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The Upsets Begin, and Soon Will End
by Joel Caris
I have this personal rule I follow: I don't piss off people who are smarter than me, especially if they're competitive, as well. Apparently, Don Nelson doesn't share this rule, because he undoubtedly pissed off Avery Johnson to a serious degree on Sunday. His Golden State Warriors beat the Dallas Mavericks in the first game of their first round series on Sunday. It was an upset, to be sure, not only because the Mavericks finished the year with the best record in the league and one of the best records of all time, and not only because the Warriors also just barely snuck into the playoffs with the eighth seed, but also because the Mavericks are the official "Faster Than The World 2007 NBA Playoffs only-because-the-Kings-suck team." With FTTW behind them, the Mavericks really have no business losing.
Yet lose they did, and it wasn't the most shocking event we'll see in these playoffs. The Warriors beat the Mavericks every time they met this year and Don Nelson knows a thing or two about the Mavericks in general and soon-to-be-MVP Dirk Nowitzki in particular. To be fair, one of the regular season wins came right at the beginning of the year, when the Mavericks started out poorly before kicking it into gear and dominating the league. To continue to be fair, another one of those three wins came at the end of the year, with Nowitzki, Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse sitting out, being rested in preparation for the playoffs. But still, there's something to be said about Nelson's and the Warriors' ability to mess with this team, as evidenced in game one.
However, Johnson helped them along by messing with his starting line up, sitting Erick Dampier, moving Nowitzki to center and putting Devean George in at forward. It didn't work. In fact, it's probably a big part of the reason they lost. Sure, the Warriors did a great job of guarding Nowitzki and throwing him off his game, but Johnson really should have had his regular, big line up in there. If he had, it may have been a very different outcome.
Oh, and can I just pause for a moment to make note of Baron Davis' line from the game? He had 33 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists. Jesus.
Anyway, everyone is all riled up about the upset, probably much more than they should be. While I'm now feeling a little uncertain about my five game call for this series, I still think the Mavericks are going to win this. As I mentioned at the start of this article, Avery Johnson is almost certainly now very pissed off, and I have a feeling the game on Wednesday (which will be a day-old outcome by the time you read this but is yet to happen as I write this) is going to have a very different outcome than Sunday's game. Seriously, if you've watched Johnson coach, you know he's not a guy you want pissed off at you. He's smart--damn smart--and talented, and this is his team, and he is no doubt going to change the plan, rip apart his players, and come ready to destroy Golden State in game two. And while they may not go down that easy, I'm predicting a win. And not a squeaker, either. The Warriors won a game, and I imagine they'll win another one, but the Mavericks still control this series. Unless, of course, they've lost game two by the time you read this. In that case, all bets are off.
While we're on upsets, how about the Nuggets taking out the Spurs in game one of their series? That wasn't exactly supposed to happen. Of course, the Nuggets have been doing quite well of late, with Anthony and Iverson finally meshing and becoming quite a dominant tag team. While I didn't expect Denver to win the first game, I don't find it particularly shocking that they did, either. But I'm going to stick with my call of the Spurs in six. I think Popovich will adjust, and Tim Duncan might get a bit riled up, and while Denver is going to put up a great fight, the Spurs are going to win. They're a better team, and that's really all there is to it. They'll get a challenge with the Nuggets, but they're not going to fall to them, as intriguing as that would be.
Meanwhile, the Lakers flirted with an upset of their own, but couldn't pull it off. The Suns came out on Sunday looking horrible against the Lakers, doing little more than taking (and missing) jump shots while the Lakers quickly took and held a nice lead, with much help from Kobe Bryant's 28 first half points. Then came the second half, though, and the Suns started to turn it around. They suddenly rediscovered their inside game and Leandro Barbosa decided to become a monster. Bryant only scored 11 points in the second half and the Lakers ended up losing by eight points. I imagine it was a tough loss for them.
It was probably a bit more tough in game two on Tuesday night, when they lost by 28 points. It's not shocking that they had their asses so soundly kicked, considering that they lost by eight in game one, despite the fact that the Suns were absolutely terrible in the first half and still not as good as they normally are in the second. On Tuesday, the real Suns showed back up and reminded the Lakers that while they were rolling into the playoffs with over 60 wins, the Lakers were stumbling into the playoffs, a mess at the end of the season after starting out the year over-performing. Nash had 14 assists, Stoudamire had 20 points and 9 rebounds and Barbosa had another excellent game, with 26 points. Bryant, meanwhile, managed a paltry 15 points.
So what does all this mean? Mainly, it means that the Suns own the Lakers. More importantly, it means that we are now perfectly set up for my game three prediction to come true: Kobe freaks out at the 0-2 hole and goes crazy in an effort to salvage the series, scoring 62 points. This leads to Jack Nicholson either coming all over himself or having a heart attack. Either way, it should be a brilliant mix of hilarious and disgusting. I'm also going to go ahead and say that this is the game the Lakers win. Of course, they'll lose the next two and the Suns will have the series won. Mark my words: this will happen. And then you'll all owe me $20. Every last one of you.
Finally, I want to mention one last thing. The Bulls are up 2-0 on the Heat. They're going to win the series. I'm not even sure it's going to go seven games anymore, though it's certainly still possible if Wade can find the energy to do a repeat of his performance in the Finals last year. I'm kind of doubtful he will, though. Either way, the Bulls are going to win and those many analysts and columnists (not all, by any means, but many) who predicted the Heat would win this series, reverting back to their championship form, are going to be shown to be full of it. And I will laugh and point, because I have no need for the Heat. Screw 'em. I don't hate them the way I hate the Lakers, but I do loathe them just a bit and I'll be glad to see them bounced in the first round. Good riddance.
So those are my thoughts on the first round so far. Luckily, we've got about another three weeks before the first round will be done, thanks to the fact that whoever the hell schedules the first round has been stoned for the last decade or so and thinks there needs to be about a week between each game. It's understandable, though, considering how much less interesting the first round is than the following rounds. They might as well stretch out the boredom and predictability. But don't worry. Come July or so, we should have some awesome second round match ups to watch.
I should be back on Sunday to revel in my brilliant call of game three of the Suns-Lakers series. Come back and celebrate with me, and don't forget to bring the $20 you'll owe me. I need it.
Joel has been sipping the Laker Haterade.