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Shaun Powell

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Dikembe Mutombo and the Nuggets shocked the No. 1 seed Sonics in their first-round series in 1994.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Would results change with return to best-of-five format?


Posted May 1 2010 10:31AM

How could anyone forget the smile?

It was wider than the Rocky Mountain range, and it stretched across the mug of Dikembe Mutombo, as he lay on the court clutching the ball in the famous scene after the Nuggets pulled off one of the biggest playoff upsets in history.

It was the spring of 1994, when cold spells were brief and so was the first round of the postseason. It was a best-of-5 series then, giving the underdog a better chance to do what Denver did to the Sonics. Seattle won 63 times that year, an NBA-best, with Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton in their prime. Meanwhile, the Nugs were young and naïve, barely squeaking out a winning record in the regular season, and happy to be here. Well, not quite.

They pulled the surprise after falling behind 0-2, and years later, Sonics coach George Karl said if the first round was best-of-seven, his team would've found a way to win.

Now that the first round of 2010 is winding down, would a shorter format have made a difference in any series? We examine each series to get an idea:

Magic-Bobcats. Uh, they could've played best-of-nine, or seven, or three, or just one and it wouldn't have mattered. The Bobcats just didn't have enough scoring punch to muster a challenge. Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson had to be on their game, every night, just to make the series competitive. And that didn't happen, even in a series where defensive ace Dwight Howard was only on the floor 26 minutes a game because of foul trouble. Only way the Bobcats stood a chance is if the owner suited up.

Celtics-Heat. Miami simply couldn't generated enough, um, heat to make anyone believe this series wouldn't be over quickly. Dwyane Wade delivered a 44-point masterpiece in Game 4 in Miami just to prevent a sweep. Before the series, the potential for a possible upset loomed, if only because Wade is Wade and the Celtics didn't exactly gallop into the postseason. Well, the better team won. Somewhat easily. And best of all, Kevin Garnett didn't break down, unlike last spring in the first round, when a five-game series could've doomed the Celtics against the spunky Bulls.

Bulls-Cavaliers. Little to no chance for the Bulls here, no matter how long or short this series went. There was simply too much drama surrounding the team, mostly with Vinny Del Negro and his job security, in the Bulls' rather steep quest to prevent LeBron James from moving on. They went from the Little Team That (Almost) Could against the Celtics a year ago to bowing out quietly against the Cavs. All the suspense in this series involved LeBron's elbow. That says it all.

Bucks-Hawks. It may be a moot point if the Bucks finish the job Sunday, but clearly, they could've used a shorter series than anyone else. That's because everything fell their way in the first five games and Scott Skiles squeezed everything he could from a mildly-talented team. How many times are the Hawks going to blow a seven-point lead with a few minutes left, as they did in Game 5? It's better for us, from a fans' standpoint, that this shaped up to be an entertaining series. But the Bucks would rather be moving on to Orlando instead of suiting up in Atlanta for a Game 7.

Suns-Blazers. While the Blazers were a win away from advancing had this been a short series, it's tough imagining the Suns blowing a decisive game on their court. Game 5 wasn't close, remember. This might be a different story if Brandon Roy was 100 percent and Greg Oden was in the lineup. But they aren't, and the Blazers aren't.

Lakers-Thunder. You think Kobe Bryant, in a short series, would give the Thunder hope in a Game 5? Let's rephrase that: You think Kobe would even allow it to get to a decisive game? No chance does Kobe look passive and turn down shooting opportunities, as he did when the series swung to Oklahoma City, hurt or not. But let's pause here and give the kids their due. The Thunder lasted longer and looked better than most expected against the defending champs, and were overshadowed only by their classy fans who supported them to the exciting end.

Nuggets-Jazz. Nuggets were deflated almost from the get-go and wouldn't have been served well at all in a best-of-five. Without George Karl in their ear, they were missing something all series. Anyone following this series felt deprived. Too bad, because the matchup on paper anyway was as even as it gets, although the outcome proved differently.

Mavericks-Spurs. If the Mavericks are feeling stung after losing the series in six, imagine how they would've felt in a short series, if the Spurs won three out of four and took the series quickly. At least Dirk Nowitzki and mates had a chance to save face with a best-of-seven. There's certainly no shame in losing to the Spurs, who are far better than their low seed suggests. But that's three times now in four years where the Mavericks couldn't get past the first round.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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