A quick update on Round Two…
-Celtics/Cavaliers: A nice and shocking Game 2 win for Boston in Cleveland. Could this augur an upset of a seven-game series? Seems quite unlikely. Yes, the Cavs could have issues with Rajon Rondo but he torched them just as much (if not more) in Game 1 and the Cavs still killed Boston. The big difference in Game 2 was Rasheed Wallace. The chances that he shoots 7-8 in another game seems highly unlikely. The argument could be made that the Celts just need to hold home court to win the series, so another Rasheed burst isn’t needed. But the Celts are a pretty mediocre home team (24-17) and were actually better on the road this year (26-15) and definitely need something out of the ordinary to hold serve.
I see this situation very similar to the Nets/Heat match up in round two back in 2005-06. The Heat (with Dwyane Wade and a still dangerous Shaquille O’Neal)were the favorites in that series but the Nets were given a puncher’s chance with Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson all playing very well. The Nets stole Game 1 in Miami by 12 and then proceeded to get walloped the next four games. The Celts now are probably better than the 2005-06 Nets (though not by much) but the Cavs are better than the old Heat were (though they did go on to win a title that season). It was a nice effort but I just don’t see Boston winning more than one more game this series.–Hawks/Magic: While three of the four second rounders have the higher seed ahead 2-0, no series feels more over than this one. Game 2 was a slightly closer but the Hawks’ strength, the athletic front court, has been negated by Dwight Howard’s presence. Can the Hawks even this series up in Atlanta? Atlanta has been surprisingly tough at home (34-7), and only Cleveland has been better at home in the regular season. Of course, Atlanta has already punted a home game in the playoffs, so losing to a great road team is hardly farfetched. Expect the Hawks to split their home games before being mercifully smothered in Orlando for Game 5.
–Jazz/Lakers: Utah has played tough but the Lakers’ front court has controlled the boards and made it tough for the Jazz to get easy shots. The Odom/Gasol/Bynum front court has created blocked shots, rebounds, and free throws for L.A.. Check the differences between the teams in those categories so far:
Team FTM/FTA Rebounds Blocks
Utah 37/49 78 6
Los Angeles 47/63 101 20
The Jazz are too small and defensively weak up front that they have resorted to playing Kyrylo Fesenko at center. Fesenko has disgusting numbers in his 15 mpg so far but a front court of Paul Millsap and Carlos Boozer can score but can’t stop anyone. Objectively, we understand why Jerry Sloan has needed to play Fesenko. The raw playoff stats do make you shrug (17.4 mpg, 3.4 ppg, .419 FG%, 2.9 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.6 PER). It’s fun when stats and intuition collide but it’s clear that Fesenko has provided more value than his stats imply (though he hasn’t exactly been a star) and that he has some utility until Andrei Kirilenko comes back.
–Spurs/Suns: The most talked about series so far. The story line has focused more on the notion that the Suns are haunted by prior losses to the San Antonio and that they have a shot to exorcise those ghosts. I know the Suns have had some tough losses over the years but I do question the historical accuracy that the Suns are particularly snake bit franchise. Yes, they haven’t won a title and they have had some brutally tough losses (to the Rockets in 1993-94 and 1994-95 and to the Spurs in 2006-07).
But tons of franchises have no titles. As for their distant past, I don’t consider the loss to the Celts in the 1975-76 Finals or the loss to the Bulls in 1992-93 to be gut wrenching losses either. The Suns were a .500 team in 1975-76 and made a nice run but lost to a better team. In 1992-93, the MJ Bulls were the better team. In more current times, with the exception of the 2006-07 playoffs when Phoenix lost to the Spurs in part due to the unfair suspensions of Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw (both reacting to Robert Horry’s take down of Steve Nash), the Suns haven’t lost to a worst team in the playoffs. Take a look at the Suns’ playoff results in the Nash Years:
–2004-05: Lost to Spurs in Conference Finals, 4-1. The Suns won a few more regular season games but the Spurs had the better SRS rating and handled them pretty easily in the series.
–2005-06: Lost to Mavericks in Conference Finals, 4-2. Stoudemire’s knee injury did screw up the Suns shot but without him, they were not as good as Dallas.
–2006-07: Lost to Spurs in Second Round, 4-2. The Suns have a beef on this loss. The Spurs were ranked as the better team but Horry’s antics put the Suns in a really bad position, when they had a good shot of winning the series.
–2007-08: Lost to Spurs in First Round, 4-1. In this series, Tim Duncan did hit a crazy three to win Game 1 but the Suns were not a great team that year and were going nowhere regardless of whether they won that game.
–2008-09: Suns missed playoffs.
So the Suns have had bad luck twice over he last five years between the Stoudemire knee injury and the Stoudemire suspension. Still, the bad luck here is not quite epidemic. There are plenty of franchises that would trade for the wins and playoff results of the Suns for the last five years, as well as the past 40.