With the Pacers pondering offseason moves, I've enjoyed watching the first round of the NBA playoffs as a neutral observer. There is so much great ball being played this year and tons of great, young talent that I'm not yet used to watching, it all makes the nightly buffet of buckets a little more than fabulous.
BOS-ATL: Despite the blip on the road in Game 3, the Celtics are cruising through this first round. The Hawks could do no wrong in their first home playoff game with the current, young roster. The youngsters were fired up and the Celtics were, well, there. Kevin Garnett has likely been in his squad's face since the final buzzer of game three, so I imagine the C's will show up in a winning frame of mind for Game 4. Plus, Paul Pierce simply let rookie Al Horford woof him down with only a resigned look that said, "You WILL pay young, Al. Just not today." Speaking of Horford, something I noticed in the Hawks final game against the Pacers and again in this series a couple of time is that Horford often gets in the face of an emotional Josh Smith, keeping him in check when the heat starts rising. They're about the same age but Horford knows all about championship intensity from his college days, so that experience allows him to give some "veteran" advice to Smith. Pretty cool.
CLE-WAS: Both teams have flaws in their title contender resume, but this series has been a blast to watch. Plenty of manhood moments, no one backing down, rappers taking sides, and well, LeBron James. Look, I think the Wizards are a better team, but the Cavs lead 3-1 and should win the series now because LeBron James is to ballers as Jay-Z is to rappers. I love the Wizards and was really juiced to see the D.C. crowd going ballistic throughout Games 3 and 4. They're a fun team, with tons of personality and the ability to light up the scoreboard in an instant. But, make no mistake, the way DeShawn Stevenson is going at LeBron with his Wiz teammates' backing, King James has them all set up for a complete punking. All LeBron needs is someone to step up like Delonte West and Boobie Gibson did in Game 4 and he'll take care of the rest.
ORL-TOR: An NBA series doesn't start until someone wins on the road, right? Well, the Magic won at Toronto in Game 4 and the win actually ended the series. Dwight Howard is one of the youngins I'm getting used to watching and I'll be seeing plenty of him for the next, oh, fifteen years. Assuming the Magic turn that Game 4 road W into a first round series win, the Magic with Howard as cornerstone are making sure everyone knows they belong. Howard offered us 20-20s in the opening two wins, then rejects eight shots in Game 4? Yep, he's ready to step up his game. The Raptors remain confounding with plenty of young talent of their own running around. Chris Bos has always reminded me of a young Jermaine O'Neal, now more than ever. There is a vibe to this series that is hard to describe and maybe it just flows from my biases, but it seems like both teams are playing like crazy for this series but have no expectations of moving on to the conference finals.
DET-PHI: What's not to like about this young, scrappy Sixers team? I often step back when looking at matchups and think long term. Which team would I rather have? This has been a painful exercise with the Pacers because often when playing young, bad teams I can usually make a better case for the opposition's future being brighter than the Pacers. I think I'd take the Sixers right now over the Pistons for the long term. Unless the Pistons can pull out a title, there's no doubt. The Pistons took back control of the series by beating back the Sixers in Game 4, but they just seem annoyed with the upstart Sixers playing loose and giving them fits. Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton, and Chauncey Billups look like a fly is buzzing around their ear and they just can't shake it. The Pistons expect to win but I don't think they feel like they should have to work so hard. That vibe is going to catch up with them at some point, plus there's Flip Saunders. Those timeouts when Philly makes a run and pushes the lead to double-digits are classic. Flip signals for the TO with a look that says, "We're losing with all this talent and experience and I know I'm the reason why. Man, I hope these guys bail me out."