5-on-5: Wild West weekend
Let's explore five questions in the West after the opening weekend of the NBA playoffs
Well, isn't this interesting?
No. 1-seeded Spurs? Beaten at home.
No. 2 Lakers? Beaten at home.
No. 3 Mavs and No. 4 Thunder? Victorious, barely, with thrilling comeback wins in front of their true-blue fans.
In perhaps the greatest end-to-end weekend of NBA hoops ever, the Western Conference in particular gave us an excess of spectacular play and plenty to chew on.
Here's what our writers have to say about the wild West after Weekend 1:
1. Can CP3 carve up the Lakers three more times?
Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Company: Sure, he might do it six more times, but will it be enough? I have a difficult time seeing the Hornets' bench outscore the Lakers' bench 39-25 again. It was a tremendous effort and Paul was surreal, but that was as good as the Hornets could possibly play.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Yes. Because it's clear that CP3 can get anywhere he wants to on the floor against a Lakers D that we all know can't handle elite speedy PGs. What I suspect you're getting at, though, is whether three more CP3 detonations can actually eliminate the Lakers. Given the amount of angst that greeted Aaron Gray's injury in Game 1, with David West already out, you have to be pretty inventive to dream up a scenario in which the Hornets are going to be able to survive L.A.'s size three more times.
Ryan Schwan, Hornets 247: With multiple days of rest for Paul's knee, if the Lakers continue to switch their defensive assignments and jog back on defense, he will look like it's 2007-08 again. And unless Kobe wants to expend lots of energy on both ends of the floor, Paul won't be facing a defender all series long that can hope to stay in front of him.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Absolutely. Chris Paul is fantastic, and his ability to exploit defenses isn't some newfound quirk: He can dissect the Lakers' D every night out. But can Jarrett Jack, Aaron Gray (if he's able to play), Willie Green and Marco Belinelli continue to score consistently? Can the Hornets maintain their ridiculously low 3.3 turnover rate? That's where I'm a bit more skeptical.
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: Even if Chris Paul manages to carve up the Lakers a few more times -- and with Derek Fisher playing just shy of 40 minutes Sunday, that may be the case -- that alone won't translate into more wins for the Hornets. New Orleans should enjoy the taste of victory while it lasts.
2. What's wrong with the Lakers, and will they solve it this postseason?
Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Company: As bad as the pick-and-roll coverage was, I think their biggest issue is a lack of passion. The most emotion I have seen from Los Angeles this month has been when Kobe yells at refs. But it is an issue that dropping the opening playoff game can help resolve, and I do expect them to rekindle the fire.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Not gonna lie. For the first time since the Cleveland game, I'm starting to (A) doubt them when they say it's just a focus thing and (B) question their ability to get through four long playoff rounds. They're too old to make hard work of teams they're supposed to handle.
Ryan Schwan, Hornets 247: They will solve it for this round, but I'm not convinced they get out of the West. Their defense is just not that great. The level of athleticism on this team has declined significantly to the point that none of their players, not even Kobe all the time, can claim to be quicker than their opposition. That leaves them scrambling too often.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: L.A. got a little jump-shot-happy, its team defense was glaringly sub-elite, and Pau Gasol had one of the worst games of his Lakers career. But L.A.'s reliance on outside shots is likely linked to Gasol's temporary ineffectiveness, and we know the Lakers' D can be absolutely smothering when focused. This rut is only transitory.
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: Derek Fisher covering one of the best point guards in the game might be the problem. But really, the Lakers just need to work the ball in to Pau Gasol and focus on executing the triangle offense. Get the ball into Pau's hands early in the shot clock and L.A. will produce points efficiently.
3. What's the biggest problem for San Antonio in the MEM-SAS series?
Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Company: Hope. Twice I have seen the Denver Nuggets go to San Antonio and win Game 1 (in 2005 and 2007), only to lose in five games each time. The Spurs have to squelch the Grizzlies' hope and confidence by winning Games 2 and 3. That's what they did to the Nuggets on those previous occasions.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Manu's elbow. Followed closely by the same theoretical problem they would have if they last long enough to see the Lakers in the playoffs: not enough size next to Tim Duncan to deal with multiple quality bigs. Duncan was the third-best big on the floor in Game 1. That's not to say that Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol can both be that good every night, but Antonio McDyess was a non-factor and both McDyess and DeJuan Blair were plagued with foul trouble and Gregg Popovich didn't even trust Tiago Splitter to play him for a single second.
