Game 6s: Nets, Mavs, Rockets done?
The Pacers, Thunder and Warriors all forced Game 7s on Thursday night. Can the Nets, Mavericks and Rockets do the same, or will their seasons end tonight?
Our panel breaks down tonight's tripleheader on ESPN and ESPN2.
1. Fact or Fiction: The Nets will be eliminated in Game 6.
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Insider: Fiction. The upside of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett sitting for most of Game 5? They'll be fresher for Game 6. Playing on their home floor in front of a crowd that has done its homework, I expect this one to go seven. This series has been a seesaw battle and I don't see Pierce and Garnett going quietly like they did in Game 5.
Tim MacMahon, ESPN Dallas: Fact. This series comes down to Deron Williams versus Kyle Lowry. The point guard who has the huge contract is getting outplayed by the point guard who hopes to cash in this summer. Lowry will lead the Raptors into the second round, ending the franchise's 13-year playoff series win drought.
Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: Fiction. This series is destined to go the distance with the veteran (old) Nets trying to fight off the upstart Raptors of the North. The home crowd in Brooklyn should have something to say, but more important is Toronto's lack of offense on the road in this series. The pace is slower in Brooklyn and it's hurt the Raptors' attack.
Michael Wallace, Heat Index: Fiction. If Joe Johnson and Deron Williams can find any way to carry over their passion and play from the fourth quarter of Game 5, then the Nets will survive to at least force Game 7. If they can't win a major playoff game on their own court against the Raptors, then the offseason makeover was an epic fail.
Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN New York: Fiction. Brooklyn knows something about stunning turnarounds, changing its fortunes after a 10-21 start. Jason Kidd planted the seed for more favorable calls, and it's hard seeing Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett going out without a fight. The Nets' vast wealth of playoff experience should be able to force a Game 7.
2. Fact or Fiction: The Mavs will be eliminated in Game 6.
Haberstroh: Fact. I'm surprised the Mavs have lasted this long, but Rick Carlisle has been coaching his tail off in this series. The Spurs' bench actually showed some life in Game 5, which bodes well for them, and I think we'll finally see a throwback 48 minutes of hell performance from the Spurs. Although Dirk Nowitzki going for 40 wouldn't surprise me at all. He's been quietly playing at sub-Dirk levels.
MacMahon: Fiction. Dirk Nowitzki historically is at his best when the Mavs' backs are against the wall. He averages 28.9 points per elimination game, ranking behind only LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Allen Iverson and Jerry West in NBA history. He's been even better in do-or-die games against the Spurs, averaging 31.4 points while leading the Mavs to a 3-2 record in such situations.
McNeill: Fact. Tentatively, I'm going to say this surprisingly fun series ends tonight. San Antonio has improved in each game in this series, and Wednesday night it looked like the Spurs had clearly figured out how to attack the Mavericks. Dallas will put up a great fight, but I ultimately see the Spurs advancing in Game 6.
Wallace: Fiction. Maybe I'm leaning this way simply because I want every possible series to go to seven games. But we've seen that Dallas is completely capable of creating serious matchup problems for San Antonio in many areas. But more than anything, it's time for Dirk Nowitzki to step up and have a true Dirk-type performance.
Youngmisuk: Fiction. San Antonio would benefit greatly by finishing the series and getting some extra rest for its vets. But Game 7s are all the rage right now in this first round of the NBA playoffs, so Dirk and Vince will add another one to the mix.
3. Fact or Fiction: The Rockets will be eliminated in Game 6.
Haberstroh: Fact. These two teams are so evenly matched, it's going to come down to home-court advantage, playing at the Rose Gar -- er, Moda Center. LaMarcus Aldridge was plagued by foul trouble in Game 5, and I don't see the Portland bench giving them zilch again. As much as this series deserves a Game 7, I don't see the Blazers blowing this opportunity.
