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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Two Rounds Down, Two Rounds to Go

The Dallas Mavericks have pulled off one of the toughest feats in the NBA: winning a game seven on the road--and they did it against the defending NBA champions on a night when three-time Finals MVP Tim Duncan scored a playoff career high 41 points with 15 rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots. Dirk Nowitzki countered with 37 points and 15 rebounds and he saved Dallas' season with a three point play with 21 seconds left in regulation to tie the game, ultimately sending the contest to overtime after Duncan and Manu Ginobili each missed shots before the buzzer. The Spurs spent a lot of energy coming back from a 20 point deficit and seemed a step slow in the extra session as the Mavericks outscored them 15-7 en route to a 119-111 win. Duncan shot just 1-7 from the field in the overtime after being nearly unstoppable (11-17 field goal shooting) in the first four quarters. How tough is it to win a game seven on the road? Coming into this season, road teams were just 17-75 in game sevens in NBA history. Prior to Dallas' win, home teams in game sevens in the 2006 playoffs won easily even though the series themselves were tightly contested during the first six games: the Phoenix Suns routed the L.A. Lakers 121-90 in round one and the Detroit Pistons crushed the Cleveland Cavaliers 79-61 in round two. In the second game of Monday night's doubleheader, the Suns cruised to a 127-107 victory over the L.A. Clippers; that was yet another hard fought series that concluded with the home team winning the seventh game without much difficulty. Most of the teams that won game sevens on the road in previous seasons proved to be serious championship contenders. Dallas certainly must be viewed in that light as well.

So far, I have correctly predicted the outcome of 9 of the 12 playoff series. My three misses are picking the Lakers over the Suns, the Nets over the Heat and the Spurs over the Mavericks. The Lakers and Spurs lost in game seven, as noted above. I wrote that San Antonio "is just thismuch better than Dallas" but it turned out that Dallas is thismuch better than San Antonio. The Nets went down in five games; they provided a tantalizing taste of why I picked them to beat Miami by taking a commanding first half lead against the Heat in game one. The Nets held on to win that game despite losing Richard Jefferson to a sprained ankle but they did not play that well again the rest of the series. Jefferson returned to action but was not the same player until game five. Meanwhile, versatile veteran Cliff Robinson got suspended for violating the NBA's substance abuse policy and Nenad Krstic, who showed so much promise during the season, mysteriously lost his shooting touch after connecting on more than half of his shots during the regular season and the first round. Regardless of these circumstances, I can't offer any excuses--I was wrong about those three series; while they could have perhaps gone the other way, the same thing could also be said about some of the series that I got right.

This year's playoffs have featured some very exciting action, several overtime games and some spectacular individual performances. We have "witnessed" LeBron James' playoff debut and in less than a month we will crown a new champion. Both of my projected finalists--San Antonio and New Jersey--have been eliminated. Now I expect to see Dallas and Detroit in the NBA Finals. I previously posted my thoughts about the Eastern Conference Finals rematch between Detroit and Miami and I will address the Western Conference Finals battle between Dallas and Phoenix in my next post.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:26 AM

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