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Monday, April 21, 2014
Biggest threat to Heat in East now?

ESPN.com

George, DeRozan, Noah
Indiana, Toronto and Chicago have each lost home-court advantage. How concerned should they be?

The Eastern Conference playoffs were turned upside down over the weekend, with three of the top four seeds suffering home defeats in Game 1. How concerned should the Pacers, Raptors and Bulls be? Who is the biggest threat to the Heat in the East now? Let's debate!


1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how concerned should the Pacers be?


Israel Gutierrez, ESPN.com: 10. Because it's so difficult to tell exactly where the biggest problem is. Is it Roy Hibbert's lack of effectiveness? Is it Paul George and Lance Stephenson not encouraging ball movement? Is it passive play from George Hill? Is it off-the-court chemistry that's a problem? Does Frank Vogel have an answer? I mean, when you've got this many potential issues, I'd say concern should be at the highest level possible.

James Herbert, TrueHoop Network: 9. Really, the Pacers should be way past concerned. They lost their mojo a couple of months ago, and the Hawks are a terrible matchup for them. Indiana's way too talented to be playing this poorly, but there haven't been any encouraging signs here. If the Pacers are really a championship team, they should be dominating Atlanta.

David Thorpe, ESPN Insider: 10. Their next three games seem like do-or-die ones. Their team is close to panic level, and only a 3-1 lead heading back to Indy for Game 5 will settle their collective nerves.

Michael Wallace, Heat Index: 8. This is not just a slump or a funk the Pacers have been in recently. These struggles are starting to redefine exactly what they are as a team. I'm not sure I even remember the Indiana team that dominated the first half of the regular season. The players, for the most part, are the same. But the psyche is completely different. They're in an identity crisis.

Kyle Weidie, Truth About It: 7. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the Pacers, who seem to be under a mysterious, unspoken spell that has kicked open the window of wild speculation. That said, it's not worthy of 10-alarm concern just yet. While the Hawks have seemingly had their number, it's easier to adjust against the same opponent over a series. The reality could be that Paul George and Roy Hibbert are not as experienced as perceived, but they've acted like veterans before.


2. On a scale of 1 to 10, how concerned should the Raptors be?


Gutierrez: 7. The Raptors' best chance in this series is to make the Nets run, but Toronto, despite its athleticism on the wings, is one of the least productive teams in transition. However, if the Raptors can get a better performance from DeMar DeRozan -- he's not the most efficient shooter, but he is top-10 in terms of points scored off jump shots -- they'll realize they have a chance against Brooklyn.

Herbert: 4. Dropping Game 1 at home was not ideal, but there's still a good chance this will be a long series. Toronto came close the first time out, despite three starters contributing next to nothing. It just can't afford to lose the next one.

Thorpe: 8. These are very even teams, and Toronto knows it can get hot and win a few straight, just as it knows Brooklyn can do the same. I think the Raptors' "underdog" mindset -- because of their lack of playoff experience against a team with so much experience -- will help them avoid the extra pressure often associated with potential "upsets."

Wallace: 5. This is a team that doesn't have much playoff experience, outside of a couple of veterans who gained it elsewhere. The savvy Nets are a tough draw, even if they played well short of their best game in the series opener. If the Raptors can get back to playing at their pace and with the balance we've come to know, they should recover in Game 2.

Weidie: 6. The Raptors are a darn good team. If they can shed the "happy to be here" stigma and kick the playoff jitters to the curb, there's no reason they can't cut down on the 17 turnovers from Game 1 and punch Brooklyn back in the mouth. Age catches up to humans at random times in mysterious ways -- if Toronto can prove it has the better bench (which it does), its youthful legs should be able to win one at home and steal one in Brooklyn to tie the series up heading into Game 5.


3. On a scale of 1 to 10, how concerned should the Bulls be?


Gutierrez: 6. If there's one certainty in this first round, it's this: The Bulls, having lost Game 1 and Joakim Noah being awarded defensive player of the year since that loss, will play as ferocious a defense as you will see in these playoffs in Game 2. If that translates into a Bulls win, then Chicago knows it can recover. If the Wiz win anyway, the Bulls are toast.

