Without a doubt, the first round of the 2009 NBA Playoffs has been one for the record books. Buzzer beaters and heated rivalries have filled this year’s post-season, and no one is going down without a fight for the title. As we head into the weekend, let’s recap what has happened so far…
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Detroit Pistons
The Cavs swept the Pistons in four games, surprise surprise. The Cavaliers have been clicking on all cylinders lately, and they seem unstoppable. I have nothing against the Pistons, but the Cavs are running flawlessly and don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. LeBron James’s position as the leader on his team has become full-time. James has averaged 32.0 points per game in the series, and the Cavs beat the Pistons by double-digits in all four games. The Cavs were the only team to sweep their first-round series, and I expect big things from this team with LeBron’s focus solely on winning a title.
(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Chicago Bulls
This might be one of the most competitive series I’ve ever seen in the first round, and the intensity these guys play with is NBA Finals worthy. The series is tied 3-3, and Game 7 is at Boston Saturday night. Four of the six games have gone into overtime. There has been a total of seven overtime periods, and this Game 7 will be one to remember. It’s sort of chippy out there already, and this game is the most important of them all. Derrick Rose, Rookie of the Year, has been outstanding for the Bulls. Joakim Noah has also put up some big numbers and has defended in the paint. Ray Allen had 51 -- yes, 51 -- points in Thursday’s Game 6, and Boston still lost! Rose blocked Rajon Rondo’s last shot in triple-overtime to seal the deal, and the Bulls won 128-127. Nearly everyone on each team has been playing their best; it would take me forever to recap. I predict that Game 7 will be close, as usual. It might be extremely chippy, but this is the NBA playoffs. What do you expect?
(3) Orlando Magic vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers
The Magic won the series against the Sixers, 4-2. The first four games of this series were close, having three buzzer beaters decide the game. Tuesday night, in Game 5, Magic star Dwight Howard threw an elbow at Sammy Dalembert, earning a one-game suspension. On the same night, Howard injured his own teammate, Courtney Lee, by accidentally throwing another elbow at him. Lee sat out Game 6 with a fractured sinus, and could possibly miss more games. Superman doesn’t need to throw those elbows, as good as he is. Magic swingman Hedo Turkoglu finally got his shot back in Game 6, but got ejected at the end of the game for trying to start a fight with Dalembert. Orlando’s J.J. Redick was surprising in Game 6, with five three-pointers, a career high. The Magic came out with a lot of confidence without their main player on the court, and the confidence kept flowing through the game. The Sixers needed to step up to match the confidence of the high-flying Magic, but failed to do so. The Magic will move on to Round 2, and the best of luck to them.
(4) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Miami Heat
It’s getting ugly out there, and it’s just getting started. These two division rivals are heating up this series, with costly injuries and plenty of technical fouls. The Hawks lead the Heat 3-2 going into Friday night’s Game 6, and every game has been decided by double digits. Every game is getting more intense between the two, with the Dwyane Wade collision in Game 5 as an example. I thought he was out for the game, but he’s D-Wade, and he always comes back. David Stern, the NBA commissioner, was there and was disappointed with all of the cheap fouls out there. With an injured team, the Atlanta bench needed to step up. They did, and big time. By the third quarter in Game 5, only two of the starters were out on the court for the Hawks. The bench helped Atlanta win the game, and they’ll get more recognition now. The Heat has their backs up against the wall in the elimination game, and they’ll need to play better than they ever have to win these next two games.
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs.
(8) Utah Jazz
The Lakers won this series, beating the Jazz 4-1. Kobe Bryant was an absolute beast in these games, except for Game 3 (5 for 24 shooting), which he probably doesn’t want to talk about. Deron Williams’s fade away jumper with 2.2 seconds left to give the Jazz their only win of the series, and should’ve given them a boost of confidence. But Kobe came roaring back in Game 4, scoring 38 points, which is the series high. He and Lamar Odom came back playing harder than ever, and that won the Lakers Game 4. With their disappointing loss in the 2008 Finals, Kobe’s hunger for a title is more intense than ever. He wants to prove that he can win without the big “you-know-who” on his team. And, frankly, I want to see if that’s possible.
(2) Denver Nuggets vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets
The Denver Nuggets won the series against the New Orleans Hornets 4-1. With career highs and a playoff first, this series was more exciting than it seemed. Carmelo Anthony led his team, with new teammate Chauncey Billups, to their first series win in the playoffs since 1994. In a record-setting Game 4, the Nuggets absolutely crushed the Hornets 121-63. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the Hornets. Chris Paul is my favorite player, and he tried his hardest to lead the Hornets without Tyson Chandler. The Nuggets came out with a new confidence that gave them the boost they needed to win. The Hornets, on the other hand, weren’t looking so well. They looked like they gave up at the end, and the Nuggets just steamrolled the Hornets’ confidence down to the ground. Anthony had a fabulous series, and the Nuggets will play the Mavs in Round 2. I’m looking forward to watching that one; anything can happen these days.
(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks were the decided underdog going into this series, but they played with the swagger of champions. They beat the San Antonio Spurs 4-1, the first time the Spurs have lost in the first round of the Playoffs since 2000. The combination of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan was working -- Parker had an incredible 43 points, his playoff career high, in Game 4. But it wasn’t enough to stop Dirk Nowitzki’s high-flying Mavs. Josh Howard had 28 points in Game 4, a nine-point win for Dallas. No one expected the Mavs to pull this out, not even themselves. Their energy was undeniable, and it flowed through the atmosphere. Sure, the Spurs were missing Manu Ginobili, but he wasn’t their whole team. Manu gives Duncan and Parker that burst of confidence they need, not to mention the points he scores. I’m pleasantly surprised at the Mavs because I love underdogs. What can I say? I’m from Philly! The Spurs definitely need to work for next season, but the Mavs are already improving. I’m excited to see what they’ll do in the next round against the Nuggets.
(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs.
(5) Houston Rockets
Ron Artest and Yao Ming led the Rockets this whole series, even though they’re missing an important part of their team, Tracy McGrady. The Rockets snapped their first-round curse; they hadn’t won a first-round Playoff series since 1997. Artest had 27 points in Thursday night’s Game 6 win, one shy of his postseason career high. The Portland Trail Blazers were the youngest team in the playoffs, and it showed. Their inexperience couldn’t match up to the determination of the Rockets. LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy combined for 48 points in Game 6, but that couldn’t match the Rockets’ veterans. Houston advances to Round 2 to face the Lakers, and I think that L.A. will take that series.