The NBA playoffs are ready to shift to different cities, and everyone would be thrilled if the playoffs suddenly shifted to a higher gear in the process. After one week, these games and this pace have been dreadful to watch, if you can remember any of it.
Yes, Chris Paul did break ankles and dropped a layup with a fraction of a second left to beat the Grizzlies. And the Warriors did bring a little of the Old West flavor back to Denver the other day, winning a shootout impressively.
But please tell me it gets better than this. With the exception of Bulls-Nets and Nuggets-Warriors, these first-round series have lacked drama or any reason to keep following them. Spurs-Lakers? A letdown without Kobe Bryant. Heat-Bucks? Snore. Knicks-Celtics? Please. Pacers-Hawks? Good seats still available.
This can change suddenly, but it appears we'll have to wait until the next round to witness compelling basketball and a memorable performance.
That's our take from the first week, anyway. Here are a few others:
1. Scrap the best-of-seven format for the first round. One reason the first round feels like a drag is ownership greed. This is the 10th anniversary of the first round best-of-seven, and it's not worth celebrating. The league should've stuck with best-of-five because shorter, in this instance, means better. A more compact series tends to have additional intensity and urgency, especially in the more evenly-matched 4 vs. 5 series, and the first round doesn't take forever to finish. The suspense can be sucked out of decent series when there are two and sometimes three off-days between games. Also, why does Miami need to beat the Bucks four times to prove a point? The best of seven, for a first round, feels like a four-hour movie. And we haven't even mentioned the dangers of what it does to a body that endured an 82-game grind. Maybe we wouldn't see so many coaches benching their stars in April if they knew the first round didn't last two weeks.
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2. Are Steph Curry and Klay Thompson the best shooting backcourt ever? Their basketballs are all wet, meaning when they go through the net, they splash. Straight swish, no rim. That's the sign of fine shooting, and Curry and Thompson are putting on a clinic. In the first two games against the Nuggets they averaged 45 points. Curry shot 46 percent overall, 40 on threes. Thompson was more scorching: 60 overall, 63 on threes. Not only are they hitting a high percentage but they're fun to watch and their mechanics are textbook. Both have quick releases, flawless form and are improving from mid-range, which is actually harder to master than three-point range. They're also able to create space because their dribble game is sharper than most.
But back to the question: Are they the purest-shooting backcourt of all time? Let's be fair about this: Curry and Thompson need more than two seasons together before we start placing them in historical context. That's just giving proper respect to those who came before them. Like for instance, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, who by the way are Hall of Famers. They're probably the gold standard. Joe Johnson and Steve Nash were together briefly in Phoenix and both made over 40 percent of their three-pointers. The last time the Warriors were this entertaining, Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond were pretty decent shooters. But the list isn't long, and Curry and Thompson are just getting started. They could be the best a lot sooner than we think.
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3. Is Dwight Howard really worth a max deal? Look, big men are a premium in this league, as always, and Dwight is very good. Also, he isn't even a year removed from back surgery and so maybe we haven't seen the 100-percent Howard just yet. But the Lakers are prepared to give him a nine-figure deal and the keys to the franchise this summer. And he doesn't appear to be a player who can carry a team, at least not offensively, where he has improved only marginally over the years. From a financial standpoint, giving Dwight that money will hurt the Lakers only next year, when their payroll will soar. Then Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol come off the books and the re-tooling begins. There are worse players to build around but until he shows otherwise, Howard at this point in his career is better off being your second-best player, not your go-to guy. Even if he'll command go-to money.
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4. The Birdman cometh. Erik Spoelstra pestered Pat Riley for two years to get Chris Andersen in Miami. Evidently, Spoelstra was tired of Joel Anthony, too. When Andersen was released by the Nuggets because of an investigation into internet crimes, in which Andersen was never charged, the Heat had their chance. Finally, Miami has a big man with soft hands, someone who can catch the ball and dunk it. And that's all Miami is asking of the Birdman, because the Big Three can handle the rest.
