NBA Daily: Remember when we wrote off the Blazers?
Aldridge, Lillard have carried Portland a long way, Sam Amico writes in his playoff thoughts.
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) makes a three pointer at the buzzer over Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons (25) to win the game during the fourth quarter in game six of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center.
Craig Mitchelldyer / USA TODAY Sports
By Sam Amico
My daily NBA playoff thoughts. I cannot promise there will only be one post per day...
1. Everyone is saying the first round has never been better, and everyone is right. Five Game 7s this weekend? Unreal. The first round has given us a little bit of everything. Overtimes. Buzzer-beaters. General basketball insanity, and in a really cool way. When watching the games, I never care who wins or loses -- yet half the time I'm a nervous wreck. It's hard to believe (but also wonderful to believe) we still have three rounds to go.
2. The Trail Blazers are proof that maybe we should just shut up sometimes. This time last year, Twitter kept telling me that LaMarcus Aldridge wanted out of Portland. Everyone insisted he was a goner. The Blazers were a perceived mess. Well, guess what? Yes, social media is wonderful. But sometimes I really hate it. Ignorance and rushing to judgment are too often the name of the game.
3. And how about Damian Lillard? The guy has the guts of Allen Iverson. And what a story Lillard is. He was barely recruited out of high school. He played his college ball at Weber State -- not exactly a basketball factory. He stayed in college all four years. And the Blazers' second-year point guard may be the most dangerous man in the clutch this side of LeBron James. Bottom line: You can scout and overhype draft prospects all you want. But you cannot measure a guy's desire, his winning mentality or his confidence with the game (and perhaps the series) on the line.
4. Young players should pay attention to how Lillard runs the team, yet manages to score within the flow of the game. He doesn't force a thing. He doesn't get down when he makes a bad play. He doesn't yell at teammates or get into altercations or act like the universe should genuflect at the mention of his name. Lillard is a star, but he's more than that. He's how a star should behave.
5. Speaking of behavior, it's hard to believe Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph got suspended for a meaningless shove -- or "punch," as the NBA defined it -- to the face of Thunder center Steven Adams. Randolph will miss Saturday's Game 7. Meanwhile, the Hawks' Mike Scott and Pacers' George Hill partook in an actual scrap, and both are playing in Game 7 of that series. I'm not condoning Randolph's act. It was not cool. And rules are rules. But c'mon, man. It just seems petty. These guys are going all out when it means the most. There's bound to be the occasional frustration. The league should revisit the harshness of some of these penalties. The postseason is no place for babies.
6. I don't know what to make of the Pacers. Until about the middle of February, they looked like the league's most confident and cohesive team with a true star in Paul George. Now, it's the Hawks who appear poised and unified. Some of that has to do with the Pacers, but a lot of it has to do with Hawks such as Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap, too. It's not too late for the Pacers, though. A win in Game 7 could give them back their moxie, and quickly.
7. As for the Nets vs. Raptors, what a series. I say it will all come down to Nets guard Deron Williams. He's averaging 23.0 points in wins, but just 12.7 in losses. If he scores, it keeps pressure on the Raptors' Kyle Lowry, and takes it off older teammates such as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. There are a lot of questions, fair or not, about whether Williams is a big-game player. He sure was good in Game 6. But now comes Game 7 on the road.
8. I can't imagine Garnett returning for another year. He turns 38 in a few weeks and his body appears to be succumbing to the wear and tear of that process. It happens to all of us. Garnett can still help you, but it's probably time for him to come off the bench. Will he be willing to do that? I probably wouldn't. At least, not if I'd accomplished everything he has.
9. While on the topic of old dudes, it's really intriguing how the Spurs and Mavericks are scratching and clawing and trying to eliminate each other in the first round -- and how many of the biggest names are 35 or older. It's also amazing how effective the Mavs' Dirk Nowitzki (35), Shawn Marion (35) and Vince Carter (37) remain. They just might not be quite as effective as the Spurs' Tim Duncan (38), Manu Ginobili (36) and Tony Parker (the baby of the bunch, as Parker doesn't turn 32 for a few weeks). Guess we'll find out in Game 7.
10. I've been particularly impressed with Mavs guard Monta Ellis this season. Most people around the league will tell you he's a different player. He used to want it to be all Monta, all the time. Now he's a really good teammate who can score -- a lot. This is likely Marion's last stand with the Mavs (he's a free agent). But if everyone else returns, and the Mavs fill Marion's spot admirably, they still have time to be a true threat. And Ellis is a big reason why.
11. I think the Rockets should bring back everyone, too. This group deserves another year together. Dwight Howard was really good in the playoffs. James Harden wasn't bad. Kevin McHale is the right coach. Bring 'em all back and try again. Sometimes, keeping everything in place is far and away your best option. I strongly believe that's the case in Houston.
12. OK, that's more than enough for now. I hope you enjoyed this new undertaking. I'll still have coverage of other stuff, but the plan is to post this every day (or darn close to it) throughout the rest of the postseason. I think it has proved worthy.