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A first round to savor

Opening weeks of NBA playoffs will linger in memory

Posted: Wednesday May 3, 2006 12:08PM; Updated: Wednesday May 3, 2006 5:18PM
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Will the Phoenix Suns' physical defense on Kobe Bryant spur him to revert to regular-season form? Only Game 6 will tell.
Will the Phoenix Suns' physical defense on Kobe Bryant spur him to revert to regular-season form? Only Game 6 will tell.
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It's easy, in the rush of the moment, to overstate the importance of events. For example, you are probably not reading this story while riding your Segway ("Could this thing really change the world?" wondered Time magazine in 2001) or while wearing a commemorative Corky Calhoun jersey (Calhoun was picked No. 4 overall by the Suns in 1972 but, despite high expectations, never averaged more than seven points in a season).

Still, at the risk of premature anointments, it seems safe to call this the best first round of the NBA playoffs in recent history, even if it's not yet over. Usually there are two, maybe three good first-round series. This year, there are only three series that haven't been good (Milwaukee-Detroit, Dallas-Memphis and the Clippers-Nuggets, and the last of those three still featured a No. 6 seed beating a No. 3 seed). What's more, the most exciting series haven't necessarily been the 4-5 matchups (though Washington-Cleveland is high theater, as we'll come to later). Best of all, in Sacramento, Indiana, Chicago and the Lakers there are still four teams with legitimate shots at a significant upset, and it would be a shock if at least two of those teams didn't push their series to a Game 7.

Likewise, there's been no shortage of drama. So far we've already seen a triple double from a future Hall of Famer (LeBron James) in his playoff debut; the first playoff series win in 30 years for the Clippers; an eerily Jordan-esque game-winner from Kobe Bryant, right down to the fist pump; the ugliest game-tying three-pointer on record (Brent Barry's bounce job against the Kings); a spate of suspensions (Ron Artest and James Posey by the league, and Kenyon Martin by his own team); the least-important role player on one team (Damon Jones) calling the tallest on the other (Brendan Haywood) a "baby"; Reggie Evans causing a nation of male TV viewers to grimace in unison (if you didn't see him fruit-basketing Chris Kaman, consider yourself lucky, as it cannot be unseen); and the sight, in an otherwise unmemorable series, of Dirk Nowitzki snatching the metaphorical football out from under the Memphis Charlie Browns just as they readied to finally win the first game in franchise history (that soul-crushing three-pointer in Game 3).

On top of all this, here are four more reasons this first round has made for great TV (even if that means Bill Raftery on NBA TV):

The transformation of Kobe Bryant

Perhaps Bryant realized that scoring 35 points a night on a mediocre team isn't all it's cracked up to be. Perhaps the word that Steve Nash had been voted MVP for doing exactly what Bryant hadn't -- elevating the play of his teammates -- inspired him. Or perhaps this is the latest psychological gambit on the part of Phil Jackson. Regardless, Bryant seems stunned by the fact that his teammates can, in fact, play. Bill Plaschke put it nicely in the Los Angeles Times when he wrote that Bryant finally became Jordan only when he stopped trying to be like Jordan.