Pulse of the NBA

 

The Sports Network

(SportsNetwork.com) - Some teams with NBA championship aspirations have to be feeling a little jittery right now, while we may have a dark horse in the making.

We have those stories and more as we take a closer look at what's stood out in some of the opening-round playoff series.

TRAIL BLAZERS-ROCKETS

With his spectacular performances in the first two games of the series, I think LaMarcus Aldridge has clearly established himself as the best power forward in the game and as a top-five player in the league.

After scoring a franchise playoff record 46 points in the Game 1 win, he followed it up with a 43-point outburst Wednesday, hitting 18-of-28 shots from the floor, to put the Blazers up 2-0 going back to Portland.

Aldridge joined Michael Jordan and Tracey McGrady as the only players to score 40 points on the road in Games 1 and 2 of a series.

With second-year point guard Damian Lillard also playing well, don't be surprised if the Blazers have a long playoff run.

MAVERICKS-SPURS

I think the top-seeded Spurs have to be concerned after having to rally in the fourth quarter to win Game 1 and then being totally outplayed by the Mavs in their 21-point loss on Wednesday.

I asked Chuck Cooperstein, the radio voice of the Mavericks, if he thinks Dallas has a legitimate shot to pull off the upset, and he responded, "If they keep playing defense like this, then yes. Hard to believe Spurs have scored 90 and 92 points against them. And Mavs have won with Dirk (Nowitzki) doing next to nothing. The Spurs are getting destroyed by Harris Calderon and (Monta) Ellis on high P&R (pick and roll). Nobody is stepping up to prevent them from taking wide open shots."

Nowitzki had 16 points in Wednesday night's win after scoring just 11 in the opening game loss.

HAWKS-PACERS

The Pacers have played one good half in this series, which was good enough to come away with a split of the first two games.

After trailing by five at halftime of Game 2, Indiana outscored Atlanta, 53-33, in the second half to even the series at 1-1.

Even if the Pacers advance to the second round, which is by no means a sure thing, it seems like there's a distinct possibility they won't even make to the conference finals and are a longshot to win the East.

GRIZZLIES-THUNDER

Starting small forward Tayshaun Prince played just 14 minutes in the opening game for Memphis due to a stomach virus, which probably wasn't helped by the early torching he received from Kevin Durant.

Prince maintained his starting job throughout the season and played way too many minutes (26 per game) despite putting up awful numbers and being a defensive liability.

In Game 2, Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger finally came to his senses, and despite the fact that Prince was feeling better, he only played the 11-year veteran 14 minutes in the overtime win.

That meant more playing time for Mike Miller and Tony Allen, who were both solid off the bench.

Miller was 3-of-4 from 3-point range and had nine points and six rebounds in 25 minutes while Allen, who had eight points, eight rebounds and four steals in 35 minutes, really helped keep Kevin Durant in check until the league's leading scorer exploded for 15 points over the final 3 1/2 minutes of regulation and overtime.

"I know it is a cliche, but you just try to make it tough, and that's what he's doing," Joerger said of Allen's performance against Durant in Game 2. "Trying to make it tough before the catch - that's important - to make a guy uncomfortable and not get it in spots where he's comfortable."

Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, who was a teammate of Allen with the Celtics, knows how pesky he can be.

"He don't stop," Perkins said. "He's going to keep coming. He's fast. He's faster than what a lot of people realize. And he gets real small on screens, so if you screen him, he does a good job of getting on a guy's hip and recovering."

I suspect going forward we'll continue to see Prince get limited playing time.

NETS-RAPTORS

The Raptors barely came away with a split of the first two games at home and I don't have a lot of confidence in them moving forward in the series.

They look like they lack confidence and seem too rattled at times.

Even with first-time All-Star DeMar Derozan exploding for 17 fourth-quarter points in the Game 2 win, he committed six turnovers, including one with 42 seconds left that kept the Nets hopes alive.

And second-year player Terrence Ross has been totally invisible, hitting just 2-of-12 shots from the field and scoring just five points in the first two games. In addition to the lack of playoff experience being a problem for the Raptors, they also don't have nearly as many players as the Nets who can create their own shot off the dribble, and I think these two factors will be too much for Toronto to overcome.

WIZARDS-BULLS

The Bulls look like they're toast after dropping the first two games at home, and I can already hear some of their fans calling for the team to sign Carmelo Anthony, who is planning to opt out of his contract with the New York Knicks and become a free agent this summer.

Even if Derrick Rose returns to form next season, he'll need a big-time scorer to play with if the Bulls hope to be legitimate title contenders.

Meanwhile, Washington's talented young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal doesn't seem fazed by its first playoff exposure and I wouldn't be shocked if Washington reaches the Eastern Conference finals, with a matchup against the struggling Pacers or the eighth-seeded Hawks ahead of them in the second round.

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