|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2014||[Print without images]|
The Heat and Spurs cruised to Game 1 victories on Tuesday. Will they continue their success Thursday night (ESPN2: Nets-Heat, 7 ET; Blazers-Spurs, 9:30 ET)? Or have their opponents figured out a way to slow them down?
Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes Of Hell: Health. Let's be honest, there's no reason the Heat shouldn't beat the Nets handily in this series, which I expect to be a short one. The only potential pitfall for Miami is the risk of injury. Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier and Chris Andersen all have some sort of injury, health or conditioning concern. Otherwise, they're golden.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: Complacency. Miami has to expect a better effort from Brooklyn, which has had more time to rest and adjust to the Heat. Because of the quick turnaround, Game 1 was a gimme for Miami. The Heat earned it, certainly. But Miami can't expect to get such easy shots the whole series.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: A resurgent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The Nets got a combined eight points on 3-of-10 shooting from the former Celtics, who looked like fossils in Game 1. Pierce had averaged more than 20 against the Heat in the regular season, and Garnett is expected to be a bit more than an active bystander. Depth and versatility are the Nets' strengths, but if they get anything from this duo, they're back in this series with a potential split heading home.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: The Nets' bench showing up. This is supposed to be an advantage for Brooklyn in the series but the Heat, led by a great game from Ray Allen, easily won this category in Game 1. The Nets could also use way more from Pierce and Garnett.
Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN New York: A vintage "Truth" game. The Nets need Paul Pierce to bring some of that past playoff animosity against LeBron James and the Heat and deliver a message early Thursday night with his aggressive play and maybe even a hard foul on King James after the Nets' soft interior play in Game 1.
McNeill: Defense, both theirs and Portland's. On paper the defense is the clear separator between these two teams and that was the case in Game 1. San Antonio's defense was active and prevented Portland from doing much of anything, while the Blazers struggled to keep the Spurs away from their preferred shots on the other end.
Pelton: LaMarcus Aldridge duplicating his second half. It's hard to read much into the Blazers outscoring San Antonio after halftime because the game was already out of hand, but Aldridge's 6-of-8 shooting with eight free throw attempts was a complete turnaround from his inefficient 6-of-17 first half. If Aldridge is as effective and gets the same calls from the opening tip, it opens things up for his teammates.
Wallace: The Blazers regaining their identity and confidence from the Houston series. Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge have to do more to impose their will and skill on the Spurs. And not just offensively. It's on the defensive end where Portland needs to make a series stand and prevent Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard from essentially running a full-court layup line. The Blazers have the length, quickness and athleticism to be disruptive defensively. But do they have the desire to defend consistently?
Windhorst: Their defense slips again. They were spotty in Round 1, and the Blazers are an extremely dangerous offensive team. Get a little sluggish in the rotations and next thing you know, they've nailed five 3-pointers.
Youngmisuk: A monster game from LaMarcus Aldridge, the kind of explosion he had early in the series against Houston. And Damian Lillard must outplay Tony Parker.
McNeill: Complete and utter destruction. I'm talking dilapidated buildings, damsels in distress and shaky camera footage. The basketball court will be his playground on which to unleash fury Thursday night. There's no unexpected hero on Brooklyn's roster, either, so this monster will continue to run amok until he gets bored. Or until Miami is up by 25 in the fourth quarter.
Pelton: To pause the game midway through the first quarter and deliver a speech thanking all his teammates, coaches and family. I can't wait to hear his tribute to Justin Hamilton. No, seriously, I think James mentally conceded this award weeks ago, so I don't think Durant officially getting it changes much in his mind.
Wallace: A strong double-double, somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 points and 11 rebounds. LeBron doesn't expect to average 30 points a game in this series the way he did in sweeping the Bobcats. He knows the Heat need to diversity their offensive portfolio by spreading the ball and the wealth to properly exploit the Nets' defense. But he's committed to attacking the paint and getting to the free throw line. He'll gladly trade the regular-season MVP for one in the Finals if this keeps up for the Heat.
Windhorst: No tears whatsoever. Regret is an emotion LeBron has largely buried. He wanted MVP No. 5 but he's already mourned that loss. All he cares about is Ring No. 3.
Youngmisuk: LeBron barely broke a sweat in Game 1 against the Nets. But Brooklyn will come at the Heat on Thursday night as if its season were on the line, and King James will answer. Thinking something in the neighborhood of 28 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 steals.
McNeill: Sure, I guess. His only real moves this year were signing Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres, and trading Nando de Colo for Austin Daye at the deadline. But this honor is a lifetime achievement award, or at least recognition for not panicking and blowing the roster up several years ago, and instead retooling on the fly to create a deep, balanced team.
Pelton: No. Buford's moves this offseason -- re-signing Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter and signing Marco Belinelli as a free agent -- weren't award-worthy. But that highlights a problem with having it be the NBA Executive of the Year. The best general managers follow their plan for years at a time rather than making drastic changes during a single offseason. And make no mistake, Buford is the best in the business.
Wallace: No. He won it. Give credit where credit is due. But that said, I believe the Spurs' success, beyond the addition of Marco Belinelli, is more a result of coach Gregg Popovich's management style of his aging roster than any specific moves they made from a personnel standpoint. My vote would have gone to Toronto's Masai Ujiri for the success the Raptors had with developing young big man Jonas Valanciunas, trading Rudy Gay and assembling the roster depth to make a surprising run to the No. 3 spot in the East.
Windhorst: R.C. Buford should be Executive of this Century, Pat Riley should be Executive of the Decade and Daryl Morey should be Executive of the Year. People complain about media voting, but on the one award execs vote for, they backstab each other like crazy. It's been a disgrace. Same for fans, we've seen how their All-Star voting goes. Riley not winning it outright in 2010-11 and Morey finishing like 10th this season is total pettiness. This is a career award for Buford, they finally held their noses and gave it to him so they could deny the unpopular Morey.
Youngmisuk: Absolutely. And it's long, long overdue. Considering how the Spurs rest many of their main guys, and suffer some injuries to key guys seemingly every season, San Antonio keeps winning with terrific depth. Obviously Pop has a ton to do with it, but he and Buford always seem to find the right pieces to surround the Big Three with.
McNeill: Heat and Spurs. I expect Portland to rebound from a disappointing Game 1 in San Antonio, but I do think the Spurs will have enough to take the 2-0 lead. Miami should have no problem dispatching the Nets again because, well, it's LeBron James' conference and everyone else is just trying to make it look competitive.
Pelton: I expect much more competitive games, and a chance for the road teams to earn a split heading back home for the weekend. I give Brooklyn the better chance of stealing Game 2 with more rest, because the Nets were close for extended portions of Game 1. Portland was never in Game 1, and even a major turnaround may not be enough to get the Blazers a win in San Antonio.
Wallace: Home teams hold serve, with the Heat and Spurs both taking a 2-0 series lead heading on the road. And I believe both defending conference champions return home next week locked up at 2-2, which means things won't really start to get testy until Game 5s.
Windhorst: All playoff series should be 1-1 after two games by law. Selfishly, I want a compelling round and everyone to be 1-1. So I lean for that. Also, the Nets and Blazers are way better than they showed in Game 1.
Youngmisuk: I can see the Nets rebounding and finding a way to steal Game 2. Pierce has not spoken to the media since after Game 1 and he will try to inject the Nets with the attitude necessary to steal a game in Miami. The Nets were far from their best in Game 1 and they were down only three at the half. Of course, the Heat didn't have to play their best, either, but the Nets have found ways to rebound from bad games. The Spurs will take their Game 2.