Above The Rim: Kick-Off Weekend

(On vacation in Los Angeles this week. Sick on Saturday, travel day on Sunday, so let’s catch up with all eight games I either watched or listened to on the car’s radio during a three and a half hour drive.)

You cannot teach defense come playoff time. This is the lesson the Nuggets are facing right now, because their problem is that Kobe Bryant was out of commission in the first half (more or less) and they came back from being down double-digits in said first half to take a lead, yet went into the half down by 2. Allowing both Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol double digit rebounds is deadly, as is letting Kobe get back in (he wound up with 32 to Pau’s career playoff high 36.) It looks even worse when team leaders like Allen Iverson lose their cool. Getting tossed with under two minutes left in the game is admitting you want out. Of course, after watching many of your teammates have an awful display at the free throw line that would have almost made U. of Memphis ballers shake their heads, you might want to get tossed too.

The thing about the Celtics that I noticed the most is how efficient they are as a team. This is the pro version of that Kansas Jayhawks team that won the NCAA tourney. Yes, there is a hierarchy and there are dominant players, but the game ebbs and flows between them at any given time (Paul Pierce started hot, Ray Allen picked it up in the second half, Rondo hit a nice patch in between them for points and assists, and KG was the constant.) Atlanta can frustrate with their athleticism, but it’s really on Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson, to say nothing of Mike Woodson, to get them to compete with any conviction.

Is anyone surprised sometimes when Detroit gives up a game it shouldn’t? Maybe because this was a game one and in the Palace, but the Pistons were up by double digits when the third quarter started and should have been able to extend that lead further. Watching the Sixers battle back was quite fun, though — because they caught a team in semi-complacency on the floor.

20+ points and 20+ rebounds for Dwight Howard. If this becomes an every game thing, Toronto will be done in 4. Howard, Hedo Turkoglu, and Rashard Lewis are a dangerous front-court: they may be done in by inexperience and a lack of an experienced back-court, but they will be fun to watch while they last.

Saturday’s games after the jump…..

The Mavericks ought to be kicking themselves, and I’m sure Avery Johnson may have pointed out in just how many ways they let the game get away. If Chris Paul is scoring 30+ points and dishing in double digit assists, you are going to lose. The philosophy was to make Paul beat them with his own shots — which he did, and then managed to get the distribution going as well. I hate to get too Stephen A. on anyone, but every time he mentioned Paul screaming “He can’t guard me!” on the court in reference to Jason Kidd, it seemed like a harbinger of how this series may play out. Dallas is too good not to get a game, but if they do as poor a defensive job on Paul as they did on Saturday, they’re sunk and the Hornets will be happy to play the winner of Suns/Spurs.

In a series where home court is important (one of the very few in the NBA these days, it seems), Utah just took the first step to ripping Tracy McGrady’s heart out yet again by taking game one in the Toyota Center. (This is the one game I didn’t watch that intently.)

LeBron James may carry another lackluster team further than it ought to go, thus raising the ridiculous expectations and burnishing a potential legacy. Everyone’s watched the higlights of the Gibson-James extension alley-oop, but watching James damn near single-handedly dismantle a team in the last quarter of a game is a sight.

It’s a shame the Suns and the Spurs have to play each other in the first round. It doesn’t feel right at all, and if the other games in this series don’t go to at least one OT we’re gonna feel cheated. The games got extended because the Spurs had the right play, the right strategy, the right calls — Popovich not calling a time out to set the play after Nash hit the 3 on the move in the 2nd OT with 7 seconds left was great, because as analyst Jeff Van Gundy noted, it didn’t give D’Antoni the ability to sub out people for a defensive possession. We should all hope games in the playoffs should be that close

Photo: AP/Chris Carlson

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