5-on-5: Who'll overcome Round 1 woes?
The playoffs are just around the corner, but will the opening round be any different this year for some teams (and a coach) with troubled pasts?
Let's play a little 5-on-5 and find out:
1. Is this the year the Grizzlies win a playoff game for the first time ever?
Andrew Tonry, Portland Roundball Society: Yeah, but so what? Losing 4-1 still stinks. Memphis won't win a series unless its opponent's starting five simultaneously contract mono. Even then it would take some luck. So savor whatever you get, Grizzlies fans -- simply making the playoffs is about as good as it's going to get in Graceland for the foreseeable future.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Yes. The Grizzlies don't have a legitimate chance of winning their first-round series regardless of opponent; Rudy Gay's absence just takes too much away for Memphis to be realistically competitive. Still, a frenzied defense and strong inside game make the Griz a tough out -- just not tough enough to steal more than a single game.
Mike Kurylo, KnickerBlogger: If you're giving even money, I'd take Memphis in a second. Over the past three years, only three teams have been swept in the first round. And if you go back to the past five years, only seven opening series have ended in four games (17.5 percent). Additionally, the Grizzlies are 10th in the league in expected winning percentage, so they're no pushover.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: Yes. But as porous as the Spurs' defense has looked, I'm just not buying San Antonio's demise. With the No. 1 seed all but locked up, coach Gregg Popovich smartly shifted into cruise control, curbing the minutes of his stars. I like what Tony Allen and the Grizzlies are doing, but I sense a repeat of last year's tight Western 1 versus 8.
Chip Crain, 3 Shades of Blue: If the Grizzlies get the No. 6 seed, I think they could make a lot of noise against Oklahoma City or Dallas. I'm not so sure they could be as effective against the Lakers, who match up well with Memphis inside. No matter who they play, I expect the Grizzlies to win at least one game.
2. Is this the second year in the past five the Mavs escape the first round?
Andrew Tonry, Portland Roundball Society: Not unless Dirk Nowitzki has another gear. And after carrying Dallas all season by himself, I doubt it -- dude's got some serious miles on him. Other than Jason Terry's streaky shooting, Dallas isn't getting a thing from its wings and guards -- many of whom are undersized mismatches that opposing coaches (read: Nate McMillan) dream about.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Only if they luck out and draw either New Orleans or Memphis as their first-round opponent. The warning signs have been there for Dallas since January; waning defense and uncharacteristic turnover troubles have become unfortunate Maverick trademarks since the start of the calendar year. Throw in some specific matchup problems, and either Portland or Denver has the potential to send Dallas home early.
Mike Kurylo, KnickerBlogger: Maybe. Currently the Mavs are only eighth in point differential, and if they face Portland (13th) they should have a good advantage. The one team they probably don't want to face is Denver. The KNuggets, as they are affectionately called in New York, are actually better than Dallas in point differential (seventh) and haven't missed a beat, going 18-6 since trading Carmelo Anthony.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: No. Don't like their potential matchup against the Nuggets, owners of the best efficiency differential in the West since the trade deadline. Really don't like their potential matchup with the array of Dirk-stoppers (slowers?) in Portland. Memphis? Scary, too.
Chip Crain, 3 Shades of Blue: I think not. Dallas is a jump-shooting team, and those type of shots only get harder under the pressure of the playoffs. This has been the Achilles' heel of the Mavs for years. Age is also catching up to them. This could be their last real chance with this team, but the Mavs will struggle inside and Kidd isn't fast enough to contain top-level point guards.
3. Is this the first year in the past 11 the Blazers win a playoff round?
Andrew Tonry, Portland Roundball Society: As good a question: Will veteran point guard Andre Miller win his first playoff series in 12 NBA seasons? Really, the answer to both depends on who the Blazers end up meeting. If Portland draws Dallas, it has honest upset potential; the lanky Blazers match up well against the Mavericks' undersized back court. If the Blazers are headed elsewhere, I wouldn't bet on it.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Maybe, but as usual, it all depends on the matchup. Dallas is the most vulnerable of Portland's possible opponents, and the Blazers have the ability to dominate the Mavs' backcourt with bigger, stronger guards while also attacking the offensive glass. Los Angeles, San Antonio and Oklahoma City would likely be too much for Portland to handle, though.
