What we learned from the first games of the first round.
The NBA Playoffs began this past weekend and, quite frankly, none of it surprised me much. However, I think that we learned a bit about each series from the first games, and analysis of the openers is crucial to figuring out where we are going from here. So, here is my commentary and prediction for each of the series.
Sacramento vs. Utah (Sacramento leads series 1-0)
Scott Padgett is an idiot. Okay, so maybe that is a bit harsh, but that is certainly one thing we learned. At the end of the game, John Stockton, who has been known to hit a big shot during his hall-of-fame career, fired up a shot that hit the front of the rim, bounced straight up, and looked to be dropping through the hoop. Padgett, though, refused to place his trust in the most consistent player ever to lace up in the NBA and earned an offensive goaltending call by trying to tip the ball in. Most people didn't give the Jazz a chance in this series after they lost regular season games against the Kings by an average of more than 20 points. But I know that the Jazz have always and will always put up a good fight in the playoffs. However, I just don't anticipate the Jazz being able to neutralize the potent offense of the Kings. Call it Kings in four. The Jazz will not go down in a sweep; they're too proud for that.
San Antonio vs. Seattle (San Antonio leads series 1-0)
Gary Payton, no matter how much he wants to, will not be able to will this Sonics team to victory. Tim Duncan is just too powerful of an offensive and defensive force to allow a team without a true inside presence to earn victory. If Rashard Lewis hadn't complained so much about his sprained ankle at the end of the regular season, I would have given the Sonics the edge, but he destroyed the team chemistry that would have pushed them over the top. Spurs in four. The Spurs will enjoy winning this one on Seattle's home court.
Los Angeles vs. Portland (Los Angeles leads series 1-0)
I want to cry every time I see the Lakers facing the Blazers down in LA, with the yellow of the Laker jerseys rendering the faces of the Blazer players callow and fearful. Look at history, look at the present. There is just no way the Blazers can ever win against the Lakers in LA. The entire franchise has yet to recover from their meltdown of nuclear proportions two seasons ago in LA. This was a team that took something like six years to recover from a similar, but less dramatic, loss in LA during the 1991 finals. The Blazers had the game in hand and Cliff Robinson lost the ball under the hoop on a fast break that could have given Portland the lead in the final minute. No, Portland's malcontents will not be able to deal with the Lakers now, nor any time in the near future. They are just plain scared. The Lakers will sweep this one, if for no other reason than for that look I saw in Kobe Bryant's eyes on Sunday. I have not seen a look like that since Jordan's dominant days.
Dallas vs. Minnesota (Dallas leads series 1-0)
I really don't like the Mavericks. Maybe it is just Steve Nash's hair, or the fact that Dirk Nowitski's face disturbs me, but I don't want to glorify my pick of Mavs in five with an explanation.
New Jersey vs. Indiana (Indiana leads series 1-0)
I figured that Pacer coach Isaiah Thomas, an NBA Finals MVP during his playing days, and Reggie Miller, whose most glorious moments have come during the postseason, would get the young Pacer team up for Game One. New Jersey lacked that experience, but a first game loss does not negate the fact that the Nets are just a more savvy and talented team. The Nets will respond well to their loss, and take the series in five games.
Detroit vs. Toronto (Detroit leads series 1-0)
The only bad thing I can say about the Pistons is that their fans are rude and don't deserve to attend games. I am not the biggest supporter of Canada, and I think they would have been better off if they had joined the United States when the Articles of Confederation gave them the chance, but there is just no justification for booing when any other country's national anthem is playing. I don't care if you are Pakistani and listening to the Indian national anthem at a cricket match, but leave national animosity out of a sporting event, at least until after the game starts. Detroit fans couldn't do this, and I lost respect for the Motor City because of it, but their team is still the best in the Eastern Conference, and will sweep the Raptors, who only got into the playoffs on a fluke.
Boston vs. Philadelphia (Boston leads series 1-0)
This is the best first-round playoff series, and it should have been in the second round. If only the Sixers had not been decimated by injuries the entire year. Paul Pierce was hitting on all cylinders on Sunday, and looks intent on bringing the Celtics to the second round. Philly, however, has been there before, and will not relinquish its "Eastern Conference champions" title without great resistance. Call it the luck of the Irish. Celtics in five.
Charlotte vs. Orlando (Charlotte leads series 1-0)
Tracy McGrady's back is going to go out for good any day, and then the Magic will have more talent disabled than actually on the team. Charlotte is playing for respect from a city that doesn't want them, and a nation that doesn't seem to really care. The Hornets have speed, size, and chemistry. I think they could compete in the Westone of the few Eastern Conference teams that couldand they'll have no problem with the Magic. Charlotte in four, with McGrady somehow getting that one victory for the Magic before curling up into a little ball in the trainer's room