NBA Playoffs: Lasting memories from the first round, predicting the second

Sometimes it feels like the first round of the NBA playoffs is longer than the actual season.

It didn’t help that most teams were marred by injuries. Oklahoma City lost Russell Westrook in the middle of their series versus Houston, star point guards were already missing from Boston and Chicago, Kobe might not be in the postseason until 2015, Stephen Curry’s ankle scared the daylights out of every NBA fan; the list feels endless and is the most injury-riddled season in years.

But the first round didn’t end without speculation. Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, two all-stars for their respective teams in Los Angeles, both enter free agency after hitting the showers early in their elimination games; Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce head into the summer with a Celtic team about to enter a new and youthful era; and Brooklyn, despite having worse spending habits than Latrell Sprewell, came up empty in the first round.

Where do the teams previously mentioned go from here? What about the players? What about Latrell Sprewell? Will we find out anything soon? Probably not.

Until then, we get to watch the elite like LeBron James try to make it the year Kevin Harlan’s hair literally lights on fire. We also get to watch up-and-coming players bloom into stars, like Stephen Curry did against Denver.

Both James and Curry have put on clinics all season, but Curry’s now driving a national audience bonkers with his shooting (and passing) performances. It was my favorite memory from the first round. Here are the rest of my takes from each series, including more of Curry and a look into the second round matchups:

Miami (1) – Milwaukee (8)

The series kind of really looked a lot like this:

In case you were confused, the Heat were the cheetahs and the Bucks were the gazelle.

If only it was narrated by Kevin Harlan, who we know at least likes watching birds, you know, the ones that look like Chris Anderson.

Brooklyn (4) – Chicago (5)

It’s too bad Kahn got fired from the Timberwolves, otherwise the notion that Brooklyn is “one player away” would be curable.

Anyway, it’s really tough to make a highlight reel of the Nets and Bulls series. One team is about as emotional as a refrigerator, the other on their last leg heading into Miami.

There was nothing new from this series, though. Joe Johnson turned in a typical Joe Johnson performance, nobody on Brooklyn wanted to take the final shots, and the Bulls proved their doubters wrong by turning in one of the best performances ever under Tom Thibodeau. Somehow, none of that was surprising.

Here were my favorite highlights of the series. The series was so pedestrian I had to start looking for these before the series even started.

And then what summarized game 7:

Round 2: Miami-Chicago

Captain Obvious says it’s going to be a physical series. The Bulls will have a couple games where they stay within striking distance but won’t get over the hump without Rose.

How far Chicago pushes Miami really depends on Luol Deng’s status throughout the series. They can push it to as much as six games with him and most of the Bulls squad ready to go.

But Miami doesn’t have a second gear. They have NOS, and I expect them to use it in four out of five games.

Miami in five, but it will be closer than some may think.

Indiana (3) – Atlanta (6)

The NBA TV special!

This series was a lot like the Miami-Milwaukee series, with one slight difference:

New York (2) – Boston (7)

I know objectivity is awesome and all, but the New York Knicks are approaching 2011 Miami Heat territory on teams I don’t want to see win it all. Five reasons:

  1. The Knicks signed Quentin Richardson for what reason? He hasn’t been relevant for nine seasons.
  2. The team as a whole wore black before game 5, which backfired. Didn’t Jason Kidd have something to say about that? Wasn’t he brought in for leadership? What about Marcus Camby? Kurt Thomas? Hello? No, go away Rasheed Wallace.
  3. It’s also too bad Kenyon Martin refused to address the black outfits after the game:
  4. Iman Shumpert and Raymond Felton’s body language never fall short of hilarious. By hilarious I mean an annoyance similar to that of washed up, overweight basketball players that consistently ruin the fun of noonball on my college campus.
  5. Then there’s Spike Lee, who turned what should’ve been one of the great sports films of all time in He Got Game into just good, thanks to a plot involving Denzel Washington and a hooker. It’s been 15 years and that still drives me through the wall.

I have to give it up to the Knicks though. They’ve needed Martin to take on a huge role with Chandler banged up this postseason and he’s put in 8.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, and 6.3 (!!!) fouls per 36 minutes. Chandler’s per-36-minute numbers: 6.5 points, 10.9 rebounds, 0.8 blocks.

Felton and Shumpert have had their ups and downs, but they hassled Paul Pierce into his worst playoff performance since 2004. Shumpert’s made J.R. Smith expendable with both his offense and defense, but especially his defense that threw Pierce out of whack.

As for Boston, the KG era really does feel final. There’s a lengthy blog post about that for another time. Until then, I’ll be distracting myself from what looks like the end to the careers of two of my childhood heroes.

