Dallas defeated Portland last night, 93-82, in the first Game 5 of this year’s NBA Playoffs. The outcome of this game should not surprise anyone as this series was the most likely of all the first-round match-ups to last the full seven games. The next two nights provide six more Game 5s for us to consume, with all but Lakers-Hornets serving as a possible elimination game. This means that five more teams have a chance to close out their opponent and join Boston in the conference semifinal round while allowing themselves some rest during these most trying of times. This also means that five teams must conjure the fortitude necessary to stave off early exits, the fruits of which can propel them to improbable come-from-behind victories.
Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, Oklahoma City, and, yes, Memphis are one victory away from causing their respective fan bases, as well as everyone in their respective organizations, to look ahead and wonder, as Derrick Rose did when asked about his MVP chances earlier this season, “Why not me/us?”
Orlando, Indiana, Philadelphia, Denver, and, yes, San Antonio are one defeat from being forced to the sidelines with the rest of the league—championship aspirations lost in the dust in the wind. The question for these teams becomes: Is the two-game mountain to high to climb?
A successful journey through the quicksand trap known as a best-of-seven playoff series can foster sensations of invincibility. This is especially true for lower-seeded teams which are usually younger than their more experienced counterparts. If they can apply the final nail against San Antonio, the young Grizzlies will emerge from their first playoff series victory in franchise history with the type of ‘tude and confidence normally reserved for senior high-school cheerleaders.
The Hawks have a similar opportunity against the Magic. A series victory over their division rival, and the team that swept them in last year’s playoffs, will ignite a city-wide rejuvenation for all things basketball. Atlanta will feel as though its Hawks have arrived, finally. And who will be more motivated and prepared to display lockdown defense against the Rose-led Bulls than former Chicago point guard Kirk Hinrich?
The Bulls and Heat will win their Games 5s—games that will essentially serve as glorified scrimmages during the week off between rounds. Their Game 4 collapses will be a silver lining in the sense that each team can use the extra work before hosting truer competition in round two. The Pacers and 76ers can be content in knowing that they lasted one more game than the Knicks. The alternative for Chicago and Miami is what Boston faces: at least a full week off between games. The difference in the rest vs. rust debate is the Celts can use this break, lucky to advance with such ease.
Denver has the best opportunity to become the only team to survive a 0-3 series deficit. After squandering Game 1 in Oklahoma City and dropping a close contest at home in Game 3, the Nuggets put together a complete game just in time while escaping with a Game 4 win. With Russell Westbrook seemingly pulling a 2004 Kobe Bryant, failing to realize who the team MVP and leader is, the Thunder have all the makings of a group ready to implode, while the Nuggets are just the type of team that can overcome something as simple and daunting as making history.
New Orleans has competed in a way that would make all competitors who have ever had the privilege to compete in a competitive competition proud. In the end, however, the Lakers will prove to be too big and Los Angeles will be confident in the fact that they survived a similar scare in last year’s first round against the upstart Thunder. The problem this year is that the Lakers are a year older.
While the Mavericks and Blazers have followed script, the rest of the Western Conference has flipped it. Memphis and New Orleans should be done by now. Denver should be tied at this point. San Antonio was supposed to be too old to win, but that was going to happen next year.
The Eastern Conference is more settled. Boston is looking in the rear-view mirror waving a huge shamrock while sporting a golden dome. Chicago and Miami are in the driver’s seat. Atlanta is riding shotgun, with a shotgun. Orlando was supposed to advance to lose in round 2, but their early exit is not a big surprise. Yes, The Eastern Conference powers are in prime position to excite us in the fashion we expected before the season started, collision courses are still on schedule.
The 2011 NBA Playoffs are just starting to become interesting. Game 5 will show us just how interesting.