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Kevin Durant celebrates yet another game winner for OKC. Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

Highlights from Weekend One of the NBA Playoffs

The Grizzlies and the Clippers capped an outstanding opening weekend of playoff basketball. Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

The first week of the hectic 2012 NBA Playoffs are in the books and already there are enough story lines and drama to ensure a very entertaining 40 nights to decide a champion. From the match-ups to the injuries and records being broken, every game over the first weekend was worth watching and had plenty of things to discuss: The Magic and Clippers are up 1-0, Derrick Rose is out for good, and the Spurs and Heat look like the best teams in the postseason.

Highlights from Weekend 1 include:

  • First off, the biggest news was the ACL injury to Derrick Rose in Chicago‘s Game 1 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.With 1:10 left to play in the fourth and the Bulls up 12, Rose attempted to jump for a shot but his knees buckled under him and he fell straight to the ground, clenching his ankle while the United Center fell silent.  Speculation abounds that Rose’s injury might be a direct cause of having a compacted 66-game season and simply not having enough time to rest the body. Losing Rose is a shame for not only the Bulls but for the league as a whole and NBA fans, hoping to see Rose do some serious work in his quest for an NBA Championship. Although the Bulls have had plenty of time during the season to play without Rose (who missed 39 total games in 2011-12 after missing just three games total in his first few seasons), this certainly dashes any hope that Chicago had for a championship. The Bulls will have to rely on C.J. Watson and John Lucas III at the point guard position for the remainder of this series and any other series going forward. An ACL tear also took another victim. New York‘s rookie Iman Shumpert also went down in the first half of the Knicks’ game one loss to the Miami Heat.
  • Nobody expected the New York Knicks to fall so easily. Granted they’re up against the Miami Heat but still, with a team of Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, a 100-67 blowout is simply embarrassing. The Heat have the muscle, skill, and swagger to advance deep into the Playoffs, and were in total beast mode in game one of the highly anticipated Miami/New York first round series, getting 32 points from LeBron James. The Knicks didn’t put up much of a fight. Anthony finished with 11 points on 3-15 shooting, and Stoudemire got up a total of only seven. I thought New York would be able to take a game in this series but after that display on Saturday, I would not be surprised if they were swept for the third straight time in the postseason.
  • The most interesting match-up in the East for me is Indiana/Orlando. Without Dwight Howard to roam under the rim and dominate in the paint, it’s Roy Hibbert’s time to shine and help a pretty stacked Pacers team to the second round. I don’t know if the Magic got lucky with their shooting or if the Pacers fell prey to taking it easy knowing that Howard wasn’t playing, but the Magic’s victory in Indiana was surprising, holding the Pacers to 77 points in game one. Hibbert looked like a machine scoring 8 points, grabbing 13 rebounds, and blocking 9. The Magic got their production from Jason Richardson (17 points), Jameer Nelson (17 points) and Glen Davis (16 points). Big Baby will have to carry the load at center in the absence of Dwight Howard. A costly traveling call on Danny Granger on a possession that would have tied the game in the closing seconds will leave a sting, but I believe the Pacers can come back and take command of this series.
  • The best moment on Saturday came with Kevin Durant’s shot that sealed a Thunder victory over the reigning champion Dallas Mavericks in a tightly contested 99-98 win in Dallas. Watch the replay of KD’s game winner. Normally that fading jump shot would have no chance of going in, but a lucky bounce made it happen, concluding what was a very close game throughout with neither team able to gain a sizable lead. The Mavericks got ahead by as much as nine points, but the Thunder found a way to storm back. Durant and Russell Westbrook did what they do best; James Harden came back from being cleared after the infamous hit to the head by Metta World Peace. Dirk Nowitzki took awhile to get heated, but he got deadly as the game went on. This series will be cut throat to the end. While the Mavericks do not have the key pieces on their roster that got them the hardware last June, this series could easily go to seven-games with both teams having a legit chance to advance.
  • A sweep could be in the works for the San Antonio Spurs as they were clearly the best team on the court against the Utah Jazz, a team that might be happy just to even see the postseason. The Spurs are looking to get their fifth championship from the veteran core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobilli. Some say the Spurs are simply getting to that point where they are old, and they sure looked like it when they lost to the 8th seed Memphis Grizzlies last season. But some things have changed. The Spurs managed multiple double-digit winning streaks in 2011-12, and with uber smart Gregg Popovich as the brains of the operation, the Jazz couldn’t keep up with the Spurs in game one. Parker was dynamite both as a scorer and distributor, and the Spurs  great younger players looked pretty comfortable in the lights of the postseason. From Game 1 alone, the Spurs will be the team to beat to advance to the Finals.
  • Nothing exciting from the Lakers victory over the Denver Nuggets except that center Andrew Bynum broke some impressive records both in the Lakers organization and for the league. While Kobe Bryant was doing what Kobe does (31 points on 11-24 shooting), Bynum tied the league record for most blocks in a playoff game with 10, yes 10, blocks. The Lakers had 15 total blocks compared to 4 from the Nuggets. Game over. The Lakers also showed that they are more than capable to handle a game without the erratic behavior of Metta World Peace. They were probably thankful MWP was out for this game, they didn’t need him causing any more trouble.
  • The most boring game came courtesy of Boston at Atlanta. Both mediocre, one team kind of on the down-slope with an aging group of Boston’s “Big Three”, Ray Allen sitting with an injury leaving Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to lead their younger players on the road against Atlanta, a team with quality players (Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Hortford ((who’s out with an injury)) that has never advanced past the second round. With 40 seconds left and the Hawks up by four, Rajon Rondo lost his cool with the referees and was called for a technical foul. Things got worse when Rondo appeared to bump his chest against referee Marc Davis, getting himself ejected. The Hawks went on to claim a 83-74 win. During the TNT Post Game Show, Charles Barkley tried to make the case that the now infamous chest bump came as a direct result of Rondo tripping over his own shoes. Whatever the cause, Rondo will be out for Game 2.
  • The West’s most interesting series features the Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers are in the postseason for the first time since 2006, and the Griz continue to steadily improve, grabbing home court advantage and the fourth seed after finishing one game shy of the Western Conference Finals one year ago. The Grizzlies got out to a smoking hot start in game one, running circles around a Clippers team that not only had to deal with foul trouble for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin but looked like they were not prepared for the playoffs at all. The Griz built a 27-point lead early in Sunday’s night cap, with Mike Conley draining threes, Zach Randolph was grabbing boards, and Dante Cunningham turning Blake Griffin into a poster with a put-back dunk. Then something happened. As the game closed, the Griz might appeared to slack off and/or fall asleep. Led by Chris Paul, the Clippers came back, shocking the rowdy Memphis crowd and taking game one 99-98, closing out Memphis with an improbable, Brandon Roy-esque, 26-1 run. Memphis clearly let this one slip away, playing so great and shoot the ball very well, something this team doesn’t usually do. No doubt, the Clippers feel pretty big right about now.

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