Observe and Report: The First Week of the NBA Playoffs

Since we’re wrapping up the greatest first week in NBA Playoffs history, I wanted to write something about them, but the games have been so good and there are so many possible narratives to discuss that I didn’t have any idea where to start or end or what to include in the middle. So here are a series of semi-related, possibly incoherent and unquestionably giddy Playoff driven thoughts.

  • Donald Sterling should be forced out of the NBA. An indefinite suspension handed down by Commissioner Adam Silver is the most realistic outcome, but it wouldn’t hurt for the other twenty-nine owners, players and fans alike to pressure the NBA into doing something about this, and fast. I personally think Sterling should be pressured to sell the team. Nobody that insensitive, narrow-minded and out of touch should have the power to own a professional sports team.

    Apr 25, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Houston Rockets forward Josh Powell (21) and forward Chandler Parsons (25) celebrate with guard Troy Daniels (30) after the game winning shot in overtime against the Portland Trail Blazers in game three of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

  • Who the hell is Troy Daniels and why is he allowed to handle daggers? Holy cow, talk about a ballsy shot. I can’t recall a lesser known player coming in and hitting a bigger shot than the one that the undrafted rookie and D-League call-up hit in Portland on Friday night. If it weren’t for Daniels we’d be paying a lot more attention to things like, It took Kevin McHale until Game 3 to realize he should run offense where James Harden and Dwight Howard are involved in action together and Harden is 36 for 103 shooting in the first four games of the series.
  • Another note on my friend Weston: he’s a Bulls fan and at the beginning of the season he was overly critical of the Bulls acquisition of Mike Dunleavy. I continued to tell him throughout the season that there would come a time when he would be grateful that the Bulls signed the lanky small forward. Well that time came as we were enjoying a few beers watching Game 3, when Mike Dunleavy did his best impression of another famous Mike from Chicago—Jordan, not Ditka—to keep the Bulls from being swept by the upstart Wizards who look increasingly confident and more than ready to remain a challenger in the Eastern Conference for the foreseeable future. The Bulls/Wizards series is the one that I will end up being most wrong about. I had the Bulls winning in five games, and Washington should be wrapping up in five or six. Like many others, I overrated the things Chicago does well (toughness, Thibodeau’s coaching and motivation, Noah doing Noah things) and completely ignored the fact the Chicago struggles to score crucial baskets late as badly as Drake struggles with getting lint off of his fancy black pants. They were fortunate for Dunleavy’s out of body experience and some big shots by Jimmy Butler in Game 3. Otherwise, they have been a total mess late in games. No wonder they are trying to bring Carmelo Anthony in.
  • What a damn war this Oklahoma City/Memphis series has been. I don’t think I’m going out too far on a limb when I say that it’s the most underrated rivalry in the NBA. While it hasn’t been a work of art or anything resembling what most people find to be aesthetically pleasing basketball, the first four games of the series sure have been dramatic. And that stays consistent with the other twelve games these two teams have played in the postseason in 2011 and 2013. The intensity reaches a completely different level, and by the time each game winds down the ten guys on the floor resemble heavyweight fighters more than basketball players. I’m pretty sure that’s the way Tony Allen is looking at this series too. He plays defense like his life depends not only on getting a stop, but completely disallowing his man from getting the ball to begin with. I’ve never seen a team have to work so hard to get a player the ball 30 feet away from the basket as Oklahoma City does to get it to Kevin Durant when Allen is guarding him. Let’s stick with Allen for a minute. Has a player who is so limited offensively ever meant so much to a playoff team? He personifies the Grit and Grind Grizzlies, and in a series where the offense has been limited and the games have been rock fights, I would argue that Allen has played the best series of anyone. He’s been an absolute menace defensively and has spent more time on Durant’s body than the strippers in Houston will if he ends up playing for the Rockets. He plays harder than everyone else and that’s significant when games are being decided by hustle plays, loose balls, 50/50 rebound opportunities, playing the passing lanes and busting your ass.
  • We can’t go through a 1st Round summary without mentioning LaMarcus Aldridge, who eviscerated the Rockets in Games 1 and 2 in Houston, notching 89 points and 26 rebounds in those two games. There was no way to stop LA with one guy; he requires a double-team otherwise he’s going to work you over. His huge regular season and success against Houston in the past should’ve been some sort of indicator that a huge series was in the works. Did anyone expect him to become some sort of Dirk Nowitzki/Kevin Garnett hybrid, convincingly outplay Dwight Howard, demoralize poor Terrence Jones and gain some “Wow, this guy is good enough to be the best player on a championship team” traction? I didn’t see ALL of that coming. The Blazers/Rockets series has been every bit as dramatic as the Grizzlies/Thunder series, and it has the points to give it the wide spread appeal. With all of the star power on the floor—Harden, Howard, Lillard, etc.—it’s Aldridge who is the center of attention, as the Blazers lead the series 3-1.
  • Maybe there was a greater likelihood that an actual fist fight would ensue during the Pero Antic/David West and Nene/Jimmy Butler confrontations, but the iciest moment of the 1st Round so far was LeBron James’ stare down of Michael Jordan in the 3rd quarter of Miami’s Game 3 blowout victory over Charlotte. At least it made the series a little interesting, right? That well-known on/off switch that the Heat use ad nauseam hasn’t seen much action in the first three games of this 1st Round series. The Heat have been “off” for the majority of the series, only flicking it on for a three minute stretch here or there when the soon to be Hornets were closing the gap. They haven’t been in danger and while that seems like a trivial point to make, the longer they can go through the Playoffs without having to kick it into high gear, the better for their chances of a three-peat.
  • Believe it or not, Drew Gooden is alive and well, and getting minutes for a team that might make the 2nd Round of the NBA Playoffs.
  • Jermaine O’Neal is too. But at least Mark Jackson had the common sense to leave O’Neal out of the starting lineup for Game 4, a move that sparked a lightning quick start and a blowout win for Golden State. Could it just be coincidence that Stephen Curry (7 three-pointers) went off in the same game the Warriors made this switch? Possibly, but it’s no coincidence that Golden State’s small ball lineups have worked best against the Clippers. With David Lee sidelined last year, the Warriors had to rely more heavily on small ball and it may have saved their postseason. Even though the presence of Andrew Bogut would make life much easier in dealing with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles–like Denver and San Antonio last year–has had more trouble with Golden State’s small ball lineup than any other look–particularly  the starting lineup they went with in Game 4—Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Green and Lee—with some Harrison Barnes in the mix too.

