LaMarcus Aldridge has scored 89 points in two playoff games. The Pacers are still spooked. The Bulls are missing that sparkplug from a year ago -- where have you gone, Mr. Nate Robinson? -- and while it doesn't appear the Heat will die from the Bobcats, boredom is a very real possibility.
Oh, the first week of the NBA playoffs is over, pretty much like the Rockets' comeback chances against Portland. And what have we learned?
Well, it's possible that two or more of the bottom-four seeds could advance to the next round and it won't seem like an upset. Really, who would be shocked if the six-seed Nets eliminate the three-seed Raptors and the five-seed Blazers do the same to the four-seed Rockets? How about those five-seed Wizards doing a number on the four-seed Bulls? And sure, they've taken some uppercuts against the Clippers, but are the Warriors really over and done with so quickly?
The focus of the playoffs will sharpen after a weekend slate of games that should put teams and even coaches on the edge -- and just to clarify, Frank Vogel's job isn't in danger, no matter if the Pacers gag right out of the first round. Here's how we see the state of the NBA postseason heading into the second weekend:
The Wizards' starting guards. Does the best young backcourt in the league work in Washington? It sure looks that way, or at the very least, John Wall and Brad Beal are in the discussion with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Wall and Beal showed instant chemistry last season when Beal was a rookie, and their growth is easily the best "dual" news to hit the Wizards since Unseld and Hayes. Yes, it's been that long since Washington had reason to get excited about a pair of players, even more than Chris Webber and Juwan Howard, who didn't exactly work out too well. Wall (6-4) and Beal (6-5) bring size, quickness and a fearless streak that allows them to take turns making big shots. The confidence they have in each other is tremendous, which leads to sharing the ball and setting up one another. To be fair, the Bulls' backcourt of D.J. Augustin and Jimmy Butler doesn't present much of a threat for the Wizards or anyone, so we'll need to see Wall and Beal match up against better competition before we put them in Springfield. Still, they're giving the Bulls fits and should be a handful in the next round, if they advance.
Blake Griffin. His response from an inadequate Game 1 against the Warriors was ballistic (35 points in Game 2 and 32 points in Game 3) -- our gut tells us this is the Griffin we'll see from here on out. That's because the Clippers, clearly, have made Griffin the priority in these playoffs. He flourished when Chris Paul missed nearly a month of the season with a bum shoulder, and when Paul returned to action, the point guard kept feeding Griffin's ego by feeding him the ball. Paul even said: "This is about Blake." Doc Rivers knows that if Griffin gets going, it makes it easier on everyone else, and besides, Paul doesn't need to shoot to dominate a game. Credit Paul for placing his ego aside and doing what's best for the team, and Griffin for accepting an increased responsibility and doing something with it.
Gregg Popovich. Yes, the Spurs lost a game on their home floor and found themselves tied with the No. 8 seed, and Pop will have his hands full trying to out-maneuver Rick Carlisle, one of the best coaches in the game. But Pop, a menace to sideline reporters everywhere, gets props here for his touching shout-out to Craig Sager, the TNT broadcaster who's dealing with Leukemia.
LaMarcus Aldridge. The best big man in the Rockets-Blazers series opened the playoffs with 46 points and followed up with 43. What a surprise, his name isn't Dwight Howard. Aldridge isn't exactly an unknown in basketball circles, yet if he keeps playing on a high level, casual basketball fans will take notice too. It was the best back-to-back game not only in Aldridge's career, but in the playoffs since Tracy McGrady pulled a 40-40 over a decade ago. In the past 50 years, only Michael Jordan and Jerry West scored 89 or more in his team's first two playoff games. Obviously, the Rockets have no answer for a 6-foot-10 power forward with a dangerous mid-range shooting game and the quickness to reach the rim, unless they make the radical decision to put Howard on Aldridge, which would take Howard away from the rim on defense. The Rockets must do something or else their season will slip away quickly and they'll have nothing to show for signing the biggest free agent last summer.
Dinosaurs. It's rare when a newspaper from another city beats New York at its own game, but the "Raptors vs. Dinosaurs" headline in a Toronto tabloid, poking fun at the aging Nets, represented a thorough victory. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett took it personally, though, and these proud former champions are anxious to turn back the clock, at least a little, here in the playoffs. As Pierce said after hitting a pair of big shots to close Game 1: "That's why they brought me here." Garnett was placed in the deep-freeze in the second half of the season - fossilized, if you will -- in order to be preserved for the playoffs, and Pierce was on a minutes watch. Now they're on the floor in the fourth quarter against the Raptors.
