Monday, April 28
The over/under on the Celtics-Pacers series
By Marc Stein
Editor's note: As part of "The Stein Line" every Monday during the playoffs, ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein gives his take on things.
We did more than underestimate the Celtics, who limped into the playoffs and suddenly rediscovered team play and defense. We also overestimated the Pacers' ability to distance themselves from a second-half swoon that nearly cost them home-court advantage in the first round.
The Pacers, quite simply, have issues everywhere, having wasted superior size and depth in blowing multiple big leads. There will be increasingly louder speculation surrounding Isiah Thomas' future as coach, fears about Jermaine O'Neal leaving in a huff in free agency, concerns about Reggie Miller's sudden fade and the usual spate of Ron Artest questions.
Boston, meanwhile, has demonstrated the value of a team knowing exactly who and what it is, even if what the Celtics are is a team totally reliant on Paul Pierce to either score huge or get everyone else rolling. Against the perfect opponents, the Celtics have relocated their identity quicker than most of us imagined.
The only consolation for Detroit, as it faces elimination, is that Pistons president Joe Dumars doesn't have to worry about hurt feelings when he revamps the roster again this summer. He brought in a whole new backcourt after last season's 50 wins, and you can expect him to pursue trade options even harder this summer to get Ben Wallace the scoring sidekick he needs. If the Pistons get the No. 2 or No. 3 pick -- Memphis keeps it if it's No. 1 -- Dumars will get lots of offers ... along with the chance to simply keep Darko Milicic or Carmelo Anthony. A first-round exit also figures to keep Rip Hamilton's salary demands reasonable.
Must be a strange feeling today in Dallas, Boston and especially Orlando. Those teams would already be in the second round using the old best-of-five format in Round 1. Can't see any of those teams losing now, but the team with the most to fear might actually be the only team that had a shot at sweeping a series. After all, even though no team in NBA history has ever blown a 3-0 series lead, Dallas did blow that 30-point cushion in L.A. in December. Mavs coaches have already reminded the players about that one, in trying to guard against another letdown like Sunday's.
Put us back on the list of bitter NBA TV viewers. We had the channel for about three days last week when it disappeared without warning again Thursday, even though Comcast (our local carrier for digital cable) is one of the three companies purportedly airing a free preview of NBA TV through April 30. Cablevision and Time Warner are the others, but apparently the local affiliates of these companies aren't required to carry the free preview. In my case, Comcast was recently known as AT&T Broadband and these jokers are claiming that they can't or don't show everything that a longstanding Comcast outfit shows. I've received e-mails from digital-cable subscribers in Memphis and Portland as well to say they, too, aren't getting what is supposed to be a FREE PREVIEW. And if you don't have one of the three aforementioned carriers, you apparently have no shot at seeing the remaining three scheduled first-round games on NBA TV. Until next season, it appears, lots of us are just going to keep getting the scroogie.
Now that Tony Parker has heeded our advice and focused on getting his (and the team's) offense going, since that's what the Spurs need most from him in their Phoenix series, the new issue for San Antonio is getting Jake Voskuhl out of Tim Duncan's head.
Duncan is expected to hold off Minnesota's Kevin Garnett for the MVP trophy, and Gregg Popovich was to be named Coach of the Year on Monday, but that would be hollow hardware for both guys if the Spurs go out in Round 1.
|Paul Pierce has the Celtics just one win away from the second round.|
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, send Stein a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.