eight hours, so whatever) of their first-round matchup, and after a few upsets and a few monster games, we're still left with a big pile of "what next?" left on our plates.
I'll go conference to conference, matchup through matchup and decide how I think it's all going to go down from here on out.
Western Conference: The Spurs Are Doomed to Always Be Overlooked
We all pretty much chalked this one up to, "Oh, it's just the Spurs" like we always do. Let's all just overlook the fact that Memphis taking Game 1 has been arguably the biggest upsets of the playoffs so far, and yet all of 13 people watched the game.
Do people in Memphis even like basketball? And isn't Texas football country?
Either way, the Spurs are still the Spurs. Just, you know, a little bit older.
There will come a time when the Spurs are going to finally stop being so freakishly, consistently, unbearably good (triple adverb?). They'll be dethroned sooner or later, but something tells me it isn't going to be the Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies this year.
The Grizz don't have a single player you could describe with anything higher than moderately above-average. Even Z-Bo.
Spurs will win in six because Game 2 was not much of an improvement from Game 1, and the Grizz'll take one on their home court.
Western Conference: Don't Piss off Kobe... or Andrew Bynum?
Nonetheless, as soon as I heard that CP3 scored 19 in the final nine minutes of Game 1 to lead NOLA to the upset, I turned to my friend in the backseat of the Dodge Neon we were riding back from IU in and said, "Well, Kobe's pissed. The Hornets won't win another game."
As much as I love to hate Kobe, there's no way he'd rest until he paid back Paul by driving the Hornets into the ground personally. He may not have been the biggest factor for the Lakers in the series thus far (Andrew Bynum, if anyone), but he has made sure he's done just enough to ensure that he doesn't get embarrassed on TV again.
You've gotta respect a player who takes every loss personally, and I don't see anyone really challenging the Lakers when Kobe's pissed off unless they have the firepower to back themselves up. The Hornets have Chris Paul, but no one else who can stand up to anyone on L.A. The Lakers will cruise until they face an Oklahoma City or a San Antonio.
Lakers in five.
Western Conference: The Mavs... No One Really Likes the Mavs
Show of hands, how many of you who live in a state that doesn't border Texas have actually seen the Mavs play? There's a reason for that. Everyone knows they aren't going to do anything in the playoffs.
They'll beat the Blazers, but that's the Blazers. They won't beat anyone else. The Thunder, Spurs and Lakers would all crush the Mavs with their interior defense, and J. Kidd isn't going to shoot the lights out forever. He's not Ray Allen.
Hell, I'd put money on the Nuggets beating the Mavs in a seven-game series. They're just plain not that good. They rely on the master of the one-footed shot (Dirk), the point guard that thinks he's younger than he is and sometimes surprises us (Kidd), the NBA Sixth Man of the Year from a couple years ago (Jason Terry) and one freak athlete that can't do anything consistently well except rebound and block shots (Tyson Chandler).
Not really a good recipe for a championship contender.
Where the Mavs are at is kinda their ceiling. I don't really see them getting any better from here without some kind of overhaul.
Western Conference: The Thunder Can Scrap with Every Team in the Playoffs
The Thunder might have the toughest matchup for any top 4-seed in the entire playoffs, and yet they're the only team I've not had a single worry about. They're young, they're hungry and they're well rounded.
The Kendrick Perkins-Jeff Green trade might be the best trade of the past 10 years in terms of turning a team into an immediate contender. They got rid of some excess scoring in favor of completing the best defensive frontcourt in the entire league (except maybe Carlos Boozer-Joakim Noah in CHI).
They've got a great combination of scoring and defense at the shooting guard position with James Harden (scoring) and Thabo Sefolosha (defense), LeBron James in a point guard's body (Russell Westbrook) and the best pure scorer in the game (Kevin Durant).
The only thing the Thunder really lack is playoff leadership. Perkins has been deep in the playoffs a few times with the Celtics, so he'll be able to fill some of that need, but he's not really a floor leader. Regardless, the Thunder are built to neutralize every team in the West if they play well.
The Nuggets were playing better than any team in the NBA going into the playoffs, and the Thunder are disposing them as if it, ahem "ain't no thang."
Thunder in five.
Eastern Conference: The Magic Are the Weak Link of the Top Seeds
But the thing is, the Hawks aren't anything special either. This series is kind of face-melting because you have to know neither of these teams would win a second-round series, so it's kind of a "who really cares?" situation.
Either way, this series is shaping up to go seven games, which has quite a bit of entertainment value in itself, and even though the Hawks have had their number so far in the series, I don't really see Dwight taking a first-round upset lying down. He's too dominant, no matter how well Al Horford and Josh Smith play.
Magic in seven.
Eastern Conference: The Celtics Are Still the Team to Beat in the East
The Knicks have fought valiantly, even with all of their injuries, but was there ever really a doubt that the Celts would take this series? They have everything the Knicks have, and they play stellar defense.
The Celtics have a guy that can take care of business in literally every game situation that could arise, and even though the Perkins trade hurt them in the short term, in the long term, it's a smart trade.
Rondo is now a top-five PG in the league, Allen can hit Jimmer three's with his eyes closed, Pierce was clutch before it was cool to call Kobe clutch, Garnett is arguably the best PF of the last 20 years and the Celtics have a very serviceable plug-n-play system going on at Center.
They really don't have any weaknesses, and the Knicks being without Chauncey Billups, and essentially without Amar'e Stoudemire, doesn't give anyone any hope.
Eastern Conference: The Heat Secretly Have Been the Strongest Team so Far
The Thunder and the Heat have had the least amount of trouble from their opponents, and it's weird to say that, because before the playoffs started, those were the two matchups that people could see upsets happening in.
Most of the ESPN panel had a seven game series for the Thunder, and a lot of analysts were talking about the perimeter D of the 76ers and how they were poised for the upset over the Heat.
So much for that.
If you would have asked me who I thought was going to get out of the East based on the first two games of each series, I would have told you the Heat. They have dominated the Sixers for the most part with what has seemed like little effort, while the Bulls, Celtics and Magic have all struggled much more than the Heat have.
The Mike Bibby signing weirdly might have been what the Heat needed. Ever since he's arrived, the Big Three have been playing seamlessly. Maybe all they needed was a consistent three-point threat, since Mario Chalmers, James, Jones and Mike Miller haven't been able to provide that all year.
Look for the Heat to seriously challenge the Celts in the second round. They don't look like they'll be slowing down any time soon.
Eastern Conference: The Bulls Are Showing Weaknesses They Haven't All Year
The Bulls were the best team in the NBA during the regular season. They really seemed like the team to beat and rightfully so. But nagging concerns have risen since then.
For one, how much longer can Derrick Rose carry the team offensively like he has. Every time the Bulls are in trouble offensively, Rose bails them out with his hyper-athleticism.
That's all well and good, because Rose is an otherworldly talent, but it's got to be scary to be a Bulls fan right now, because honestly, he's showing signs that he can't keep this up throughout the entirety of the postseason.
He's got a hell of a motor, but every car breaks down on a long enough road trip. All it takes is one bad pothole. Rose is about to live the life LeBron James has lived for the past seven years, but with a better supporting cast.
I'd bet LeBron is sitting around somewhere saying something to himself, "This is why I teamed up with Dwayne and Chris. Three Motors."
That being said, their defensive prowess will carry them to the Conference Finals at least, but it'll be a feat for them to get to the Finals, let alone win it. The Celtics and Heat will take advantage of how much the Bulls are being worn down by the Pacers, and how much the Hawks or Magic will wear them down after that.
Bulls in five.