Best of the playoffs so far
The first round of the postseason has featured buzzer-beaters, overtime thrillers and plenty of road wins. Here are 25 takes on the playoffs so far.
1. What has been the best series of the playoffs so far?
Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: Houston-Portland. Going to overtime in three out of four games? LaMarcus Aldridge with back-to-back 40-point games? Troy Daniels bursting onto the scene? Damian Lillard and Aldridge showing James Harden and Dwight Howard what chemistry between a guard and a big man should really look like? It's been incredible.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: Rockets-Blazers. With apologies to Grizzlies-Thunder, which has been equally dramatic but not quite as aesthetically pleasing, this series has everything: great finishes, unlikely heroes (Daniels and Mo Williams), stars and plenty of twists and turns.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop: Rockets-Blazers leads all with its multiple overtime games and an intensive media focus on the two stars of the initially favored team. Or wait, doesn't that description also apply to Thunder-Grizzlies? In any event, I prefer Rockets-Blazers because the basketball looks better, and Harden's brand of defense has become hypnotizing.
Michael Wallace, Heat Index: Thunder-Grizzlies. It gets the nod over the Blazers-Rockets series only because the games start a bit earlier and I'm focused for the duration throughout the Central time zone start times. That said, it's not as if Blazers-Rockets hasn't provided an amazing adrenaline rush. Both have offered overtime games galore. But given the seedings, there's a bit more intriguing upset potential in Memphis-OKC.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Rockets-Blazers. Three of the four games have gone to overtime, with massive swing plays deciding each one in the closing minutes. And yes, I'm still talking about Rockets-Blazers and not Thunder-Grizzlies. Really, differentiating from almost any of these opening-round matchups is impossible. Vince Carter's shot, the drama with the Hawks and Pacers, the Nets and Raptors trading games -- there's no wrong answer. Unless you said Bobcats-Heat.
2. What has been the biggest surprise of the playoffs so far?
McMenamin: Dallas. The Spurs swept their regular-season series against the Mavs 4-0, only to be thoroughly outplayed by Dallas through their first three games in the postseason. Even more surprising is the fact that Monta Ellis has been the model of consistency leading the way, while Dirk Nowitzki has struggled to find his stroke.
Pelton: Home-court disadvantage. Even after a 3-1 Sunday, home teams are still below .500 in the playoffs thus far. There's no long-term trend here, so this seems to be a combination of even matchups in both conferences and good old small sample size.
Strauss: Golden State's return. I'd counted them out after a blowout loss and a loss in which they trailed for three quarters. Then the Sterling story broke, the Warriors went small, and the Clippers disintegrated in Game 4. I can't know if the reason for a Warriors comeback is small ball, the surrounding controversy, or both, but it was a great effort from a team that's without its starting center.
Wallace: The Wizards. While I predicted Washington to beat Chicago in six games, many people would still consider them a major surprise. The Wizards have the scoring, size, shooting and athleticism needed to be a major contender in the East. What they lacked was consistency. Now, they're showing it. Too late, folks. The bandwagon is already full.
Young: The Mavs putting a scare into the Spurs. The fact San Antonio had won nine straight over Dallas coming in is enough to make the Mavs' 2-1 lead stunning, but it's also the way in which it has happened. The Spurs are the unstoppable monster, but the Mavs have really outplayed them in all three games. It's pretty clear that the Spurs may actually be in real trouble.
3. What has been the biggest disappointment of the playoffs so far?
McMenamin: Roy Hibbert. After being considered a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year for much of the season, Hibbert has been a liability during the Pacers' series against the Hawks. He has only nine rebounds in his past 68 minutes played and Indiana is floundering along with him as it's tied 2-2 against a Hawks team that couldn't even manage to play .500 ball during the regular season.
Pelton: Chicago's defense. The Wizards controlling this series isn't stunning in and of itself, but it is remarkable that the Bulls' D -- the league's best after the All-Star break -- has sprung so many leaks, especially yesterday without the suspended Nene on the floor. Chicago ranks 12th in playoff defense on a per-possession basis.
