Now that every series has played one game, that means one thing: the goofy NBA playoff schedule kicks in where there are three days of rest between home games and you never know when a team plays and some games get relegated to NBA TV which is the same as not even having them on and there is no rhyme or reason to when teams play. Sweet.
Before the playoffs started, my Series I Can't Miss List looked like this:
8. Detroit vs. OrlandoAfter the weekend? I think it is time to rethink those rankings. I threw my predictions in at the end, just for the hell of it. If you don't believe me, that's fine (I wouldn't believe me, either), but that's what I was gonna say from the get-go. Cross my heart, hope to die.
7. Cleveland vs. Washington
6. Dallas vs. Golden St.
5. Chicago vs. Miami
4. Toronto vs. New Jersey
3. Jazz vs. Rockets
2. Phoenix vs. Los Angeles
1. San Antonio vs. Denver
8. Detroit vs. Orlando
Game 1 was close, but that does nothing to pique my interest in this series. Most of these games will be close, I bet, because everyone on Detroit is Mr. Too Cool for School and they try to act like they don't care (I'm looking at you, Chauncey). But do I really need to see Chauncey Billups back down Jameer Nelson for 46 minutes? I do not think that I do. (Damon Jones is nodding his head right now.)
(Actually, Billups' strength is oddly fun to watch. The guy is just an ox. In fact, I convinced some one that there is a You Tube video of Chauncey Billups pushing a live ox out of a sumo-type circle. If they want to come clean in the comments, they are encouraged. But that's how strong he is. He could theoretically out-push an ox.)
Since JJ Redick isn't gonna get much burn, he should be taking notes while watching Rip Hamilton. Redick strikes me as the kind of guy who didn't know that basketball players don't have to go to class in college, so he should be pretty good at taking notes. So get the loose leaf out JJ and write a few things down.
If the Magic somehow steal a game, wake me up. Other wise, I'll see you in the second round, Detroit. I'm not listening to that Deee-troit Baaaaask-et-baaaaaall guy anymore more than I have to. I really, really hate him.
Detroit in 4.
7. Cleveland vs. Washington
The only reason this series is slightly ahead of Detroit/Orlando is Lebron (and the Deee-troit Baaaaask-et-baaaaaall guy...I really do hate him). I stopped breathing for about two minutes yesterday when LeBron was writhing around on the floor in apparent agony, but since he's OK, I'm OK.
(Incidentally, if you roll around on the floor, slapping your palms off the ground and randomly moaning, you should have to come out of the game. Not because you delayed the game, but because if you roll around on the ground like that, you better be pretty hurt. How can you lay there, scream and slap and roll, and then bounce right back up and run down the court? Something doesn't add up there. It's like when a two-year-old plants his face into the cement, starts bawling, notices that no one is paying attention to him, and then just goes back to his business.)
It was good to see Larry Hughes have a good game, though, but - and I forget where I read this - but this series really is a testament to the Cavs professionalism. If it takes them more than 5 games to win this series, then they are just screwing around and not taking shit seriously. But I think they are pros - I mean, they get paid and everything - so I say they wrap it up right on schedule.
Cavs in 5.
6. Toronto vs. New Jersey
I was pretty amped to see Toronto fans mentally dismantle Vince Carter, but what's the fun if New Jersey still wins? If VC is gonna go 5-19, or whatever he was, shouldn't New Jersey lose?
This series is at No. 6 becuase there is still a chance that VC blows up at some point, but really, I don't see it happeneing. Shame, really.
Raptors in 7.
5. Chicago vs. Miami
I really didn't understand why Miami was the clear cut favorite in this series. So much is different from last season when the Heat barely escaped.
First, Miami doesn't have home court this year. Kind of important.
Dwyane Wade isn't close to 100%. Plus, Shaq was out half the year, so was Wade - they haven't exactly gelled together his season.
Chicago added Ben Wallace, who at least makes Shaq work as hard for what he gets as anyone else in the L, and they added Ty Thomas, another athletic maniac to run around and block shots and dive after loose balls and do Scott Skiles things. The Heat added Eddie Jones.
The Young Bulls are a year older; the retirement home that is the Heat is one year older.
Instead of coming in as a "savior" half way through the season, Riles abandoned them halfway through the year. And obviously there is no way to prove this, but motivation has to be questioned: are all those veterans as hungry as they were 365 days ago?
Not to mention that the Heat eliminated the Bulls last year in a testy series - this is payback for Chicago.
The point is, every advantage in the series is tipped in Chicago's favor when compared to last year. Game 1 wasn't a fluke.
Bulls in 6.
4. Houston vs. Utah
T. Mac trying to get out of the first round was compelling enough; after his "If we don't get out of the first round this year, IT'S ON ME" line, how can you not be pulling for him? How often do you see the super star lay it on the line like that?
To be fair to T Mac, this is the first time he's ever been on a team that had home court. So he was supposed to lose in the playoffs every time. It's not like he choked in the past (I choose to willfully ignore his "the second round feels good" comment).
Regardless, I'm pulling for T. Mac. I think you should, too.
Rockets in 6.
