NBA Playoffs 2011: Evaluating the First Games of Each Playoff Matchup

Kristian Winfield@@KrisWinfield_Correspondent IIIApril 18, 2011

NBA Playoffs 2011: Evaluating the First Games of Each Playoff Matchup

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 17:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers controls the ball against Willie Green #33 of the New Orleans Hornets in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 17, 2011 at Staples Center i
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    After watching the first game of each playoff series,  I will be providing my personal analysis on each. Which players will prove to be big for their respective teams throughout the series, and how will each team fare against their opponents? At this early stage, is it possible to predict who will win each series? Stay tuned as I break things down.

Chicago and Indiana: Rose Will Blow by the Pacers in 6

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    CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 16: Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls leaps to pass the ball around Paul George #24 of the Indiana Pacers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on April 16, 2011 in Chicago
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Bulls might have barely escaped a Game 1 loss to the Indiana Pacers, but if anything was learned, Derrick Rose is the rock that the team leans on. Rose's 39 points, six assists and six rebounds helped catapult his team to a 16-1 in the final 3:38 of the fourth which ultimately decided the game.

    The equation is really simple: Darren Collison cannot guard Derrick Rose.

    Very few people can. But seeing as though that Indiana defensive core is weak, Rose has easy picking when attacking the paint. However, the Pacers held a 12-point lead over the Bulls at one point in the game, which leads me to believe that they might be able to grab a game or two at home. With D-Rose playing at the level he is, it will be hard for any team, especially Indiana, to challenge Chicago.

Miami and Philadelphia: King James and the Flash Will Dismantle Philly in 5

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    MIAMI, FL - APRIL 16: Forward LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat rebounds against the Philadelphia 76ers at the American Airlines Arena in game one of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 16, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE T
    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    This is really a walk in the park for LeBron and the Miami Heat. Though they might have been down early to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Heat are clearly the better team with better talent and better defense.

    Chris Bosh, for a change, was the story of the game. He led all scorers with 25 points and 12 rebounds. King James had a double-double, as usual, with 21 points, 14 rebounds and five assists, and Dwyane Wade finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

    Thaddeus Young played big for the Sixers with 20 points off the bench, but his effort alone was not enough to give his team a win. Jrue Holiday had 19 points on 3-of-5 shooting from downtown, and Elton Brand had 17 points and seven rebounds, but the Philadelphia 76ers are just not good enough to challenge the Miami Heat. They might get one game at home, but Philly should start planning for the draft and free agency.

San Antonio and Memphis: Grizzlies Will Be the Biggest Upset in Playoff History

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    SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 17:  Center Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzlies reacts against the San Antonio Spurs in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 17, 2011 at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.  NOTE TO
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    I originally had the Spurs sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies, but after watching Game 1, I had to reconsider.

    The Grizzlies are a very scrappy team. Much like the style of their head coach, Lionel Hollins, the Grizzlies make their living on fighting for loose balls, grabbing rebounds, forcing turnovers and getting out on the break. Led by Zach Randolph and Mike Conley, the Grizzlies will give the San Antonio Spurs a run for their money—and possibly win the series.

    In their first playoff victory in franchise history, Zach Randolph led the team, both physically and emotionally, scoring 25 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. He gave the Spurs hell, outplaying Tim Duncan on both sides of the floor and dominating the paint. Marc Gasol also dominated down low, putting up 24 points and nine rebounds. The two Grizzly big men contributed 24 of the teams 40 points in the paint, which proved to be a crucial differential between the two teams.

    Mike Conley kept his composure, scoring 15 points and dishing out 10 assists, and O.J. Mayo scored 13 points, including a critical three-pointer that gave Memphis an 88-85 lead with five-and-a-half minutes remaining in the game. Tony Allen put in 10 points, and Shane Battier, Memphis' trade deadline acquisition, hit a contested 25-foot three-pointer with 23 seconds left that put Memphis up by one.

    The Spurs did all they could, but without Manu Ginobili—who suffered a hyperextended elbow injury in the last game of the regular season—the Spurs did not have enough firepower to keep up with the Grizzlies. Tim Duncan carried his team with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Tony Parker put up 20 points and five assists, and George Hill scored 15 points and grabbed seven boards, but without Ginobili's 18-plus points, the Spurs fell short.

    I believe if the Grizzlies can keep playing their hustle, scrappy defense brand of basketball, they can pull off one of the biggest upsets in NBA history. They just need to contain Manu when he gets back, and they could find themselves in the second round of the playoffs. 

Orlando and Atlanta: Hawks Will Soar over Orlando in 7

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    ORLANDO, FL - APRIL 16:  Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks drives to the basket as Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic defends during Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 16, 2011 at the Amway Arena in Orl
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Atlanta's game plan of eliminating everyone, but Dwight Howard was perfectly put into effect for Game 1. Howard was the first player in the NBA to put up at least 45 points and 15 rebounds in a playoff loss since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1987. That's great company, but it's a loss nonetheless.