It was a case of the rich getting sloppy rich, without giving up much. Birdman is averaging 10 points and six rebounds in only 14 minutes so far in the playoffs, and will come in handy when Miami is matched with other teams (Indiana, Brooklyn, Knicks) with quality bigs. His energy should generate more interest than his body art.
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5. Memphis misses Rudy Gay. You think? Ever since trading their leading scorer at midseason, the Grizzlies have gotten by with their trademark "grindhouse" attitude and style, and also defense, where Marc Gasol has claimed top individual honors. And that's fine; that's how you win 56 games and put yourself in position to go deep into the playoffs. But the Grizzlies could use someone like Gay right around now, especially when the game gets tight in the fourth quarter. Even if he was a streaky shooter during his time in Memphis, at least he stretched the floor and made the defense respect him. And he wasn't afraid to take the last shot. Memphis doesn't have someone who strikes fear into anyone. Gasol and Zach Randolph are stuck to the floor and the paint. Mike Conley is the only one you'd want with the ball with the game on the line, and he has his hands full with Chris Paul. At some point in the near future, Memphis must find a player who looks for his shot. Someone like Rudy Gay.
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6. Why is JaVale McGee a part-timer? He's probably the highest-paid player in the NBA on a per minute basis, someone who does something to make you go "wow," and not always in a good way. That said, McGee not only does memorable things in spurts, his playing time comes in spurts. In the regular season he got 18 minutes a game. In the first two games of the Nuggets-Warriors series, his playing time increased to a whopping 19 minutes a game. Basically, the Nuggets still haven't found a way to keep him on the floor, even after giving him a contract that pays $11 million a season.
What's the deal? Does he make that many mental mistakes? (Yes.) Is he that offensively-challenged? (Yes.) Does coach George Karl have that many other options to choose from? (Maybe.) With David Lee gone for the series due to a hip injury, the Nuggets seemingly have the advantage in terms of size. They need to exploit it ASAP by giving McGee a longer rope, because Lord knows they're not winning the backcourt battle against Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
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7. Tom Thibodeau is best coach in the playoffs. He doesn't have the most rings -- he has none, actually, as a head coach -- nor the longest track record. But if you grouped all the playoff coaches together and had to pick one to win a Game 7, he's your guy, with all due respects to Gregg Popovich. Thibodeau continues to do the most with the least. If the Bulls beat the Nets without Derrick Rose and a gimpy Joakim Noah, that will be a testament to Thib's ability to prepare and motivate.
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8. Kenyon Martin shoulda been a Celtic. Boston had first dibs on Martin while he was in basketball exile a few months ago. He wanted to be teammates with Kevin Garnett. And it made sense, because Garnett is what, 52? But Celtics GM Danny Ainge took a pass on Martin (and also neglected to find a point guard replacement for Rajon Rondo, but that's another story) and the Knicks swooped in. You know what happened next. Martin was the X-factor in the first two games against the Celtics, grabbing 22 rebounds and playing solid defense in place of a gimpy Tyson Chandler. Raise a glass for Glen Grunwald, the Knicks' GM, who has done a super job this season, getting Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Jason Kidd, Chris Copeland and now K-Mart, all cheaply.
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9. Danny Ferry will be doing work this summer. The Hawks GM has a busy summer ahead of him. His team didn't put up much of a fight in Indiana for two games and will certainly be met by a sparse and unmotivated home crowd for Games 3 and 4. The Hawks are still waiting to see something special from Josh Smith, the guy who believes he's worth a max contract. Meanwhile, Jeff Teague was the best Hawk on the floor in the first two games, averaging 18.5 points with six assists. Teague and Smith will be free agents in July, and Ferry must put a price on each. The bigger task for Ferry is finding a player who'll make Atlanta notice the Hawks. But LeBron James isn't signing up for that.
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10. Free Kobe Bryant. His tweets made the playoffs interesting. Then he stopped because the tweets got more attention than the Lakers. And that's a bad thing?