You mean the NBA playoffs are only one round old? Feels like two. At this rate, the playoffs will be all-consuming between now and late June, which won't necessarily be a bad thing provided the first round was only an appetizer.
The next round has a tough act to follow. But it might keep a healthy audience anyway, and provide some last-minute drama, with a few more Game 7s. What it won't have is another Donald Sterling bombshell. At least the Clippers hope, anyway.
There are no surprise teams in the East, only a relative newcomer in the Wizards, and it does seem strange that basketball will be played in the nation's capital in May. Same for the West, no big shocks, unless you thought the Rockets were championship-bound.
What does this all mean? Well, we could be in store for four evenly-matched series, and because of the length of the first round, maybe some teams will be vulnerable to fatigue. The Spurs, perhaps?
Here's our look at the second round and how it'll all go down:
WIZARDS VS. PACERS
About the Wizards: It's the first time since 2005 that Washington has made it into the second round, and before that, the Wizards -- ahem, Bullets -- hadn't traveled this far since 1982. Maybe we should get used to seeing the Wizards in early May if only because of the splendid young backcourt of John Wall (23) and Brad Beal (20). Their growth and maturity in such a short time not only bodes well for the future, but also in this series. They're averaging almost 40 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds in the playoffs and making life easier for frontcourt bigs Marcin Gortat and Nene. In particular, Nene appears alive and healthy for the first time in a while and his chemistry with Gortat gives the Wizards the balance they need. The Wizards aren't too deep and they can turn chilly on offense, but the idea of them reaching the East finals wouldn't be such a shock right now.
About the Pacers: Indiana is in the second round of the playoffs but the mood has the feel of a funeral instead of a celebration. Or maybe relief is the word, because the Pacers, even as a No. 1 seed, could be considered lucky just to get this far. All the questions that dogged them in the second half of the season are still around, which gives the Pacers no choice. They must change their approach in a hurry (if that's possible) or else. Not only do they have problems on offense, but their defense seems to be an issue as well -- shocking for a club that led the league in D for much of the year. More than anything, the Pacers couldn't handle being the hunted, which raised serious questions about their composure and guts, especially when forced to play seven games by the Hawks in the opening round. At least they're reassured that David West isn't scared; he carried them during tense moments and was the MVP of the first round. Also, Paul George and Lance Stephenson fixed their seasons in a hurry. We'll likely never again see the Pacers team that started the season 33-7, and if Indiana doesn't find another gear soon, we can't say we didn't see a collapse coming.
About the series: For matchup reasons, Roy Hibbert was a ghost in the Atlanta series. Indiana couldn't afford to have him on the floor. The Hawks had stretch centers who made Hibbert obsolete because he couldn't stray far from the rim. That won't be the case against the Wizards with Gortat, so this series could be more in Hibbert's favor. (Whether he produces is another story.) Much of the series could depend on how the Wall-Beal combo works against three Pacers who bring speed and length defensively: George, Stephenson and George Hill. Both teams are fairly evenly matched in several areas, yet the Wizards are clearly on a better roll right now.
The prediction: Pacers in six. Hibbert will be a bigger factor and so will the Pacers' depth.
HEAT VS. NETS
About the Heat: Seven days off were welcome by a team that needs Dwyane Wade healthy, which is why it was important for Miami to erase the Bobcats quickly. It also afforded LeBron James an extended breather after carrying much of the burden this season and averaging 40 minutes in the first round. The formula for Miami remains unchanged. It's all about LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh -- and up to others to fill in the gaps. The only difference this year is Miami is still searching for dependability among the help. Ray Allen shot 26 percent against the Bobcats and Shane Battier didn't leave the bench; both were important role players last season during their championship run. Miami turned to James Jones and Udonis Haslem although you wonder if either can command that type of playing time and responsibility in this round. Anyway, if the Big Three are sharp and able to play big minutes, it might not matter.
About the Nets: They've come a long way since December 31, when they were 10-21, Jason Kidd was the butt of jokes and the Nets appeared to be in danger of being swallowed up by the burden of their $189 million payroll (salary plus luxury tax). The turnaround was rather quick, however, and the Nets are right where they expected to be, in the second round and with a shot at knocking off the two-time defending champs. What's undeniable is the Nets are a smart, veteran team that rarely shrinks in the clutch; witness Paul Pierce's block as time expired in Game 7 against the Raptors. Joe Johnson has been solid so far in the playoffs, shooting 54 percent and averaging 21.2 points, with decent help from Deron Williams and a helpful lift from Pierce (47 percent shooting, 14.0 points). The Nets need their backcourt to play at a high level to have a chance to win and so far, Johnson and Williams have worked well enough to Get Brooklyn this far.
