Guys fans love to hate

Updated: April 23, 2004, 5:50 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Nearly one week into the playoffs, you'd struggle to label even one series competitive. Presumably that could change over the weekend, if Dallas or Denver or Houston or New Orleans can win a game or two, but the closest thing to an up-for-grabs battle so far is Milwaukee vs. Detroit, if you believe the Bucks' Game 2 upset gives them a chance to win three more games against the Eastern Conference favorites-elect.

So ...

In search of something else to scribe on, we focus instead on the Villains of the First Round, First Week Edition. At least the first few of them fall into that prized designation of Guys You Hate ... unless they're on your team.

  • Kenyon Martin, Nets. He's hardly synonymous with flagrant fouls anymore, but there's a line at least two deep -- Milwaukee's Desmond Mason and New York's Tim Thomas -- of lads who claim they want to fight him. K-Mart is the undisputed chief villain in the Tabloid, er, Tunnel Series.

  • Bruce Bowen, Spurs. True enough, Bowen hasn't done anything controversial yet ... but it's early. Once the Spurs find themselves in a real series -- Round 2 against the Lakers, in other words -- you can be sure someone will be complaining about his hands-on defense. Loudly.

  • Eduardo Najera, Mavericks. Rick Adelman, borrowing a tactic from his buddy Phil Jackson, was speaking directly to the ref community when he openly suggested that Najera yanks Chris Webber to the floor whenever he gets the chance. Steve Nash responded to the charge by sarcastically dubbing his famously polite team Thugs-R-Us.

  • Brandon Hunter, Celtics. The rookie didn't play at all in Game 2, but six minutes in Game 1 were enough to cause a ruckus that helped get Ron Artest -- someone you'd expect on this list -- an unjust one-game suspension. Then again, maybe Celtics coach John Carroll is the one who belongs on this list. Carroll was accused of sending Hunter in to rough up Jermaine O'Neal, NHL-style, and then it was Carroll who lobbied hardest for Artest's punishment for taking a few steps toward the court during a non-fight and then U-turning back to the Pacers' bench.

  • Jason Collins, Nets. Twin, as his Nets teammates call him, is the brute who actually nailed the Knicks' Thomas with the hard foul that injected the Tunnel Series with whatever tension it has. But K-Mart is the character who flaps his arms at the crowd before games and after dunks, so he's taking Collins' heat.

    Male of the Night

    Michael Heisley
    Heisley
    Michael Heisley. Doesn't matter whether the Grizzlies' owner sings well or not. Takes some gumption to stand in front of thousands of people and sing the national anthem.

    E-Mail of the Night

    STEIN: There is really only one Kobe Stopper. That would be Kobe Bryant. It'd be a big stretch to say anyone regularly stops Kobe -- surely even Belgians had access to the amazing defense Patterson played on the final play of the last game of the regular season ... which didn't stop Kobe from ducking to his right and nailing a 3-pointer at the regulation buzzer ... to set up a game-winning triple after the second overtime. I'd say Bowen is the closest thing to a defender who consistently gives Bryant trouble, but even then Bryant routinely hangs big numbers on the Spurs. I'm sure Artest would be right there as well if the Pacers played the Lakers more often. Mobley doesn't belong on this list, as I'm sure you'll see Friday night.

    Gregg Popovich
    Popovich
    Speak of the Night

    "Who wants to make free throws?"
     San Antonio's sarcastic Gregg Popovich, leading off a rant that featured several self-deprecating gems about the Spurs' famed weak spot, concluding with the claim that "we're the worst in the history of the world from the free-throw line." The Spurs shot 19-for-30 from the line in Game 2, including one late miss each from Bowen and Manu Ginobili that could have put the Grizz away before Mike Miller had a chance to launch a potential game-winning prayer at the buzzer.

    Stat of the Night

    +95
    That's the biggest point differential in league history in the first three games of a playoff series: The Lakers swept San Antonio out of the first round of the 1986 playoffs by a margin of 95 points. Memphis and New York were at risk for cracking the top five Thursday after both teams incurred two heavy losses on the road, but narrow Game 3 defeats at home left the Lakers' plus-69 margin over Golden State in the first three games of the 1973 Western Conference finals in the No. 5 spot. New Jersey has won the first three games of the Lincoln Tunnel series by a total of 43 points after an 81-78 victory in Game 3, and San Antonio's margin over Memphis is the same after a 95-93 triumph at the Pyramid.

    Stat of the Fright

    0
    That's how many teams with a losing record have won a playoff series since 1987, when Seattle (39-43) upset Dallas (55-27). Boston (36-46) and New York (39-43) are the two eligibles this postseason, but the Knicks are on the brink of elimination in their series with the Nets and the Celtics can fall behind, 3-0, to Indiana with a loss at home Friday night.

    Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

    Marc Stein | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com
    • Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
    • Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
    • Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics
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