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April 20, 2009
Playoff Prospectus
The Sixers Start Strong Again

by Kevin Pelton

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L.A. Lakers 113, Utah 100 (L.A. Lakers lead 1-0)
Pace: 92.4
Offensive Ratings: L.A. Lakers 122.5, Utah 108.1

Game One of their run toward a potential title was a quintessential Lakers victory. Up 22 at the half, L.A. cruised, allowing Utah to hang around but never get any closer than nine points. The Lakers' offense wasn't as spectacular as three of the winners were on Saturday, but a 122.5 Offensive Rating is strong. Turnovers--17 in 92 possessions, six of them by Kobe Bryant--and offensive rebounding allowed Utah 15 more shot attempts than the Lakers took, but L.A. still made six more field goals. Seven-of-11 shooting from Pau Gasol and 8-of-10 from Trevor Ariza will do that.

Things weren't all bad for the Jazz. The best news from Game One was Carlos Boozer's play. He hasn't been right since returning from knee surgery in late February, a big reason Utah has faltered down the stretch. On Sunday, Boozer was a force, making 11 of 16 shots and scoring 27 points--a season high. Remember, Boozer struggled last year against the length of the L.A. frontcourt, shooting 40.2 percent in the series. Get Mehmet Okur back in the lineup to provide some needed outside shooting (the Jazz was 3-for-13 on threes) and keep Boozer going with Deron Williams (17 assists) running the show and you might be able to keep up with the Lakers' offense.

As he did late in the regular season, Phil Jackson went with Shannon Brown as his backup point guard instead of Jordan Farmar. While Brown isn't a point guard, he can competently handle the ball with help from Bryant or Sasha Vujacic and is a major defensive upgrade over Farmar. When he's hitting all three of his three-point attempts, like he did Sunday, that's just not fair.

Philadelphia 100, Orlando 98 (Philadelphia leads 1-0)
Pace: 87.3
Offensive Ratings: Philadelphia 113.5, Orlando 113.4

Before Andre Iguodala went and stole the spotlight, Sunday's most unlikely hero was Donyell Marshall. If you even knew that Marshall played for the Sixers before Sunday, consider yourself a die-hard. Philadelphia's fourth-quarter comeback coincided with Marshall's entry into the game. He proceeded to knock down three three-pointers, including one to tie the game in the final minute, and score 11 points in as many minutes. That's as many points as Marshall had in January and February combined.

After Marshall stepped aside, Iguodala played hero--and avoided being labeled the goat for missing two free throws with a chance to put Philadelphia ahead with just over a minute to play--by hitting a difficult step-back jumper with 2.2 seconds left to play. It wasn't Iguodala's best night--he missed 15 shots and committed five turnovers, though he did add eight rebounds and eight assists to his 20 points--but plays like that will earn Iguodala the league-wide respect he deserves. He's had a terrific season and was very close to making my All-NBA Third Team.

For the Magic, it's much too early to panic. Remember, this time a year ago we were marveling at the 76ers going into Detroit and winning Game 1. Remind me how that series played out. Orlando's got some things to clean up going into Tuesday night, but ultimately the Sixers came back almost entirely on the strength of their biggest weakness, long-range shooting. Louis Williams was perfect in three tries behind the arc and Philadelphia went 7-of-12 as a team. Don't count on a repeat performance in Game Two.

Atlanta 90, Miami 64 (Atlanta leads 1-0)
Pace: 86.9
Offensive Ratings: Atlanta 103.2, Miami 73.8

Missing: Miami Heat offense. Last seen: First quarter at Philips Arena.

Sixty-four points? In an NBA playoff game? I guess it was fitting that Mike Fratello had the call on TNT. This one had little to do with pace, however, and everything to do with the Hawks giving Miami fits on offense. Behind Dwyane Wade, the Heat came out with a reasonable 21-point effort in the first quarter. After getting blitzed 35-18 in the second quarter, the Miami offense never recovered, culminating in a fourth quarter that saw the Heat get stuck on 59 points for seven-and-a-half minutes and finish with seven points. Wade had a miserable night, coughing the ball up eight times, shooting 8-of-21 and attempting more threes (six) than free throws (four). With their leader struggling, no one from Miami's supporting cast was able to step up. Michael Beasley was 5-for-15; Mario Chalmers shot 3-of-10; Daequan Cook missed all five of his three-point tries.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta starting lineup was solid throughout. All five guys scored in double figures, and Joe Johnson (7-of-16) was the only one who misfired much from the field. Josh Smith came through with a 23-point, 10-rebound performance, Marvin Williams shook off any rust to score ten points in 17 minutes and centers Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia--24 combined points and 19 combined rebounds--torched Jermaine O'Neal.

Denver 113, New Orleans 84 (Denver leads 1-0)
Pace: 91.0
Offensive Ratings: Denver 124.5, New Orleans 92.0

A game the Nuggets had comfortably in their control almost throughout turned into a blowout on the strength of 21 straight Denver points to end the third and start the fourth. "Run" doesn't seem like a strong enough word to describe that stretch. Marathon? Blitzkrieg? The Hornets' drought was shorter than Miami's (a little over six minutes), but with Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith catching fire, the Nuggets put up points in bunches.

It would be more accurate to say Billups stayed hot, as he could not miss from beyond the arc all night, making eight triples in nine tries. Billups finished with 36 points on 19 possessions, eight assists, two steals and nary a turnover in 34 minutes. Maybe the "M-V-P" chants were deserved on this evening.

The sharpshooting overshadowed what was really an equally impressive defensive effort. While Chris Paul (21 points, 11 assists) got his, no other New Orleans player ever found much of a rhythm. Kenyon Martin deserves a lot of the credit for holding David West (12 points, 4-of-16 from the field) in check, and the Hornets did not respond well to a game that was more physical than anticipated. Byron Scott's challenge entering Game Two is much more at the offensive end--finding a way to get West off and the rest of the roster more involved in the offense.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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