If you’re a long time reader, you know that I’m not big on the first round of the NBA playoffs. Especially now that the first round is a longer 7 games, I feel that the lower seeds have virtually no chance of knocking their opponent out. The two number one seeds have just swept their opponents into the record books, while two more series (Detroit & Seattle) have the quill dipped only awaiting the final formalities. Tonight if the Spurs and Bulls win there will only be two series that still have any type of uncertainty: Celtics/Pacers and Rocket/Mavs.
Tonight at 8, or more likely at 8:15 I’ll have to make the decision if I’d rather continue watching the Bulls/Wizards game, or switch over to the Texas showdown. It’s been the oddest series, as the visiting team has won each game. The reason this series is tied at 2 games a piece is the lack of defense on the part of the Mavericks. During the regular season, the Mavs finished a respectable 9th on defense, allowing an eFG of 47.1%. However since the playoffs began Allas has allowed Houston to shoot an eye popping 54.0%.
For all the talk about the Little General turning the team into a defensive minded squadron, I really haven’t seen the evidence. Near the end of January and even in early February, Allas was ranked 6th in the NBA on defense. Avery Johnson arrived in March, let the Mavs drop three spots defensively in a month, and now they’ve let T-Mac (54%) and Yao (72.5% !!) score like it’s last call at a college bar. It’s a shame that after years of seemingly shaking their no-D reputation, the Mavs defense has gone so far south, it more resembles a Mexican bull fight.
Meanwhile Bostonians look to figure out what the hell is going on with their team. Earlier this year, prodigal son Antoine Walker returns after his banishment to NBA’s version of Hades and the Celts go on a mini run. Your truly says the Celtics have improved but that they’ll “cool off a bit as ‘Toine floats back down to earth.” Also like any good psychic (read: good at BSing) I hedge my bets by simultaneously saying the Celts could loose in the first round or move on to the ECF. Meanwhile on the APBRmetric board, Bob Chaikin is less than flattering calling Walker “one of the very worst starting PFs in the league” and his improvement “a blip on his career screen.”
Down 2 games to 1, the series looked dire for Boston as they headed into Indiana desperate for a win and without ‘Toine. So what happens? The Celtics go small playing what could be considered 4 guards (or at best 2 guards and 2 small forwards) and blow the Pacers out by 31. Indiana shot only 30.7% including an abysmal 4-15 effort from All Star Jermaine O’Neal with what should have been a monster game against the diminutive competition. If game five is anything like the first four, then we shouldn’t know what to expect except for maybe a blow out. Three games in this series have been won by 20 points or more.
The first round, or as I think of it “the preseason to the postseason”, is nearly over save for these two series. While it’s possible that Denver or Washington makes things interesting, I think Houston and the Pacers have the best odds of surviving to the semifinals. Optimistically looking forward, the second round should have much better quality matchups. If I had to guess, I would say only the Miami series will be a mismatch. On the other hand, I would guess that the Spurs-Sonics tangle will be much more interesting than any in this round.