First Impressions of the NBA Field

Yes I know, the NFL draft is tomorrow.  But given that I don’t know enough about college football to formulate my own opinion about the draft, and I don’t have the epically slicked hair to copy Mel Kiper, well I’ll just stick to the NBA, because I’m as excited about the playoffs as anybody.

Early impressions often mean everything in the NBA postseason.  I read recently that 79% of teams that win game one of a best of seven series win the series.  This amazed me, but it actually makes sense.  The first game features the higher seeded team playing at home.  Shouldn’t the favorite win at home if they are going to win the series?  I say yes.  So with that in mind, though it’s early in the playoffs, I’m already making adjustments to my postseason outlook, team by team, East to West.

Cleveland Cavaliers

These guys did good work in the first game against Chicago.  They controlled the boards and pummeled Chicago in a game that wasn’t as close as it looked.  The Cavs simply took care of business, an effort which would support any assertion that they are championship contenders.

The second game was slightly more worrisome to me.  I predicted in my postseason preview last week that the Cavs would win the title, and game two showed exactly why they may not.  They struggled with rebounding, were crushed inside by Joakim Noah (25pts 13rebs), and needed a seismic performance from LeBron to pull out a victory.  I’m not canceling my championship pick.  I’m just a little more nervous.

Stock:  Slightly lower

Chicago Bulls

Despite everything I typed in the previous, let’s just agree:  Cleveland is gonna eliminate these guys.  It may only take four games.  Agreed?  Good.

Stock:  Unchanged

Orlando Magic

I don’t know what to think about these guys.  They’ve suffocated the Bobcats with their D so far, and won fairly handily in both games despite struggling with their rebounding (just FYI, they won despite being out rebounded 47-36 in game one).  Clearly these guys could be playing better, but they’re set to cruise to a series victory anyway.  All good, right?

Hang on a minute.  There are some questions about Dwight Howard, so they tell me.  I can summarize those questions into one question:  where the hell is he?  No really, did they kidnap him and replace him with some cardboard cut out?  I would think that a cardboard cut out would rack up less than 10 fouls in two games.

In all seriousness, Orlando fans had better hope that opponents haven’t been watching Charlotte bottle up Howard completely.  If he can’t stay out of foul trouble, somebody will beat them.  Maybe even Atlanta in the next round.  This is by far their top concern.

Stock:  Slightly Lower

Charlotte Bobcats

Seriously guys, thanks for teaching us how to fluster Howard.  Atlanta, Boston and Cleveland will be sending you a fruit basket as a token of their gratitude.  But seriously, just like Chicago, these guys are going nowhere.  Enjoy the dried apricots boys.  Save some for MJ, or he’ll cut you.

Stock:  Unchanged

Atlanta Hawks

I love these guys.  They’ve been hardly threatened by a frisky Milwaukee team, and if they follow Charlotte’s award winning Five Steps to Stopping Dwight Howard self help program (ok, I’ll ease off on Howard), they could easily pull an upset against the Magic in round two.  I like their toughness.  I like how they shoot well (50% on field goals in their first two games), I like how they’re battle tested after their experience last year.  I’m really looking forward to more of these guys.

Stock:  Rising

Milwaukee Bucks

These guys are doing their best.  After rising to the five seed in mid March, only to see it slip away after Andrew Bogut’s arm injury, just sad.  A healthy Bucks team could challenge Boston.  Instead they’re in a bad hole against a tough Hawks team.  Sorry guys.  Keep the team together for next year.

Stock:  Unchanged

Boston Celtics

These guys have done better than I expected.  Part of me thought Dwyane Wade’s one man show could knock off these guys in Boston and perhaps snatch a series win.  Of course, I stupidly forgot about their home court advantage, Ray Allen’s sweet shooting touch and their ability to stop Rasheed Wallace from taking shots.  Oh and the defense.  They don’t even need to win in Miami, they just need to hold their fort at home.  That’s more than reasonable.

