Cleveland vs. Chicago (Cleveland leads 2-0)
No moral victories come play-off time
Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro couldn’t have asked much more of his charges than the effort they put forth in their 112-102 game two loss. Joakim Noah led the way with 25 points and 13 rebounds as Chicago defended well, thrived on the offensive glass and drove to the basket at every opportunity. But ultimately, the Bulls couldn’t overcome LeBron James’ 40-point explosion and a surprising 4-5 shooting night from beyond the arc for Jamario Moon. Chicago appears to have a bright future with an impressive, young core, but for this year, they’ll be in tough to give the Cavs much of a series.
Hello Shaq, goodbye J.J.
Cleveland head coach Mike Brown was faced with a nice problem to have at the outset of the postseason, with Zydrunas Ilgauskas back with the team and Shaquille O’Neal returning from injury. Of course, a sudden frontcourt glut meant that someone’s minutes had to be sacrificed, and it has been J.J. Hickson feeling the pinch thus far. Through two games, Hickson has played a total of 50 seconds, a stunning drop for a player who started 73 games for the Cavs during the regular season.
Orlando vs. Charlotte (Orlando leads 1-0)
He is who we thought he was
Perhaps these are the words of a still-bitter Raptors fan, but was anyone really surprised by Vince Carter’s 4-of-19 performance in game one? Yes, the Magic still won in spite of VC’s contributions and yes, it is just one game, but Orlando is facing the question of who the go-to guy is in crunch time, a question that did not exist while Hedo Turkoglu was around. Maybe that guy is Jameer Nelson, who was the Game 1 hero with 32 points.
Gerald Wallace is making people take notice
Few people predicted the one-sided battle that took place in the low post during game one, as Wallace tallied 25 points and 17 rebounds while Dwight Howard managed just five points and seven boards in 27 foul-troubled minutes. Wallace’s role on the Bobcats could grow even larger, depending upon the status of Stephen Jackson’s injured right knee.
Atlanta vs. Milwaukee (Atlanta leads 2-0)
Pity the deer
I know that injuries happen in the NBA and its simply a part of the game, but its hard not to feel for a Milwaukee squad missing frontcourt anchor Andrew Bogut in their uphill battle against the big, athletic Hawks. It’s difficult for head coach Scott Skiles to find any fault with the hustle and effort shown by the Bucks through the first two games, but they simply have no one to contend with Al Horford and Josh Smith down low. With Bogut, this could be a very different series.
So I guess he’s a rookie after all
Brandon Jennings made a memorable postseason debut for Milwaukee in game one, scoring 34 points and making Joe Johnson look like a pylon at times. Johnson wasn’t prepared to let that happen again, as he played the rookie more physically and didn’t give him much space in Game 2. As a result, Jennings had just nine points on a brutal 3-of-15 shooting night. This match-up may not decide the series (Atlanta looks pretty comfortable through two games), but does require watching the rest of the way.
Boston vs. Miami (Boston leads 2-0)
Was KG’s elbow a turning point?
Call it the Rasheed Wallace Effect, but the Celtics were facing questions about their toughness as they entered the postseason. Well, Kevin Garnett led by example in game one with some feistiness that included an elbow to the face of Quentin Richardson that landed him a one-game suspension. Whether it was the elbow or something else, Boston was a different team in game two’s dominant win. The swagger seems to have returned, as has the edge within this Celtics squad.
D-Wade, the one-man gang
Let’s say you are Dwyane Wade and are about to embark upon unrestricted free agency. You will have the option of returning to Miami, which has been your home for seven years and, yes, even brought you an NBA title (not to mention South Beach!). But you’re also an NBA superstar in the early-goings of your prime with little discernable talent around you. What do you have to gain from re-signing with a team when your 29-point effort is complemented only by two teammates scoring in double digits (as was the case in game two)? If Wade leaves in favour of his hometown Bulls, he turns them into an immediate contender, whereas if he stays, he could well be sentencing himself to multiple years of mediocrity to come.