Strauss: James Harden, who's playing offense like Ricky Davis and defense, well, like James Harden. Dwight Howard tends to get more criticism but he has played well in this series. Harden woke up in Game 4, but has been awful on balance.
Wallace: The demoralizing and debilitating foot injury suffered by Bobcats center Al Jefferson. Charlotte is clearly overmatched in the series against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. But this still could have been a coming-out party of sorts for Jefferson, who should have been an All-Star. He has played through the plantar fasciitis he suffered in the first quarter of Game 1 and has still caused headaches for the Heat.
Young: Jefferson's injury. You have to give it to the Bobcats' big fella. He's trying to fight through it, but you can see how hobbled he is. And because of it, any prayer the Bobcats had of making this moderately interesting against the Heat was shot.
4. What has been the best moment of the playoffs so far?
McMenamin: Kevin Durant's ridiculous 3 from the corner in Game 2 against Memphis. Falling out of bounds, with Marc Gasol all over him and down by 3 with 13.3 seconds left, Durant found the net and managed to draw a foul in the process, making it a four-point play. The Thunder went on to lose that game in overtime, but that Durant shot for me encapsulates just how wild the first round has been up to this point.
Pelton: Troy Daniels' game winner. You couldn't script a better story than a D-Leaguer with 75 career NBA minutes making the winning shot to silence a hostile crowd in his playoff debut. (And hopefully that script will come soon to a movie theater near you with Michael B. Jordan in the lead role.)
Strauss: The Vince Carter buzzer-beating corner 3 is up there for me. He has been so maligned for not coming through in big moments over the years. It was nice to get a reminder that Carter persevered through scrutiny, turned out a great, lengthy career, and still has something left to show us.
Wallace: Far too many to count. Every game has been a thrilling coaster ride for 48 minutes -- and beyond, in many cases. But the biggest game-changer so far has to go to Carter for hitting that 3-pointer at the buzzer to push the eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks to a 2-1 series lead over the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs. Who would have guessed the biggest shot of Carter's career would have come at age 37?
Young: Durant's four-point play. The Thunder went on to lose the game, which probably eliminates the shot from legendary status, but it's the epitome of what has been happening this postseason. Every game is bonkers, and there's a strong chance you're going to see something absolutely absurd in it.
5. Who has been the MVP of the playoffs so far?
McMenamin: Aldridge. He's increased his regular-season numbers of 23.2 points on 45.8 percent shooting, 11.1 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game to 35.3 points on 52.9 percent, 11.5 boards and 3.0 blocks per game (including a huge one on Harden late in Game 4). There's nothing more you could ask from him.
Pelton: Aldridge. While Aldridge couldn't keep up his 40-point pace from the Blazers' two wins in Houston, he has been terrific at both ends -- making big shots and defending Dwight Howard down the stretch -- in leading Portland to a 3-1 series lead.
Strauss: LeBron James, not that anyone's really paying attention to that series. Right now LeBron leads all postseason performers with a 33.17 PER and his team is up 3-0. That's as per usual for LeBron, who tends to squash first-round opponents before any drama ensues. He has lost only seven first-round games in his entire career.
Wallace: Aldridge. While his offensive numbers have been historically dominant so far in this series, what puts him over the top has been the work he has done during his defensive shifts guarding Dwight Howard late in games. Aldridge has been a beast on both ends of the court in what has to be the most physically demanding series of the playoffs, all things considered. But LeBron James, Tony Allen, Al Jefferson and Bradley Beal have been great, too.
Young: Aldridge. His offensive domination of the Rockets in the first two games gave the Blazers a stranglehold on the series. And while the Rockets slowed him in Game 3, Aldridge responded with another terrific performance in Game 4, particularly on the defensive end where he came up with four blocks, two being potential game-savers.