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The NBA First Round Storylines

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The Lakers look lost against the No. 8 seed Thunder

The Lakers don't look like a championship contender at this point and really haven't for a long time now. Their two wins in Los Angeles were far from convincing and after dropping Game 3 to the Thunder got spanked in Game 4, tying the series at two apiece. Kobe looks like a shadow of himself and was horrendous in a 2-10 fourth quarter performance in Game 3, lacking the explosion and lift to get good looks and convert over Durant. Time may finally be telling on a player who's made 6 Finals runs in his career.

More concerning for the Lakers is their inability to hit perimeter shots. They need to pound the ball inside where they have an advantage with Gasol and Bynum, but unless they force OKC to respect their abilities from outside the Lakers' big men will be seeing swarms of Thunder defenders as soon as they touch the ball in the post.

Fisher can't play at this point. Not only is he failing to make the Thunder pay for leaving him wide open behind the three point line, but he's getting absolutely torched by Russell Westbrook. Durant is getting the accolades, but Westbrook has been the real star for OKC in this series blowing past Fisher and getting to the cup at will. It may be time to put Kobe on Westbrook and have Fisher guard Sefolosha who's been equally inadequate for the Thunder offensively. If Lamar Odom decides to start doing anything other than eat a lot of candy that would be a boost for the Lakers.

I'm not that surprised that the Thunder have this series tied 2-2. I actually expected them to extend this series to 6, but I am shocked at how poor the Lakers have been. While they are still on track to justify my prediction, their most recent performances have not inspired much confidence in their ability to do so. Last year much of the problem was the Lakers' lack of effort and focus in the earlier rounds, but now they just look like an aging squad with some serious flaws that need to be addressed.

Oklahoma City tying the series at 2 in impressive fashion

The Lakers let Game 3 slip out of their hands after holding a lead in the fourth quarter as Kevin Durant powered the Thunder to a victory to give the Thunder it's first playoff win in franchise history. In Game 4 the Thunder looked like they had turned a corner and came out on fire jumping out to a 12 point first quarter lead. They never looked back, and went on to post an impressive 110-89 win. That was a coming of age performance for the the youngest team in the NBA as they dominated the defending champions in all facets of the game.

OKC had five players finish with double digits and got valuable contributions from bench players like James Harden, Eric Maynor and Serge Ibaka. Their team defense was also effective holding the Lakers to a 41.5% shooting from the field. With Durant seeming to have found his shooting touch, Westbrook making Fisher look like a senior citizen and contributions coming from the bench, the Thunder have a chance to really test the Lakers and perhaps pull off the upset.

LeBron James deciding it was time to end the series yesterday

On Sunday LeBron took over the game and clinched the series for Cleveland. The Bulls had won in Game 3 and were up 41-37 midway through the second quarter. Things were looking a little shaky until James decided enough was enough and aimed to finish the series.

As it is he is the most indefensible player in the league because of his combination of size, speed, strength and athleticism when he drives to the hoop as well as his outstanding vision allowing him to find open shooters and cutters when the defense collapses. When he starts nailing perimeter jumpers like he did yesterday it goes from being the toughest defensive assignment in the league to becoming impossible.

James scored 37 points, shooting 11-17 from the field overall and 6-9 from three, including a halfcourt jump shot that no other player in the NBA would even have the strength or wherewithal to convert on. He finished with a triple double adding 12 rebounds and 11 assists (3 for layups and 5 for threes) to his scoring exploits.

Most impressive was his defensive intensity in restricting Luol Deng to 16 point from 17 shots. As good as Dwyane Wade was scoring the ball, LeBron showcased his full arsenal with devastating affect in leading Cleveland to a 3-1 series lead over the Bulls.

Deron Williams leads the Jazz to a 3-1 series lead over Denver even after losing two starters

For my money Williams has been the best point guard in the NBA the past two seasons. Even if you don't agree with that, his ability to keep the Jazz executing offensively with frightening efficiency has been spectacular. Check out his averages and splits during this series and Denver.

Splits G MIN FGM-A FG% 3PM-A 3P% FTM-A FT% STL BLK TO OFF DEF TOT AST PTS
vs. DEN 4 41.0 7.3-14.3 .509 2.0-4.0 .500 10.3-12.8 .804 1.50 0.25 3.0 0.0 2.5 2.5 12.0 26.8

Postseason Game Log | Complete Game Log Rebounds
DATE OPP RESULT MIN FG 3P FT STL BLK TO PF OFF DEF TOT AST PTS
4/17 @Den
L 126-113 40 8-15 1-4
9-13 1 0 2 3 0 2 2 11 26
4/19 @Den
W 114-111 45 7-14 3-4
16-18 1 1 7 4 0 2 2 14 33
4/23 Den
W 105-93 37 8-14 2-3
6-8 3 0 1 3 0 2 2 10 24
4/25 Den
W 117-106 42 6-14 2-5
10-12 1 0 2 4 0 4 4 13 24

What's more amazing is that the Jazz haven't had the services of Andrei Kirilenko and lost Mehmet Okur to an Achilles injury after he played 11 minutes in Game 1. After losing Game 1 and two starters due to injury, Williams has been able to keep the Jazz's flex offense work without fail and the Jazz haven't missed a beat with him running the show.

