by Phil Kehres
A quick glance at the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoff bracket reveals a cursory appearance of symmetry. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets are dominating the opposition and find themselves up 3-0 against the Atlanta Hawks and the Dallas Mavericks, respectively. The Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic are tied 2-2, as are the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets. There’s much more to these series than meets the eye, however.
As Cleveland strives to maintain its so far perfect playoff run, some would have you believe that the weakness of their first two opponents has been the cause for their success. While it’s hard to argue that the Detroit Pistons were anything but awful, Atlanta is no pushover. Make no mistake — this series is as lopsided as it is because of the Cavs' suffocating defense and balanced offensive attack. Though Atlanta has sustained some costly injuries, the Cavs have simply taken care of business. They have systematically demoralized their opponents on a nightly basis — a feat that the fellow powerhouse L.A. Lakers (more on that a bit later) haven’t been able to match. Despite those who say that Cleveland is at a disadvantage because they’ve yet to face a real challenge, NBA Coach of the Year Mike Brown and his Cavaliers would have it no other way.
The other series in the Eastern Conference finds an injury-plagued Boston Celtics team somehow managing to hang tough against the energetic Orlando Magic. With the Magic poised to take a 3-1 series lead on their home court, Celtics forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis nailed a buzzer-beating jumper to shift the momentum back towards the defending champions as they take the series back to Boston. You have to wonder how Boston hasn’t overdrawn its account in the good karma bank, but at this point, the Magic have to do some soul-searching. With Boston running out the dregs of its bench for substantial minutes each game, this series is closer than it should be.
Over in the Western Conference, the prolific Denver Nuggets have taken a commanding lead over the Dallas Mavericks, but not without controversy. Game 3 was won on a last-second three-pointer by Carmelo Anthony, who was clearly intentionally fouled by Dallas guard Antoine Wright prior to the shot. The missed call was so egregious that the NBA issued an apology after the game. Whoops. Dallas, now on the brink of elimination, has a redwood-sized chip on their shoulder that they’ll need to use to their advantage in Game 4 if they have any hope of challenging the red-hot Nuggets.
The most intriguing series going on is the contest between the defending Western Conference Champion L.A. Lakers and the Houston Rockets. The Lakers, favored to win the NBA title this year were stunned in a Game 1 loss at home. Games 2 and 3 got wild. Lakers guard Derek Fisher was suspended for body checking Rockets forward Luis Scola in Game 2 and Rockets forward Ron Artest was ejected from both games. The Lakers, however, recovered from their lackadaisical Game 1 performance to take both of the next two games and gain the momentum. Game 4 was proof that momentum in sports is a mirage. Down superstar center Yao Ming, who is out for at least the rest of the playoff with a fractured foot, the Rockets pasted the Lakers to ties the series up. Fortunately for L.A., the series is headed back to the Staples Center. Kobe Bryant and crew will have to pick up the pace. Playing this poorly against a Rockets team decimated by injury does not bode well for the Lakers' prospects in later rounds — should they advance.
Excitement abounds so far in these playoffs, and likely things won't cool down. The upcoming week could feasibly see both the defending Eastern and Western Conference champions sent packing. If Boston and L.A. manage to advance, they’ll each have to deal with beasts lying in wait.
(Phil Kehres also is the co-author of Excuse Me, Is This Your Blog?)
(To see the schedule of NBA playoff games on various cable TV networks, please go here. To see official NBA highlights of Glen Davis' sensational buzzer beater in the last Celtics-Magic game, please check below.)
Los Angeles Lakers
National Basketball Assocition
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by Phil Kehres