Tell me this isn’t exciting.
A week into the 2002 NBA Playoffs, half of the series (and maybe three-fourths by the time you read this) are knotted at 1-1, both eighth seeds have pulled off stunning upsets on the road, and everywhere you look is another Tracy McGrady or Allen Iverson playing through pain to deliver wins.
Old-timers like Reggie Miller, John Stockton and Gary Payton are pulling through, while younger stars like Tim Duncan and Jason Kidd post triple-doubles. On the court, games are won and lost by late-game threes, while the series have been dramatized off the court by brash statements of victory (see Vlade Divac) and the booing of the Canadian national anthem.
And best of all, no one has any clue which teams will still be around come June.
Nevertheless, I have my two cents to offer on the coming week’s action and who’ll be around for the second round.
In the East:
Charlotte vs. Orlando (series tied 1-1) — This series depends entirely on the health of Jamal Mashburn. While the Hornets’ Baron Davis, David Wesley and Elden Campbell can compete without Mashburn, Charlotte needs a go-to guy to counter Tracy McGrady. Mashburn is that guy and if he’s on the floor, the Hornets have too many weapons for an Orlando team built solely around McGrady. Magic in four if Mashburn’s out; Hornets in five if he’s in.
Boston vs. Philadelphia (Boston leads 1-0) — Allen Iverson is not going to let one loss in his first game back from injury ruin his plans. What are his plans? Nothing less than winning a championship. And because the Sixers are the only team in the East that truly believes they can beat whoever comes out of the West, Philadelphia is going to be able to put away talented but inexperienced teams like Boston that haven’t yet learned what it takes to win in the playoffs. Sixers in five.
Detroit vs. Toronto (Detroit leads 1-0) — The Detroit crowd’s booing of the Canadian national anthem was shameful. Unfortunately for the Raptors, they’re going to be booing in Toronto, too, after the Pistons complete a sweep at the Air Canada Centre. They may have had an impressive run to finish the regular season, but Toronto can’t compete in the playoffs without Vince Carter, especially when Ben Wallace adds 19 points to what has become a remarkably unremarkable 20 boards.
New Jersey vs. Indiana (series tied 1-1) — The Nets got back to running and gunning in Game 2, but there’s no way Reggie and Co. are going to let New Jersey run away with both games and the series in Indiana. Look for yet another virtuoso postseason performance by Miller, although if he waits until Game 5 to deliver, there won’t be a Game 5. And even if there is, Kenyon Martin has learned how to contain Jermaine O’Neal, meaning the Nets advance to the second round.
In the West:
Dallas vs. Minnesota (Dallas leads 1-0) — All you need to know about this series is how Game 1 played out. The Wolves kept it close and Kevin Garnett put up big numbers, but every Maverick on the floor at any given time (Shawn Bradley got a “Did Not Play — Coach’s Decision”) could hit for three and did. This one will be exciting to watch but easy to predict as Dallas shoots the lights out of Minneapolis, winning in four and sending Minnesota to its sixth straight first-round exit.
Los Angeles vs. Portland (L.A. leads 1-0) — After their win, a few Lakers made like Vlade Divac and declared that Portland had delivered its best shot in Game 1. L.A., however, knows what they’re talking about because they’ve been there and done that. Twice. The remarks will still motivate the Blazers enough to come away with a win or even two at home, but more than likely Shaq and Kobe wrap this one up in four.
San Antonio vs. Seattle (series tied 1-1) — Vin Baker has finally showed up and the Sonics should win one at home, but there aren’t many teams good enough to take three straight from the Spurs and Seattle isn’t one of them. This means there will be a Game 5 in San Antonio, when David Robinson will have had time to rest his back and the Twin Towers will move on in their mission to avenge the beating they took in last year’s conference finals.
Sacramento vs. Utah (series tied 1-1) — I know if I make any kind of prediction here it will either jinx the Jazz or come back to haunt me, so all I have to say here is — take that, Vlade.