Each and every second round series in the NBA Playoffs has produced a split of the first two games. The Five-Man Weave crew takes a look at which teams have the advantage going forward as best-of-seven becomes best-of-five and home court advantage shifts to the underdogs.
1. Oklahoma City vs Memphis Grizzlies - who wins and how many games?
Tim Chisholm: Memphis in 6. While Kevin Durant has been terrific acting as a one-man show since Westbrook's injury, Memphis is too good a defensive team to not adapt to what OKC is trying to run, and at the end of the day the Grizzlies simply have more that they can throw at the Thunder than the Thunder have that they can throw at the Grizzlies. It'll be a fun, competitive series, but I gotta give this one to Memphis.
Duane Watson: This series could have easily been the Western Conference Finals. How different would this be if Russell Westbrook was healthy? But he's not and Mike Conley is emerging as a top-level point guard in the NBA. The Grizz stole one in OKC and their defensive, grindhouse basketball in addition to their overall balance on the squad is too much for a Thunder squad that has gotten by for a while on the mere talent of Durant and Westbrook. They will continue to be outcoached and outplayed and fall to Memphis in six games.
Josh Lewenberg: Thunder in 7. Generally the NBA playoffs are about two things: star power and defence. That's what wins at this time of the year and that's precisely what makes this series – even without Russell Westbrook – so intriguing. Both teams were among the top four in defensive efficiency during the regular season but neither club has been especially imposing in the playoffs, where they rank in the middle of the pack in that category. Ultimately, Kevin Durant could and should be the difference maker in close games… and for the record, I expect this series to produce seven closely contested games.
Mitch Ward: I'm sticking to my guns and saying Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant is just that good. It's a gven that he is going to perform, so as long as Kevin Martin doesn't continue to pull complete disappearing acts (2-for-11 field goals and six points in Game 2 and OKC nearly still won) and Serge Ibaka steps up at least a little, I think this team should reach the Western Conference Finals. Durant doesn't need much help, but he still needs some. Thunder in 6.
Will Strickland: Griz in 6. Mike Conley has made the leap in these playoffs, slaying Chris Paul in the first round. With no Russell Westbrook to contend with, Conley may have just become the closer the Grizzlies need vs OKC and that's said with utmost respect to Zack Randolph and Marc Gasol.
2. San Antonio vs Golden State - who wins and how many games?
Chisholm: San Antonio in 7. The Warriors are the darlings of these NBA Playoffs and for good reason, but they are prone to late-game collapses and they cannot be assured of such torrid shooting from their backcourt all series long. San Antonio came into this series forcing Golden State into taking bad shots and the Warriors have simply hit them. It says here that the Spurs adjust to that reality and make it a lot harder for the Warriors to get space on their mid-range and long-range game.
Watson: From the outset, I pegged the Spurs with their experience and depth to be too much for the young lions of Golden State, but the Splash Brothers - Steph Curry and Klay Thompson - are a match-up nightmare, averaging 44 points ppg between them in the Playoffs. Head Coach Mark Jackson has done an incredible job of motivating his team and getting the most out of his bench. He is also benefitting from the timely resurrection of Andrew Bogut. They almost won both games and are returning to the comfort of home. I like the W's in 6... not that I'm flip-flopping or anything.
Lewenberg: Spurs in 6. Throughout the regular season, Raptors coach Dwane Casey reminded us how difficult it can be for an inexperienced team to close out games. It's especially difficult against elite, veteran competition in the playoffs. The Warriors are a talented young group paced by a point guard, in Steph Curry, who has proven to be a nightmare for opposing defences. To win this series they'll have to execute down the stretch, something they've failed to do despite all their postseason success. They were remarkably fortunate to get away with a series of late-game lapses against the Nuggets but the Popovich-led Spurs are a different animal, evident in the Game 1 thriller.
Ward: Golden State in 6. In each of the first two games, the Warriors have raced out to huge leads over the Spurs... in San Antonio! If not for a defensive meltdown in the final minutes of Game 1 and a complete zero to hero turn from Manu Ginobili, this series would be headed back to the Oracle 2-0 for Golden State. I think the Warriors defend home court, lose in San Antonio for Game 5 and then clinch at home.
Strickland: Can't believe I'm saying this... kinda, but... Golden State in 7. The Splash Brothers, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, are the engine that drive this high-powered sports car, but the presence of the former Human Injured Reserve List, Andrew Bogut, has been and will be vital to the Warriors taking that step toward the Western Conference Finals. Golden's State serious... They are more than Kid & Klaying!
3. Miami vs Chicago - who wins and how many games?
Chisholm: Miami in 5. Chicago caught Miami out of rhythm and out of character in Game 1, and they should be commended for that, but, as Game 2 demonstrated, the Heat are capable of operating on a different level from Chicago simply by virtue of the fact that they are healthier and possess the greatest player of his generation. Chicago will do all they can to leave Miami bruised and battered, but they won't get another win off of them in these Playoffs.
