The first round of the playoffs is winding down with only a few series left to decide. The Five-Man Weave crew takes a look around the Association, discussing the hot topics from the first few weeks of the post-season.
1. Which team should be more worried - Knicks or Thunder?
Josh Lewenberg: OKC should be worried. Not necessarily about the Rockets/round one but the challenge that awaits them should they advance. The old saying, "you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone", rings true here. Offensively the Thunder have been a one-man show without Russell Westbrook, defensively they've fallen off a cliff. Their defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) has gone from an impressive 86.1 with Westbrook in Games 1-2 to 108.2 without him in the previous three contests. Life without Russ won't get any easier. They'll have to tighten things up on D and give KD a hand to avoid an early exit.
Will Strickland: Equally nervous. For OKC, the narratives are so strong here: a former son looking to prove himself worthy in James Harden, a supernova landscaping kit involuntarily offered to Kevin Durant by Russell Westbrook's injury and a journeyman guard who was playing in Russia not long ago being a catalyst in what could be one of the biggest upsets in NBA history. Regardless of outcome, soul searching happens in OKC, especially for Sam Presti. There WILL BE questions about Scott Brooks' leadership and regression in this team and whispers about one Kevin Wayne Durant, who is tired of being # 2 may feel like it literally and figuratively if they don't get it done. The Knicks, the oldest team in league, may also be its most immature. Gotta question "logic" of leadership when you follow a fake Timmy TuphGuy move from a man in Kenyon Martin who had to beg and cry his way onto an NBA roster this season then not own his assclownery after the game. No Bueno!
Tim Chisholm: Oklahoma City. WIthout Westbrook their offence has devolved into a series of one-on-one isolation plays, which doesn't work when the only fearsome offensive player on the club is Kevin Durant. There just isn't the movement and spacing around him to run an effective system. More worrisome, though, has been the total collapse of their defence. New York looked a little out of sorts, but OKC has looked lost.
Duane Watson: New York, at least the Thunder had an excuse losing Russell Westbrook during the series. While the Celtics are a tough playoff team the Knicks had an opportunity to close them out and didn't. Boston's veterans have finally showed up and if Melo's shot continues to abandon him, they may have real reason for concern. New York will take the series, but they haven't put fear into anyone with their performance thus far.
Mitch Ward: New York. Oklahoma City is still figuring out life sans Russell Westbrook. They'll get it, and James Harden won't hit his first seven threes again. The Knicks, on the other hand, have some serious worries as Melo and J.R. Smith have gone cold while Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have stepped up.
2. Who has the edge for Game 7 between the Bulls and Nets?
Lewenberg: Brooklyn. From 1-10, how confident am I in that selection? I'd say, six. For lack of a more decisive factor I have to side with momentum, which favours the hosting Brooklyn Nets. It would be foolish to count out the resilient, brilliantly coached Bulls but you have to wonder, how much more blood can Tom Thibodeau squeeze from this stone? With less talent Chicago has fought through injuries and illness throughout the series but it appears they may have finally run out of gas.
Strickland: Brooklyn won an ugly nip and tuck battle to force a trip back to Barclays for Game 7. Kirk Hinrich's injury to his calf is key to the Bulls' success or failure here. In a phrase that may never be uttered or typed again: No Hinrich. No Win. Bulls Nathaniel Cornelius Robinson has been electric in this series, even in his own version of The Flu Game in Game 6. If Chicago wins, they may get one character victory vs Miami, but that's it. Miami should have ample time to rest for the Eastern Conference Finals, but a great deal of that will depend on Dwyane Wade's health.
Chisholm: Brooklyn has recovered somewhat in this series, and Chicago is so beat up that they have to be feeling that this just isn't their year. Chicago has gotten a lot out of their grit and toughness, but with so many injuries hampering the team they just don't appear to have the reservoir of talent to knockout Brooklyn. That said, it's proven unwise to bet against Tom Thibodeau.
Watson: I still feel Chicago will win this series, however the Bulls are in no shape to challenge the Miami Heat. While Nate Robinson has done an admirable job, he backs up Kirk Hinrich (who has been hurt), who backs up Derrick Rose, who has been injured. Throwing role players to the wolves that are the current NBA Champions, will make it a quick and painless series. Derrick Rose should send LeBron a thank you letter, as people can stop the harassment and he can focus on next season.
Ward: I'm sticking with my pick of the Bulls. They just seem to want it more. Despite all their injuries and ill-health they look like they are fighting harder. I think that will to win will see them through. Having Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng back in the lineup would help too.
3. Which star point guard will be a bigger factor in the Spurs-Warriors series - Steph Curry or Tony Parker?
Lewenberg: Steph Curry is the decisive factor. Parker is the best player in this series but Curry will be the most important. Once again the Warriors are underdogs, a role they're familiar with, and their fate rests squarely on the shoulders (and ankles) of their point guard. When Curry is healthy and playing at the top of his game he instantly changes the complexion of the game. However, this is uncharted territory for Steph and the Spurs have had time to zero in on the 25-year-old. He'll be relied on more as a point guard and less as a shooter, especially late in games where execution eluded Golden State in round one.
