Ugly but intriguing openers

As we head into Game 2 of each series, here are some quick thoughts on each of the matchups.

Updated: May 7, 2005, 8:02 PM ET
By John Hollinger | ESPN Insider
You could say it was an ugly weekend, and I'm not just talking about the games. Between Vladimir Radmanovic's braids and Nenad Krstic's attempt at a beard, somewhere in Belgrade right now a Serbian Joan Rivers is having a field day.

In addition to the styling mishaps, it was a hairy weekend on the court as the first playoff openers produced some intrigue and excitement. As we head into Game 2 of each series, here are some quick thoughts on each of the matchups:

Denver Nuggets vs. San Antonio Spurs: While Spurs fans are talking about Tim Duncan's ankle and that ghastly 8-0 run they allowed in the last 10 seconds of the first half, my thoughts are more about Tony Parker.

Perhaps Parker was too focused on his postgame liaison with Eva Longoria, because he shot just 6-of-17 and committed five turnovers, including a fourth-quarter traveling violation when he had a wide-open layup. Worse yet, he was AWOL on defense. Andre Miller carved him up for 31 points, 13 of which came in the opening quarter when Parker was his primary defender.

Historically, Parker has always been the chief barometer of the Spurs' success. Although the trend wasn't as strong this season, his woeful performance in Game 1 is a worrying reminder of what happened in the final four games against the Lakers a year ago. While the Spurs also need Duncan to convert more shots around the basket, it won't matter if Parker doesn't get his act together and at least play Miller to a draw at the point.

Speaking of Miller, can we now consider him among the best ever at throwing the alley-oop pass? The all-time master at this is still Sherman Douglas, but I can't think of anybody else who outclasses Miller. Jason Kidd might be better in the open court but can't touch Miller in the half court. Steve Francis is great at it off screen-and-rolls but rarely sees the open man in transition. Miller is among the rare few who can do it both at full speed and on a set play, as he showed repeatedly on Sunday night.

  • Philadelphia 76ers vs. Detroit Pistons: I mentioned in an earlier column that the Pistons' bench shapes up as a liability, but compared to the Sixers, the Pistons look like the '94 Knicks. The Sixers' reserves shot 1-of-12 on Saturday, to no one's surprise. Based on my Player Efficiency Rating, which measures each player's per-minute statistical accomplishments, Marc Jackson (15.90) is the only Sixer sub who is remotely competent. No other reserve can even muster a PER of 10, which is the Mendoza Line for this stat. Making matters worse, the two reserves who rated the next best, Josh Davis (9.64) and John Salmons (9.68), didn't play until the final minute. That's the big drawback of the Chris Webber trade for the Sixers: They couldn't afford to make a 3-for-1 deal, because they didn't have the depth to absorb those losses.

  • Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers: Speaking of benches, the Pacers still are trying to find the driver of the truck that hit them in the second quarter Saturday. The Celtics' second unit blew the Pacers to smithereens, and that was no accident: Boston's Bench Rating was the league's fourth-best during the season. For all the postgame talk about Ricky Davis, Marcus Banks was the key to the Celtics' run. He nailed two 3-pointers, picked Eddie Gill in the backcourt for a layup and finished with 11 points in 19 minutes off the pine.

    Another anomaly that barely got a mention: Stephen Jackson beat on Paul Pierce like he was a Pistons fan. Jackson scored 25 points, shot 9-of-14 and seemed to be the only Pacer with a pulse. Pierce was 2-of-11, almost entirely against Jackson, and sat on the bench for much of the Celtics' 39-11 second-quarter blitz. Incredibly, the Pacers still lost by 20. That's a bad omen for Indianapolis, because if Pierce and Jackson revert to their normal selves for Game 2, it could get even uglier.

  • Miami Heat vs. New Jersey Nets: The party line after the game was that Shaquille O'Neal was the reason Dwyane Wade and Damon Jones got so many open looks, but the play-by-play sheet doesn't support that point of view. In the first half, the Heat went on a 15-3 run with Shaq on the bench, with the guard duo scoring nine of the points. In the second half, Shaq sat out at the end of the third quarter and the guards scored seven of the Heat's 16 points. And in garbage time, Jones added two 3-pointers with Shaq sitting.

    Overall, the Heat outscored the Nets 43-31 in the 16 minutes the Big Fella sat out, with 24 of the guards' 62 points coming during that time. Stopping the backcourt might have to become the Nets' primary focus for Game 2, because Shaq (17 points and no assists) actually was pretty tame.

  • Seattle SuperSonics vs. Sacramento Kings: It's no surprise that Seattle dominated the glass in its Game 1 win, rebounding nearly half its misses (22 of 45). The Sonics were the best offensive-rebounding team in the league, grabbing 32.5 percent of caroms, while the Kings were third from the bottom on the defensive glass at 68.8 percent. While we shouldn't assume the Sonics will dominate the Kings to such a vast extent, they should grab about 35 percent on any given night. Compared to the league average of 28.7 percent, that should net them three extra shots a night.

    However, the Kings managed to use the Sonics' best weapon against them by also crashing the offensive glass. The Kings grabbed 42 percent of their misses, which is atypical for them. They were right at the league average in offensive rebounding, and the Sonics were almost exactly average on the defensive glass. So we should expect average numbers for the Kings on the offensive glass in this series instead of the domination Saturday.

  • Houston Rockets vs. Dallas Mavericks: The Rockets remembered Tracy McGrady was their best player. The Mavs forgot Dirk Nowitzki was their best player – Dirk included. How Nowitzki could put up a 5-of-19 stinker in a matchup so ripe for the picking is beyond me. It's easy to say Ryan Bowen did a good job on him, but in truth Bowen was never challenged. By continually settling for jumpers or, worse yet, having his teammates ignore him so Jerry Stackhouse could shoot a contested 17-footer, Nowitzki and the Mavs made the Rockets' job easy on defense. On the bright side, the Mavs shot 35 percent and only lost by 12. Besides, after finishing the year 16-2, they were due for a stinker. Let's not play taps for these guys just yet.

  • Washington Wizards vs. Chicago Bulls: Of all the losing teams, the Wizards can take away the most positives. Gilbert Arenas couldn't buy a basket for the Wizards, while the Bulls' Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni were on fire, yet the Wizards were in the game until the final minute.

    A big reason the Wizards stayed close was Kwame Brown. This team does not usually get much production from the reserves, but Brown contributed 13 points, nine boards and solid defense. He's been injury plagued all season but contributed more regularly late in the season, so his Game 1 effort is a good omen. However, Brown bruised his knee late in Game 1 and his status for Game 2 is still in doubt. Keep an eye on him, because he could end up being the difference maker in what shapes up as a very close series.

  • Phoenix Suns vs. Memphis Grizzlies: Not much to discuss here in terms of Phoenix's win, but did anybody else catch Mike Dunleavy's statistical references during the broadcast? In the first 10 minutes, he talked about the difference in pace between the two teams (the Suns ranked No. 1 while the Grizzlies were No. 27) and pointed out the Suns' awesome 57.1 percent True Shooting Percentage. Perhaps the numbers are just a distraction for him to erase his memories of Marko Jaric running the point, but I'm nonetheless encouraged.

    John Hollinger, author of "Pro Basketball Forecast 2004-05," is a regular contributor to ESPN Insider. Click here to contact John.


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