    Apr 26, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Vince Carter (25) reacts afterhitting the game winning shot over San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (not pictured) during the fourth quarter in game three of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

  • It’s a real bummer that the little aliens from Space Jam came down and stole all of Roy Hibbert’s talent. Remember the result the last time something like this happened? Every NBA stadium was quarantined and the season was called off. What a bummer that would be.
  • Speaking of the Pacers, since everyone else has chipped in their two cents on what exactly is the cause of their sudden downfall, I’ll take my crack at it. While the theories of fatigue, a loss of identity, too much pressure and too much hype are all plausible and very likely, I stand by my Andrew Bynum Theory. On February 1st Bynum signed with the Indiana Pacers, sitting comfortably in 1st Place in the Eastern Conference with a 36-10 record. Indiana went 20-16 over the last two and a half months of the season. Now Bynum only played in two regular season games for the Pacers, but what I suspect happened is that his toxic presence was enough to send the franchise into a complete tailspin. It starts with Roy Hibbert, who wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire before the Bynum acquisition (12 points and 7 rebounds per game) and has drifted into Kwame Brown territory since the trade (9 points and 5 rebounds per game). While Hibbert’s impact defensively is well known, he has yet to play a prolonged stretch of elite offensive basketball. Bynum—despite the knee surgeries, bowling injuries and attitude issues—is able to say that at one time he was an elite offensive center. Wouldn’t Hibbert rightly think, “Wait, is Bynum going to steal my late game minutes? Do they not trust me? Am I not good enough?” So with Hibbert in an odd place mentally and the Pacers beginning to slump, Hibbert dropped a pipe bomb after a blowout loss to the Spurs on March 31st in the form of the always crippling I’m going to point the finger of blame on someone else quote. As soon as Hibbert let everyone know that the Pacers locker room was home to “some selfish dudes,” a full-fledged implosion was happening before our eyes.The results are well-documented. The Pacers are in a dogfight with Atlanta, who in fairness do present some weird matchup problems and have been playing extremely hard. Frank Vogel is coaching for his job. Paul George is playing to prove he’s an elite guy in the league who should be mentioned in the same breath as guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant—even though he’s not close to that level yet. Roy Hibbert is playing to avoid being compared to guys like Kwame Brown and Hasheem Thabeet. Lance Stephenson is playing to avoid being traded. The Pacers as a team are playing to avoid an ugly legacy of being the team that unprecedentedly fell apart. And Andrew Bynum is not playing.