By Marcus Clarke
By Marcus Clarke
This year promises to be a great year for the NBA playoffs. In the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers took on the Denver Nuggets. The Lakers continued their hot streak into the playoffs, sweeping the Denver Nuggets 4-0. For the Lakers, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Derreck Fisher all averaged at least 11 points in the series. The Lakers took advantage of the inside match-up between Gasol and Marcus Camby. Camby could not guard Gasol out side of the paint, which led to Gasol averaging nearly 19 points for the series. Even in the absence of the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum, other players have stepped up, such as Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar.
The second round has not been as easy for the Lakers. Although they cruised to a 2-0 start, they have dropped the last two games to the Utah Jazz. The Lakers won the regular season series match-up 3-1, with Bryant averaging nearly 30 points a game. Though Bryant is still averaging 28.3 points a game this series, he injured his back during a first quarter foul, which changed the entire dynamic of the game, and probably the series. Each team came into the series with a different perspective, the Lakers had outrun a fast Denver team, while the Jazz grinded out a six-game series win over a defensive-oriented Houston Rockets team. In game five, Bryant managed 26 points, even with a hurt back, and he had help from players like Odom with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Gasol with 21 points and 8 assists, en route to a 111-104 victory.
The Detriot Pistons closed out a series 4-1 over the Orlando Magic. Except for Antonio McDyess, all Piston starters are averaged at least 12 points a game in the series. Hedo Turkoglu, the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award winner, averaged 19 points a game, along with Dwight Howard’s 20 points and Rashard Lewis’ 18 points, but other than those three players, the lack of production seems to be hurting the Magic, who have not won a playoff series since Shaquille O’Neil led them in 1996. Even without Chauncey Billups in game four, the Pistons won in the final seconds, when Tayshaun Prince made a layup that gave them a one-point win. The Pistons’ experience seems to be the deciding factor in the series. The Pistons are the only team to advance to the conference finals so far.
No one gave the Atlanta Hawks a chance when they went up against the star-studded Boston Celtics. The Celtics have it all, three NBA all-stars, a great supporting cast with experience and the best record in the league this regular season. The Hawks came in as a very young squad with the worst record to get in the playoffs, going well under .500 for the regular season. This season, Boston came in with the best one-season turnaround in league history, at 43 games. No doubt the acquisitions of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett were the driving force behind it. Amazingly, the Hawks fought all the way to game seven, which no one predicted, before losing to the Celtics.
The Cleveland Cavaliers played against the Washington Wizards for the third straight year beating them the last two. LeBron James shined as always, averaging 30 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists per game. Even without Gilbert Arenas, the Wizards played a good series, bowing out of the playoffs in game six.
The Celtics jumped to a 2-0 series lead but the Cavaliers have battled back to even up the series at two games a piece. James is averaging a 2008-playoff-best 30 points a game, but his teammates’ lack of production could hurt their chances if the series goes to a game seven. The Celtics are more balanced, with four players averaging double figures, including Garnett, Allen, and Paul Pierce.
The New Orleans Hornets, maybe the most improbable team still in the playoffs, are tied in their series against the San Antonio Spurs at two games a piece after jumping out to a 2-0 series lead. Chris Paul, who some believe could have won league’s most valuable player, is averaging a series-best 21 points a game, along with three other players, who are averaging at least 12 points a game. The Spurs’ playoff experience, and the Hornets’ lack thereof, seems to be the difference the last two games. A lot of adjustments where made in games three and four. Defensive specialist Bruce Bowen was given the assignment of guarding sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic, slowing down his production, which, in turn, put Tony Parker on the equally speedy Paul, which seems to be working.
As the playoffs continue, they promise to be fun and exciting. With stars such as James and Pierce matching up, and Howard against Wallace, look out for high scoring and great plays in these 2008 NBA playoffs.