Excitement and exhilaration describe the scene that unfolded in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Excitement and exhilaration describe the scene that unfolded in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The Warriors surprised the world with a hard-fought victory over Dallas. The Bulls swept Miami, the reigning champion. And Phoenix ran all over Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, to a five-game series win.
Now, with the dust settled on round one, the bruised and battered victors advance to the second chapter of the NBA’s second season. For the sake of the sport and sanity of its fans, let’s hope a couple of the match-ups in round two are as jaw dropping as those we witnessed during the past few weeks.
The main course of round number two is undoubtedly Phoenix versus San Antonio. This series between two squads, who are both familiar with one another and late round playoff success, is a must-see for a couple of reasons.
The first game went to the Spurs 111-106, after Steve Nash collided with Tony Parker, splitting open his face with three minutes left in the half. Nash wasn’t able to return until there where only 54 seconds left in the game, and he could not pull his team out of the hole they got themselves in.
The teams employ the most extreme playing styles in the league, being on complete opposite poles of the spectrum. Tim Duncan and the Spurs are religiously a half-court squad that prefers a pace two notches slower than a Jamie Moyer fastball. While the Suns, led by speedsters Steve Nash and The Roadrunner Leandro Barbosa, like to rev up their engines and blaze up and down the floor to transform an opponent’s mistakes into fastbreaks.
The key is going to be which squad can maintain its playing style by controlling the tempo throughout the series. It’s pretty simple, no Las Vegas lines or expert analysis is necessary for this one. Whichever team can control the tempo will reign supreme.
The team left standing at the end of this heavyweight bout will end up hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy once the playoffs conclude. Dallas was the post-season favorite, but the Warriors exposed and extinguished them early. Therefore, these two western powerhouses will be fighting for their NBA championships and not just a ride into the second round. This realization should make the competition in this series even fiercer than ever before.
Another series that should turn some heads is Detroit against Chicago out east. The Pistons pummeled Chicago 95-69 in game one. But, look for Luol Deng and Ben Gordon to rally the Bulls in the upcoming games, making this a series with an intensity equal to Michael Jordan’s Bulls versus the Bad Boys of Detroit during the 90s.
It’s obvious Detroit is the more complete team (better defense, ball movement, interior play) in this series, but the Bulls should have confidence since they defeated Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups and company three of four times in the regular season. The common denominator in those victories was explosiveness on the part of Chicago. The Bulls averaged 97 points against Detroit, second in the league with points allowed in the four game tilts. If Chicago rediscovers their high-octane offense and continues to hit the boards at its league-leading pace, averaging 43.7 per contest, this will be a series with shades of the one starring Isaiah Thomas and MJ more than a decade ago.
The other match-ups are also capable of generating some excitement. Basketball fans around the nation will back the great underdogs, Golden State, as it faces off against the Jazz in round two. The big question in that series is whether Utah’s big men, Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur, can keep pace with Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson’s lightening quick, chaotic style. If Jerry Sloan’s team slows up, even at the slightest, look for the Warriors to pounce like a pack of hungry wolves to devour the Jazz in five or six games.
On the eastside, LeBron James leads his squad against an veteran New Jersey team headlined by the big three: Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson. James and the Cavaliers won game one quite convincingly, but the Nets will inevitably bounce back behind its star-studded cast. With the talent levels about even, this series has all the makings of a spirited seven-game battle.
Round one of the NBA playoffs is in the books and round two is just getting underway. And, with names like LeBron, Baron, Duncan, Nash and Carter still pounding the hardwood, it should be another compelling couple of weeks to be an NBA aficionado. Let’s just hope it matches the drama and intrigue of a fun-filled first round.