Stock:  Up for now

Miami Heat

Sorry Heat fans, but I don’t see why Dwyane Wade shouldn’t leave tire tracks on his way out of town.  Seriously, they expect signing Amare Stoudamire is gonna make these guys champion contenders.  One guy won’t make the difference.  Their momentum coming into the postseason has been quickly snuffed by a suddenly hungry Celtics squad.  They’re just not very good when it counts.

Stock:  Down for good?

Los Angeles Lakers

Of all of the teams, these guys left me most pleasantly surprised following their first two games.  These guys have shown the grit and fire necessary to win the title against the Thunder, clamping down on Durant in game one and then countering him with 39 points from Kobe Bryant in game two.  I was ready to write these guys off a week ago, but they have taken nothing for granted against a young, talented opponent.  Their stock has gone up.

Stock:  Rising

Oklahoma City Thunder

I really was hoping these guys could snatch a win in LA, but unless they can shift into a higher gear quickly, I doubt they will.  These guys played considerably better in game two, so it’s not out of the question.  But they are only on the doorstep of a win, and they have to prove they can get over the obstacles.  These guys will be a playoff contender in the future, but just not today.

Stock:  Slightly falling

Dallas Mavericks

Last week I wrote that these guys were bound for disappointment, and I stand by it.  Sure they won game one, but they needed a sublime performance from Dirk Nowitzki to muster a six point win, and they are getting routed as I write this in game two.  They cannot contend for a finals berth without a better showing.  People have said that they struggle against the Spurs, who are familiar with their offense and can disrupt it.  That may be true.  I need to see evidence that they can go the distance before I change my prediction.

Stock:  Falling

San Antonio Spurs

You cannot sleep on these guys.  Not with Duncan and Ginobili ready to play at top form.  Not with Dallas struggling against their defense.  Unless Dallas can pull off a comeback win in game two (which is now 80-65 late in the third), these guys have the upper hand in this series.  Stay tuned.

Stock:  Rising slightly

Phoenix Suns

After a disconcerting loss in game one, the Suns returned to their roots in game two, dishing out a 29 point blow out and rocking the Blazers with their up tempo style.  Though as I mentioned only 21% of teams win the series after losing game one, the team that showed up in game two was so different, I’m definitely not willing to count out Phoenix.  I need to see how they play on the road, but I definitely don’t doubt their chances to contend for a conference title.

Stock:  Unchanged

Portland Trail Blazers

Despite my confidence in Phoenix, Portland is the perfect team to knock the Suns out if they can slow down the tempo.  But they need to shoot better on offense even if they cannot handle Phoenix’s potent attack.  The scary figure isn’t the 119 point they surrendered, but rather the 90 points they scored and the 38% they shot from the field in game two.  They will not take three of the next five from the Suns with a sputtering offense.

Stock:  Unchanged

Denver Nuggets

These guys are a good team, but not a great one.  They squandered game two at home, and now have to win against one of toughest home teams in the NBA.  Carmelo Anthony has been a bright spot, but their inability to limit Deron Williams is inevitable going to haunt them.  These guys need to step it up, because Utah can just bide their time and let their home court advantage carry them forward.

Stock:  Slightly lower

Utah Jazz

I also stand by my assertion that these guys could contend, but they have a tough road ahead of them.  Still, thanks to a magnificent performance by Deron Williams (33 points on 14 shots, 14 assists), they hold the upper hand in their first round series by getting a road win on the board.  These guys are hungry, strong, and match up quite favorably against LA if they can some how limit Kobe Bryant.  Still, though I’m thinking ahead, these guys cannot rest on their laurels.  Whether they can take care of business at home will indicate just how strong they are.

Stock:  Rising

So there you have it.  LA is back on track, Utah and Atlanta are looming dark horses, and Orlando and Cleveland have some questions to answer.  There are many games to go, so stay tuned.

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