Herbert: 5. It's never good to relinquish home-court advantage right away, but these resilient Bulls know better than to panic. They're going to need to figure out some easier ways to score against Washington, though.

Thorpe: 10. "Concern" is always relative -- and in this case, the Bulls were at a concern level of 10 before Game 1 because they always knew how good the Wizards were when healthy, as Washington is now. The Wizards' size and skill inside can not be schemed up easily, so it will be a factor at all times.

Wallace: 7. The Wizards are for real, folks. (I picked them to win this series.) They can score from every position on the floor and proved in Game 1 that they could survive and win on a night when John Wall and Bradley Beal weren't necessarily on top of their games

Weidie: 5. I think the Bulls knew exactly what type of threat the Wizards were going to be in this series. Thus, the loss in Game 1 probably hasn't raised the panic levels inside Chicago's locker room that much, as they are good at converting any nerves into defensive energy against opponents. That said, if Tom Thibodeau adjusts to compensate for Washington's size advantage imposed in Game 1, then the Wizards' perimeter players might shoot the lights out in Game 2, at which point the level of concern will rise like sounds from the scratchy frogs that inhabit Thibodeau's throat.


4. Which lower seed in the East has the best chance to advance?


Gutierrez: Nets. They're the only lower seed that doesn't feel like an underdog. And after withstanding that emotional scene in Toronto to kick off the postseason, the Nets have to be extremely confident about their chances.

Herbert: Wizards. They are simply more talented than the Bulls. Washington stole a road win and should get much more out of its backcourt going forward. Every Chicago possession is a slog.

Thorpe: Nets. I think Brooklyn has the best chance, just because they are not facing Tom Thibodeau and Joakim Noah. 

Wallace: Very, very tough one. All signs point to that team being the Atlanta Hawks. But I believe the Pacers will eventually get back on their feet and do enough to win this series. I really love the Wizards' chances against the Bulls, but it's tough to count out such a prideful Chicago team. So I'll go with the Nets pulling the 6-3 upset against the seemingly just-happy-to-be-there Raptors.

Weidie: The Wizards might be the safe pick, seeing as the discrepancy between the 4- and 5-seeds over the years has been relatively minimal (since 2003-04, the 4-seed has won 53 percent of the games played between the seeds). I don't see the Raptors wilting under inexperience against the Nets as some might expect, so if John Wall's budding stardom rises to the playoff occasion, he could be the one difference-maker other lower seeds do not possess.


5. Which team in the East is the biggest threat to the Heat now?


Gutierrez: Currently, it looks like Brooklyn. But ask that question again after the first round is over, and it could be any number of different answers. If the Bulls recover well, it may be Chicago. If Indiana rebounds (finally), then it'll be the Pacers. If Washington runs through Chicago, it could be a Wizards team that trounced Miami twice in Washington. It's still too soon to say definitively.

Herbert: This will sound crazy, but it's still Indiana. While Brooklyn swept Miami in the regular season, the Pacers' defense presents problems for the Heat unlike any other team. It's just a question of whether or not they can get to the conference finals.

Thorpe: Too hard to tell at this point. The Wizards have size and athleticism, two valuable strengths to beat Miami, but it's still 50-50 they get past the Bulls. I don't care that the Nets beat Miami all four times this season, but I do care that they have talented veterans and some level of confidence that they can win the series. I still see either team beating Miami as a severe long shot, though.

Wallace: The Nets are the more immediate threat, simply because they went 4-0 against Miami in the regular season in four close games and could face the Heat in the very next round. But if the Pacers can get through their side of the bracket, they will certainly have regained enough confidence and rhythm to present the same potential headaches they always have against LeBron James and crew.

Weidie: Nets, if only because they volunteered to be a threat to the Heat by purportedly losing games down the stretch in order to match up against Toronto instead of the Bulls (and thus also placing themselves in Miami's side of the bracket). Plus, we can presume that, via Russian billionaire technology, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are driving hybrids now instead of gas-guzzlers from the past. If they continue to pay the electric bill, then Brooklyn's threat level will continue to rise.