    Superman completely dominated the Atlanta big men. He played the best game of his career, scoring a career-high 46 points—on 16-of-23 shooting from the field and 14-of-22 from the foul line—19 rebounds and one block. He may have had eight turnovers, but when a big man is fed the ball so much, he's bound to lose the ball a few times. Nelson also added in 27 points and six assists, but the Atlanta defense held every other Magic player to six points of less. 

    Joe Johnson scored 25 points, dished out five assists and grabbed five boards, and Jamal Crawford scored 23 points off the bench on 4-of-7 shooting from downtown. Howard might have dominated the Hawks' big men, but the rest of the Atlanta roster outplayed the Magic. If Atlanta continues to negate the rest of the Magic guards and forwards, the Hawks will be in the second round of the playoffs. Orlando won't go down without a fight, and Gilbert Arenas has at least one more Agent Zero stint to pull, but after being swept by the Magic in the playoffs last season, sweet, sweet revenge looks like part of the agenda for the Atlanta Hawks.

Lakers and Hornets: After Losing Game 1, Kobe Will Sweep the Hornets.

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 17:  Chris Paul #3 of  the New Orleans Hornets controls the ball against Lamar Odom #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 17, 2011 at Staples Center in Lo
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    I started counting the Hornets out before the first game was even played.

    Big mistake.

    Chris Paul stunned the Lakers putting up 33 points, 14 assists, seven rebounds and four steals, leading New Orleans to a 109-100 victory in front of the Lakers fans. CP3 took the Lakers' hearts, scoring 15 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter. Kobe Bryant did as much as he could—scoring 34 points along with five assists and four rebounds—but Pau Gasol's inefficiency and ineffectiveness proved detrimental to the team.

    Gasol finished with eight points, six rebounds and six assists. His 2-of-9 shooting from the field cost the Lakers valuable points that they ultimately needed to get past the Hornets. Lamar Odom had 10 points off the bench, and Ron Artest scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, but it was the Hornet bench that proved to be the difference maker.

    Aaron Gray had 12 points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting from the field, and Jarrett Jack put up 15 points to combine for 27 of New Orleans' 39 bench points.  Los Angeles also did a terrible job of guarding Chris Paul. He kept the game at his tempo and scored at will. Paul dominated the Lakers, finding himself in several pick-and-roll situations which resulted in him being defended by Pau Gasol.

    What does this win mean for New Orleans? Absolutely nothing.

    The Lakers are still going to win the series; without a doubt. Kobe is going to explode for 40 points in the next game, and Gasol is never going to have a game like that again. Once Kobe steps up to the challenge of guarding Chris Paul for 48 minutes, the Lakers will be coasting towards the the second round. 

Boston and New York: Boston Escapes Game 1, but Knicks Take the Series in 7

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    BOSTON, MA - APRIL 17:  Amare Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks runs into Jermaine O'Neal #7 of the Boston Celtics in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 17, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.
    Elsa/Getty Images

    The Knicks might have dropped Game 1, but they put up a heck of a fight doing it.

    Ray Allen hit a game-winning three with 11 seconds left in the fourth to give the Celtics an 87-85 lead. Carmelo Anthony tried to answer with a three of his own, but Paul Pierce's smothering defense forced a bad shot, giving Boston their first win in the series.

    Allen led the Celtics with 24 points shooting 3-of-5 from downtown. Jermaine O'Neal brought life to Boston crowd scoring 12 points on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting from the field, and Rajon Rondo had a near triple-double with 10 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

    Amar'e Stoudemire did all he could, putting up 28 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks, but Carmelo Anthony could not hold up his end. Melo scored a mediocre 15 points on 5-of-18 shooting to accompany his five turnovers for the game. Chauncey Billups also failed to live up to the hype, scoring only 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field.

    Am I blaming Melo and Billups for this loss? You bet...sure I am.

    Carmelo Anthony is one of the best players in an isolation in the NBA. With such a diverse offensive attack, you would think Melo would find a better way to put the ball in the basket then shoot contested threes. Anthony let the team down by neglecting to put the ball on the floor and attack the basket. Instead of slashing, he settled for jump shots that he could not knock down. Melo is a more than capable mid-range and three-point shooter, but when you're cold, you must attack the basket. Billups' off night was more acceptable. Every jump shooter has a bad day, and today was Chauncey's. 