Mike Kurylo, KnickerBlogger: No. As I said earlier, Portland is only 13th in point differential, which is a better indicator of a team's strength than actual wins and losses. The Blazers likely will not have home-court advantage against any team, and they've split the regular-season series 2-2 against their most likely matchup (Dallas).
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: No, but matchups are key. They'll be licking their chops if they get Dallas, but Portland won't have enough scoring inside to put a dent in the other Western powers. Considering all the carnage on the roster and offseason flux upstairs, Portland is playing with house money right now.
Chip Crain, 3 Shades of Blue: Again, it depends on whom they are playing. Portland versus Los Angeles would be very exciting, but I don't know if the Blazers have enough inside to hang with the Lakers for seven games. Oklahoma City and Portland would also be good, but Brandon Roy isn't 100 percent and the Thunder do have Kevin Durant. Dallas would be the Blazers' best hope in the first round.
4. Is this the first year in the past 11 the Knicks win a playoff round?
Andrew Tonry, Portland Roundball Society: My Latrell Sprewell Knicks jersey sure would like to say yes. But sadly, by Round 2, it'll be back, sitting safely in the drawer. And unless Carmelo Anthony goes out, scores 50 points a game and leads the Knicks on an improbable playoff run, Spree's jersey is the only one reading "New York" I'll need.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Nope. As inexplicably good as the Knicks look on offense right now, their defense is certifiably atrocious. Even a Celtics team struggling to find itself shouldn't have too much trouble with Carmelo, Amare and Co. Playoff basketball is back at the Garden, but only for three nights (tops) this season.
Mike Kurylo, KnickerBlogger: New York seems to be the trendy pick because the dual threat of Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony gives them some series firepower on offense. However, this team isn't as well-rounded as the Celtics. Even though Mike D'Antoni is still tinkering with the lineup, he won't find the complementary players to Melo/Amare on his current roster to unseat Boston.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: No. I'm not picking the Celtics here because they stumbled into the finish line last season too (remember: exception, not the rule). I'm picking the C's because the Knicks just aren't in their class. The Melo Knicks are 3-5 against the league's top five defenses and the Celtics have the IQ advantage.
Chip Crain, 3 Shades of Blue: It is the unstoppable force against the immovable object, as the Knicks' offense tangles with the Celtics' tenacious defense. However, Boston also has a pretty good offensive attack while New York doesn't play defense. The Knicks will score, but not as much as the Celtics.
5. Is this the first year in the past 22 that Doug Collins wins a round?
Andrew Tonry, Portland Roundball Society: Goodness, no. Philly's overachieving ends in the playoffs. And by the middle of next season, the Sixers will have tuned out Grampa Collins. I miss Allen Iverson.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: No way. Miami looks poised for a march to the conference finals at the least, and Collins' club has the misfortune of facing off against the Heat in the first round. The Sixers' defense is good enough to win them a game, but their offensive production has been shaky all season. Throw in Lou Williams' recent injury, and Philly just doesn't have the firepower to pose a threat.
Mike Kurylo, KnickerBlogger: Not unless the 1989 Bulls walk out of that locker with him. Collins has gotten the best season out of Elton Brand since 2007, but he's only a shell of his former Clippers self. Iguodala, Young, Holiday, and Williams are all above-average players, but none of them are great enough to lead this team to the second round against the star-laden Heat.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: Nope. Sixers may be lucky to win one with Lou Williams sidelined. Love what Doug Collins has done with this team, I do. But he'll need to bring back a young MJ to pull off the upset.
Chip Crain, 3 Shades of Blue: The Sixers are jelling in the soft Eastern Conference, but they aren't ready to take on a team as big-time as Miami. LeBron James against Iguodala is a great matchup, but Jodie Meeks on Dwayne Wade? I don't think so. Miami's Big Three is too tough for Philly to last more than five games, at most.
Tom Haberstroh writes for ESPN Insider and the Heat Index. Andrew Tonry, Rob Mahoney, Mike Kurylo and Chip Crain write for the TrueHoop Network.
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