1. Spurs-Jazz: While it appeared that the Jazz’s big front line just might give the Spurs some problems, it has not played out this way so far. The front court has been irrelevant as Tony Parker destroyed the Jazz guards in Game 1 and the Spurs just collectively clobbered Utah in Game 2, in a game where the Spurs couldn’t miss and the Jazz couldn’t make a shot. The only question is whether Utah can make this series interesting in Utah. Jazz’s fans can take solace in the fact that the team played San Antonio much better at home in the regular season, going 1-1 and the one loss was by only 4. But much cold water can be thrown on those results. Manu Ginobili didn’t play in the first close loss and the Spurs sat Manu, Parker, and Tim Duncan in the one Utah win. On a larger scale, Utah was terrible on the road all season (11-22) and very good at home (25-8). Ultimately, though, the Spurs are also really good on the road (22-11) and their superior guard play will make this a short series. Expect the Spurs to split the next two and end this in Game 5.
2. Thunder-Mavs: Glass half full or half empty? The Mavs have given the OKC basically all they can handle on the road but have come up empty both times. The old saying is that the a series hasn’t started until the home team loses a game so, technically, the Mavs can hold serve in Dallas and still have two more shots at winning a road game. In reality, this is still very tough. The key to Dallas’ success has been holding down Kevin Durant, who is a collective 15-44 from the field (thanks mostly to Shawn Marion). As great as Dallas has done on Durant, you have to think it can’t last. KD has shot under 40% in three consecutive games only once all year. Dallas might be able to hold serve and keep this series going but Durant will get hot and end this thing.
3. Lakers-Nuggets: Remember how Kobe Bryant got quite mad at the Lakers from refusing to trade a young Andrew Bynum for Jason Kidd in 2007? Kidd was still solid player at that point but since that time, Bynum has never had a PER under 20 and it’s pretty likely that Kobe would’ve gotten no more titles if the deal had been cut as he wanted. This is not to disparage Kidd but he’s older and the fact is point guards have a very subsidiary role in the Phil Jackson triangle. Getting back to the present, Bynum has looked like the best player in this series and he has totally prevented Javale McGee from any offensive opportunities. The Lakers are plus 17.5 when Bynum plays (according to NBA.com). In Denver, the Nuggets may have to go with Ty Lawson and Andre Miller back court more often, as Corey Brewer can’t stop Kobe or score enough on offense, while Miller and Lawson will give Kobe some problems on the defensive end. Denver has historically had a huge home court advantage but have been a little weaker than usual this year (20-13). They look overwhelmed so far this series and will need Lawson to go crazy to win both games in Denver.
4. Clippers-Grizzlies: The only really compelling series out West so far. L.A. and Memphis look really well matched. We have had a ridiculous comeback and then Memphis immediately answer a crushing loss and winning Game 2, which should help debunk any talk of “momentum.” Even still, the Clipps look to be in a good spot going back to Los Angeles. Memphis is a weak road team and the Clipps have been really good at home so far at 24-9. A cause for concern, though, is Vinny Del Negro’s use of Bobby Simmons in place of the injured Caron Butler. Simmons actually shot really well, atypical for him, but this probably won’t happen again and might only encourage Del Negro to ignore the last five years of bad shooting and try to ride a hand that isn’t actually that hot. The Clipps will have to find another scorer behind Chris Paul and Blake Griffin but that is much more likely to be Randy Foye or Nick Young and not Simmons. As for Memphis, they obviously can take a game back in L.A. but are looking at an uphill battle. As a side note, Game 2 also had a nice illustration of the limits of plus/minus when Quincy Pondexter led the team at +12 in his 15 minutes of mostly not doing much but being fortunate enough to play while Memphis made its best run.