April 17, 2011
You've got to love the way the playoffs move every dial back to zero. Sure, the Trail Blazers might be the deeper team in this series. They might be more talented, and they might match up in a way that could have the Mavs ending their season five or six games from now, but … make it happen, cap'ain.
Go ahead and take all those well-researched "should bes," and turn them into a win, Portland. Because while we were right to point out how much this series seems to tilt in Portland's favor, the Blazers still had to go out and guard Dirk Nowitzki(notes).
And Jason Kidd(notes), too, which is a worrying thing if I'm a Dallas fan. Because it was Kidd's five three-pointers that helped put the Mavs way ahead to start the game, and you can't really rely on that. Kidd even tossed in a back-breaking sixth three-pointer in the final minute, but what happen when that tails off? What happens when that goes away, as it usually does with Kidd?
Because it went away, for 11 minutes of game time in Game 1, as Kidd sat or didn't shoot over the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth; Dallas couldn't even score a field goal during that term. And though Dirk Nowitzki came through with a brilliant fourth quarter following that swoon (16 points, all over the court, fantastic spacing for Dallas), this is the sort of thing we saw all year from Dallas. They're very good, but not great, offensively. Same on the other end.
They had enough on Saturday, though. And though Blazers coach Nate McMillan was complaining about a free throw disparity following the game, I watched this contest with my glasses all the way on, and did I miss a hack or 12 that wasn't called? Because I know I saw Portland miss 14 of 16 threes, Gerald Wallace(notes) act kind of hesitant on his flips and finishes, and I know we saw a "one of those nights" game from Brandon Roy(notes) as he missed six of seven shots. I did see Tyson Chandler(notes) illegally guard LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) with two arms to the back two times, but that was about it.
It hurts to see Dallas more than double you up from the line, but McMillan has to be happy with the fact that his team played the Mavericks to a near stand-off despite a middling, 100 points per 100 possessions performance. Dallas was at home, and needed Jason Kidd to hit six three-pointers to pull away. Dallas will no doubt improve upon this game, but there's only so much improving you can do on Jason Kidd hitting six of 10 treys. And best for McMillan? Portland will improve by leaps and bounds from here on out.
Or, they "should" improve. It's still on paper for Portland, at this point.
Despite taking three of four, rather soundly, over the Magic during the regular season, most NBA observers ran running from the Hawks as they entered the postseason, mindful of Atlanta's past failures when it counted the most, and reeling from the team's sorry six-game losing streak to end the 2010-11 regular season. But if Sunday's Game 1 was any indication, the Orlando Magic are the team not to trust.
Don't include Dwight Howard(notes) in that. The All-Star big man pivoted and spun his way to a stunning 46 points in this win, and though he turned it over eight times, he was predictably (and sadly) all Orlando had on defense, and just about all the team had offensively. The only other things the Magic came through with consistently came was a perpetual lack of concentration when it came time to execute a play or shot, and dodgy defense. Sure, Atlanta's perimeter hitters were nailing shots from all over, but Orlando should have played much, much better. Even Jameer Nelson(notes), who nailed 10 of 18 shots on his way toward 27 points, left me wanting. Probably because I'm a huge jerk.
Can we trust the Hawks now? Hard to say, as this sort of reputation usually takes a series and a half to wash away. But this was warming, as Jamal Crawford(notes) hit four threes, Kirk Hinrich(notes) hit six of 10 shots, Joe Johnson(notes) faced up his way to a 9-16 night, and Al Horford(notes) hit five of 10 from 10 feet out (and 7-14 overall).
And let's give Atlanta credit defensively. They got after it in contesting shots, and they did well to grab those 18 Orlando turnovers. This was an impressive win.
What amazes is that, in game 83, we're still running more or less the same script with the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers. We know the Heat can defend, get out and get to the line, and that the group has issues relying on its half court offense with the pressure on, and initial options denied. We also know that zone defense hurts the Philadelphia 76ers, that the team has its issues finishing with long two-pointers, and that Andre Iguodala(notes) is still an injured work in progress.
We also learned, from several pundits and via a passive/aggressive bit of snark from Doug Collins following the game, that the NBA wants the Miami Heat to breeze into the second round of the playoffs. I'll buy that, but not the idea that the refs are going out of their way to hand it to the Heat. Miami earned those 39 free throws. It made for a boring game at times, but even with the Heat shooting just 42 percent and missing 13 of 17 three-pointers, Miami still managed a fantastic 112 points per 100 possessions, mostly due to those free throw makes.
We tend to remember his long game-winners and that sterling turn down the stretch of the 2006 Finals, but Dwyane Wade's(notes) collective clutch stats aren't much to sneeze at, ranking below well below Carmelo Anthony(notes), LeBron James(notes), and Kobe Bryant(notes) in terms of overall effectiveness and points scored. He was the mini go-to guy tonight as Philly threatened with a fourth quarter comeback, making three of five free throws on his way to five points in the last four minutes of the contest. Meanwhile, LeBron James (21 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, three blocks two turnovers, over 42 minutes) and Chris Bosh(notes) (25 and 12 in nearly 40 minutes) barely sat. Get ready for that, NBA.
A near win like this can only raise Philadelphia's confidence level, but don't expect the Heat to switch up to another gear. This is a crew that could "talent" its way toward a championship, even if the road there isn't entirely all that fun to watch.