The way they went out was valiant though. I knew when I flipped the channel from their game to Pacers-Hawks that it was too awful to be true, and it was. Their 19-0 run in the fourth quarter might not have been enough to keep Garnett and Pierce around for one more season, but it was enough to make me look forward to the future of the Celtics.

I constantly find myself scared of their rebuilding phase, but then I remind myself that Rick Pitino isn’t around like he was in the late ’90s. Everything’s going to be all right this time around. Hopefully.

Round 2: Indiana-New York

Whatever happens, I’ll be enjoying the ‘90s flashbacks of Pacers-Knicks series and not-so-secretly hoping Kenyon Martin fouls David West one time just a little too hard.

It will be interesting though to see how the Pacers defend Melo and Shumpert. Will David West, of all Pacers, see limited minutes if the Knicks continue to go small? Where do they hide West now with Shumpert’s ability to score off the bounce and from 3?

I have the Knicks in 5. I can’t see them winning game 6 in Indiana and I find it hard to believe the Pacers win three games against New York.

But then again, Amare Stoudemire is rumored to come back by Game 3. Uh-oh.

If that happens, Pacers in 6!

Onto the West:

Oklahoma City (1) – Houston (8)

This series resembled a blogger taking potshots at a nationally-known journalist.

First, there was the Patrick Beverley-Russell Westbrook feud that really wasn’t anything until Westbrook needed knee surgery after game 2. I have yet to know where Beverley even went to college, as was the case for (hopefully, just so I don’t feel bad) several NBA fans until the series shifted to Houston.

It still feels like bad blood remains, as I wrote in my previous post regarding the two.

And then Royce White chimed in after Houston won game 5 at Oklahoma City.

roycewhite1

roycewhite2

Durant fired back, with a metaphorical rifle of some sort.

From the AP, which ESPN posted on their Web site:

Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant isn’t worried about tweets from Houston rookie Royce White that say the Thunder are looking shaky.

“Who’s he?” Durant asked Friday at practice.

Good question!

“I haven’t seen him on the bench,” Durant told reporters. “He hasn’t played against us, so I’m not worried about guys that’s not even in our series. Ain’t that the guy that can’t, that’s afraid to fly? I wish him the best. If I see him next year, I’ll let him know who we are.”

Asked if comments such as White’s raise his ire, Durant brushed them off.

“I don’t get fired up off stuff,” Durant said. “I get fired up just playing this game, enjoying the game. Like I said, I wish him the best. I wish he could have played and really felt this intensity for a playoff game, but I guess watching on TV is better.”

Boom. Durant did everything but threaten to throw a paper plane at him.

Clippers (4) – Memphis (5)

Watching Marc Gasol was/still is like watching Adam Sandler act, but the opposite. Each year, Gasol’s game grows. He knows where to be on each side of the court, he knows the passing lanes to clog and the cutters to bump on defense, his jumpshot (like Randolph’s) defies the definition of a jumpshot, and he makes free throws. (!!!)

Both Gasols, really, are a reminder it doesn’t take a big man who catches insane lobs (DeAndre Jordan), swats shots into the third row (McGee, Ibaka), or runs the floor like a deer (basically every center under 30 except Gasol and maybe Nikola Pekovic) to make an effective center.

Meanwhile, to complete the reference to the opposite of watching Adam Sandler, Sandler hasn’t starred in or written anything worth watching (I haven’t watched Punch-Drunk Love) in almost 15 years. Even then, the humor in The Waterboy continues to turn more annoying as the years go by. I’m not bitter, I just can’t stand worse acting than Derek Fisher and worse writing than my own. If only I noticed that during my childhood.

For the sake of my blood pressure and overall well-being, I’ll stick to watching Marc Gasol who stays within himself each game. Without his consistent excellence, Memphis isn’t the painful out they’ve been for the last three years.

This was also the series that put the Rudy Gay talk away for good. As Toronto sets themselves up for mediocrity for the next couple of years, Memphis remains a dark horse contender even with Jerryd “The Other” Bayless as their sixth man. Amazing.

As for the Clippers, it looks like the end of their run with Chris Paul.

And if he left, I wouldn’t blame him.

Vinny Del Negro played 12 guys in his final game as the Clippers head coach. Lamar Odom played 23 minutes and his plus-minus differential was -22, Eric Bledsoe and Jamal Crawford played a COMBINED 21 minutes, Willie Green logged 14 minutes in his first game in a week, and Grant Hill played 20 in his first playoff game this postseason.

I don’t know what to say. I’ve seen worse recipes for disaster, but only from my own cooking.

