Beating the Lakers on their home court in Game 1 is a notable achievement, but it hardly makes the Mavs a popular choice to win this series. After all, L.A. also dropped Game 1 to the Hornets in the first round before winning four of the next five. Dallas also has plenty of doubters due to its history of playoff failures. But all bets are off if the Mavs can find a way to win again tonight and return home with a 2-0 lead. It'll take another big game from Dirk Nowitzki and all the playoff mettle they can muster because they can't count on another letdown by the two-time defending champs.
Will Kobe please pass the ball?
Kobe Bryant has always been primarily a scorer, not a facilitator, for the Lakers. But he needs to strike a better balance than the 29 shots and zero assists he totaled in Game 1 against the Mavericks. He scored 36 points but faltered down the stretch, a disturbingly common occurrence this season for supposedly the game's best closer. The champs are better when they have balanced scoring, so it's up to Kobe to get his teammates involved without losing his offensive aggression.
Is Joe Johnson worth every penny?
Everyone scoffed at the Hawks for giving their star free agent a $119 million contract to stay in Atlanta last summer. To be sure, it looked like a ridiculous deal when Johnson had his worst regular season as a Hawk, but they wouldn't be up 1-0 on top-seeded Chicago in the East semifinals without him. Johnson made all five of his 3-pointers and finished with a career playoff-high 34 points in a Game 1 upset of the Bulls. If he stays hot, Atlanta has a chance in this series. He'll still be overpaid, but at least he's earning his keep.
Is the Dallas bench a difference-maker?
One of the Mavs' few advantages over the Lakers is their depth, and that played out in Game 1. Getting 40 points from its bench, compared to 25 for Los Angeles, Dallas received important contributions from Jason Terry (15 points), J.J. Barea (eight points, five assists) and Peja Stojakovic (10 points). But the backup who really sparked the team was Corey Brewer (pictured), a Timberwolves castoff who helped the Mavs rally from a 16-point deficit in the third quarter. The Lakers may have the superior starters, but Dallas can count on a boost from its second unit.
When are the Bulls going to look like a top seed?
Even in dispatching the Pacers in five games, Chicago looked underwhelming in the first round. Erratic shooting by Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer's awful play and mediocre defense carried over to the second round, where the Hawks were good enough to take advantage with a Game 1 win. Now what? Rose has a sprained ankle, Boozer has a toe injury and the Bulls don't seem nearly as tough as they did in compiling the league's best record. At this rate, they may soon join the Spurs, the West's top seed unceremoniously booted out of the playoffs in the first round.