Strickland: The brilliance of Steph Curry, Mark Jackson, the venue affectionately known as "Roar-acle" and the appearance of "David Willis Reed Lee" in Game 6 was enough to close Denver, sending them to their 9th first round playoff loss in 10 years. The Nuggets were supposed to be the team NO ONE wanted to face in the first round... except Golden State, who will have their hands full with the veteran savvy and experience of the rested San Antonio Spurs. Curry pretty much had his way with Denver's Ty Lawson. His success vs Tony Parker, Cory Joseph, Nando De Colo and maybe even Kahwi Leonard will determine any notion of real success against the Spurs.
Chisholm: Steph Curry. He has been the story this postseason (at least the story that hasn't been injury related) and he has that kind of 'oh no he didn't' shot-making ability to really throw a wrench into an opposition's defence. Parker didn't have to be the Parker of old to beat the Lakers, but Curry will be a big factor at the other end, too, as he's hardly known as a defensive stopper in Golden State's system.
Watson: A Parker/Curry match up will be exciting to watch, and while I'm cautious to speculate who will win in that regard (they're both not 100%), ultimately, the depth of the Spurs will be too much for the Warriors to handle.
Ward: Tony Parker. This will be a fun matchup to watch but ultimately Tony Parker's playoff experience will shine through. Steph Curry is quickly becoming an elite point guard but Tony Parker remains the best player in this series and has a huge impact on the game.
4. Whose injury has had the biggest impact on the playoffs?
Lewenberg: Russell Westbrook. We're just two weeks in and a plethora of significant injuries have already diluted the postseason product. None of them rocked the current NBA landscape quite like Westbrook, a top 6-7 player, on a team with legitimate title aspirations. Rose would be a not-so-close second in this debate because his Bulls are the East's second best team if he's healthy. However, the Bulls (Rose), Celtics (Rondo), Warriors (Lee) and Lakers (Kobe) were all underdogs when the playoffs began. OKC, the one seed and reigning Western Conference champs, had the most to lose. Advantage Spurs.
Strickland: Kobe. Though LA struggled to get to playoffs, Kobe played like he knew he'd make good on his guarantee. With two of San Antonio's best players dinged and nicked as the team limped into the playoffs, there was an outside, albeit slim chance that the Lakers could challenge the Spurs and stretch them to seven games. We all know how well that went, right Dwight?
Chisholm: Westbrook above all. The Thunder were a legit threat to get to the Finals, and while Miami would still have been favoured, once you get into a seven game series with the two best players in the game squaring off you can never say for certain that one side will definitely prevail. Without Westbrook, though, the Thunder are struggling to oust Houston and have next to no shot to make it out of the West, which makes this little more than a wasted season in Oklahoma City.
Watson: Westbrook. The Thunder had a ticket punched for a rematch with the Heat in the NBA Finals. Without their second best player, Durant has had to do the heavy lifting, which he has, but his other teammates haven't done much to affect the game. They'll get past the Rockets, but won't make it out of the Western Conference and for a team that was expected to challenge for the title again, that is a big deal.
Ward: Westbrook is the easy answer and if the Thunder end up getting bounced before the Western Conference Finals then I'll have to eat my words and say it was him. However, right now I'm going with Derrick Rose. With him, the Bulls are the second best team in the East hands down. I don't think they would beat the Heat but I think they could push them for 6 or 7 games and maybe wear them down physically (I'm looking at you Dwyane Wade's knees). That happens and a title becomes a much more realistic bet for whoever comes out of the West. Alas, with no Rose to worry about, Miami cruises into the Finals with ease.
5. Where should Dwight Howard play next season?
Lewenberg: In Toronto with Phil Jackson? Jokes aside, if he can't join forces with Chris Paul – the best point guard on the planet – in Dallas or Atlanta he should stick it out in Los Angeles.
Strickland: The WNBA, where he'll get all the touches he wants... HEY NOW! #iKid #iKid #iJoke #iJoke. Slippery slope here for D12. While not wanting to be seen as flighty (too late) and bounce to another team like Houston, who seems to be the front runner, the glare of the LA lights, big man history/legacy and title banners seem to be too much for Dwight Howard to bear.
Chisholm: Los Angeles. With the Lakers. He's become the NBA's biggest diva, he might as well set up shop where all of the rest of those show business phones.
Watson: I could really care less. Howard's antics over the past two seasons have done nothing but turn my stomach. I would sincerely question wast type of performance he will deliver next year and question his commitment to the game.
Ward: As long as he doesn't hold any team hostage over the summer, I don't particularly care where he ends up. The Lakers make the most sense to me. Then again, not much that D-12 does these days makes much sense to me so what do I know?
The Five-Man Weave is made up of TSN.ca Raptors blogger Tim Chisholm ( @timpchisholm), TSN Radio 1050 Raptors reporter Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050), Duane Watson (@sweetswatson) and Will Strickland (@WallStrizzle1) from TSN Radio 1050's 1-on-1 with Will and Duane, and TSN.ca NBA Editor Mitch Ward (@jmitchw).