Ryan Schwan, Hornets 247: That Memphis perimeter defense is smothering. The Memphis big men aren't going to score again like they did Sunday night, but the Spurs guards aren't likely to continue to get the foul shots they got in that game, either. If they can't figure out how to get and hit shots, the Spurs will struggle mightily.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Frontcourt defense. Tim Duncan can defend only one highly productive big man at a time, which means that either Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol gets to work against DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner, or Antonio McDyess. In addition to their own particular defensive limitations, they share in the inability to match up successfully against either of Memphis' bigs.
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: San Antonio will struggle to shut down Gasol consistently, and may be utterly incapable of stopping Randolph. It doesn't mean the Spurs will lose this series, but because of the Grizzlies' imposing front line, all of San Antonio's wins will come by much narrower margins than the Spurs' faithful are comfortable with.
4. Which Gasol would you want this postseason: Marc or Pau?
Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Company: It took a few years, but we can finally say Memphis won that trade -- for a day. Congratulations, Chris Wallace; enjoy your day of redemption! Marc is the biggest boy on the floor against the Spurs, so look for him to continue to have success. Still, it is difficult to imagine Pau fading again like he did in Game 1.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Would love to say Marc. Something about his name is a grabber. Not yet, though. This first playoff weekend was off-the-charts good. But we have to be careful not to get swept up in the moment with hasty proclamations.
Ryan Schwan, Hornets 247: C'mon. Marc has a good game and suddenly he's surpassed his All-Star brother? Pau is more athletic and better defensively, and once Phil reminds his team that they should be working inside-out through Pau rather than through Kobe or Andrew Bynum, the Hornets are going to have a hard time stopping the Lakers. That is the triangle offense, after all.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Pau, in a heartbeat. If we focus too much on a tiny sample size, the slightest tremor can look like a full-blown earthquake on the playoff seismograph. There's no reason to overreact or overthink this comparison. Pau is a more versatile, efficient and productive player, even if he didn't play as such in Game 1.
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: In my mind, there is no question: Give me Pau Gasol. I love Marc's physical style. His 24-point performance Sunday showed why Memphis could have been trouble for his big brother's team had they met in the first round. But the elegance of Pau's offensive game will shine through during the course of the playoffs.
5. What's your take on Denver-OKC Game 1 and the rest of the series?
Royce Webb, ESPN.com: Nuggets versus Thunder is far beyond ordinary, grind-it-out playoff basketball. If Game 1 is any guide, we're witnessing a unique cycle of Cirque du Soleil productions performed in an octagon. Has there ever been a playoff matchup with this level of nonstop athleticism, creativity, intensity and physical play? My prediction: We're going to feel very fortunate if we get six more like Game 1.
Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Company: The Nuggets did a good job defending Russell Westbrook, as he only had four shots at the rim and five free throws, two of which came from an end-of-game intentional foul. But he had an uncharacteristically good shooting night, making several tough contested jumpers. Now the Thunder might be in the Nuggets' heads, having won three straight contests. I picked OKC in seven before the series and after Game 1, I see no reason to change.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Nene's brief absence in Game 1 had to be scary for the Nuggets, but the rumblings about Arron Afflalo missing more time is the real killer. Unwise as it is to draw conclusions from one game, Denver definitely left you with the impression that its health issues are going to be harder to overcome than OKC's concerns about the offensive demands on Durant and Westbrook.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Riveting basketball between two of the league's most engaging teams. I think we're already starting to see some of the themes of the series appear: Durant and Westbrook's coexistence/clash, a weaponized Nene, the contributions of OKC's bench, Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton as dual initiators of Denver's offense, etc. I'd expect highly competitive basketball the rest of the way, but I still see Game 1's losers becoming the series' eventual winners. Nuggets in six.
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: The Nuggets and Thunder are very evenly matched -- and wildly fun -- teams. More than any other first-round series, this has the potential to go seven games. The difference will be Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook: In offensive ruts or late-game situations, the Thunder know to whom to look for a basket. As Denver showed Sunday, its pecking order isn't so defined. Denver still has enough depth to win some games, but not the whole series.
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