We’ve already seen a lot that may change our perception of how these final weeks play out — key players lost to injury, breakout performances, and a few surprise showings. Before we jump to crown the Heat again, or claim Kevin Durant as the next great champion, we need to focus on what happens in Round One. Here’s what we’ve learned so far from watching the NBA Playoffs…
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8. The Warriors aren’t done without David Lee
Despite the fact that their All-Star power forward tore his hip flexor in Game 1, Golden State shouldn’t go into full panic mode. Clearly, as evidence by their insane shooting performance in Game 2 (65 percent from the field), they can dictate contests from the outside. That’s not to say that Lee was invaluable, as their half-court offense relied on his creativity and production in the post. But with sharp shooters like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, it certainly isn’t over yet for the Bay Area boys.
7. Joakim Noah’s foot will decide Nets-Bulls
Plantar fasciitis can wreak havoc on a big man’s body, and Joakim Noah has been attempting to push through the injury to lead Chicago past Brooklyn. Imagine the feeling of needles pushing up into your foot with each step, and then imagine running, jumping and everything else that goes into the intensity provided by the Bulls bigman. In Game 2, he willed the Bulls to victory with a clutch stretch at the end before, despite another win, going 0-for-7 from the floor in 27 uneventful minutes in Game 3. Chicago will need their next best star to keep playing through the pain if they want to keep the Nets at bay in the opening round.
6. Serge Ibaka is the x-factor
In Game 1, Ibaka was arguably the best player on a floor that featured three superstars. He added 17 points while wreaking havoc on the defensive end. To follow up that stellar performance, he struck fear into the heart of any Rockets player driving to the basket by racking up six blocks. If he can continue his torrid pace, all this talk of the Heat repeating may not seem so certain after all. Ibaka has clearly improved on offense and is a potent option in the unusual circumstance when both Durant and Russell Westbrook are struggling. The Thunder may go as far as their defense takes them, and it all starts with the Serge Protector.
5. Paul George is ready to become a superstar
The Pacers have shellacked the Hawks in the first two games of their series, and the biggest reason for their dominance has been the NBA’s Most Improved Player. Paul George had a breakout season as the face of Indiana this season, and he’s carrying his strong play into the postseason. So far, he’s averaged 25 points per game to go along with 9.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists. His triple-double in Game 1 was the Pacers’ first since 1998. His quick ascendance to All-Star status has been well-documented and it seems he’s clearly ready to take on the superstar label.