The best in the East and the best in the West are both through, with Cleveland and Golden State having swept Boston and New Orleans respectively.
The Warriors triumph was not without struggles and they overcame significant deficits on the road to close out the series and give their stars a full week of rest ahead of their second round series against, most likely, Memphis.
The Cavs also enjoy a week of rest, but their victory came at a significant cost with the dislocation of Kevin Love’s shoulder in this tussle with Boston’s Kelly Olynyk.
Now, most of us have played basketball at some level and understand that grappling along these lines is common in the game. If you’ve played at a higher level, perhaps in college in the US or for North Star, then you understand even better. It seems far-fetched to assume a player is going to deliberately injure another player, particularly in such a severe way as to put their career in jeopardy.
Anyway, it wasn’t that long ago that the two were close friends:
Cleveland can probably still win the East, even without Love. They have only ruled Love out for the next round, but the severity of the dislocation, with the inherent damage to the joint, and the necessity of a fully functional shoulder to compete (particularly on defense) in the NBA playoffs, will surely see Love sit the remainder of the season. At a stretch, one could imagine him returning during the Finals, should the Cavs get there.
In front of them seemed to be the Chicago Bulls, but the Bulls just cannot put the Milwaukee Bucks away. A game four loss thanks to Derrick Rose’s terrible defense on Jerryd Bayless was followed up by more Rose problems late in game five. The Bulls are another team that could well use some rest, even if they do have match-ups that will trouble Cleveland: Butler vs LeBron and Rose vs Kyrie both particularly interesting potential battles for this as-yet-hypothetical series.
In the upper half of the Eastern bracket (because everything is done in brackets now), the Atlanta Hawks are somehow even with the Brooklyn Nets after a couple of disappointing losses in games three and four. In game three, the sharp-shooters were blunt and the Nets were led by Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, with Joe Johnson also contributing heavily before Deron Williams gave a throwback performance in game four, scoring 35 and looking a bit more like the guy the Nets gave a $100m contract to back in 2012.
The Washington Wizards shocked many pundits by sweeping the Toronto Raptors and, frankly, it wasn’t even that close, with the Wiz closing out the series in a 31 point victory. They will definitely fancy their chances against whichever side comes through the war of attrition that is becoming the Hawks-Nets series.
Out West, Memphis lead Portland 3-1 after Portland took game four last night, and Houston also holds a 3-1 advantage over Dallas. The Grizzlies will miss Mike Conley for a while after the point guard underwent facial surgery. One has to anticipate that, unless Memphis loses game five, Conley will rest for a week. If the Grizz lose, one would certainly expect Conley to mask-up and fight through the pain.
Tonight, the Rockets and Mavericks square off in game five with the Rockets fans who took brooms to Dallas on Sunday perhaps feeling a little foolish after watching J.J. Barea torch the visiting side. A throwback Dirk performance also helped Dallas to a comfortable victory. The Rockets, as much as it pains me to acknowledge, are frankly awful tactically. Several sources within the NBA have commented on how easy the Rockets are to prepare for, with little in-game strategy beyond “give the ball to James Harden and react/shoot a ton of threes/lob the ball to Dwight Howard and Josh Smith”. These are ideas a six-year-old could have come up with and make the contract extension given to Kevin McHale all the more surprising. This strategy was, of course, good enough for the 2 seed in the West, no mean feat, but will surely not be enough should the Rockets get past Dallas and face off against one of the favorites out West in the Clippers or Spurs. Especially because the Rockets are one of the few teams that the game-killing hack-a-strategy actually works against.
The LA-SA series is all-square at 2-2 and is incredibly hard to call at the moment. I, like many, thought the Spurs might be a good bet for the title, after their late season run of eleven straight wins, but the Clippers, in particular Chris Paul, are giving them all they can handle. The Spurs badly need Manu Ginobili to recapture his old magic to ensure their progression. Even if this series goes seven, one has to imagine either side will have too much for Houston or, less likely but not inconceivable, Dallas.