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Five Things We've Learned from the NBA Playoffs So Far

Samuel Bell JrSenior Analyst IApril 29, 2009

BOSTON - APRIL 28:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics directs his teammates against the Chicago Bulls  in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at TD Banknorth Garden on April 28, 2009 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeated the Bulls 106-104 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

I woke this morning to SportsCenter talking about how close the Boston Celtics-Chicago Bulls series has been, and I hadn't gotten over the epic Game Five I'd just witnessed.

Paul Pierce was like the Resurrection in the fourth quarter and overtime, and as he made John Salmons and Derrick Rose look silly over and over again, the game slipped right by Chicago at the hands of the Truth.

Truth be told.

After watching such a close game, the Dallas Mavericks followed in the doubleheader by beating on the Spurs for a fourth and final time. Someone had finally managed to put Tim Duncan out of the playoffs in the first round.

I couldn't have been happier.

As much as I love the Big Fundamental and Eva's man, I'm just tired of them. Period. They've won enough together and are such a boring team to watch.

It still feels weird to say, "The Spurs are out of the playoffs and it isn't even May yet!"

Defensive stopper Bruce Bowen looked like defensive flopper as Jason the Jet, Dirk Nowitzki and Josh "everyone forgot about my horrible offseason because my play shut them up" Howard ran them out of their own arena.

Houston and Portland look like deadlocked even squads in their beauty of a series, and Orlando is struggling with Andre Miller-Lite and Iggy. To put it simply, the NBA playoffs have been all we could ask for.

Only one sweep, and that was the old, dilapidated, outdated Pistons who wish they could enter the Nuggets facility and kidnap Chauncey Billups wearing full riot gear.

LA ousted the game Utah Jazz 4-1 and the Mavericks surprised the world by doing the same to the aforementioned San Antonio Spurs.

Dwyane Wade has nearly single-handedly kept the Heat burning against the Hawks, and Jermaine O'Neal has walked into the time-booth so far for this series.

I love Chris Paul, but he and his Hornets squad just gave up in Game Four against the Nuggets. How do you lose by 58 points?

58 points?! In the playoffs?!

God help Byron Scott's soul.

It was sad to see Scott at the press conference after the game. It was like he felt betrayed by his team. I thought he might cry. All of the quasi-laughter and mood-lighting tactics just attempted to cover the ugly facts.

No way, bro. Losing by 58 at home in the playoffs and scoring just 63 points in four quarters is an atrocity of epic proportions. The Nuggets have managed to make CP3 look normal in this series.

And at times, not very good.

Although the first round is not quite over, and there will be more excitement to come, we've learned some crucial things from these competitive playoffs already.

5. Rajon Rondo Is a Star

Rondo showed us last season that he could lead a championship team with the likes of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett. That was very impressive and encapsulated in a title for Boston.

This season, Rondo has shown that he could lead a championship team without a huge piece in Kevin Garnett. Now that's impressive.

The Bulls have played their young hearts out in the series against the Celtics, but if it weren't for the play of one Rondo they would've been swept by Chicago. Rondo has averaged a triple-double with 24.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg and 10.2 apg.

That is a Magic-like stat line, and Rondo's a small PG. To be in the top-five rebounders as a barely 6'1" guard is amazing. To play devil's advocate, he is playing a young rookie guard, which brings me to...

4. Derrick Rose Needs To Work On His Defense

Okay, D-Rose is a complete stud. I love the guy's ability, quickness, and ever-present never-changing demeanor. His look alone could shatter a rock from the Grand Canyon. He has just been great, except for his defense.

A guy with feet as fast as his should be able to shuffle them with anyone, but Rondo has blown by him countless times in the series.

With the exception of his ridiculous 36-point performance in Game One, Rose has been completely outplayed by his PG counterpart. His numbers of 18.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, and 7 apg are good, but aren't Rondo-like in this series.

His decision-making hurt the Bulls late in the fourth as they squandered a 10-point lead, and Rondo's drives to the basket combined with Pierce's heroics is why the Bulls are one down right now.

Rose needs to work on his J from 19 feet and beyond this offseason, but those coaches have more to worry about with Rose. Defense, defense, defense.

