Sunday, April 22, 2007

"NBA playoffs day 1 summary"

The matchup of Texas might actually occur in the second round before a possible Dallas-San Antonio showdown.

Because on Saturday night, the No. 5 seeded Houston Rockets showed why they're a championship contender. Up by just two points in the fourth quarter, the Rockets went into lockdown mode, giving Utah no easy shots and blowing the game wide open.

They went on to win 84-75.

Tracy McGrady showed that he's capable of being a lockdown defender, blocking Utah's Matt Harpring twice in a span of a couple minutes. Chuck Hayes and Juwan Howard banged down low against the bigger and supposedly stronger Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur.

Houston was dominating the game. And Yao Ming wasn't even on the floor.

Of course when Yao was present, he was the force I expect him to be throughout these playoffs. He scored a game-high 28 points to go along with 13 rebounds. He gives Houston a post presence who can be thrown the ball at any time and create a pretty decent shot opportunity for himself.

And then there was McGrady, who scored 22 of his 23 points in the second half. It was mentioned during the telecast that McGrady has never been more focused on basketball. He turned off all his cell phones and pagers (and whatever else NBA players carry these days to communicate) and is not helping out friends and family members with ticket requests. He has one focus, and that was clear in the second half Saturday.

The Rockets are going to need McGrady to make big shots for them when they're struggling offensively. McGrady showed that he can do just that, sinking a huge 3-pointer and then getting fouled on a 3-point attempt in the fourth quarter. He was, on both ends of the floor, the catalyst for Houston's huge run to put the game out of reach.

And he could be the catalyst in the Rockets not only getting past Utah, but giving Dallas a run for its money in a possible second-round series.

Other insights...
Once again the Pistons showed their inability to put away a team when it's down Saturday night. They led by double figures for almost the entire game against Orlando, but they let the Magic get within three points in the final minute before a Tayshaun Prince dunk helped seal a 100-92 victory.

Detroit has to develop a killer instinct. It can afford to mess around with the Magic. But not against the Heat or Bulls, its second round opponent.


Speaking of the Heat and Bulls, I must say I was surprised by the outcome of Game 1. When I saw that the game was very close in the final minutes - Chicago led 78-76 with just over five minutes remaining - I thought for sure the Heat would pull out the contest because they have Dwyane Wade, one of the game's most clutch players.

But Chicago proved me wrong, making all the key plays down the stretch to hold on for a 96-91 win. This is a great sign for Bulls fans. We all know they're a tough, physical team that isn't going to get blown out of a lot of games. If it can also become a team that finishes games strongly, watch out.

Sunday's game to watch
I know it's nice outside (at least here in Michigan) and you probably won't get to watch all four games today. But at least catch the Lakers-Suns game (3:30 p.m. EST; ABC). It will be very interesting to see how Kobe Bryant comes out in this series. Will he be too selfish? Will he be too unselfish? Or will he find the perfect medium and be able to lead the Lakers to an upset win? We'll see. I'm out.

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