Posted: Monday May 1, 2006 1:31PM; Updated: Monday May 1, 2006 4:38PM
San Antonio Spurs-Sacramento Kings
Champ: Gawen DeAngelo "Bonzi" Wells Common sense would dictate that we point out the fact that Ron Artest has made Manu Ginobili his chew toy over the last two games, but then we'd miss out on the chance to type out Wells' full name. The 6-5 (!) guard/forward is averaging 21 points and 14 rebounds in this series, playing strong defense and basically making a mess out of the San Antonio interior. Wells' five offensive boards per game have gone a long way toward helping the Kings gather second-chance points.
Chump: Manu Ginobili I'd like to get obscure with this and point out that the Spurs were outrebounded by six per game in Sacramento and begged their reserves to shoot the ball better. But in the end Ginobili's poor play is probably the reason the Spurs head back to San Antonio with a best-of-three series on their hands. He averaged 5.5 points on 31 percent shooting in Sacramento and turned the ball over four times a night. He also failed to hit a three-pointer in five attempts in Sactown.
Ruminations: This series is likely to go seven games; it's a pity we have to wait until next Sunday for the payoff.
Phoenix Suns-L.A. Lakers
Champ: Phil Jackson Kobe Bryant has hit some brilliant shots, Kwame Brown has turned into a man and Lamar Odom is realizing some of the potential that led scouts to drool all over him in the late 1990s, but Jackson is the reason this team is working as well as it is. How many playoff teams are playing a completely different brand of ball from the one they showcased in the regular season? For the first 82 games, the Lakers were a less-defensive version of the '01 76ers, with better spacing. Now? They've held Phoenix under 100 points for three games running, even an overtime contest. The Lakers are even sharing the ball, and appear good enough to entertain thoughts of the conference finals.
Chump: Shawn Marion It pains us to no end to shine a light on Marion's consecutive poor playoffs, especially after a regular season that saw him receive about half the attention he deserved. But Odom has dominated him in just about every facet during Los Angeles' 3-1 run. Marion had his best game of the series in Game 4, but Odom notched more points (25 to Marion's 20) and as many combined points and assists (13), and fouled Marion out on his way to 14 free throw attempts. Marion is averaging 18 points, 8.8 rebounds and only one assist in the postseason -- down sharply from his regular-season averages of 21.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists, while playing three more minutes per game.
Ruminations: Los Angeles has held Phoenix to 104.4 points per 100 possessions in its three wins, a phenomenal feat. The Suns averaged about 114 points per 100 possessions during the regular season.
Los Angeles Clippers-Denver Nuggets
Champ: Elton Brand As he's done for the bulk of his career, Brand is contributing on a consistent and efficient basis. In leading the Clippers to a 3-1 series lead, Brand has averaged 17 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
Chumps: the Denver Nuggets Denver's frustrations probably stem from a number of things. They don't like being first-round fodder for the third year running. They were sick of Kenyon Martin, they're sick of Sam Cassell (and a perceived double standard for Sam-I-Am with the refs), they can't shoot worth a lick and their high-priced coach hasn't put anything together on the dry-erase board to make life easier for them. It doesn't matter. In the playoffs, you have to show an improved attitude and a willingness to take a few shots to the head. You can't show the hallmarks of outright depression and a willingness to smack a few centers in the cojones.
Ruminations: The Clippers had better take care of business on Monday night in Game 5, because the quicker these Nuggets get to a beach, the better off we all are.
Dallas Mavericks-Memphis Grizzlies
Champ: Dirk Nowitzki An MVP candidate raising his level of play during the playoffs, Nowitzki has been nothing short of outstanding for the Mavs, dropping 32.7 points and grabbing eight rebounds a game for the postseason's only undefeated team. And he's only turned the ball over three times all series. And this is coming against one of the best defensive squads in the NBA.
Chump: Pau Gasol Plantar fasciitis is no fun to deal with: It limits your mobility and makes the free throw crouch an extremely painful experience. But even against a Dallas defense designed to destroy him, Gasol can't play like this. His 18.7 points and seven boards in 40 minutes a game aren't bad, but that's not enough, nor is his 41.7 shooting percentage.
Ruminations: Win or lose, the Grizzlies will put up a fight in Game 4. They're not the types to be dissuaded from working hard or trying to execute.