Suns-Spurs started it all. Chris Paul took over from there. Dwight Howard really did become Superman. Then there are those Kobe, Lebron and Garnett guys. They looked pretty good too.
The playoffs have only been in session five days, but already the performances have superseded the hype. (For the record, before this season I could have never envisioned writing that last sentence in reference to the NBA.)
Seriously though, TNT’s annual, unrelenting “40 Games in 40 Nights” promo used to be a deterrent that bordered on a turnoff to the casual NBA viewer. 40 games! 40 nights! If you watch them all you are officially a loser! TNT!
Now I’m counting off the days like you do on vacation. Five down, only 35 left… %$&#!!! Must have more TNT!
Excuse me for being blunt but if you’re a sports fan not watching these playoffs, well then, there’s just something wrong with you.
Now, let’s look at the aforementioned super-duper-stars, and use a Q+A format to help clarify what they may have in store for us giddy basketball fans…
What can already be determined? That KG can smell it. It doesn’t make a difference that the Celtics are playing a team 29 games worse than them. It’s of no significance that each of the first two games has been over by the six minute mark of the second quarter. And it’s utterly inconsequential that a few boneheads on the Atlanta Hawks have actually had the audacity to suggest that 1) Celtics fans are bandwagon hoppers, and 2) their 37-win team matches up well with the 66-win Celtics and is capable of pulling the biggest upset in NBA playoff history (hey there Mike Bibby and Joshes Childress and Smith … better get those 9-irons polished). Once again, all that means nothing. If you’ve watched the first two games of this series and seen Garnett pummel Leon Powe after a huge dunk and claw at his jersey in the waning minutes of 20 point blowouts, then you see what I see. The man has picked up the scent. He’s honing in on it.
On a scale of 1 to 10, what is his “can win a series by himself” potential? 9.8 out of 10. KG doesn’t get the full 10 out of 10 because as dominant and intense as he is, he’s never been the go-to guy to take the last shot in a decisive playoff game. Part of that is because defenses collapse on him late in tight games. Another part is because he will have primetimers Pierce, Allen and Cassell lurking in his periphery when daggers must be dropped. But that doesn’t mean he can’t solely dictate a seven-game series. (Or four seven-game series’.)
What’s the verdict on the Celtics? (fingers experiencing uncontrollable spasms) N o .. Ba LL GAm E …. J I nX!!!!
What can already be determined? That Dwight Howard need not don the cape to validate his status as the hero reborn. What he did in the slam dunk contest this year transcended the event. What he is going to do to the rest of the league over the next decade may very well transcend the game (11-foot baskets?). What he has already done to Toronto is unkind. That would be score 54 points, beast 42 rebounds, and swat eight shots in two games. So… Yeah…
On a scale of 1 to 10, what is his “can win a series by himself” potential? 9.9 out of 10. A tiny notch ahead of Garnett because of his age but still lacking the perfect 10 because it is possible to get the ball out of his terrifying hands at the end of games. In fact, these playoffs will probably spawn the “hack-a-Howard” strategy because he only shoots 59% from the free throw line. Of course there’s always the chance that in crunch time he will shed would-be foulers like ants. He truly does have the power and quickness to unilaterally overrule futile foul attempts. That said, if you’re an opposing coach, you simply can’t let Dwight Howard throw one down in the last seconds of a tied playoff game. If it must entail lining up a wall of oversized pawns to thwart him, so be it. It must be noted that Howard’s options on the perimeter (Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis) for a game-winning kick-out are not as reliable as KG’s. That will inevitably mark Superman’s downfall (this year at least).
What’s the verdict on the Magic? A loss in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals to Boston (yes, that means the season-long anticipated showdown between the Pistons and Celtics will never happen because Dwight Howard says so).
What can already be determined? That the regular season means NADA to Lebron James, and that slights from alleged colleagues tend to rattle the King’s cage. I mean, is DeShawn Stevenson for real? Did he really go on record as calling Lebron “overrated”? The next time he gets posterized by King James with the quote “overrated” sprawled across the top does he get a copyrighted piece of the glossy-revenue? What–for goodness sake–was this guy thinking? Not a wise move considering Lebron has made it a habit of burning anyone who questions his greatness.
On a scale of 1 to 10, what is his “can win a series by himself” potential? 10 out of 10. I believe he addressed that matter in Game 5 against Detroit last year. He then closed the case in Game 6, and in doing so established the modern-day standard for “player who singlehandedly carries a team to a higher place in spite of omnipresent mediocrity”. He reiterated it for Stevenson and any other stupid loudmouths in the first two games against Washington, popping off for 32-6-4 and 30-9-12, respectively (against a solid and peaking Wizards team, no less). Lebron may have a new supporting cast of “Boobies”, and he may be trying to defend his Eastern Conference crown in a bracket that has the Celtics looming in round two, but don’t speak too soon about the fella. I believe DeShawn Stevenson already learned that lesson the difficult way.
What’s the verdict on the Cavs? Out in 6 against the Celtics, with Lebron achieving some superhuman feats to win Cleveland’s two games (obviously).
What can already be determined? That Chris Paul fears not the playoff stage. He wasn’t just the best player on the court in the first two games against Dallas; he was by far the best (and Dirk Nowitzki has played well). In Game 1, with David West struggling to find a rhythm early on and Peja Stojakovic hoisting up bricks, the Hornets found themselves in a 12-point halftime hole. No sweat for CP3. He took over in the second half, turned a double digit deficit into a blowout opening win, and helped usher in the return of the “Mark Cuban Face”. Not bad for a playoff rookie.
On a scale of 1 to 10, what is his “can win a series by himself” potential? 10 out of 10. His 35 and 10 preceding 32 and 17 (plus a combined seven steals) in fact weren’t what stuck out the most. (And no, I’m not munching on the magic brownies.) It was the way he carried himself; the way he carried his team. In the tone-setting Game 1, each bucket he dropped and dime he dished was accompanied by a progressively meaner and more confident look in his eyes. Chest pounds and cries of “Let’s go!” had Hornets fans smelling blood and Mavs players anticipating the imminent (which was also the psychological precursor to the beating Paul gave them in Game 2). His intensity level was so high he appeared ready to take the contest into the parking lot after the game. We haven’t seen that from Dirk since Game 7 of the Spurs series in 2006. I’m surely not the first to say it, but I won’t be close to the last: We are witnessing the beginning of what may become the greatest career by a point guard all-time. His ceiling extends far beyond the bannerless rafters inside New Orleans Arena.
What’s the verdict on the Hornets? A Game 7 loss in the Western Conference Finals at Staples Center, and a born-legacy (not to be confused with “The Bourne Legacy”).
What can already be determined? That Kobe Bryant was frustrated and wanted out of LA, then he was angry when he didn’t get moved, then he didn’t care, then he cared again, and now he’s on a mission that evokes memories of Denzel Washington in “Man on Fire”. There is no debate that Kobe has been the best player since MJ — when he has chosen to be. Somewhere along the way, a combination of scandal, a big head and a “diesel” Hollywood breakup temporarily stripped him of his unmatched talent and boyish love of the game. What a difference a “Pau” in the arm can make. Now Kobe has the Euro version of KG in Pau Gasol along with a young and eager supporting cast whose collective vibrancy must remind him of glory days past. Beware of the Black Mamba.
On a scale of 1 to 10, what is his “can win a series by himself” potential? 10 out of 10. See above: “best player since MJ.”
What’s the verdict on the Lakers? NBA Finals. Boston. Game 7. I will say no more.