Deron Williams is the LeBron James of point guards. No point guard in the NBA can handle his combination of size, strength, vision and speed which he's used to position the Jazz one win away from a spot in the second round.

Dwyane Wade reminding people that he can elevate a team by himself

Dwyane Wade's been overshadowed by LeBron's emergence as the best player in the game, Durant's scoring exploits, Kobe's rings and Dwight Howard's defensive dominance. None of that changes the fact that Wade is the best wing player in the game after LeBron and is capable of superhuman performances such as yesterday's.

In helping avoid the Heat get swept Wade finished with 46 points, went 5-7 from three and finished 16-24 overall from the field. Simply put, Wade was devastating yesterday and is the only reason the Heat are still schedule to play a game this season. Boston should wrap-up the series in Game 5, but in what might have been his final home game in a Miami Heat jersey he made sure nobody forgot that there are few players capable of elevating their team as much as Wade.

The Jekyll & Hyde Series: Portland Trailblazers vs. Phoenix Suns

I find it hard to believe that Phoenix won't win this series. Portland has needed to gargantuan efforts in their two wins in order to tie this series, one from Andre Miller in Game 1 and LaMarcus Aldridge in Game 4. In the other two games, the Suns simply caught fire and stormed ahead from the outset and never looked back.

The Blazers did get a boost with Brandon Roy coming back in Game 4, but injuries have to catch up to them eventually right? Jerryd Bayless has done an admirable job of contributing in the backcourt and Marcus Camby's been active for the Blazers defensively in their wins, holding Amare relatively in check. Portland's chances would improve greatly if Rudy Fernandez would stop settling on jumpers and use his athleticism to slash to the hoop. Right now he's too busy being the Spanish version of Vince Carter in the playoffs.

Phoenix needs Channing Frye to remove his hands from his throat and stop choking. He's missing the same looks that he was nailing all season long, going 4-21 from distance in this series so far. Jason Richardson on the other hand has been making the most of his opportunities including a 42 point explosion in Game 3.

I still think Phoenix is going to win, but if Portland found a way to advance it wouldn't be surprsing and would highlight why Nate McMillan deserved to win the Coach of the Year award.

Orlando taking care of business and dominating Charlotte

Let's put this in perspective. Dwight Howard has only averaged 27.7 minutes per game in this series due to foul trouble and Vince Carter is shooting 32.5% from the field and averaging only 13.7 points per game. In spite of that the Magic are up 3-0 in this series and the scores have been closer than the games really were.

Jameer Nelson is in another realm right now and taking Raymond Felton to school in this series. He's shooting 52.0% from the field and 45.5% from downtown. Orlando's hungry for a championship after falling to the Lakers in the finals last year and they have been ruthless in dispatching Charlotte so far in the first round. With the deepest bench in the NBA, Orlando is well positioned to challenge for the title again this year.

Boston peaking at the right time?

Boston jumped out to a 3-0 series lead and after dropping Game 4 will look to end the series at home in Game 5. During this series Boston outclassed the Heat in Game 2 without Garnett winning by 29 points before Pierce hit a buzzer beater to give Boston Game 3. During this series Boston's defense has looked better than it did at the end of the season.

The Celtics are finally healthy and have all but clinched a spot in the next round for a showdown with Cleveland. While they've been impressive in their opening round series and look to be peaking at the perfect time, they'll be facing a full strength Cavaliers team lead by a highly motivated LeBron James. While they have a chance to upset the Cavs it's hard for me to overreact to beating a one-man Heat team. Cleveland is a different animal and Boston's age and lack of depth will be an issue. Boston will extend the series to 6 or 7, but winning is unlikely.

San Antonio and Dallas battle again in the playoffs

The Lakers were pegged by most as favorites to represent the conference before the playoffs, but while L.A. has struggled in trying to handle OKC, San Antonio and Dallas have faced off in yet another closely contested playoff series between intra-state rivals.

The Mavericks are in a 3-1 hole, but Game 5 will be in Dallas. Their last two losses have come on the road and by a total of 7 points. While the Mavericks have no margin for error, the fact of the matter is they could easily be up 3-1 rather than down if they could find offensive production outside of Nowitzki. Kidd, Terry and Butler need to pick up the slack and Rick Carlisle may have to consider giving rookie Rodrigue Beaubois some burn in order to jumpstart what has been a stagnant offense.

San Antonio looked like an aging team, on its last legs through much of this season, but are hitting their stride at the right time. Jefferson seems to have figured out his role and has played very well in this series after an awful Game 1. Parker's return has been very valuable as Popovich uses him to provide scoring punch off the bench while Ginobili has continued his outstanding play into the playoffs. Rookie George Hill has recovered from an ankle injury and was instrumental in the Spurs' Game 4 victory providing 29 points on 11-16 shooting from the field.

Critics were quick to point to the Spurs' demise, but right now they look like the most well balanced team in the West and on the verge of sending their in-state rivals home for the summer.