Nene. He's healthy, which means he's helping. That's always been the thing about the Wizards center, who averaged 20 points in two games in Chicago and is making life miserable for Joakim Noah, the defensive player of the year. Can Nene go three weeks without limping? If so, the Wizards can go further than most expected.
Toronto, the city. It's good to know Toronto's appetite for winning basketball didn't fade like the basketball franchise over the last several years -- since Vinsanity, in fact. In a town known for its passion for hockey, basketball tickets are tough to come by, and the plaza showing the game on the big screen right outside the arena serves as a town hall meeting.
Tony Allen's defense. Nobody is shutting down Kevin Durant, but all Allen wants to do is make Durant work for every basket. That's not too much to ask, is it? No, not at all, and Allen is better at being a defensive pest than most. Nobody has a bigger job in the Memphis-OKC series than Allen, given the near-impossible task of making Durant disappear in big moments, like near the end of Game 2 (hopefully he can avoid gaffes like the foul on Russell Westbrook at the end of overtime in Game 3).
Roy Hibbert. It's hard for a 7-foot-2 center to disappear, but that's exactly what Hibbert did through three games of the Hawks series. He's an odd fit because the Hawks don't have a low-post center for him to guard, so too often, Hibbert must stray from the rim to check Pero Antic or other Atlanta big men 15 feet away. When you combine that with the fact that Hibbert just isn't playing well anyway, the Pacers are better off with him on the bench in the first round. Amazing how a former All-Star who's still in his prime can be such a non-factor and at times a liability in a big series.
Best-of-seven format. Sorry, not a big fan of it. Going best-of-seven stretches the first round unnecessarily so and teams often go three days between games. NBA owners are too busy stuffing their pockets to return to the shorter format, which worked better, which invited more suspense and urgency, which kept your attention a lot better. Which means, best-of-five will return when CDs and pay phones return.
Home teams. It's weird, when you think about it: Both of the eight-seeds stole games on the road against one-seeds. That alone tells you about the state of home court in these playoffs. The road team earned at least a split in every first-round series except in Miami, and the Wizards and Blazers took a pair in Chicago and Houston. The Pacers fought all season to get home-court advantage in the playoffs and opened with an eight-point loss to the talent-thin Hawks. Home-court advantage is overrated, anyway, in the NBA playoffs. Most pro players aren't rattled by opposing crowds and don't deal with games on back-to-back nights or other road hazards once the playoffs begin.
Nick Calathes. Who? Yes, a guy who hasn't seen a playoff minute qualifies as a playoff disappointment. Suspended before the playoffs for 20 games after testing positive for a banned substance that often serves as a masking agent for steroids, Calathes leaves the Grizzlies short-handed in the backcourt. The team has managed to get by with Mike Conley, Courtney Lee and Beno Udrih assuming most of the ball handling. But one wonders whether such success is really sustainable, even if they do manage to get past the Thunder.
James Harden. If only his facial hair could cover up the warts in his game right now. Unfortunately for him, a nightmarish playoff series is unfolding before our eyes. Two home losses, 29.8 percent shooting and one hissy postgame press conference pretty much described Harden against the Blazers when the Rockets fell 0-2. Without Harden, the Rockets have no shot against Aldridge and the Blazers, because he's their most consistent offensive weapon. Fans in OKC will say they've seen this Harden before, in the 2012 NBA Finals.
Al Jefferson's foot. It's just not fair. The shorthanded Bobcats are also short-footed against the Heat. And it couldn't have happened to a more undeserving guy. Jefferson made a tough decision as a free agent to join a rebuilding team (the money didn't hurt) and delivered a terrific season. If he wasn't the best offseason addition after Dwight Howard, he certainly made the top three. The Bobcats hadn't reached the playoffs in four years and are still searching for their first playoff victory. And what happens? Jefferson gets plantar fasciitis before he breaks a sweat. A one-legged Jefferson is better than any other Bobcats big man with two legs, but he won't be able to use it to kick the Bobcats' dismal playoff history.
Ray Allen. Look, he'll never pick up a dinner tab in Miami again after making The Shot. But Allen has struggled to make another in the postseason since burying that three-pointer. His shooting in three games since Game 6 against the Spurs: 0-4, 0-4, 1-4. This may not matter against the Bobcats, but Miami is looking for a reliable shooter to replace the corpse of Shane Battier and will need the Old Ray to surface fairly soon.
F-Brooklyn. What's a nice guy from Africa saying something that'll get you high-fived in Queens? Raptors boss and Brooklyn agitator Masai Ujiri might want to watch Games 3 and 4 in the team hotel, which hopefully for him is in Manhattan.