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Thursday, May 5, 2011
Who wins, advances to NBA Finals?

Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant has won nine straight playoff series. Will his pal Jason Kidd put a stop to that streak?

The Lakers are still 12 wins from another Phil Jackson three-peat, but the Mavericks are just two wins from sending the Zen Master into an early retirement. Who saw that coming?

And the Dallas domination in L.A. is hardly the only major storyline -- not with the Heat blitzing the Celtics, the Bulls starting slowly and the Thunder and Grizzlies duking it out.

So where do things stand after eight wild games in the second round of the playoffs? We asked five writers to weigh in:

1. True or False: Game 2 foretold the rest of the Mavs-Lakers series.

Phillip Barnett, Forum Blue & Gold: True. The Lakers haven't found a way to get their bigs going in either second-round game, leading to way more jumpers than they'd like. Dirk Nowitzki is unstoppable, and other Mavs are benefiting from L.A.'s double-teams. There are lots of questions about the Lakers, and I'm not sure if they have the answers.

Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: False. I'm not saying the Lakers will come back and win this series. But we're done seeing Kobe defer and not force up 25 or more shots each game. If the bench is going to be afraid to step up and Gasol continues to forget he's really tall, it will be on Kobe's shoulders.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: False. While the Lakers probably won't win both games in Dallas to tie the series, I expect that their front line, particularly Pau Gasol, will look better in Games 3 and 4. And while the Lakers weren't built to shoot 3-pointers, they will shoot better than Wednesday's 2-for-20 from deep in the next couple of games.

Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns: False. Even after dropping a pair at home, it's hard to count the Lakers out the way they have run through the Western Conference the past three postseasons. After missing 18 of 20 3-pointers in Game 2, the Lakers will get back in this series once their long-range shooting regresses to the mean.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: True. When Dirk takes one-legged shots, his foot is planted on L.A.'s collective throat. Phil's guys languish in the shadow of immensely bad odds. Down 2-0, with three of the five remaining games in Dallas, the Lakers are trapped with no way out.

2. True or False: Game 2 foretold the rest of the Celtics-Heat series.

Phillip Barnett, Forum Blue & Gold: True. The Celtics haven't shown any sign of being able to stop both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James or the ability to get points when they need them. Boston is shooting 51.4 percent from behind the arc, but still lost both games by at least three possessions. This suggests the Heat's interior defense will carry them to the conference finals.

Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: True. While I think the Celtics can still pull it together and make a series out of this, how do they stop LeBron and Wade? The Celtics haven't shown any game plan to get either out of his comfort zone, other than praying for missed jumpers. Not exactly championship ball.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: True. The Celtics have too much experience, talent and pride to go down without a fight, but they don't appear to have an answer for the one-two punch of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James or Miami's swarming defense. If the Heat can continue to keep Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett under control and get contributions from Chris Bosh and the supporting cast, they'll win at least one of two in Boston and control the series.

Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns: False. The Celtics have never gone away quietly in the Big Three era. With three days off to rest their creaky limbs and sharpen their game plan against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the Celtics will make this the hard-fought series we all expected in Boston.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: True. The Celtics' offense is insipid in a way that speaks to an athleticism chasm -- not getting to the line, not converting close shots. And for all our precious analysis: Boston's problem is that they're much worse than Miami.

3. True or False: Game 2 foretold the rest of the Grizzlies-Thunder series.

Phillip Barnett, Forum Blue & Gold: False. The Thunder came out fired up in Game 2 with the home crowd behind them. They concentrated their efforts on stopping Zach Randolph and got a whopping 48 points from their bench. It's hard to imagine the Memphis bench being outplayed to that extent at home.

Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: True. I don't expect Zach Randolph to miss every field goal in three out of four quarters again, but Oklahoma City figured out how to be physical against the bully in the yard. Now it's up to Memphis to figure out how to keep up with Kevin Durant and his immense scoring help.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: False. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph destroyed the Thunder in Game 1, then laid complete eggs in Game 2. The Thunder's offense should continue to roll, but Gasol and Randolph will give them much more trouble in the remaining games.

Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns: False. As good as Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have been all postseason, I find it hard to believe they will shoot anywhere near as poorly in future games as they did in Game 2 (5-for-22 combined). As Memphis' interior game returns, so will the Grizzlies' chances in this series.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: True. I write that with a heavy heart, since Memphis is a lovable gate-crasher. But the blue bear just doesn't have the same size advantage as last series.

4. True or False: Game 2 foretold the rest of the Hawks-Bulls series.

Phillip Barnett, Forum Blue & Gold: True. Joe Johnson was fantastic in Game 1, shooting 5-for-5 from behind the arc. In Game 2, the Bulls increased their defensive intensity and completely dominated on the boards. I like the Bulls' defense to stay one step ahead of the Hawks' offense for the remainder of this series.

Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: True. We saw what happens when the Hawks aren't hitting improbable shots against Chicago; they get lost in a catacomb of apathetic effort. I don't think the Bulls will really have a hard time keeping Atlanta from getting in a comfortable rhythm on offense. If they can figure out Rose's shooting slump, this should be over.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: True. Even if the Hawks can continue to make Derrick Rose work for his points and assists, they'll have to figure out a way to score on Chicago's defense. Their only path to victory is to make enough tough long-range jumpers to overcome Chicago's underwhelming offense three more times, and I don't think they'll do it. Then again, people said the same thing after Game 2 of the Orlando series.

Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns: True. There's a reason Tom Thibodeau earned Coach of the Year honors: The man knows how to coach defense. The Hawks managed a mere 96.6 points per 100 possessions in their series win over the Magic, so it should not be a surprise when their offense continues to sputter against Thibs' Bulls the way it did in Game 2.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: True. Though gravity eludes actual hawks, it sometimes drags their human avatars into the dirt. Atlanta's strategy of heaving contested moonballs just isn't sustainable.

5. Which two teams should be favored now to meet in the NBA Finals?

Phillip Barnett, Forum Blue & Gold: After Wednesday night, I'm inclined to say we're going to see a Mavericks-Heat series. I can't say that I'd be shocked if either the Lakers or Celtics come out of their series and go on to the Finals, but the Thunder and Bulls are looking like better second options in their respective conferences.

Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: I'd really like to pick the Mavs for one last hurrah in the West, but I think we're going to get to see a Thunder-Heat Finals. It would be the first time in NBA history we've had a nonpluralized NBA Finals matchup. Could be revolutionary.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: It's wide open, but I like the Mavericks and the Heat. (I know, they're the only two teams with 2-0 leads. I'm bold like that.) They look like the only teams executing consistently on both ends of the court, and both teams have enough experience and star power to make it to the Finals.

Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns: Miami has the two best players in the conference (sorry, D-Rose) and a 2-0 series lead, while the Bulls have looked shaky most of the playoffs. The Mavericks seem to possess a mental toughness that they lacked during previous fruitless playoff runs and have the champs in a 2-0 hole. It's looking like a rematch of the 2006 Finals.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: Thunder-Heat is my Finals pick. Oklahoma City claims the most complete roster, Miami boasts basketball's two best players. Look for pervasive "good versus evil" narratives to garnish fantastic games.

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