San Antonio Spurs v Memphis Grizzlies Series: Memphis leads 3-1 Regardless of if the Spurs can fight themselves out of a 3-1 hole, the Memphis Grizzlies have already created history. After going 0-12 in their first three playoff visits, the Grizzlies were able to win their first playoff game in Game 1 on San Antonio’s court. With the crafty Manu Ginobili missing Game 1 due to an elbow injury, the front court duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol were able to combine for 23 rebounds, dominating the boards against the older and somewhat smaller duo of Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess, who combined for 14 rebounds, 13 of which was from Duncan. The due of Gasol and Randolph were able to dictate the play in the paint, as they have done all season and now, all series long. After a fightback in Game 2, where the return of Manu Ginobili helped the team more than his 5-13 shooting night would suggest, the series seemed as if it would head the way it was meant to, after a Game 1 hiccup. However, these tough and confident Grizzlies, playing with the “Let’s make history,” mantra, have other ideas. Despite being out-rebounded in all but one game in the series so far, the never say die attitude of the Grizz has kept them in the game. That, and a miracle 3-point attempt from Z-Bo that will forever be imbedded in Grizzlies history. After hitting only .186 of his 3-point attempts this season, Z-Bo made Tim Duncan pay when The Big Fundamental lagged off Randolph, leaving him with an open look from the arc. In front of a packed Forum, the man who finally found a team to call his own in the NBA repaid owner Michael Heisley’s faith in him, hitting a last-minute trey to put his team up for good. The fact that the shot gave the Grizzlies just their second playoff victory in franchise history was good enough. But the fact that it came from Randolph, a power forward renowned for putting up ill-timed and ill-advised 3-point attempts during his journeyman-like career, gave the shot even more satisfaction to a Memphis fan base that have embraced Z-Bo more than any other. After routing the Spurs in Game 4 on the back of some great bench production, and a 6 point game from Tim Duncan, the Grizzlies now hold a 3-1 lead and need one more victory to become just the second 8th-seeded team in league history to oust a No. 1 seed in the first round since the first round became a best-of-7 series. Not bad for a squad who has a combined 172 games of playoff experience. Or, 2 less that Tim Duncan’s 174 playoff appearances.
Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Hornets Series: Tied 2-2 Epic series in progress here. After a shaky end to the season for New Orleans, who went 11-9 over their last 20, it seemed as if the reigning champions would roll right on through to the second round. Having never been knocked out of the playoffs whilst being seed No. 1 or No. 2 in the Conference, the poor play of Andrew Bynum and Boom-Boom Pau Gasol have the Lakers in unfamiliar territory. With Gasol averaging a career-worst 12.3 PPG and his worst rebounding totals as a Laker, the Lakers have given up their biggest strength against the Hornets; front court size. With an aging Derek Fisher opposing a resurgent Chris Paul, who is displaying all the explosiveness that took the league by storm before a devastating knee injury, and former Laker Trevor Ariza playing well on Kobe Bryant, the Hornets have proven they are for real and won’t go away without a fight. After an unbelievable 33 points and 14 assists in Game 1, along with 4 steals, Paul was at it again in Game 4, recording an incredible triple-double with 27 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds to prevent the Lakers from taking a 3-1 lead in the series. With all the talk being that the Hornets would need a great effort from CP3 to challenge the Lakers, it seems a superhuman effort from the young superstar could see him put this team on his back and shock the world. In such close contests, with neither team taking great control in any major aspects of the game, it will be lights-out performances by superstars that decides this epic battle. The question is, which superstar? Will the timeless Kobe Bryant, putting up 23 PPG so far, add to his legacy as one of the NBA’s greatest postseason players, or will Chris Paul take his maligned franchise on his back (or perhaps surgically-repaired knee) and record one of the biggest upsets in NBA history? I for one cannot wait to see what happens in this unbelievable first-round series.
Dallas Mavericks v Portland Trail Blazers Series: Dallas leads 3-2 This has been yet another series highlighted by superstar performances. With Jason Kidd winding back the clock to his days as a free scoring Phoenix Sun and New Jersey Net and hitting 9-16 3-point attempts in Games 1 and 2, the duo of Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki looked set to close this one out quickly. The Blazers, buoyed by self-belief and Dallas’ less-than-impressive recent playoff history, thought differently. By spreading the ball around n Game 3, the line-up of LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Wesley Matthews and Andre Miller showed great potency, scoring a combined 51% from the floor, including an impressive 4-6 from Matthews beyond the arc. Brandon Roy took his turn in rewinding the clock in Game 4. Acting like a player who has no knee problems, Roy was at his best, pulling the Blazers out of an 18-point 3-quarter-time deficit with 18 points of his own in the last to save the Blazers from a 3-1 hole. For Roy, the performance was about more than a victory. Being cruelly cut down in his prime with knee injuries that will not allow him to ever return to peak fitness, the performance showed that, at his best, Roy can roll with the best, delivering cool jumpers and getting to the rim at will. However, the dream 2-2 series quickly became a 3-2 setback, with Dallas recording comfortable 11-point victory at home in Game 5. With Dirk being Dirk, hitting 25 points, including 9-11 from the charity stripe, this game belonged to Center Tyson Chandler. Outplayed this series, offensively by Aldridge and defensively by Marcus Camby, the fiery Chandler pulled down an amazing 20 rebounds, 13 of which were offensive boards, one shy of Shaquille O’Neal’s single-game playoff record. With another great performance on the boards by Chandler, who is arguably the best offensive rebounder in the NBA, and continued bench production from perennial Sixth-Man of the Year contender Jason Terry (good for 16.4 PPG this series), the Mavs should be able to learn from their Game 4 meltdown, shake their reputation as playoff chokers, and advance to the Western Conference Semi-finals for only the second time since their 2006 Finals fiasco.
Oklahoma City Thunder v Denver Nuggets Series: Oklahoma City leads 3-1 With the Nuggets finishing the season an impressive 14-6 over their last 20, they seemed poised to advance past the first round for only the second time in their last four attempts. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, they ran into the NBA’s deepest team in the first round. Having the youngest roster in the league hasn’t seemed to worry the Thunder. With superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combining for over 56 PPG to go along with 12 rebounds per contest, not much seems to be worrying the Thunder at the moment. But it isn’t all about the superstars in OKC. The depth of this side has shined so far, and all kudos should go to GM Sam Presti, who has built this roster meticulously. Going back to Game 1, Eric Maynor’s 12 points in as many minutes was just as important as KD’s 41. Game 2, where the superstar duo combined for 44 points, the Thunder’s depth shone again, with Serge Ibaka, James Harden and Nick Collison all scoring in double digits. Game 3 was a similar scenario, with Ibaka and Harden combining for 32 points. With the superstar power leading the charge and the Thunder’s depth proving it’s worth, Oklahoma City are well on their way to building a successful dynasty. For the Nuggets, although they have a very balanced attack, with 6 players averaging more than 10 PPG this series, they really lack a go-to scorer late in games. They’ve been competitive in this series, but by having to rely on an up-tempo game plan that builds leads early, their lack of superstar power has severely hindered them in the 4th quarter of games so far. As good as it is to have Nene Hilario and Ty Lawson scoring more than 15 points per game, and Kenyon Martin, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari and J.R. Smith chipping in with more than 10 per game, coach George Karl would love nothing more than to have a bona-fide scorer to help carry his team over the line late in games when the scores are close. Fortunately for Karl, he can begin his search soon enough, as the Nuggets aren’t likely to dig themselves out of this hole.