This first round sorely lacks playoff drama

  • Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts after a foul in the first half during an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz Saturday, April 20, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

ORLANDO, Fla. — If there was a silver lining for Indiana fans after the Pacers were the first team to be bounced from the 2019 NBA playoffs, it’s this: They won’t have to watch any more first-round games.

For that, they should be thankful.

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Drama is in very short supply so far in these playoffs. Close games? Few and far between (more on this later). Ratings? They’re down double-digit percentages from last year, a massive hit that suggests casual fans aren’t watching if LeBron James — out of the playoffs for the first time since 2005 — isn’t playing. Tickets? There were seats on the secondary market available for Monday’s Milwaukee-Detroit game for as little as $18.

That’s $18, by the way, to see a Bucks team that was the best team in the NBA during the regular season. The Bucks have the likely MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Pistons fans had to have known it would be their team’s last home game of the season. And it was, with Milwaukee winning in a rout to finish off a four-game sweep.

A predictable one, at that.

The divide between the haves and the have-nots in the NBA looks like a canyon right now. Unless San Antonio takes two of the next three against Denver, or someone rallies from 3-1 or 3-0 down, the eight higher-seeded teams will all win in the first round for the first time since 2008.

On the one hand, that means the second-round matchups could be really good. Boston-Milwaukee. Golden State-Houston. Philadelphia-Toronto. None of them are set yet, but they would all be fascinating if they happen.

“You take control of a series by winning games on the road,” Golden State star Stephen Curry said. “We’ve been able to do that.”

This past weekend, all the higher-seeded teams took control by winning away from home. Road teams went 4-0 on Saturday. Road teams went 4-0 again on Sunday. That’s never happened in NBA history. And with lower seeds not cashing in on home-court advantage, this first round might wind down real fast.

Boston swept away Indiana. Milwaukee swept Detroit. Houston could sweep Utah on Monday night. Philadelphia, Golden State, Toronto and Portland all have a chance to win in five games. Entering Monday, only one series — Denver vs. San Antonio — was assured of going six games. There might not be a single Game 7 in the first round. The last time that happened was 2011.

Fans might want the drama that comes with close games, long series, back-and-forth tussles. Players, of course, don’t mind going without. There have been moments, of course. Portland-Oklahoma City has given us flashes of Damian Lillard vs. Russell Westbrook. And Brooklyn-Philadelphia had some on-court shenanigans, plus Nets general manager Sean Marks somehow getting into the referee locker room to complain and a Nets owner tweeting to the league’s chagrin.

Hot tempers, yes. Great games, not so much.

“Not worried about it or paying attention to anybody else right now,” said Toronto guard Danny Green, whose team is up 3-1 over Orlando. “We’re focused on us and Orlando. We don’t skip steps here. We can’t think about the next series. We haven’t won this series yet. Can’t even think about the next series. Orlando’s our focus. They deserve all our focus. They’re a pretty damn good team. And we’re not looking ahead because we haven’t beat them yet. The job’s not finished.”

Out of the first 31 games in these playoffs, road teams have gone 17-14. That’s absurd.

And just two of the 31 games have been decided by three points or less. The average margin of victory so far in these playoffs: 14 points per game.

So there’s been lopsided games, and for the most part, lopsided matchups. By Wednesday, most of the second round might be set. By Thursday, the first round might be completely done. There’s a chance this could be the fastest first round since the NBA made the opening matchups all best-of-sevens in 2003.

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The earliest the second round can start is Saturday.

Here’s hoping the intrigue ramps up around then as well.

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