3. Dallas vs. Golden St.
Here was my thinking heading into this series: the three times Dallas lost to the Warriors, it was tainted - the first time was during Dallas' 0-4 start when they couldn't beat St. Mary's School for Little Blind Girls, the second time was at the end of the 17-game winning streak and no team can win more than 17 games for some bizarre reason, and the third time was at the end of the season when the Mavs weren't really trying.
So when the Mavs actually play their game, they are going to have their way with a team they had 25 more wins than. I didn't count on Avery Johnson changing his line up to suit the Warriors. That was the first time I ever said to myself, "Oooh, bad move there, Avery." Why would you cater to a team you are better than? Impose your style of plays on them. They are better at small ball; you are better than small ball. Do you, Avery. Do you.
Still, this is now a series. The Warriors have to be in the Mavericks head. They have to be wondering to themselves why they can't beat a team that thought it was a good idea to combine the heart and soul of the Indiana night club/court house scene and a team that hadn't been in the post season for 13 years.
They'll bounce back, though. Well, they better bounce back. With A-Rod now apparently done with "I don't do so swell in the big moments" thing for now, the sports world needs a choke artist. If Dirk follows up blowing a 2-0 lead in the NBA finals (and the worst temper tantrum since he was 4) with a first round exit, he should be getting the A-Rod/Mickelson/Manning treatment until he comes through. Hey, it could happen.
Dallas in 4.
2. Phoenix vs. Los Angeles
Everyone knows how this series is going to end - Kobe kills himself to keep the Lakers competitive, Phoenix wears him and the Lakers down in the 4th quarter - but it is still fascinating to watch.
The sheer juxtaposition of two distinct styles will always be an enthralling event. And it's not just fast-break, drive and kick vs. slow the tempo, run your sets. It's one man single-handedly trying to take on a franchise that embodies the "team" concept more than any other. It's almost like the "right" way to do things verse the "wrong" way. Good vs. Evil, if you want to be dramatic about it. Plus, these two teams genuinely dislike each other; Raja vs. Kobe positively loathe one another.
One thing that has been driving me nuts: every analyst explaining what the Lakers are doing wrong. They are settling for too many long jump shots or they don't get the ball inside enough or they are guarding the pick-and-roll all wrong. How 'bout this one: the Suns have much, much better players. How's that one work for you? It doesn't matter what the hell the Lakers do, they are gonna be luck to win one game, they aren't winning this series. Even if Kobe goes for 65 every night. The Suns bring guys off the bench that would start for the Lakers in a heartbeat.
In fact, one of those guys absolutely slaughtered the Lakers yesterday. Leandro Barbosa annihilated whoever the Lakers nominated to attempt to stay in front of him. Smush Parker, in particular, just got owned. No one on the Lakers coaching staff thought to call Smush over the sideline during some free throws and say "Hey, um, Smush? Did you read your scouting report? No? That's OK, we didn't expect you to. But listen, that lanky, shaven-headed man with the ball? The one we told you to guard...yea, he's really, really fast. Like, maybe the fastest in the league. Ha, yea, really Smush...I know, I saw that one lay-up, too. So you know what we are gonna need you to do? GIVE HIM A FUCKING STEP. OK, go play hard!"
I've never really watched anyone play themselves out of the league, but Smush is doing exactly that. Another reason this series is fascinating, but for a whole other, more pathetic reason.
Suns in 5.
1. San Antonio vs. Denver
I don't know where anyone else has this series on their Must See List, but it's No. 1 for me, no questions asked.
I picked San Antonio to win it all at the beginning of the year, so I feel loyal to that pick. But I don't want them to win, in fact, I would be thrilled the quicker they were out of the playoffs. I am actively cheering against them, no small reason being that Bruce Bowen is the dirtiest, slimiest prick in the NBA, hand down; Tony Parker made me sick of seeing Eva Longoria; that things where Tim Duncan hugs the ball drives me nuts. Now that Joey Crawford is gone, what's the point of keeping the Spurs around?
On the other hand, I had the good fortune to attend Iverson's first game in Denver. I don't really know the history of fandome in the Rocky Mountains, and I'm not a Nuggets fan myself, but that place was cookies that night. He started the night on the bench and at one point, the crowd thought he was checking in and lost its collective mind; when he actually did check into the game, the place exploded. Iverson's pure joy at being in a place where he was that wanted and where he could actually help was painfully evident. He soaked it up, played to the crowd, and when he did that cup-his-hand-to-his-ear, I-can't hear-you thing, I was on my feet, loving it. The man has charisma. I'm telling you, he made it personal for every person in the building.
Since then, I've been undeniably attached to Iverson's fortunes in Denver. I couldn't not want him to succeed. So when he has a chance to finally matter in the playoffs again - and remember, he can single-handedly get a team to the Finals - I have to back that. How couldn't I? Just because I picked the Spurs to win months ago? I don't think so.
So, I'm picking the Spurs to win, but I am cheering as hard as I can against them and myself. Just feels right.
Spurs in 7.
As for the rest of the playoffs? Well, since Day 1 I've had the Spurs over Cleveland, so I'll stick with that. I don't think this year can match last year's Second Season, but if it comes close, that'll be good enough.
(And if you think I am going to go right back to posting without acknowledging the fact that I stopped for months and months, then you would be thinking correctly.)