Can the second round of the NBA playoffs live up to the hype of the first round?
With the first round of the NBA playoffs officially over, it’s fair to say that there is no clear-cut favorite to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. But we did learn a couple new things: The Indiana Pacers are no lock to give the defending two-time champion Miami Heat a run for Eastern Conference supremacy and the Western Conference is wide open. The first round featured a plethora of overtime games, four-point plays, buzzer beating game-winners and drama with teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana Pacers. Here are five things we learned from the NBA’s first round of the playoffs.
5.) The Washington Wizards might be the best team to challenge the Miami Heat
The Washington Wizards appear primed to make a deep run into the playoffs. John Wall and Bradley Beal suddenly look like the best young backcourt in the NBA. With Nene all of a sudden playing like he’s always been capable of, the Wizards might be the Heat’s biggest competition. Of course you still can’t out the Indiana Pacers, but you can see the confidence this young Wizards team is showing each game. Trevor Ariza might hold the keys to the Wizards immediate future seeing that it will be his responsibility to keep Paul George (and potentially LeBron James) in check.
4.) Damian Lillard is a star
Although LaMarcus Aldridge carried the Portland Trail Blazers early in the series, Damian Lillard definitely put his stamp on the series against the Houston Rockets with his timely hoops. Lillard’s series ending three-pointer in Game 6 will be what this epic series was remembered for, but the young point guard from Weber State has played like this for the past two years. However, the San Antonio Spurs might be a different story. If Lillard outplays Tony Parker and leads the Blazers past the Spurs in round two, the next question might be is Damian Lillard a top ten NBA player?
3.) The Indiana Pacers are a mess
The team that looked like it was poised to beat the Miami Heat during the first half of the NBA season suddenly looks a team ready to make an early exit from the NBA playoffs. Roy Hibbert was exposed during their surprisingly difficult series against the Atlanta Hawks, and Lance Stephenson might have hurt his stock for his impending free agency. It’s been so bad that bench warmer Chris Copeland is getting burn off the bench of the Pacers. Reports of coach Frank Vogel being canned and the team being dismantled can’t help team morale. If the Wizards run over the Pacers, this might be the beginning of the end for the team that once looked like it was ready for the big time.
2.) Can the Clippers use the Donald Sterling fiasco as motivation?
The Los Angeles Clippers made their way through a tough seven game series against the Golden State Warriors just to be awarded with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder had their own trouble in round one, but the Clippers have bigger issues with the distraction of “owner” Donald Sterling. The Clips seem to be using this as motivation, but Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are two of the top 10 players in the NBA and that is no easy task to overcome. Chris Paul has never been to the third round of the playoffs so this will be a huge series for him. This might be the best series of round two. Expect more crazy scores between these two teams.
1.) The Brooklyn Nets “old guys” appear ready to take down the Miami Heat
The Nets were tested during their series with the Raptors, but appear to be coming together at the right time. This also might be the last time we see Kevin Garnett, so expect every last ounce of blood, sweat and tears on the court from the 18-year veteran. Paul Pierce might be at the end of the line as well, but the two former Boston Celtics know all about battling LeBron James in the playoffs. The Nets brought these two “old” guys in for exactly this matchup. During the regular season the Nets defeated the Heat in all four of their games against the defending champs. Despite the loss of Brook Lopez, the Nets still have Deron Williams and Joe Johnson who can light it up at any time. If the Nets can dethrone the Heat, this could be a storybook ending for KG and Pierce before they go riding off into the sunset.