We're going to take a brief break from the player recaps today to allow you more time to read Ben's excellent interview with the Columbian's Brian Hendrickson below and also to give some brief relfections on the playoffs. To wit:
--We're seeing a classic story in the West, one that's repeated almost every year: there are teams that look good and then there are good teams. I've told the story before of the scary teams in the Western Conference back in the early-90's Drexler days. San Antonio and Phoenix looked intimidating on paper. Every pre-season you'd say, "We could have real trouble with them. How are we going to manage that?" When it came down to an actual seven-game series paper didn't matter. Portland was a superior team, well-rounded and hardened. It didn't matter how many boxscore heroes were on the other side. This year we're watching teams like San Antonio and L.A. prove the same thing, as indeed the Spurs have shown for most of the last decade. There are probably 5-6 good playoff teams in the West right now. I would say two of those are probably championship-level. This is part of the reason it's possible that Portland could crack the seemingly-tough Western seeding next year. It's also why I'm confident that the Blazers will be upper-echelon throughout the coming decade. This team isn't being built to impress, nor to head people's fantasy squads. It's being built from the ground up to win.
--I'll admit that the Hawks winning two games against the Celtics is a moderate surprise, but I don't think it's nearly as big of a deal as the national media seems to be making it. For one thing the Celtics, despite the fanfare, have not yet been tested in a long series. This really is a different setup than the regular season. These guys have been through zero playoff series together. Of course you expect them to beat the Hawks, but a cakewalk is a little much to assume. Second, certain things make NBA teams dangerous at any given moment. Athleticism like the Hawks have is one of them. Also they have talent, but not selfish talent. That helps. Over time the Celtics average more wins in a head-to-head matchup than Atlanta does. But in any given game you have to think the Hawks' ability to bum rush you gives them a chance.
--The second round in both the East and West should be interesting. It'll probably be Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, and Orlando plus San Antonio, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Utah. You wouldn't be completely surprised to see any of those teams in the Finals. The ones that you'd suspect least are also the ones that made it farther than you thought they would a year ago. Fair warning though: this is where you're going to see the small cracks in some of these teams exposed and exploited. You better be able to D-up individually and as a team. You also better be ready to leave your hearts out there on every play. If a seven-game series in general is tough, a seven-game series against the best in the league is murder.