Five observations on a day the NBA laid down the law on Derek Fisher and Rafer Alston and the Cavaliers just threw down the Hawks:
1. Credit the Cavaliers ... and blame the Hawks.
Sure Cleveland was very good. Dominating Thursday in a 105-85 win (RECAP | BOX), the latest in a series of dominating showings by the best team in the opening weeks of the playoffs. The Cavs have earned their updated status as favorites for the title. It would just be nice to see Atlanta give an effort.
The Hawks looked demoralized from the start in execution and body language, worse than any 20-point loss or 0-2 series deficit. That should be the biggest concern as the series shifts to Atlanta -- that the Hawks have already cashed out and don't have the personality to make a long playoff run. It's a bad moment that may actually be a big-picture topic.
Winning a Game 7 in the first round was nice, but that was against Heat. This is a different world. The Hawks couldn't even provide interference against the Cavs.
LeBron James blew past perimeter defenders. That's fine. He's LeBron James and there's a trail of guys around the country with singed jerseys. But the other Hawks just waved him in from there, with little inside help, as Atlanta obviously missed the injured interior presence of Al Horford. There was little effort to challenge. Cashed out.
2. The Hawks have bigger problems than the Cavaliers, Part II.
Through the nine games against the Heat and the Cavaliers, Joe Johnson has taken the most shots and made 41.2 percent of them, and Josh Smith has taken the second-most shots and made 40.8 percent of them.
Atlanta's combined Game 2 blight was 34.9 percent. That drops the playoff-long mark to 41.5. If the Hawks don't get to run, the Hawks don't score.
3. Favorites times 10.
The Cavaliers continue to be so convincing -- defense, focus, James' domination -- that it's hard to imagine anyone in the East giving them a decent challenge in a series, let alone beating them. It wasn't the Pistons, it's not the Hawks and it won't be the Celtics or Magic in their current inconsistent (Orlando), non-Kevin Garnett forms.
That's six consecutive wins, all by double digits, and not merely because the competition has been that bad. If this continues, blowouts that allow starters to sit and quick finishes to series, it will be an amazing and rare advantage during the playoffs.
4. Who knows what Rafer Alston was thinking, but the NBA's mindset seemed pretty clear.
Derek Fisher's one-game suspension for the hit on Luis Scola of the Rockets was an easy call, albeit an unlikely cheap shot by a player so respected by peers. Alston's one-gamer for slapping Eddie House of the Celtics in the back of the head had to be the cause of some debate, but league bosses needed to crack down before their playoffs became a roller derby. No complaint with either -- though earlier in the day I thought Alston would escape an additional penalty -- just as the NBA rightly passed on further disciplines on the Kobe Bryant-Ron Artest slam dance.
The issue instead is the fallout. The Lakers, already struggling to handle the speed of Aaron Brooks, are down to Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar at point guard, the same Farmar who has played all of 28 minutes in the playoffs. Orlando losses its starting point guard just as it tries to reclaim some momentum -- the chance to get the East semifinals at home, the expected return of Courtney Lee following surgery to repair a fractured nasal cavity. Now: shorthanded again and dealing with the new, self-inflicted wound.
5. Two uncertainties will soon play out.
The Lakers play Saturday and the Magic play tonight, so it won't take long to file the final damage reports off the suspensions.
The Rockets have to like their chances heading home at 1-1, and that's no cliché throw-away line. (OK, it's no throw-away line.) If just reaching the second round was an accomplishment for the team that annually made a hasty retreat from the playoffs, splitting in L.A. was an additional confidence bump. They're in a good place.
Orlando also heads home 1-1, probably with Anthony Johnson as the new point guard. That's a steady hand for a pressure situation. But that's also a backcourt in flux, given Lee's uncertain stamina after surgery and a layoff.