The theme of this year's NBA playoffs is "Who Can Beat The Lakers." The theme of the first round probably should be "Hurry Up and Wait."
The official playoff schedule was released in the wee hours of the morning Thursday, and not a few people immediately began rubbing their eyes.
In a change designed to improve the league's cable television ratings, the first-round matchups are spread over two weeks with loads and loads of downtime between games.
Consider this: If the Kings upset the Lakers in Game 1 Sunday, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson will have four nights to toss and turn and dwell on it. The teams don't play again until Thursday.
Or consider the Seattle-Seattle Utah series, which has a four-day break between Game 2 Monday and Game 3 Saturday, then a three-day break before Game 4 the following Wednesday.
"I don't think it's ideal, but that's the way it is," said Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy. "It's for the benefit of TV. Whatever the schedule is, that's how we play."
The playoffs begin Saturday at 12:30 p.m. with Game 1 of the Detroit-Miami series.
The Phoenix-San Antonio, Seattle-Utah and Philadelphia-Charlotte series begin later that day, and the other four series -- Raptors-Knicks, Timberwolves-Trail Blazers, Kings-Lakers and Pacers-Pistons -- start Sunday.
The elongated schedule is part of Turner Sports' new television contract. Rather than having four games per night, as was the case in previous years, the games will be more spread out so TNT and TBS -- the two Turner networks -- will not be competing head-to-head for viewers on weeknights.
"It's understandable why they're doing it," Van Gundy said. "They're trying to boost TV ratings. We all benefit from that."
The downside of the new schedule is a big cut in preparation time. Used to be a team would have four or five days to rest their weary limbs, break down videotape and study their opponent.
They'd better get ready quick.
Of all the first-round matchups, the two most intriguing are Kings-Lakers and Raptors-Knicks.
Sacramento lost the season series 3-1 to the Lakers, but the losses were by 1, 7 and 3 points as the Kings kept every game close.
"They get pumped up for us," Shaquille O'Neal said. "Certain teams get pumped up against other teams, and they get pumped up for us."
The Lakers probably would have preferred to face Seattle in the first round, but the Sonics clinched the seventh seed Tuesday night by winning on the road against Sacramento.
Seattle will instead face Utah, while the Lakers get an opponent who presents matchup problems in the frontcourt with Chris Webber and Vlade Divac playing alongside each other. Shaq can't guard them both, and Sacramento could provide a test of whether the Lakers are invincible as they seemed during the final two months of the regular season.
The Lakers won 33 of 35 games before losing their final two. They will have homecourt advantage as long as they stay alive.
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