John Smallwood: NBA playoffs not following any script

OK, I'LL REMIND everyone that I picked the Chicago Bulls to be in the NBA Finals, but I did so with a firm belief that a then-disgruntled Kobe Bryant would ultimately be shipped to the Windy City.

The Bulls did, at least, defy the odds and win the NBA lottery.

My notoriously poor precognitive powers aside, I can't get a grip on these NBA playoffs. I can't remember the last time the action on the court has been so unpredictable.

Fortunately, I'm not one of those people who take their "for-entertainment-purpose-only" predictions in the paper seriously (and anyone crazy enough to look at them for any other purpose than entertainment should have stopped a long time ago), or I would be suffering a serious lack of confidence.

Can someone please give me some logical explanations for all this?

Let's start with the Eastern Conference final.

I don't think too many people are surprised that the Celtics and Pistons are tied 2-2 going into tonight's seemingly pivotal Game 5 in Beantown. After all, they did post the two best records in the regular season, but how they got to this point has been head-scratching.

Detroit cruised through the first two rounds of the East, beating the Sixers in six games and the Orlando Magic in five.

The Pistons were home resting for nearly a week waiting for an opponent for their sixth straight trip to the conference finals.

Next to the San Antonio Spurs, the Pistons' core has more playoff experience than any other team. Rest seemed more valuable than rhythm for this postseason-savvy squad.

On the other half of the bracket, the Celtics needed the full 14 games to get past the lowly Atlanta Hawks, a team whose record was better suited for the lottery than the playoffs, and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Celts' went 0-for-the-road in the first two rounds and seemed as if they would need every facet of their homecourt advantage to reach the Finals.

But Detroit beat the Celtics in Game 2 in Boston, meaning the Celtics could not become the first team to reach the championship round without winning at least one road game.

Boston looked to be in dire straits heading into Motown, but whipped the Pistons, 94-80, in Game 3 in the Palace of Auburn Hills.

The entire world, including the Celtics, knew Detroit would be desperate not to lose Game 4 and go back to Boston down 3-1, so it's not surprising that the Pistons won.

Still, how does Boston fritter away such a golden opportunity by losing, 94-75? What happens in the course of 1 off day that could cause a 33-point swing between Games 3 and 4?

I guess the same adjustments that happened on a flight from Los Angeles to San Antonio.

Most Valuable Player Kobe Bryant and the Lakers had the defending champion Spurs right where they wanted them. It wasn't just that San Antonio trailed, 0-2, in the Western Conference final; again, it was how the Spurs got there.

The Spurs were shocking the Lakers in Game 1, holding a 20-point lead midway through the third quarter.

Then the fatigue from having played a Game 7 at New Orleans and having to sleep overnight on a plane before arriving in Los Angeles caught up with the Spurs.

The Lakers rallied to win Game 1 and then crushed San Antonio by 30 in Game 2.

It wasn't surprising that the Spurs won Game 3 in Texas, but again the particulars of the game defy logic.

It was like the Lakers left their game back in Los Angeles. They got buried in San Antonio, losing 103-84.

In a series involving Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom on one side, and Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili on the other, you do not expect to see 49-point swings from game to game.

Everybody on the court is too talented for that to happen.

This column was put to bed way before the conclusion of last night's Game 4 in San Antonio, but I know nothing that occurred will have surprised me.

Before the start of the conference finals, I predicted the Lakers and Pistons would win in six.

That still could end up happening, but after what already has transpired, I really have no idea.

Little about the 2008 NBA playoffs has made much sense. I don't see why that should suddenly change now. *

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