About the series: While Miami is still seeking answers about its depth, the Nets are getting bonus points from Shaun Livingston, with Kevin Garnett doing most of his damage defensively. He'll be asked to keep Bosh in check, while Johnson, a very good defender, will see both LeBron and Wade. This should be a cleanly played series because Miami and Brooklyn bring experience and proven clutch players, and defense should eventually decide the outcome.
The prediction: Heat in seven. This will be Miami's toughest test in the playoffs, no matter who they face in the East finals.
CLIPPERS VS. THUNDER
About the Clippers: They battled two forces in the first round: Golden State and Donald Sterling. Somehow, they survived both. Much of the credit should go to Doc Rivers, the voice of reason during the controversy and a source of reassurance for his players. It's why the Clippers "traded" for him last summer, to provide leadership in the springtime, although not even Rivers could've seen the Sterling storm coming. Anyway, the Clippers are in a better place emotionally and from this point on, they'll only battle the other team. For their sake, Chris Paul needs to be healthy; he battled through a bum thumb against the Warriors but produced in Game 7 and the Clippers followed his lead. This is only the third time since 1976 that the Clippers are in the second round -- but obviously, this isn't your typical Clippers team. Paul is yielding at times to Blake Griffin, which says plenty about Griffin, averaging 23.3 points, while DeAndre Jordan is a better player than a year ago; he averaged 15 rebounds in the first round. Sprinkle in some outside shooting from JJ Redick and Jamal Crawford and you have the ingredients of a title contender. Of course, two or three other teams in the West can make the same claim.
About the Thunder: Was their seven-game series with the Grizzlies due to matchup nightmares (they've gone seven games in the past, too) or something more sinister? Most likely the former. Kevin Durant did shoot 40 percent for much of the series and misfired at some critical times, but he's still the most dangerous player on the floor in virtually any series, and his drop-off wasn't nearly as bad as newspaper headlines would suggest. If anything, Durant is constantly judged by his standards, which this year was at an MVP level. A poor game for him would be a tremendous game for 75 percent of the rest of the league's players. Russell Westbrook appears to be back to his aggressive self, and when that happens, the good outweighs the bad (taking shots away from Durant). Overall, the Thunder are healthy and anxious, but could fall short of their championship goals if they don't find a consistent third hot hand (Reggie Jackson, step forward) or if their interior defense falters.
About the series: Serge Ibaka brings defensive heat and he'll need it against Griffin. This will be the matchup of the series. Griffin enjoys the role of being the primary (but not only) source of offense for the Clippers and is their only hope in the low post. Ibaka is a smart shot-blocking power forward who lives for defense. The other head-to-head that bears watching is Paul vs. Westbrook. Paul is an underrated defender with quick hands and smarts, but is he healthy enough to stay with the human blur that is Westbrook? Of all the second-round series, Clippers-Thunder brings the most star power and potential for suspense. The winner, or rather survivor, of this series could eventually win it all.
The prediction: Thunder in 7. The Clippers have no answer for Durant, but then again, who does?
BLAZERS VS. SPURS
About the Blazers: It's been a wild ride for Portland, which started the year spectacularly, then stumbled around the All-Star break, only to resurface and stun the Rockets in the first round. Sometimes you're not sure what to expect from the Blazers, who bring impressive pieces but always make you wonder if they're title-worthy or just a pretty good team and nothing more. Everyone will know more about their ceiling in this series. LaMarcus Aldridge ripped through the Rockets for 30 points, 11 rebounds and almost three blocks, clearly announcing his arrival as a premier power forward. Same for Damian Lillard, with 25.5 points and four three-pointers a game, none bigger than his Game 6 killer. Offense has never been an issue for the Blazers because at any given time, Nic Batum and Wesley Matthews can score 20 points, too. Can Portland defend well enough or at least consistently enough? Their playoff life will depend on that.
About the Spurs: They were perhaps taken by surprise by the Mavericks, but responded emphatically in Game 7, enough to erase most if not all of the questions about their energy level and whether there's any gas left in the tank. When it comes to the Spurs, though, you know what's coming. The ball will move and touch any number of hands, Tony Parker will reach the rim and Tim Duncan is the player who makes it all possible. The Spurs have the balance of an Olympic gymnast and every player on the floor will find a way to make his mark. The only real disappointment in the first round was the surprising play of Kawhi Leonard (11 points, 7.7 rebounds), who only mildly impacted some games while disappearing from others. On the flip side, Manu Ginobili averaged 17 points and gave Parker a breather by assuming a share of the ballhandling.
About the series: Parker and Lillard alone will be worth the price of admission. They're both very similar, although Lillard is a superior shooter from deep while Parker gets into the paint much easier. The other intriguing matchup is Duncan and Aldridge. If Duncan, whose defense has been superb, can limit Aldridge, the Blazers really don't have another big player who can score. The teams split in the regular season and Portland was one of the few winning teams that didn't give the Spurs much trouble.
The prediction: Blazers in 7. Portland has enough of an inside-outside attack to pull the upset.