The NBA playoffs are under way and it’s not too early for some observations and predictions.
<p>» Before everyone starts thinking of the Utah Jazz as a title contender, a quick hit of reality: The Western Conference is indeed brutal, but Utah has had ridiculous good fortune in the postseason the past two seasons.
Last year, they stumbled into the second round and found themselves not only against a No. 8 seed — the Warriors — but also a team with little to no chance of beating them. This year, Jerry Sloan’s team gets to skip into the second round after the likely dismantling of the Houston Rockets, who are by far the least-talented Western Conference playoff team.
» I’ve said it a few times but it bears repeating: The Warriors’ upset of Dallas in last season’s playoffs didn’t just ruin the Mavericks’ title hopes in 2006-07. It also exposed their frailty to the rest of the league and ensured there will be no championship in Big D with the current group.
Owner Mark Cuban tinkered at midseason, hoping point guard Jason Kidd could push Dallas back to the top. It won’t/didn’t work. This summer, expect wholesale changes with the Mavericks, starting with a new coach.
» Rockets power forward Luis Scola is earning praise for his defense and hustle but notfrom here. Scola, not unlike Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao, is a kind of basketball weasel — the type of player constantly badgering, sliding under, reaching, grabbing and generally bringing non-basketball gimmicks into the game.
He is a provoker, simple as that, and it shouldn’t be long before opponents and officials realize that.
» I’m still not convinced that the Washington Wizards are dead, but their start in Cleveland was problematic. It’s obvious Gilbert Arenas isn’t at 100 percent, but Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison haven’t gotten it done.
There’s still time and it says here Arenas will leave a mark on the series.
» Sure, you could say the Phoenix Suns should have fouled before Tim Duncan hit a 3-pointer to tie the game late for the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday. Regardless, Game 1 between the Suns and Spurs was remarkable, with all the big names making big plays when the game was on the line.
The Suns didn’t lose that game; the Spurs won it.
» When does the Toronto-Orlando series start? Oh, apparently it did.» No worries in Detroit, where the Pistons have been known to get disinterested every now and again. Guaranteed, the Pistons come back to Detroit no worse than 2-2.
» Do you still think the Rockets are better without Yao Ming?
» Conventional wisdom says that inexperience may hurt the Hornets in the postseason. Really? Other than playoff rookie Chris Paul — who had 35 points and 10 assists in Game 1, by the way — New Orleans players aren’t strangers to the playoffs.