Saturday and Sunday, sadly, gave us little to cheer for; what could be less inspiring than every home team winning, with all but two of the games total blowouts? Not much. Perhaps the NBA is more lopsided than we’re ready to admit. Or, perhaps spring is an odd beast, and all of these series are due for major shake-ups—as we saw last night. The second wave of playoff games was encouraging for fans of heartened basketball, who are now swimming in the time of year they’ve long, long anticipated. Chicago stole home-court advantage, and Memphis renewed the promise of a series as exciting as last year’s seven-game slugfest with the Clippers. Let’s take a look at where all eight series stand (or, at least, where I think they do):
Heat vs. Bucks
The Bucks boast enough scorers to always pose the risk of making a game or two into an interesting shootout, but I’ll still be surprised if they fend off a sweep, especially given how effectively Chris Bosh has been shooting from the perimeter; this draws Larry Sanders away from rim-protection duties, essentially nullifying Milwaukee’s greatest playoff asset.
Hawks vs. Pacers
One of these teams is on a mission, and the other can’t wait for this to end, and see what free agency brings. If you don’t know which is which already, I’m sure your eyes will tell you promptly, if you tune in.
Celtics vs. Knicks
Boston had relative control of game one, until the fourth quarter. That’s when the team ambled away from the poise and intelligence that made me pick them to win the series. Amateur turnovers abounded as the Celtics stopped working for quality shots, and descended into the kind of lazy passing that had me screaming at the screen as if a suburban dad coaching the young ones: ‘Bounce pass! Bounce pass!!!’ Even shot-clock expirations would have been better than the seemingly ceaseless parade of easy buckets New York was handed in the final quarter. If the Celtics can improve that front and continue to neutralize everything non-Carmelo, I still believe they’ll win this one.
Thunder vs. Rockets
Like many, I expected this to be an exciting series. Like many, I was in denial about the Rockets defense. If Serge Ibaka—like Bosh—can continue to hit from beyond the strike, what’s Omer Asik to do? Switch to Kendrick Perkins? Can Jeremy Lin guard anyone in this starting five? Can James Harden guard anyone at all? These are the questions of a foreboding 29-point blowout, in which Kevin Durant was an astounding +34.
Nuggets vs. Warriors
The most exciting opener of the playoffs came with a poop-brown lining: David Lee’s out for the year, and Kenneth Faried returns for game two. It’s hard to imagine more nail-biters coming from this matchup, but maybe—just maybe—the Warriors won’t miss Lee’s post-play on offense enough to offset the potential benefit of losing him on the defensive end. More likely? The tip in rebounding advantage—a battle Golden State won by ten in Game 1, and probably the key factor in their ability to stay in the game—results in a short series, after this unfortunate injury tilt.
Spurs vs. Lakers
Time and again, contemporaneousness kills me. I saw the Spurs slumming through the last month of the regular season, and thought they’d lost more than a step. Of course, it’s now clear they were only resting up for the games that matter. And while this series against the Lakers technically matters, it’s a real laugher: L.A. has lost far too much ability to rearrange defenses with the loss of Kobe, and their league-worst point guard containment gives Tony Parker more options than he knows what to do with. Bring on the Nuggets.
Bulls vs. Nets
Intensity’s been the key to this series.Chicago couldn’t match Brooklyn’s, and then it was the other way around. I’d like to see a game in which both teams bring their best. But as long Tom Thibodeau is coaching these Bulls, and Joakim Noah can play even twenty minutes like he did last night, it’s hard to see the here-and-there Nets matching their moxie—especially after losing home-court advantage.
Clippers vs. Grizzlies
Memphis almost certainly can’t win this series, now. Impressive as they are—I had no idea Mike Conley and Tony Allen could create so much offense!—this two-game hole is just too much to get out of, especially considering the Grizzlies’ general difficulty in manufacturing points. Their gritty style is a recipe for many a close, last-minutes-matter game, and I can’t fathom Chris Paul losing any of those, after last night.