Los Angeles vs. Oklahoma City (Los Angeles leads 2-0)
This is Kobe’s time of year
You might as well call him Job-e for some of the pain he’s enduring right now – a broken finger, a bad knee and ankle issues. But you wouldn’t know it from his playing time (41 minutes each game), scoring (30 points per game after Tuesday’s 39-point effort) or his presence in crunch time. NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant has played well for the Thunder (averaging 28 points through two games), but can stand to learn something from Bryant about elevating your game come April.
So that’s why they picked up Artest!
While I still don’t necessarily agree with the pair of off-season transactions that essentially amounted to a Ron Artest-for-Trevor Ariza swap between L.A. and Houston, Ron-Ron is starting to earn his keep with the Lakers. After a regular season in which he looked tired and old and didn’t possess the same defensive quickness, he has looked revitalized against the longer Durant. Using that physical edge that was absent through much of the year, Artest has forced turnovers from the young superstar (12 through two games) and made him take an awful lot of bad shots (Durant was 1-8 from beyond the arc in game one).
Dallas vs. San Antonio (Dallas leads 1-0)
Some trades pay off, some don’t
The Spurs’ front office regime of Gregg Popovich (yes, he is involved in team personnel decisions) and R.C. Buford hasn’t made too many missteps over the years, but the Richard Jefferson trade looks to be just that. He simply hasn’t looked comfortable since coming over from Milwaukee in an off-season trade, and now Bucks GM John Hammond looks like a genius for ridding the team of Jefferson’s big contract. And four points in 32 minutes of game one won’t help him win anyone over. Contrast that to the Mavs, who landed Caron Butler (22 points) and Brendan Haywood (10 points and six boards off the bench) in a deadline deal with Washington.
Dealing with Dirk
Even with their defensive-minded reputation, the Spurs lack a stopper who can step out on Dirk Nowitzki and consistently contest his shots. This, of course, does not put them in the minority among NBA teams, as most teams struggle to guard Dallas’ seven-foot perimeter threat. But San Antonio will have to do better after Nowitzki torched them for 36 points on a coolly efficient 12-14 from the floor and 12-12 from the charity stripe. Popovich has elected to double-team Nowitzki in the past.
Phoenix vs. Portland (Series tied 1-1)
Ewing Theory potential?
The Ewing Theory, as often discussed by ESPN columnist Bill Simmons, suggests a plausible scenario wherein a team who has endured the loss of a star player can rally around them and become greater than the sum of its parts. This theory could apply to the Blazers, who lost Brandon Roy to knee surgery but still managed to eke out a game one win on the strength of Andre Miller’s play down the stretch and Marcus Camby’s defensive contributions.
Who can play their game?
It’s been a tale of two games thus far in this series, as Portland won by executing their half-court style and successfully stifling much of the Suns’ transition game. Game two, however, was an entirely different story, as Phoenix got out on the fast break at will, resulting in a commanding 119-90 win in which the Suns shot 52.3% while the Blazers shot just 38.2%. Style of play clearly bears some watching as the series shifts back to the Rose Garden.
Denver vs. Utah (Series tied 1-1)
Matt Harpring for MVP?
For those of you who pointed out that Harpring is no longer active and has since moved on to the broadcast booth, fair point. But Harpring’s contributions in tutoring young Jazz forwards on how to get under Carmelo Anthony’s skin were clear on Monday, as ‘Melo picked up four offensive fouls and spent much of the game chirping at officials for calls and non-calls. In the key moment of game two, Anthony fouled out with his Nuggets down one in the game’s final minute after going at C.J. Miles too aggressively near midcourt. Anthony is averaging 36 points per game in two play-off contests thus far, but will have to calm down, a tough proposition as he prepares for a ‘colourful’ response in Utah.
Is Deron Williams the NBA’s best point guard?
Williams’ stellar play this season has flowed right into the postseason, as he’s averaging 29.5 points and 12 assists through two games thus far. His performance has revitalized the Williams-Chris Paul debate, especially seeing as how Paul’s Hornets are lottery-bound. Even with Carlos Boozer in tow, the Jazz are unmistakeably Deron’s team and will go as far as he takes them.