NBA Reset: 4/19/2011

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The end of the 82 game grind culminates in an epic tournament of basketball   featuring 16 of the best teams on the planet. A high quality product played in high intensity environments and broadcast in high definition television. It’s the NBA playoffs. Nothing better.

Let’s hit the reset button and see what’s what.

The Starting Five:

1. The Big Shocker(s)

I think most people assume that the biggest surprise of the weekend was the Lakers going down. Not me.

The biggest upset so far has to be the Spurs losing game 1 against the Grizz, the Manu Ginobli absence not withstanding. I mean, Memphis basically did the basketball equivalent of Clubber Lang calling out Rocky Balboa by intentional losing benching their starters their last few games to assure the seeding they preferred. And you know what? It worked (so far). Despite the fact that San Antonio had every right to be disrespected and every motivation in the whole to come out and kick some bottom seed butt, Memphis stole game 1 and now has a legit shot to make this a competitive series.

Of course if we all take a look back at our Rocky history, even though Clubber owns Balboa in their first match up, he eventually gets whooped in the end. Granted, Rocky had the advantage of training with Apollo Creed on the beach then embracing him in a gleeful bear hug that oozed of  masculine security.  Not sure if coach Pop can duplicate that (Ginobili – Duncan on the shores of the Gulf Coast?). Maybe Memphis does have a shot after all…

2. Umm, About that Switch?

Earlier this season I wrote a piece on the fallacy of the notion that teams can just flip the switch, arguing essentially that there was no such thing. Then of course the Lakers proceeded to set the league on fire immediately following the All-Star break and my analysis appeared to go up in flames. But now? If there was ever a time the Lakers wanted to flip that thing on it would be in round one, when a series sweep against a vulnerable opponent could provide a welcome respite for a somewhat banged up roster. So what do they do? Come out and lay an egg big enough to serve up ten thousand Easter omelets. And that was just the first half. So what happened?

The consensus seems to be a problem with the defense. No argument here. You can’t just chalk it up to a virtuoso Chris Paul performance. As the boys at FB&G point out, even Jarret Jack was carving them up in the fourth quarter, extending the lead with Paul on the bench.

Will they win the series? Yeah, it’s very likely. But ever extra step they take on the road to a repeat lessens the chances they have enough gas in the tank to finish the race if they make it to the finals. Just saying.

3. Oh, Knickerbockers

Sure, the Knicks looked great in the first half, taking a 12 point lead into the locker room. So what was the cause of their demise?

Knicks fans will surely tell you that the reason they lost was a ridiculous offensive foul call on ‘Melo and the subsequent possession where KG got away with clipping Toney Douglas, thus clearing space for Ray Allen to calmly knock in the go-ahead three pointer. But you know what? They’re wrong.

The truth is the Knicks will never be anything more than a neat sideshow of a basketball team until they buy in on the defensive end. They managed only 34 points in the second half and while that sort of output seems to preclude a victory, here’s the thing is. Really good teams can still win when they go through dry spells like that because when the buckets stop falling, they turn the screws on the other guy, get stops and turn the game into a slug fest (see 2010 NBA Finals Game 7). Unfortunately, that’s not an option in Mike D’Antoni’s playbook. It probably never will be.

4. I Rest My Case

Dwight Howard’s performance in Game 1 against the Hawks was Wilt Chamberlain-esque. 46 points, 19 rebounds, 16 of 23 from the field. The only problem? The Magic lost the game by 10

Contrast that with Derrick Rose’s 39 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds versus the Pacers. Indiana was on the verge of pulling off the upset, up 9 with 3 minutes to play when Rose went absolutely bonkers. He drove. He slashed. He got to the line. He simply owned the game from that point forward, and Chicago’s defense allowed only 2 more points the rest of the way. Result? Bulls win by 5. For his followup act Rose only poured in 36 points in a hard fought game 2 victory.

Sure, by the numbers, Howard has a legit case at MVP. PER, win shares, rebounds, blocks, blah-blah-blah… but when you put it all in context… well you be the judge.

5. Most Watchable

Sure, the early upsets will making several first round series conceivably much closer than we might have thought going in. But after the opening weekend I’d say the most watchable series is exactly the one we thought it would be:  OKC versus Denver.

Did you see the intensity of the crowd? The sea of blue shirts? Durant and Westbrook combining for 72 in Game 1 was just the first scoop on a quadruple fudge sundae loading to the brim with whipped cream and chopped nuts. The cherry on top will be a showdown in Game 7. I can’t wait. Man I love ice cream.

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