MacMahon: Fact. Why not pick the two longest playoff-series victory droughts to end on the same night? The Blazers haven't advanced to the second round since 2000, but that will change with LaMarcus Aldridge having a big bounce-back performance after his Game 5 dud.
McNeill: Fact. Despite Houston's numbers being better on the road in this series, this series ends at the Moda Center. Both teams' defenses have been abysmal in the Rose City this series, and whichever team's D comes to play tonight will win. I think that will be Portland's.
Wallace: Fact. Unlike the Hawks and Grizzlies last night, the Trail Blazers won't squander this opportunity at home. Their balance, depth and health at this stage of the series will be enough to overwhelm Houston. Linsanity, as much of a pleasant surprise as it was in Game 5, won't save the Rockets this time. If there's any truth to the adage that role players perform better in big games at home, all signs point to Portland finally putting this series to rest.
Youngmisuk: Fiction. Let's keep the Game 7 trend going. Blazers fans will have the place rocking, but the Rockets have the firepower to subdue the hostile crowd. Harden and Howard find a way to force a Game 7 and shift the series from Rip City to Clutch City.
4. Fact or Fiction: The Heat will be rooting for the Raptors on Friday night.
Haberstroh: Fact, but they probably shouldn't. The names on the back of the Nets jerseys may conjure up some bad memories for the Heat, but I'm not sure Pierce and Garnett will have enough left in the tank to give them a real scare. The Raptors are the better team and better built to last with their youth.
MacMahon: Fiction. Perhaps some Miami players are rooting against the Nets due to some personal rivalries, but the Heat don't fear anyone. A healthy Miami team should march to the Finals no matter who they face in the East, regardless of what the regular-season results might suggest.
McNeill: Fact. And not because the Heat are scared of the Nets. How can you not root for this Raptors team? They're simultaneously playing well and happy to be there, and the fan base stepped its game up for the playoffs as well. I mean, come on: They had a tifo for Game 1 that said "We the North." Keep doing your thing, Toronto.
Wallace: Fact. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have too much competitive pride to do so publicly. But they know the Raptors present the more favorable matchup, considering the Nets' 4-0 record against the Heat this season. Miami just swept the Bobcats, an opponent it has beaten 20 straight times. It would be a welcome sight to next face a Raptors team that has lost 15 in a row against the Heat's Big Three.
Youngmisuk: Fact. Toronto is athletic and Jonas Valanciunas could be a problem for Miami. But while the champs take on all challengers, Miami probably would rather face inexperienced youngsters on this stage for the first time rather than Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. Pierce and Garnett would love to see their rivals in the postseason for perhaps a final time after sweeping Miami 4-0 this season.
5. Fact or Fiction: The winner of the West is playing Friday night.
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Haberstroh: Fact. With Chris Paul ailing and Kevin Durant running on fumes (Game 6 excluded), the Spurs have the best chance to come out alive among the Western title contenders. Although at this point, with how crazy these playoffs have been, the Phoenix Suns could rise from the dead and win the conference and I probably wouldn't blink an eye.
MacMahon: Fiction. Having to grind out a seven-game series against the Grizzlies will be a great thing for the Thunder. OKC, the West's most talented team, will benefit from the experience of responding to the threat of what would have been a catastrophic first-round loss. We'll see the last two MVPs face each other in the Finals.
McNeill: Faction. I'm not going to say for sure that the West champion is playing on Friday night, but I still think -- despite both teams' struggles in the first round -- either the Thunder or Spurs will come out of the West. That said, both teams even making it out of this weekend is still cloudy.
Wallace: Fiction. That's way too early to call. When the dust settles in the West, I believe that the Clippers have a very strong chance to make a statement with their play, especially if they allow themselves to get past the initial difficulty of the Sterling controversy and the feisty Golden State Warriors.
Youngmisuk: Fiction. Only because my pick entering the postseason was Oklahoma City to come out of the West. Of course, I am sure Pop and the Spurs will have something to say about that.