- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2011

We’re only three days into a marathon that will drag on for another two months, but these NBA playoffs are shaping up as the most intriguing in years.

And if there’s anything this league could use, it’s a few surprises.

The NBA has always been the most predictable of the four major sports, pretty much following the script that was written over the regular season.

Lakers. Celtics. Spurs. Yawn.

Sure, the finals are often exciting, but the first 45 days usually lack intrigue. Maybe this is the year the pro guys give us their own version of the NCAA tournament.

There are potential first-round upsets all around. From the Grizzlies to the Hornets to the Hawks _ heck, even the Pacers, the only playoff squad with a losing record _ teams that were expected to go away quietly are already making a lot of noise in this postseason.

“I’ve been saying all along, just get us to the playoffs,” said New Orleans guard Chris Paul, who led the Hornets to a shocking Game 1 upset of the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. “Just get us to the playoffs, and we’ve got a chance.”

They’re not the only ones.

Memphis knocked off the top-seeded Spurs in the series opener at San Antonio. Atlanta, one of the league’s most enigmatic teams, romped past the Magic in Orlando even with a monster performance by Dwight Howard. New York nearly bumped off Boston, and the Pacers have given Chicago, the No. 1 seed in the East, all they could handle in the first two games.

“We knew it was going to be tough,” said Derrick Rose, the MVP in waiting, after the Bulls struggled to another close win over Indiana on Monday night. “They’re a good team. They finished the regular season strong. I’m just happy we won.”

Even if the Pacers have already delivered their best shot, they’ve exposed the Bulls for what they are _ a team still unproven at playoff time, a team with one magnificent player who will need some help if Chicago is going to survive a four-series playoff gauntlet for their first title since the Jordan years.

Out West, there’s all sorts of potential chaos, starting at the top.

The Spurs are hurting and getting a little long in the tooth. Now, they’re facing a young, hungry Memphis team that presents major problems on the inside and firmly believes it has the makings of a championship contender. Zach Randolph has revitalized his career, mauling the Spurs for 25 points and 14 rebounds in Game 1.

“A beast,” said the Spurs’ DeJuan Blair.

San Antonio didn’t fare much better trying to guard 7-footer Marc Gasol, who had 24 points and missed only one shot from the field.

Story Continues →