The 2014 NBA Playoffs are still new enough to smell like a fart Dwight Howard laid during his outburst in the first half against the Blazers in Game 2, but the leader in the clubhouse for the most entertaining series of the first round has quickly emerged and it’s really not even that close.
Yes the Pacers and Spurs have found themselves in VERY interesting situations (especially the Spurs, don’t think anyone outside of Marc Cuban had Dallas embarrassing San Antonio at home like they did in Game 2), but Portland and Houston have provided basketball fans with everything they could possibly want.
Note: Think of this power rankings list as a guide of the most important pieces of information that have happened during the series so far. This is not a worst to first type list.
1.) The reintroduction of LaMarcus Aldridge. Let’s face it, the playoffs are the time of the year when the casual fan catches up on everything that happened during the regular season and then forms opinions based off of what happens during the two months in which a league champion is crowned. In the first week of the playoffs, Aldridge has easily jumped out as the player most likely to make The Leap like Stephen Curry made last season. There are so many stats you can look at to understand just how impressive LMA has been so far. He’s only the third player to ever score 40+ points in the first two road games in a playoff series. The other two? McGrady and Jordan (ESPN Stats and Info). He made three three-pointers all season, he made two in Game 1. He’s 35-for-59 from the floor (59%). Terrance Jones is too small to guard him, Omar Asik has tried and failed, same goes for Dwight Howard. It doesn’t matter right now who is covering Aldridge, the ball is going to find its way into the basket.
2.) James Harden’s shooting percentage. While LMA is snapping the net with regularity, The Beard is not so quietly building a brick house that will be sold at a charity event sometime next season. He’s a putrid 14-for-47 (30%) from the floor and 4-of-18 (22%) from beyond the line. Give credit to Nicolas Batum, who has done a masterful job so far by frustrating Harden.
In Game 2 Harden only went to the line four times. It was the first time in just over a month that he’s had that low of a number from the freebie line. Harden just hasn’t been able to get into any sort of rhythm. Outside of a quick run he started and finished with a couple of three pointers in the third quarter of Game 1, Harden has forced shots and has appeared to second guess his initial decision (go back and watch the Rockets final possession from Game 1 when Harden froze with the ball and try to explain it). The Rockets are ultimately going to live or die depending on what Harden does with the ball in his hands.
3.) A pissed off Dwight Howard taking 17 shots in the first half of Game 2 (he put up 25 points and eight rebounds). D12 had taken at least 17 shots only six times this season before his eff you half on Wednesday. (Game 2 was only the third time all season he’s taken 20+ field goal attempts.) Howard went bonkers at one point and continuously put up little three foot push shots for a good two minute stretch in the second quarter, after it was clear that his hot start was entering an inevitable cooling down phase. Howard was no doubt fired up from not only the loss in Game 1, but the column written by Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinal about how Howard is becoming irrelevant.
If you were to just look at Howard’s box score from Game 2 without knowing how the game played out, you would say to yourself, wow that’s a vintage game from Howard, but in reality it wasn’t even close to that. Howard’s run was fun for the first 15 or so minutes of the game and then he fell back down to Earth and missed shots that he shouldn’t have missed, all the while throwing off entire offensive sets that brought the Rockets to the dance. Howard is the second best player on this team and perhaps the perfect second banana to James Harden, but if Howard kicks the ball out to anyone of Houston’s designated three point shooters during the second quarter of Game 2 instead of missing three foot push shots, this column might look a lot different.
4.) Barkley vs. Shaq. I haven’t looked forward to a halftime segment of a TNT broadcast like I did during Game 2. I knew Charles Barkley and Shaq were going to yell at each other about Dwight Howard. After all, their verbal brawl during Game 1 cut out Kenny’s pictures/big board segment. In fact I don’t think The Jet talked at all during their six minutes of discussion time, he just sat in awe like the rest of us as Barkley and Shaq yelled at each other about Howard. It’s great television and it’s going to make for a great Youtube mashup video at some point.
5.) A great, consistent pace throughout both games. Outside of the final couple of minutes and overtime of Game 1 when the game slowed down due to Hack-a-Howard and other numerous foul calls, the tempo of this series has been outstanding. Aldridge and Howard’s game of one-on-one during Game 2 was just stupendous. The runs each team went on in Game 1 were nothing short of fascinating.
Besides Pat Beverley, the Rockets aren’t going to play defense, hell James Harden was thinking about the sandwich he was going to eat after Game 2 instead of covering Wes Matthews with under a minute to play. An up tempo pace was to be expected in this series, but this is basically the equivalent of basketball porn and you don’t have to worry about opening an incognito browser tab to watch it.
6.) The new Sideshow Bob. Robin Lopez has been a mini revelation for the Blazers at the center position. Bringing in Lopez has allowed Aldridge to settle into his role of a stretch four instead of a banger inside. But, Lopez isn’t on this list because of his play, he’s on this list because of the bickering match that turned into a heated joust between him and Howard in Game 1. It was uncharacteristic to see Lopez get that out of control, but it’s always kind of nice to see some extracurricular activity happening during the playoffs. If this were 1984, punches would have been thrown.
7.) Joel Meyers>>>>>>>>>>Dick Stockton. Joel Meyers and Chris Webber have been sweet ear candy so far. If you’re unfamiliar with Meyers, he’s the smooth voice of the New Orleans Pelicans. The best part of having Meyers on the broadcast is that he makes Chris Webber much easier to listen to. I’m not the biggest Webber fan. I think he’s great when he fills in during halftime and on Inside the NBA (he would be a welcomed replacement for Shaq as it would open the door for Brent Barry to slide into the open color analyst role), but I’ve found Webber unlistenable at times because he and Stockton would come off as disjointed. This is not the case with Meyers and Webber as they have some real chemistry.
All of this and we’re just two games into this series, sign me up for four more please.
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