It’s the most wonderful time of the year, basketball fans. For the next two months or so, we’ll be treated to only the best of the best the league has to offer. With every game broadcasted on national television, there’s a lot of NBA to digest, and that leaves plenty to analyze.
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.
4. Don’t underestimate Manu Ginobili
As the season drew to a close, many were concerned with the Argentinian’s health. After injuring his hamstring in late March, he was expected to sit out the opening games of the playoffs. Following a tune-up in the final game of the season in which he struggled mightily, many analysts felt the Lakers may have lucked out in getting a first-round draw against San Antonio. Ginobili let his game do the talking and reverted back to his vintage self, coming off the bench to score 18 points in just 19 minutes during Game 1. His presence is vital if the Spurs want to have any shot at the title.
3. The Knicks are firing on all cylinders
When both Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith are on, the Knicks seem nearly unbeatable, and the Celtics are not having fun figuring out how to stop two of the premier scorers in the game. New York is 18-2 over their past 20 contests, and Smith is a huge part of that, racking up 22 points per game over the final two months. The depth of the Knicks, and the sheer amount of talent on that roster, might be enough to topple the mighty Heat. It doesn’t hurt that they’re playing their best basketball of the season at the right time.
2. There is no love lost between the Clippers and Grizzlies
Who could forget their seven-game epic in last year’s postseason? The Clippers coming back from 24 down in the fourth to defeat Memphis in Game 1, paving the way for a back-and-forth series that would end with L.A. celebrating. It was a physical, exhausting run that may have depleted the Clips for their second-round matchup against the Spurs. When these two drew each other in round one again this season, people were excited. After three games, we’ve already seen that same physicality we’re used to seeing between these two and maybe the most exciting finish to a game all season. We’re in for a good one here.
1. LeBron and co. aren’t wasting any time
After the Heat drew the sub-.500 Bucks in the first round, it was a sweep just waiting to happen. Miami is no-nonsense in their quest to repeat, and LeBron is certainly not satisfied after last year’s run. It might take a train to stop the Heat this postseason, and it doesn’t seem like they want to take any chances. They lead the Bucks 3-0, and although they were trailing for much of the first half in Game 3, it felt like they were in full control. I wouldn’t be surprised if they rallied off a perfect run on their way to a third-straight Finals appearance.
What’s been the most surprising thing so far in the postseason?
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