A quick round-up of the first round series from a Raptors POV. Sorta.
Celtics/Knicks: This is a series with a little bit of Raptors history tied into it if you search really, really hard. The Knicks haven’t won a playoff game in 10 years, the last time they did it was against…yup..the Raptors. That was the Raptors only taste of playoff success and since then both teams have starved, with the Raptors making the post-season three times, losing in the first round on each occasion. The ‘Melo trade and the Stoudamire signing took the Knicks from pretenders to glamorous pretenders in a hurry, and the sweep they incurred at the hands of the Celtics isn’t anything to be embarrassed about. With Stoudamire and Anthony locked into long-term deals and only $45.5 million in guaranteed deals, the Knicks could easily have a true Big Three come next season. The Celtics have another year of contention in them.
Heat/Sixers: The Sixers will likely lose Game 5 in Miami but their core of Brand, Iguodala, Williams, Turner and Holiday will return next season and provide tough competition in the Atlantic. The wildcard here is Jrue Holiday and whether he can become a good enough player to become a tandem-threat with Iggy. The Sixers face a looming decision about Thaddeus Young, a restricted free-agent who will command big dollars if the lockout is avoided. The crystal ball sees years and years of mediocrity on the horizon for the Sixers, unless of course they already have a diamond in Turner. They’re good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to do anything once they’re there. In other words, they’re the Atlanta Hawks of the last five years. It’s hard to see the Raptors making the playoffs ahead of the Sixers if the growth they showed this season is a sign of things to come. The Heat are proof that the devil exists.
Magic/Hawks: 11/48 FG (23%) shooting. Those are Hedo Turkoglu’s numbers for the season, I know Vince Carter struggled with his shot in Orlando but surely he wouldn’t have been this bad. Turkoglu only has 16 assists in the four games, and is having trouble playing point-forward against an athletic Hawks defense that is showing a great desire to recover after the initial dribble penetration. I didn’t think he could play any worse than when he was in Toronto. I was wrong. Watching Jamal Crawford operate off the bench (10-18 FG, 25 points in Game 4 win) makes me wonder how much of an impact Bargnani could have in a pressure-free role off the bench, where offense is always at a premium. The Magic could be the most predictable team in the playoffs because of the way they use Dwight Howard making them very easy to plan against. They’ve scored 93, 88, 84 and 85 points in the four games, and are finding themselves missing Rashard Lewis, a perimeter option which could break down the defense only too prepared for Howard.
Bulls/Pacers: The playoff initiation for the young Pacers has been fun to watch, they’ve fought in every game and hadn’t it been for the lack of experience, could easily be tied. If you’re talking Big Threes, they have Danny Granger under contract, and two of Paul George, Roy Hibbert and Darren Collison to choose from. They only have $35 million in guaranteed salary tied up for next season and I don’t expect Larry Bird to start handing out extensions to players midway through their rookie-scale deals. The Pacers have another early playoff exit ahead of them, but as far as talent and cap flexibility goes, they’re ahead of the Raptors. The Bulls are here to stay. T.J Ford is the only Pacer to register a DNPCD in all four games.
Portland/Dallas: Tim Chisholm compared Aldridge vs Mavs to Bosh vs Nets. I don’t see it, the help Dallas sends in the form of Chandler and Hayward isn’t comparable to Bosh being shut down by Mikki Moore one-on-one. It was great to see Brandon Roy overcome his injury issues to win Portland Game 4, he’s still the best talent in that draft. On the other side, Dirk Nowitzki is making us look like plain idiots by comparing Andrea Bargnani to him. Nowtizki’s fluidity, confidence, decision-making and shot-making ability is so much superior to Bargnani’s that any comparison can only be deemed insulting. Dallas chose to go away from Nowitzki towards the end of Game 4 without any ball-denial on the part of Portland (Batum guarding him one-on-one). Not sure what Carlisle was thinking.
San Antonio/Memphis: Following his 9-10 FG masterclass in Game 1, Marc Gasol delivered 12/17 in Game 2 and was the driving force in the Grizz’s Game 3 win delivering 17/9. The space he occupies in the paint is giving the Spurs bigs a lot of trouble, and the sheer amount of effort the defense has to exert dealing with him has to take toll in the later stages of the game. The story for me has been the defense played on Tony Parker, in the two Spurs losses he’s shot 4-16 and 5-14 (6-14 in the win), and it’s been a combination of solid perimeter defense by Conley, and timely interior help by their bigs. Raptors fans watching this series should get an idea of how important a “two tier” defense is, and how essential it is to any type of success.
OKC/Denver: I don’t know what the numbers look like, I do know that Denver’s scoring was so dependent on team play that when the cold spots came, they didn’t have a star presence to pull them through, and they ended up losing two games by a combined 6 points. Clutch scoring is what OKC have and what Denver doesn’t. Robbed on a goal-tending call in Game 1, Denver should have been in the early lead and if they get some high-percentage shooting from Gallinari or another wing, could still win two games. I like watching Westbrook more than Durant.
Lakers/Hornets: If Pau Gasol doesn’t mishandle that great Kobe Bryant pass in last night’s game, this is a 3-1 series going back to LA. As it is, Jarrett Jack is Johnny-on-the-spot and it’s all to play for. Marco Belinelli is 11-37 in the series, and Jack is 9-24. The latter is also seen being used as a backcourt partner to Paul, giving the Hornets two ball-handlers to ease the pressure imposed by the length of the Lakers defense. The Hornets lost all four games to the Lakers during the regular season by an average of more than 10 points, which makes this series all the more interesting. Good ‘ol undersized Carl Landry is proving to be a beast, and the Lakers are wishing Ariza didn’t sign for the Hornets – he held Kobe to 5-16 last night.