As the NBA playoffs advance, expect real battles to begin

By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist

The NBA Playoffs aren’t boring because the NBA isn’t boring – there’s too much athleticism, too many characters, too much outrageous skill and dynamic personality on display to ever qualify it for that particular description.

And yet, while the first round of this year’s postseason has provided some glimpses of individual brilliance, a handful of thrilling finishes, and the final episode of the Brooklyn Nets’ telenovela of a season, there has been a nagging sense that something isn’t quite right.

The games have been enjoyable enough, played at all the speed you expect in 2022 and with no shortage of big names present, even as LeBron James tweets from afar instead of being part of the fray.

But truthfully, the elimination of half of the field and the immediate forward step to the conference semifinal stage – if the Memphis Grizzlies wrap things up in Game 6 against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night – will come as a bit of a relief.

And Morant leads the Grizzlies to a Game 5 win

And Morant leads the Grizzlies to a Game 5 win

Nick Wright lays out why Kevin Wildes’ decision to abandon Ja Morant and the Grizzlies was an all-time gaffe.

Because while it hasn’t been bad so far, and the hoops quality has stacked up, it hasn’t brought anything in the way of genuine suspense.

If Memphis closes Minnesota out, this will be the first time since the NBA went to seven-game first-round series 20 years ago that not only did the higher-seeded team win each of the eight matchups, but also that none of the lower seeds could even extend it to seven games.

From early on in every series, there was a pretty solid degree of certainty about who was going to march onward in the bracket. Thursday night, a trio of Game 6 matchups won by the higher-seeded road team put each of those series to bed, and the Round 2 field is virtually set.

The Philadelphia 76ers ended their jitters by finally finishing off the Toronto Raptors. Luka Dončić proved unstoppable as the Dallas Mavericks ended the hopes of the Utah Jazz, who now face some tough offseason personnel decisions. And the Phoenix Suns finally blocked the New Orleans Pelicans‘run, aided in no small part by an astonishing 14-for-14 shooting performance by Chris Paul.

Chris Paul’s Suns advance in a dominant Game 6 performance

Chris Paul's Suns advance in a dominant Game 6 performance

Chris Broussard praises Chris Paul, who truly earned the moniker ‘Point God’ by going 14-for-14 from the field.

The Grizzlies are -125 with FOX Bet to add to the list of 4-2 outcomes.

In sports, there is nothing quite like in Game 7 and let’s hope some land in our path in the next round. Realistically though, while several of the first-round series had their moments, none of them deserved the winner-take-all decider.

It certainly isn’t a shock that the first round panned out this way. The higher seeds regularly dominate and are often barely tested. It is a rare year that the NBA’s postseason starts with a bang. The whole process takes two months, for goodness’ sake, so perhaps a slow burn is inevitable.

But it is a slightly weird spot for the league. Incorporating as many teams as they do into the playoffs is seen as necessary to retain interest towards the end of the regular season, and that’s an entirely valid point. Simple logic dictates, however, that the No. 7 or 8 (or even No. 9 or 10 due to the play-in tournament) with a record near to .500, isn’t going to be able to keep pace with the best teams over a seven-game tilt in which they don’t have a home-court advantage.

This time, mostly, the series weren’t even as close as the margin suggested. The Mavericks were able to get past the Jazz despite Dončić sitting for the first three games, and that was a 4 vs. 5 matchup that many originally thought could go either way.

Luka leads Mavs to first playoff series win since 2011

Luka leads Mavs to first playoff series win since 2011

Nick Wright and Chris Broussard discuss Luka Dončić’s performance against the Jazz and share what they expect to see when he faces off against CP3 and the Suns.

The Pelicans (36-46 in the regular season) were plucky, but Phoenix still had far too much firepower, even with Devin Booker sitting for half the series. The defending champion Milwaukee Bucks routinely dispatched the Chicago Bulls – Khris Middleton’s knee-injury absence causing barely a blip.

Frankly speaking, the 76ers’ scrap with Toronto only got interesting when we were given cause to wonder if Doc Rivers could possibly blow a 3-0 lead to go with his unique record of being the only NBA coach to squander multiple 3-1 buffers.

And Morant has offered some fireworks and Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics were spectacular in knocking off Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and company, but the pendulum of momentum hasn’t exactly been oscillating on a nightly basis.

Giannis looks to carry Bucks past the Celtics with Middleton’s return in question

Giannis looks to carry Bucks past the Celtics with Middleton's return in question

Colin Cowherd talks to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, which will play the Celtics in the next round after their sweep of Kevin Durant and the Nets.

It should get better now. The fat has been trimmed. The serious contenders are all warmed up, and there are plenty of them. With no overwhelming favorite, expect the real battles to begin.

The oddsmakers can’t make their minds up – Phoenix (+333), Golden State (+333) and Boston (+350) are separated by marine percentage points on FOX Bet’s chart – and each semifinal series isn’t far removed from ‘ pick-’em ‘status.

“Everyone wants it,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “Everyone wants to show they are the strongest.”

Now, they get to show it, with no more tune-ups and no more margin for error. Now, if we’re being honest, the real postseason begins.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

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