So much for the great NBA playoffs chase of 2008, where the first round had the pundits scratching their heads with the expectation of a photo finish just to move on.
2008 NBA playoffs
- Ford drives Raptors past Magic
- Wizards dominate Cavs in Game 3
- Rockets surprise Jazz in Utah
- Kahn: New life for T-Mac, Rockets
- Behrendt: Kobe on top of his game
- Kahn: Shortage of drama so far
- Rosen: Pistons make a statement
- Rosenberg: Byron Scott's revenge
- Kahn: Hornets rising to the occasion
- Rosen: Spurs make right adjustments
- Kriegel: Can Nash win title?
- Kahn: Jazz primed for sweep
- Rosen: Cavs following game plan
- Kahn: Kids putting on a show
- Western Conference playoff central
- Eastern Conference playoff central
- Wizards bounce back in Game 3
When Kobe Bryant scored 19 of his 49 points in the fourth quarter Wednesday night to help the Los Angeles Lakers pull away from the Denver Nuggets in another double-figure victory, it nearly assured all the first-round favorites were well on their way to the second round.
All four of the Western Conference faves the Lakers, New Orleans Hornets, defending champion San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz have 2-0 leads in the best-of-seven series. Only the Jazz didn't have homecourt advantage, becoming only the sixth team over the past 10 years to go up 2-0 on the road in a seven-game series. Five of those six teams won their series, and when the home team goes up 2-0, they win better than 94 percent of the time.
That's not likely to change over the next 10 days.
In the East, the Boston Celtics are making short work of the young and overmatched Atlanta Hawks, the Orlando Magic have taken two from the Toronto Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers have had a surprisingly easy time with the mouthy Washington Wizards. Of the eight top seeds overall, only the second-seeded Detroit Pistons split their two home games, most assuredly slapped into focus by their opening-game loss to the upstart Philadelphia 76ers.
With a 7-1 record for the better teams, wake me when the first round is over.
That's not to say there haven't been good, even great games particularly the Spurs' double-overtime win over the Phoenix Suns in Game 1. There have been exciting games, but without fail the fatal flaws of the losers have been the difference. And just consider for a moment, the scoring differentials.
The Celtics are beating the Hawks by an average of 21.0 a game; even in a split series, the Pistons now have a plus-13 scoring advantage after showing their dominance in Game 2 against the Sixers; the Magic are handling the Raptors by an average of 7.5 and the Cavs have been crushing the Wizards to the tune of 18.5 a game. In the West, the Lakers have whipped the Nuggets by an average of 14.5 points, the Hornets have beaten up the Dallas Mavericks by a whopping 18-point average; the Spurs have come from behind in both games to retain a narrow 4.0 margin of victory and the Jazz have clipped the Rockets by 8.5 a game.
The Lakers dominating the Nuggets hasn't been a surprise, if only because the Nuggets just don't play defense, other than Marcus Camby blocking shots from the weak side or Kenyon Martin bodying up on anybody he can. Everybody else is hitting the offensive boards when they have the ball or trying to leak out on the break at the other end. Consequently, coach George Karl has opted to focus on outscoring everybody this season. It worked well enough to win 50 games during the regular season, but it isn't going to stop Bryant and Lakers' well-oiled machine at both ends of the floor even if they do lure them into run-and-gun mode. Maybe they'll steal one game in Denver, but there's little chance of any significant challenge.
The contention was the Mavericks had found their groove with Dirk Nowitzki back in the lineup from an ankle sprain and Jason Kidd getting into a comfort zone running the team after struggling immediately after the February trade. Plus, the Hornets had so little playoff experience, how could they compete? Well, Chris Paul has just taken over, and the Mavericks look completely befuddled defensively, so they're forcing everything on the offensive end. The only thing the Mavs have going for them is a 13-game winning streak against the Hornets in Dallas dating back to January 1998. Anybody want to lay odds on that streak ending over the next two games?
When Suns general manager Steve Kerr dealt Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to Miami for Shaquille O'Neal, it was obviously to give the Suns the interior defense and toughness on the boards they lacked. And O'Neal does make things more difficult for Spurs' All-NBA star Tim Duncan. But losing Marion really hurts the Suns' perimeter defense, making them unable to slow down Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili, and Duncan has averaged 29.0 points and 16.0 rebounds in the first two games. Both games saw the Suns take significant leads, only to see them wilt when the Spurs' defense locked down. And at the other end, Parker and Ginobili have virtually been running free.
The Rockets just don't have the talent or depth to play with the Jazz. It didn't look that way even with injured Yao Ming (fractured foot) and Rafer Alston (strained hamstring), let alone without them. The Rockets have succeeded in staying in games, but not looking capable of actually winning. Unless the Jazz get too cocky, which coach Jerry Sloan isn't likely to allow, this looks like a sweep, even if Alston plays in the next two games.
In the East, the Celtics just have too much offense, defense and experience for the Hawks to begin to cope with. So unless the Celtics doze off over the weekend, this series looks to be a sweep. It isn't that clear cut with the Pistons and Sixers, though, if only because the Sixers have played so well since February and split the season series. But unless the Pistons fall prey to their tendency of getting too full of themselves, they'll get at least a split in Philly and win the series in five or six.
There is no such guarantee the Magic will continue to handle the Raptors, despite Dwight Howard becoming the first player since Nate Thurmond 39 years ago to begin the playoffs with a pair of 20-point, 20-rebound games. The Raptors don't have anybody to slow him down. But they can hope Howard finds foul trouble in Toronto, point guard Jameer Nelson cools off, All-Star Chris Bosh becomes a bigger factor and anybody else shows they can score consistently. They've got a shot to make this interesting, but it had better happen immediately in Game 3 or this series is over.
And finally, we've got LeBron James and the Cavs traveling to Washington with a healthy 2-0 lead over the knuckleheaded Wizards, who need to stuff tube socks into the mouths of Gilbert Arenas, DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood for mouthing off about James. Instead of talking back, LBJ has averaged 31.0 points, 8.0 assists and 7.5 rebounds. The Cavs even look on the verge of finding chemistry with mid-season acquisitions Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and Ben Wallace, plus hot-shooting Daniel Gibson is finally getting healthy and confident. Are these defending East champion Cavs dangerous? Maybe ... but we won't find out until they meet the Celtics. The same goes for how good the Magic are ... when they see the Pistons.
Chances are, just like the Spurs' odds of defending their title, this round isn't likely to tell the tale. We'll see what happens when they see Paul, David West and the young Hornets. The same goes for the Jazz and Lakers locking horns.
In other words, all signs are pointing to the hope of upsets evaporating in a hurry in this first look. Let's move along to the second round already the first round is a bust.