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NBA playoff notebook: Clippers under pressure, Mike vs. Michael & a classic in the making?

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You know what they say: the NBA playoffs don’t officially start until Adam Sandler posts a photo from the “Uncut Gems” set:

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Fans are starting to be allowed back at the arena across the league. There was a noticeable difference in watching the games over the weekend. It gave us some iconic moments, including Trae Young silencing the Madison Square Garden crowd with a game-winning floater.

A few other thoughts on this weekend’s games:

Which team has the most pressure to win these playoffs?

I’m going with the Clippers. They went all-in on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, as they should have, two years ago, but have no draft picks in the foreseeable future and have an average-to-mediocre supporting cast.

What happens if they lose in the first round? They will have blown a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets and followed it up with another early playoff exit.

Luka Doncic put together a masterpiece on Saturday at Staples Center, finishing with a triple-double (31 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists) in a Game 1 win. But it was the role players who stepped up, especially in the fourth quarter. Dorian Finney-Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. finished 9-of-14 from three with a combined 39 points.

It’s only one game, but Doncic has been doing this for two consecutive postseasons now, methodically controlling everything that unfolds on the offensive end. There’s no reason to believe the Mavericks can’t do this three more times against the Clippers.

Leonard was sensational for the most part in Game 1 (26 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and four steals) but quiet in the fourth quarter. George finished with 23 points on 8-of-18 shooting.

Do the Clippers have the best player in the series?

If the answer is no, then we’re looking at Doncic’s first signature postseason series win of his career.

Best Coachella 2030 jersey of the weekend

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A semi-deep dive into the Mike vs. Michael controversy

Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone does not like to be called Mike, as we found out during his Game 1 interview with ESPN’s Cassidy Hubbarth:

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This has rarely come up, at least on a national broadcast, and many reporters, including myself, have referred to the Nuggets coach as Mike Malone in columns over the years.

Malone also didn’t seem to have a problem being called Mikey a few years ago by Gregg Popovich:

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The Mike vs. Michael conversation has been going on in the Michael community for years. Yes, there is a Michael community. An entire Michael subreddit comprises over 3,000 members, described as “a community of all people sharing the greatest name ever.”

A “Mike or Michael” discussion thread was started two years ago by a Reddit user with the name AguycalledMichael asking if community members are still being referred to as Mike.

The responses included:

  • People often get too chummy and start calling me Mikey like they're my stepdad or something

  • New friends call me Michael then eventually call me Mike.

  • I always go by Michael. Mike is what my dad called me when he was yelling at me to do yard work

There is a sense of pride with the name Michael in the Michael community. So, it’s Michael Malone from here on out.

First-round classic watch: Suns vs. Lakers

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - MAY 23: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of Game One of the Western Conference first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns at Phoenix Suns Arena on May 23, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Lakers 99-90. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
It's hard to fathom a LeBron-led team losing in the first round. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Three classic first-round series came to mind as I watched the Phoenix Suns beat the Los Angeles Lakers at home on Sunday: the “We Believe” Warriors upsetting the Dallas Mavericks in 2007, the Bulls-Celtics going seven games in 2009, and the Clippers knocking off the Spurs in seven games in 2015.

That last series also involved Chris Paul, who came up huge in the deciding game against San Antonio. Two big questions moving forward in this series for me are Paul’s health and whether Anthony Davis can perform at an All-NBA level. The Lakers forward hasn’t looked the same this season while battling through injuries and finished with just 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting in Game 1.

This whole series also hinges on the fact that it feels impossible to imagine a LeBron James-led team losing in the first round. It’s just one of those “it’s absolutely foolish to bet against LeBron” propositions.

Lakers fans probably aren’t panicking after Sunday’s loss. Their team lost Game 1 to Portland and Houston in the first two rounds last season and won both series in five. Health pending, I think this series is going at least six games, and we’ve got the potential for another first-round classic.

But remember, don’t overreact to Game 1 results unless we’re talking about Dillon Brooks:

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