3. The Spurs Need To Hit the Panic Button with Manu

Ginobili proved to be the most important part of that San Antonio team in the first round loss to the Mavs, as his driving and slashing ability was missed to the tune of a near-sweep exit for San Antone.

Duncan is the best PF to play, and that we know. What we also know is that he's not able to carry all of the load anymore. Duncan scored 10 points in a row in that Game Five elimination for the Spurs, but it wasn't enough.

Why?

Because Dallas had too many options on offense, and not enough height or experience to defend it in black and white. Other than Duncan, everyone was a defensive liability for Gregg Popovich.

Tony Parker has never been known for defense, Michael Finley either, Bruce Bowen is just old and ineffective, George Hill is too young and inexperienced, same for Ime Udoka.

Only Kurt Thomas was a help to Duncan on the defensive end, and Nowitzki can shoot over him all day. The Mavs just had too many weapons, and without Manu to guard Josh Howard, the series was over from Game One.

Bottom line, the Spurs have to worry about Manu's future. He's been injured a lot lately, and with Duncan slowing down, it may be time to look to someone else. Otherwise, next season might be a carbon copy for the Spurs.

2. Chauncey Billups Isn't Ready To Concede to Chris Paul

As Billups watched his former team get smacked in Bully Beatdown by the loaded Cleveland Cavaliers, he had to feel good about it.

Let's be honest about it: Billups was happy to leave Detroit. He knew their run had come to an end, and he needed a younger supporting cast to lead. Denver was just the right place for Mr. Big Shot, and he embraced it.

After a couple playoff failures at the hands of Allen Iverson, the Nuggets knew they needed a change. Billups has been the psychologist, leader, and all-star all packed into one for Denver.

The result has been an impressive first-round series against Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets. Billups has clearly outplayed Paul so far, and helped lead the Nugs to a 58-point win in Game Four that made history.

Paul is widely considered to be the best PG in the NBA, but Billups has shown that he isn't purchasing that notion. Billups has averaged 25 ppg, 3.8 rpg, and 6.5 apg. Paul has averaged 17.8 ppg, 4 rpg, and 10.5 apg.

Not to mention, Denver has made David West largely ineffective, and kept Tyson "my career is defined by alley-oops" Chandler from, well, catching alley-oops on their way to a 3-1 lead.

CP3 has been thrown around and bullied like never before. Billups is playing a version of Big Brother with Paul, and let's just say Paul is playing the role of Eli Manning. Only if Chauncey wore No. 18...

1. Dwight Howard Is Affected by the So-Called "Soft Talk"

When D-Howard hit the cover of Sports Illustrated smiling as usual around playoff time, I knew the time would come that he would be criticized for being so lighthearted. Great, America, let's turn another athlete into a mean ass because it isn't okay to smile.

Whatever.

Howard represents what sports should be. A great guy who is a perfect role model for children and fans, but can show amazing talent and grit on the court.

Make no mistake about it, Howard is a man too and all of the talk of him being too soft to win a title is eating him away, and he showed it in Game Five of the Philly series.

Entering this series, Kobe Bryant said that he would've never let the opposition use him for a prop for any reason.

As we know, he was referencing Howard allowing Nate Robinson to jump over him to defeat him for the dunk title. It was all in good fun for Dwight, as he won last year.

Lots of things are all in good fun for Dwight, and that's okay.

During Game Five, in the lane after a made shot Howard elbowed Philly big man Samuel Dalembert to the head for no obvious reason. Howard was not ejected, but should've been.

By the time you read this, he may be suspended for Game Six.

His show of supposed toughness may cost his team the series, because if Howard misses Game Six, the Magic may very well lose and you don't want this to go to Seven.

If Kobe doesn't make that statement and talk doesn't heat up about Howard being too nice, maybe he doesn't make that move.

Either way, it has happened and hopefully isn't a sign of things to come for D-Howard because him losing that smile would be a shame.

As we continue to watch the first round play out, it seems that the NBA Finals are destined to feature a Kobe vs. LeBron matchup that David Stern would salivate over.

But if upstart teams like Denver have anything to say about it, at least it will be exciting.

Stay tuned.

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