    Charles Barkley said the New York Knicks cannot beat the Boston Celtics in a seven-game series, but I beg to differ. The Knicks have Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups. With a core set of guys like that, they match up to the Boston lineup pretty well.The biggest mismatch made itself apparent in Game 1, with Ray Allen completely dominating the Knicks. Maybe if Landry Fields would get some more minutes, he could keep an active body on the veteran shooter. The only thing left for the Knicks is for Melo to start playing like the All-Star we all know he is.

Dallas and Portland: Trail Blazers Will Scorch Dallas in 6

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    DALLAS, TX - APRIL 16:  Forward Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks takes a shot against LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the Portland Trail Blazers in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 16, 2011 at Americ
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Would Portland winning here really be considered an upset? Even though they lost Game 1, 89-81, the Trail Blazers came away with some important changes they'll need to make as they move forward in the series. 

    First and foremost, Coach Nate McMillan needs to understand that Brandon Roy is not back to 100 percent, yet. After merely putting up two points in 29 minutes, Roy's 1-of-7 shooting proved to be detrimental to the team. He absorbed Wesley Matthews' playing time, who only saw 19 minutes on the court and missed a clutch technical free throw that would've brought the game within three points down the stretch. Give Wes Matthews back his starter's minutes, and all will be well.

    Secondly, Gerald Wallace completely disappeared on offense. A threat to put 20 or more points on the board on any given night, Wallace scored eight points on 4-of-14 shooting from the field. His presence was felt on defense with his three steals, but if Crash can't put points on the board and be that second go-to option after LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers will not make it out of the first round.

    Finally, Marcus Camby needs to play in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter. In his 28 minutes on the floor, Camby grabbed 18 rebounds and scored four points. A defensive presence and a long body, he needs to be on the floor guarding Dirk Nowitzki. In Game 1, Portland showed Dirk different looks with Nicolas Batum, Wallace and Aldridge, but none of them did an adequate job of defending; Nowitzki putting up 28 points, 18 of which were in the fourth quarter.

    L.A. did a great job scoring, with his team-high 27 points and six rebounds, and Andre Miller was the second-highest scorer on the Blazers with 18 points and six assists, but in the end, the Dallas Mavericks prevailed. Portland needs to do a better job of guarding the Dallas veterans. Kidd ended up scorching Miller for 24 points, including 6-of-10 from downtown. Miller's sloppy defense opened up Kidd for an open three which gave the Mavs a seven-point lead with 38 seconds left in the game.

    If Wes Matthews can get some more playing time and Gerald Wallace can show up on offense, Portland will have a clear path to the second round.

Oklahoma City and Denver: In an Exciting Series, the Nuggets Will Shock OKC in 7

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    DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 28:  (L-R) Wilson Chandler #21, Raymond Felton #20 (hidden), J.R. Smith #5, Arron Afflalo #6 and Chris Andersen #11 of the Denver Nuggets huddle up against the Atlanta Hawks during NBA action at the Pepsi Center on February 28, 2011
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    If you didn't see Game 1 between Oklahoma City and Denver, you truly missed out.

    In a game full of posters and scoring, the Thunder came back from a double-digit deficit to overcome the Nuggets in a 107-103 home victory. The two-headed monster in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook scored 72 of the Thunder's points. Durant paved the way for Oklahoma City, scoring 41 points and grabbing nine boards, while Westbrook put in 31 points, seven assists, and six rebounds.

    Nene played sensational for Denver, scoring 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field. He posterized at least four different Thunder players, but in the end, the win is all that matters. Danilo Gallinari also put in 18 points, and Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson each scored 12 points.

    The biggest question surrounding the Nuggets is their lack of a go-to guy. After trading Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets added incredible depth to the rotation, but they lost both of their late-game scorers in Melo and Chauncey Billups. How can the Nuggets survive against the high energy Thunder without a scoring presence for late-game situations?

    Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith are the answers.

    Though he only had nine points and eight rebounds, Chandler possesses the ability to put up points when it counts. He did it in New York, but he hasn't yet translated his leadership and high-octane scoring to Denver. And everyone knows what J.R. Smith can do. He, too, only scored nine points, but he could easily explode for 20-plus points at any given moment.

    Also, did anybody realize that a few players were missing for Denver?

    Timofey Mozgov was out, who is actually a pretty decent, young center.

    But more importantly, Aaron Afflalo—Denver's sharpshooter and shutdown defender—missed the game with an injured hamstring. Afflalo's proved before, when he hit that game-winner against Dallas in the regular season, that he can take and make big shots in big situations. When Denver gets The Assassin back into the lineup, not only will he provide offensive stability in terms of shooting the three and the mid-range jumper, but he will also be able to shift down to the point guard position on defense and lock up Russell Westbrook.

    Once Afflalo makes his return, I think the Nuggets will have an easier time getting past the Thunder. It will still be a hard-fought battle, but Denver is my pick to win Game 7. 


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