Watson: Derrick Rose is not walking through that door! But if he is, he won't be a difference maker. You can't miss the entire regular season and expect to be effective jumping back into the Playoffs, against the Heat no less. The game 1 defeat woke up LeBron and company, whom I expect to put a beating on the Bulls for the rest of the season, despite the heroic efforts of Noah, Robinson and Belinelli. Miami will take this in 5 games.
Lewenberg: Heat in 6. For 48 hours Miami trailed in a best-of-seven series. For 48 hours we experienced what it might feel like to have parity restored in our beloved NBA. It was a magical time. Then the Heat had to go and ruin it, crushing Chicago to the tune of a 115-78 Game 2 victory. Give the Bulls credit, they're resilient and could conceivably steal another game against the defending champs. However, the reality has not changed. On occasion Miami is beatable, but in a seven-game series… I just don't see them going down.
Ward: Heat in 6. Game 2 proved that the Heat are simply too much better than the Bulls for Chicago to have a realistic shot in this series, even if they did shock the Heat in Game 1. I'll give the Bulls credit for one more gutsy win at home, but even that's pretty unlikely. Too bad, I was really starting to enjoy the Nate Robinson takeover show.
Strickland: Heat in 5.
4. New York vs Indiana - who wins and how many games?
Chisholm: Indiana in 7. This is a tight series played by two teams with vastly different styles. The ultimate issue I see facing New York is that they generally need J.R. Smith to be on his game consistently if they want to take a best-of-seven series, and he still looks out of sorts since his one-game suspension in round one. Plus, if Amar'e Stoudemire comes back as anticipated, it is just as likely that he throws the team's rhythm into disarray and further weakens the team's defensive stopping power.
Watson: Carmelo Anthony has to continue to keep shooting the ball well and sharing it if the Knicks have a chance to win this series. The same could be said for David West and Paul George on the Pacers side, as they go down, so does their squad. Amar'e returns to the line-up in Game 3, but he won't be much of a difference maker at this point. This series has become a bit of Jekyll & Hyde, with teams playing great from one and poorly to the next. Indiana hasn't been playing like the team that was challenging in the playoffs this time last year, so it will be Knicks in 7.
Lewenberg: Pacers in 7. Two teams, two contrasting styles. The Pacers are a big, physical, defensive oriented club while the Knicks play a boom or bust style of basketball, launching from long range and relying heavily on a great, albeit inefficient scorer. Although postseason play tends to favour Indiana's more dependable brand of basketball, the Pacers' propensity for offensive lapses (see Tuesday's fourth quarter collapse) opens the door for Melo and company. Despite the expected return of Amar'e – who should be limited in terms of playing time and production – New York's fate rests on Melo's shoulders. 39 per cent shooting won't get the job done.
Ward: This is pretty much a toss-up for me. If the Knicks shooters can get (and stay) hot, they have the edge. But as they say, if you live by the three, you die by the three. If the Knicks go cold, the Pacers physicality can take over. Ultimately I see this series going the distance with Indiana eventually wearing down the Knicks. Pacers in 7.
Strickland: New York in 7 tough games. Melo has to show and prove with a floundering Earl Smith, Jr. and will finally get his team to the Eastern Conference Finals with the oldest team in NBA history to face Miami. Joy!
5. Who has been the playoffs MVP thus far?
Chisholm: There is no doubt that the chic answer is breakout star Stephen Curry, who has burst onto the scene in a very loud fashion. He is scoring better, and more efficiently, than he did in the regular season. He's passing the ball better and he's proven to be the kind of player that opposing teams not only need to account for, but gear their defences toward stopping because traditional schemes don't account for his range or brazen shot selection.
Watson: He's averaging 33.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg and 6.4 apg. No, it's not LeBron James, but Kevin Durant who has single-highhandedly carried the Thunder through the playoffs. Durant has done everything to make up for the loss of injured guard Russell Westbrook, filling the stat sheet and making clutch baskets, unfortunately it won't be enough to get the Thunder back to the NBA Finals.
Lewenberg: Kevin Durant. Just because we expected this level of performance from KD after Westbrook went down doesn't make it any less impressive. Serge Ibaka has been a disappointment, Kevin Martin has produced inconsistently and Kendrick Perkins has become a punch line. All the while Durant has carried OKC in basically every way imaginable. His rebound rate is up, his assist percentage is higher than ever (regular season and playoffs) and he's still scoring with efficiency despite the increase in attempts with Westbrook sidelined. The Thunder will go as far as KD takes them… this is where he proves his worth.
Ward: Kevin Durant. In the absence of the Robin to his Batman, Durant has put the Thunder on his back. The fact that the Thunder could lose one of the top-15 best players in the NBA and still be a legitimate contender in the playoffs speaks to just how good Durant is. His averages for the six games since Westbrook went down are just ridiculous: 35.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists. Ridiculous.
Strickland: Steph Curry is must-see TV right now. His ability to create and score in a myriad of ways is almost disheartening for the Spurs trying to guard a man who looks like he should be playing in their kids' middle school hoops tournaments. Nate Robinson is in the convo, especially with what he and the Bulls have done with spare parts and Carlos Boozer, but... Kevin Durant is on that radar as well. He alone will not be enough to overcome the Grizzlies. Gotta love this game!!!
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).