My final thought on the Clippers season: I feel bad Grant Hill won’t win a ring.

Round 2: Oklahoma City-Memphis

Separately, Kendrick Perkins and Zach Randolph might not make for good TV. Together, they make enough drama to rival any MTV reality show (except THIS drama is actually real and not fabricated).

I also not-so-secretly hope Durant gets into it with Randolph at some time or another.

The matchup between Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka will also be intriguing, as each relies on an opposite skill than the other.

Bayless should have a good series if Scott Brooks sticks Derek Fisher on him. I’m not looking forward to that or any other situation where Brooks out-thinks himself.

Actually, both head coaches in this series are weirdos, but Vinny Del Negro is eliminated. At least there’s that.

Prediction: unless Reggie Jackson or Serge Ibaka play a couple levels up, I got Memphis in six games and Russell Westbrook having the most unhappy off-season ever.

Denver (3) – Golden State (6)

Here’s one of several videos summarizing how awesome Stephen Curry was versus Denver:

I actually really like these videos, as jiggly as the camera phones may be. They give more of a sense of how nuts it really was at Oracle Arena, which sounds more like a dental center than a basketball arena, but whatever.

The reactions of the fans at Oracle have become priceless when comparing the same ones in Atlanta when Josh Smith shoots. Here’s a typical reaction from Warriors fans when Curry lines up his first 3 of the night:

“Yes! For the love of God, shoot it!” the fans scream.

(Simple enough, right?)

The ball sails through the net. The crowd goes bonkers, praying for 20 more shots from beyond the arc. Win or lose, they know how awesome it is to have Stephen Curry on their team. They have him at a bargain, for $44 million over 4 years. They can’t help but think this is going to be something special after going through one of the most embarrassing seasons ever last year just to get here.

I don’t blame them. I hope they’re right.

At the end of the night, they line up near the tunnel, praying Curry throws them his mouthguard.

Now, here’s a typical Hawks fan in Philips Arena when Josh Smith lines up a similar 3:

The ball sails through the net. Everyone from the crowd, including fans for the other team, takes an Aspirin knowing Josh Smith now has the confidence to take five more threes. The Hawks fans can’t wait for Josh Smith to hit free agency. In the meantime, they come together to launch an investigation to hunt down whoever told Smith he could make a jumpshot.

Spurs(2) – Lakers(7)

I don’t know what to think of this alley-oop:

Or Phil Jackson’s response:

phil1

As it turned out, there really was an earthquake felt over Los Angeles, but the metaphorical one was one of the final nails in the Lakers’ coffin.

But I’m left asking myself if the Spurs are really back. Are they dangerous again, or did they feed off the poor version of the 2004 Lakers? I like to think they are if Tiago Splitter is back. Memphis and them pose the toughest out for Miami.

And really, that’s all I want at this point. This reeks of 2001 where the Lakers bulldozed everything in their path. If the Spurs can stay healthy, they match up very well with the Heat (or at least better than Oklahoma City and even Memphis).

The Dwight Howard ejection was anything but a highlight, but it was certainly the most talked about part of the series. There’s nothing else to add to it that I didn’t already explain in a previous post.

As for the Lakers’ season, it was a lot like a disc golf session I had a week ago. The beginning sucked. My discs were deflecting off tree limbs, skipping off the grass unintentionally at times and in another instance I nearly landed one in a garbage can. I kept saying after every hole that the next one would be when the game REALLY starts.

It only kept getting worse. By the time I reached the end, I accepted that I indeed suck at disc golf.

I had a few good throws though, which was enough to keep me coming back. The weather was beautiful, too.

Does Dwight Howard feel the same way about his time in Los Angeles? We’ll see.

Round 2: San Antonio-Golden State

Tim Duncan finished off the JaVale McGee-Dikembe Mutombo hybrid named Dwight Howard. Now, he’s matched up with the Australian behemoth in Andrew Bogut and a top five name in Festus Ezeli.

Meanwhile, Curry just might be the one guy who forces the NBA to create a four-pointer from half court and beyond. When’s the last time someone brought the ball up the court and kept fans on their toes, waiting for him to shoot it from any spot on the floor?

The Spurs are a very different (and surprisingly healthy) beast than Denver, but I’m sure Spurs fans fear a 10-for-12 night from three by Curry that costs them their home court advantage.

But this series feels more like a lesson of growing up, much like the Thunder-Lakers series of 2010. A team that consistently stays calm under pressure in the Spurs will take on another that literally tried to give game 6 away versus Denver.

Spurs in five, though I’m not necessarily rooting for this outcome.

Push it to seven, Golden State.

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