Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Digging their way out of a hole
According to history, the chances of a team winning a playoff series after trailing 3-1 are not good, but that doesn't mean it won't happen. Our 5-on-5 crew gives its thoughts on which teams are most capable of running off three victories in a row.
1. Which team down 3-1 is fifth-most likely to win its series?
Brett Koremenos, Hoopspeak: Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks get this spot by default because the New York Knicks have no chance of coming back against the Heat. Atlanta's chances aren't that much better, but if head coach Larry Drew decides to go small, spread the floor and allow speed merchant Jeff Teague to try to wreak havoc in the paint, they could perhaps find a way to win three straight.
Beckley Mason, ESPN.com: Magic. Orlando has done some clever things to make this series competitive, but Frank Vogel and the Pacers are sharp enough to make the midgame adjustments necessary for Indiana's advantage in talent to hold.
J.M. Poulard, Warriors World: The Orlando Magic have a shot at extending the series provided that they are capable of making the game ugly defensively and hitting a barrage of 3-pointers to overwhelm the Indiana Pacers for three consecutive games. As hot as we know Orlando can get, that doesn't seem all that likely now, does it?
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, Hoopspeak: The Magic could rain some 3s against Indiana. Overmatched as Stan Van Gundy's guys are, 3s are the underdog's best friend.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Magic. Give them credit for fighting as hard as they have without Dwight Howard, even stealing Game 1. But emotion and heart can only carry you so far. The Pacers never should have had to work this hard to gain control.
2. Which team down 3-1 is fourth-most likely to win its series?
Koremenos: Orlando Magic. The Magic have showed the most resolve of any team in the first round. Their grit should keep them fighting, but the Pacers are a much more talented group. If Ryan Anderson comes alive and Stan Van Gundy coaches the series of his life, maybe this team could beat long odds to advance another round.
Mason: Hawks. Barring miraculous recoveries from Josh Smith and Al Horford, it's hard to imagine a recovery for the staggering Hawks, who have dropped three straight. But the first three games were tight, and at least Atlanta has two home games remaining.
Poulard: The New York Knicks need Carmelo Anthony to outplay LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and for his teammates to convert a few perimeter shots to loosen up that suffocating Miami Heat defense. With that said, Melo might have perhaps one other spectacular scoring outburst left him in against Miami, but not three.
Strauss: With some better 3-point luck, Denver would have drawn even against the Lakers. Los Angeles is taller, but still susceptible to getting carved by speedy point guards in pick-and-roll situations. If Ty Lawson can find that soft spot, this could be a series.
Wallace: Knicks. Too many bodies have fallen for New York to give them a legit chance. The Heat haven't played all that well since Game 1, but they still have been able to overcome the struggles. Both teams need an offensive spark. Miami essentially has a blowtorch. New York is trying to rub sticks together. Simple as that.
3. Which team down 3-1 is third-most likely to win its series?
Koremenos: Chicago Bulls. With injuries to Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, the Bulls are definitely in a bad way but not totally out against what still is a very flawed 76ers team. C.J. Watson has been playing with a stunning lack of confidence, but if he can regain his regular-season mojo (or John Lucas can string together a few performances like in Game 2) it will give them a major boost. Having Tom Thibodeau on the sidelines and two of the next three at home help their chances, but at this point, it's very likely Philly sneaks into Round 2.
Mason: Denver. The Nuggets have played L.A. well since Game 1, but would have to win two on the road to catch L.A. Teams get tired, slow down, and miss shots, but the Lakers won't become any smaller. The inertia of the Lakers' size will push them through this deceptively tight series.
Poulard: The Denver Nuggets need to control the pace and the boards and do a better job of finishing at the rim in the half court in order to come back against the Los Angeles Lakers. Their speed can also help them get back into the series, but size usually wins out in the NBA.
Strauss: The Hawks had a few chances to draw even against the Celtics, or even swing the series in their favor. While last game's blowout does not bode well for them, they could eek out some wins by going small (if only Larry Drew would).
Wallace: Nuggets. The Lakers better hurry up and end this before Metta World Peace is eligible to come back in a potential Game 7 to self-destruct the team again. George Karl has tried plenty of adjustments, and might force a Game 6. But at the end of the day, there's just no answer for Jordan Hill. What? Were you expecting me to say Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol?
4. Which team down 3-1 is second-most likely to win its series?
Koremenos: Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies' three losses in this series have been by a total of six points, so they are hardly being run off the court. With so many close games between two evenly matched teams, Memphis has a puncher's chance to get back in this. For them to do so, however, Rudy Gay will have to put together a string of big-time performances, especially in a potential Game 6 on the road at the Staples Center.
Mason: Chicago. I'm not willing to count them out, even though C.J. Watson and John Lucas have fallen back to Earth so hard there's magma tickling their feet. But if the Bulls' point guards play better, who couldn't see their defense finding a way to win this series?
Poulard: The Chicago Bulls have been in every game with the Philadelphia 76ers save for Game 2. Provided that they control the boards, limit their turnovers, get back in transition and execute down the stretch, they have a solid shot to come back. In addition, they only need to win one road game and win out at home.
Strauss: The Chicago Bulls aren't quite dead yet, though they are facing a formidably scrappy opponent in the hungry -- and healthy -- 76ers. The Bulls might be lamenting being thinner than laminate, but Chicago can still defend (losing Noah hurts, but Omer Asik is better on D). So long as they can do that, they have a shot in every game.
Wallace: Hawks. But, of course, we don't know which version of the Hawks will show up. One thing is clear: Atlanta has blown a chance to put Boston away in this one. Now Rajon Rondo is playing at an MVP level, Paul Pierce is Tebowing and Kevin Garnett has turned back the proverbial clock.
5. Which team down 3-1 is most likely to win its series?
Koremenos: Denver Nuggets. After a disastrous Game 1, the Nuggets have given the Lakers everything they could handle. Individual players like Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee and Arron Afflalo (and the team as a whole) have slowly seemed to find their footing with each passing game. Their odds aren't great, but a win in Game 5 shifts the series back to Denver, where the Nuggets should be the favorites. Get that one, and you're looking at a Game 7 in which anything can happen.
Mason: Memphis. The team that could very well be up 3-1 is the one most likely to recover from its current deficit. Memphis still has two home games remaining and plenty of talent to turn it around, especially if they start targeting Blake Griffin's defense by forcing him to be the primary defender as often as possible.
Poulard: The Memphis Grizzlies have dominated the boards and have been able to force turnovers to get out in transition for easy baskets. Couple that with their bruising interior big men and it's no wonder every game has gone down to the wire against the L.A. Clippers. The Grizz have the required toughness needed to come back and force Game 7.
Strauss: That would be the Memphis Grizzlies, against a team that is still coached by Vinny Del Negro. A home-court team can fight back from 3-1, and every game of Clips-Grizz has been close. Unlike the Bulls or Hawks, Memphis isn't depleted to the point of tragic comedy.
Wallace: Grizzlies. This, by far, has proved to be the most evenly matched series in the first round. I could count five plays -- FIVE -- in which had they gone differently, the Clippers would be the team fighting to stave off elimination.