The opening weekend of the 2011 NBA Playoffs featured a number of near-upsets.
The Indiana Pacers almost beat the Chicago Bulls. Then, the Philadelphia 76ers almost beat the Miami Heat. And, of course, the Portland Trail Blazers almost beat the Dallas Mavericks. Fortunately for all the aforementioned top seeds, though, their teams were good enough to earn those tough, grind-it-out victories that you have to get when the second season rolls around.
That was Saturday.
On Sunday, things went a little differently in the first two games of the day. Thoroughly outclassed and outplayed all the way through, the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers fell to the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets, respectively. In fact, the lower-seeded teams in those particular series looked so strong in their games, that many are now left to wonder whether or not the NBA world is in for at least one shocking upset en route to the Western Conference playoffs second round.
The Grizzlies, prior to their victory, had never won a playoff game. That streak came crashing down as they snuck out with a surprising 101-98 win over the Western Conference’s No. 1 seeded team. Marc Gasol finished with 24 points on a 9-for-10 effort, and played very impressive defense on Tim Duncan after his initial scoring outburst. Zack Randolph, the man who single-handedly boosted Portland’s prison statistics during his stint there, finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds.
Kobe Bryant had 34 points, and Ron Artest pitched in 16 points and 11 rebounds. That’s where the good times ended for the Lakers in their 109-100 defeat at the hands of the Hornets. Pau Gasol was about as tough as a box full of baby kittens – staying true to the label bestowed upon him a long time ago. Artest’s numbers were offset by his multiple stupid plays and offensive lapses. And overall, the squad played sloppily and poorly from start to finish.
Coming in, everyone acknowledged that Derek Fisher had a less than zero percent shot at stopping Chris Paul. The hope, though, was that somehow the massive advantages that Los Angeles had on New Orleans, coupled with a team defensive effort against the lone weapon that their opponents boasted, would prove to be enough against a hapless seven seeded team. As it turns out, the advantages amounted to zilch, and this Lakers group couldn’t muster up a solid defensive team effort if they were playing against a girl scouts troop.
Carl Landry had 17 points and Jarrett Jack had 15 points of his own, but none of that is as much of a headline as how weak the Lakers are mentally. Make no mistake about it, the Hornets didn’t win this game, the Lakers lost it.
All in all, the importance of these two stunning losses isn’t because they somehow indicate that the Spurs and Lakers will lose in the first round – they most likely won’t. No, the troubling part of Sunday’s proceedings is that two teams who have dominated the NBA over the past decade can’t even muster up enough energy and enthusiasm to handle opponents that are so obviously beneath them in the first game of the postseason. It speaks, more than anything else, to a sense of entitlement and an unfortunate overconfidence that is anything but deserved at this point.
Both of these teams better watch out. If not in this round, then in the coming rounds when they have to face the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Spurs and Lakers are both playing dangerous games, and they would be wise to make changes quickly, before they find themselves on TNT captions with the words “Gone Fishin’” scribbled across their foreheads.