The Los Angeles Lakers fell in Game 2 of their NBA Playoffs series against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, dropping the two-time defending champs into a stunning 0-2 series hole ... after two games in L.A. They join the Boston Celtics, the defending Eastern Conference champs, who are down 0-2 to the Miami Heat.
Right now, it does not appear we'll get a repeat NBA Finals. But can either survive? Does either marquee team have a shot at recovering and advancing to the conference finals?
Call me a pessimist, unless you don't like the Celtics and Lakers, in which case you can call me an optimist.
The Lakers are much better at home in the playoffs. The next two games are on the road. L.A. needs at least two road wins in three tries to survive. The Lakers have largely been excellent at home in the playoffs since acquiring Pau Gasol -- even after the two losses to Dallas, L.A. is 33-7 at home in the playoffs since 2008. The team is 17-18 on the road. Going 2-1 on the road in this series isn't out of the realm of possibility, but even in the title runs, L.A. has been average on the road. (They were 5-6 on the road last postseason, and 6-5 in 2008-09.)
The Boston defense is 0-2 at stopping the Miami Heat offense. Boston wins with defense. In two games against the Heat, the Celtics' defensive efficiency is around 114, which is phenomenally bad. Dwyane Wade has been a champ, LeBron James broke out in Game 2, and Miami has hit 16-35 three-pointers. Those are not things that a normal Boston Celtics team allows to happen, suggesting that perhaps this is not a normal Boston Celtics team.
Boston's bench is not dominating Miami's bench. The Celtics had a vastly more trustworthy bench coming into their series; the thought was that if the Boston starters can play Miami's starting five even, the bench could make up the difference. The C's bench has scored 50 points in the series, to 40 for Miami. The Heat bench has shot 9-21 (42 percent), the Boston bench 18-41 (44 percent). That's quite even!
Dallas' bench is dominating L.A.'s bench. The Mavericks needed huge contributions from the bench to overcome the Lakers ... and they have gotten it. The Mavs bench didn't shoot well on Wednesday -- Jason Terry went 3-12 and Peja Stojakovic was 2-9 -- but L.A.'s reserve unit has been abysmal. Even Lamar Odom, the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, struggled in Game 2 (3-12 shooting).
There are still no answers for Dirk or Dwyane. L.A. needed to make serious adjustments in how it defended Dirk Nowitzki in Game 2. Dirk laughed at those attempts, scoring 24 points on 9-16 shooting. Similarly, Boston needed to crack down on Wade's penetration after he lit them up for 38 in Game 1. In Game 2, Wade had 28. Problems!
The Mavericks are playing phenomenal basketball. Dallas hasn't been perfect, but since the Game 4 collapse in Portland, in those four straight wins since then? The Mavericks have been as impressive as any team in the NBA. Tyson Chandler is a difference-maker in the frontcourt -- I was among those skeptical he'd be a huge upgrade from Erick Dampier or current reserve Brendan Haywood, and I was wrong. He's a huge factor in Dallas' improvement. Nothing more than "!!!" needs to be said about Dirk; his dagger over Pau with about two minutes to go deserves its own clothing line and reality show. The roleplayers that created the depth Dallas heralded have also stepped up. This team is clicking.
The Heat are playing phenomenal basketball. I said above that the Mavs have been "as impressive as any team in the NBA" over the last 10 days. I didn't say "more impressive than" simply because of the Heat, who have coalesced into everyone's greatest hope and fear. LeBron and Dwyane are terrifyingly good right now. I don't know who if anyone can stop them.
These 0-2 holes the Lakers and Celtics face? That'd be trouble against any team. But against teams playing as well as the Mavericks and Heat, it's complete doom. Goodnight, Lakers. Goodnight, Celtics.