By Frank Hughes
April 19, 2010

Two days into the playoffs and we've already had a brawl, a suspension and an upset. In the East, a late-game dustup between the Heat and Celtics resulted in an ejection and one-game ban for Kevin Garnett, while the Trail Blazers -- without BrandonRoy and playing in Phoenix -- prevailed over the Suns.

But this is just the start. As the Cavs-Bulls and Jazz-Nuggets series head into Game 2, more is surely on the way.

Cleveland certainly didn't do anything in its Game 1 victory over the Bulls to dissuade the notion that it's the overwhelming favorite to win the championship this season. With Shaquille O'Neal back in the lineup and getting little resistance from Chicago's undersized frontcourt, LeBron James was free to waltz all over the court.

Now, perhaps taking a cue from the recently revealed post-game antics of their coach and general manager, the Bulls say they are not going to allow that any longer.

"We've got to go out there and be totally opposite of what we did last game," Derrick Rose said. "I didn't think we were aggressive on the defensive end. We talked about it, and we have to have some type of swagger or nastiness about ourselves." In other words, they're not going to take feeble swipes at James during a fast break and allow him to finish with an and-one, getting both the crowd and James even more into the game.

But Rose & Co. must be careful: The officials are probably acutely aware that Chicago plans to flex its muscles. If the Bulls do so too deliberately, then they get into the same situation in which Boston finds itself with Garnett. There is a fine line between being physical and getting too exuberant, and that line is often difficult to discern for teams that are not naturally physical.

The other thing the Bulls need if they are going to pose any sort of threat is offense from someone other than Rose, who had 28 points on 28 shots in Game 1 and did most of his damage in the second half, when he was able to get into Cleveland's interior and score at the basket.

And he did so with very little help. Luol Deng, hampered by leg injuries, had 12 points. Joakim Noah had 10. Otherwise, no one for Chicago scored in double figures. The Bulls have to get more from Rose's teammates or they are simply going to serve as the first step in Cleveland's coronation.

The difference between Portland's injuries and Utah's is this: The Blazers lost Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla early on and played without Roy for 17 regular-season games. They already know what it's like to compete short-handed and have adjusted accordingly.

Utah lost Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur at the end of the season, expected to get them back for the playoffs and then watched as both suffered more serious versions of their original injuries. (Okur tore his Achilles and is out for the rest of the playoffs, and possibly more.) The Jazz are still in the midst of adjusting to that mindset and what it means for them on the court. Still, that is no excuse -- especially for a Jerry Sloan team -- for allowing Carmelo Anthony to get to whatever spot he wants to on the court and going to work offensively.

Like the Bulls, the Jazz need to get more physical -- which is easier said than done because Anthony is such a physically imposing player and seems to thrive on defenders putting their bodies on him. There is a difference, though, between being physical with Anthony once he has the ball and putting a body on him off the ball. Utah can't allow him to stand in the middle of the lane unscathed, take a pass and convert a string of 10-foot jumpers.

On the other end, Jazz point guard Deron Williams may have to be more selfish. He is arguably the best all-around point guard in the game right now, and lived up to such a reputation in Game 1 with 26 points and 11 assists. But with Boozer slowed by an injured oblique muscle, Williams is Utah's best chance for an upset.

The problem is he is playing against Chauncey Billups, one of the league's premier playoff performers who knows exactly what it takes to win in the postseason.

In the end, Utah's injuries may be too much to overcome.

This is only one game, and it may be premature to jump to any sweeping conclusions, but one has to wonder what this first weekend of the postseason means for a couple 2010 free agents. Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire completely disappeared in Sunday's loss to Portland, either because his teammates failed to find him or because he was unable to get open himself. The five-time All-Star had a minus-16 plus/minus ratio for the game, not something prospective suitors want to see from a player who is asking for a max contract.

Meanwhile, Utah forward Carlos Boozer, who had a minus-15 plus/minus against Denver, had eerily similar numbers to those of Stoudemire. Granted, Denver's defense can focus on Boozer now that Okur and Kirilenko are out of the series with injuries.

But if there's one team that can use injuries as an excuse, it's Portland. And the Blazers chose not to dwell on the negatives, opting instead to use their depth and game-planning to earn a surprising victory over one of the hottest teams in the league.

The other shock of the weekend was that Garnett lost his head during a late-game dustup with Miami's Quentin Richardson on Saturday. Both sides can debate whether K.G. should or should not have been suspended, but after 15 seasons in the league, Garnett should have known not to put himself in that situation.

Someone like Kevin Durant, on the other hand, is still learning, though even his peers are amazed by his pose and clutch play so early into his career. In his first postseason game, Durant got a heavy dose of the amplified playoff intensity. Thanks to Ron Artest's D (and his golden locks), Durant, the regular-season scoring champ who had 24 points on 7-for-24 shooting in the Thunder's loss Sunday, may now have a better understanding of the postseason atmosphere.

Welcome to the playoffs.

You May Like