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Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Playoff picture: Series of questions

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Golden State's David Lee is out for the rest of the playoffs. Carmelo Anthony has given the Knicks a series lead for the first time since 2001. The Nuggets are trying to prove they can win without a superstar. Our crew breaks down the top stories heading into Tuesday's Game 2s.

1. Fact or Fiction: The Warriors can win their series without David Lee.

Jim Cavan, KnickerBlogger: Fact. Golden State needn't look far to find a partner in injury misery. Though their games are functionally different, Lee and Danilo Gallinari each provide unique offensive skill sets their teams will miss. Still, opportunities abound -- the Warriors featuring Harrison Barnes and Carl Landry more at the 4 being perhaps the most intriguing.

Matt Cianfrone, Roundball Mining Co.: Fact. The Warriors got a subpar game from Stephen Curry in Game 1 and were beaten by the best game Andre Miller played all season. It won't be easy to replace Lee, but if those things normalize, and they should, the Warriors will still have a chance to win plenty of games the rest of the series.

Israel Gutierrez, ESPN.com: Fact. The Warriors are clearly better with Lee because of his rebounding, passing and ability to hit midrange shots. But they can still be effective if Andrew Bogut can play heavy minutes and Mark Jackson goes small and surrounds him with shooters. Bogut is certainly no Hakeem Olajuwon, but that mid-'90s Rockets formula could be the model to follow.

Brian Robb, Celtics Hub: Fiction. Golden State put up a good fight in Game 1, but Lee is such a crucial piece to the Warriors' offense. I don't see how they keep pace with the explosive Nuggets for the entire series without him, especially now that Kenneth Faried could return to the fold in Game 2.

Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball: Fiction. Defensive issues aside, Lee means too much to Golden State for them to overcome his loss, especially given the constant fragile state of Bogut. Curry can carry them to a couple of wins on his own, but the Nuggets come in too many waves for the Warriors to stay afloat minus Lee.


2. Fact or Fiction: The Celtics lost Game 1 more than the Knicks won it.

Cavan: Fiction. True: Boston squandered an incendiary start from Jeff Green and solid offensive outings from Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley. Also true: Mike Woodson made some crucial halftime adjustments, highlighted by more discerning switching on D and marginally better ball movement on O. Also also true: Carmelo Anthony gets buckets like woah. The C's squandered opportunities, but the Knicks capitalized on plenty of their own.

Cianfrone: Fact. Three Knicks starters combined for just three points, including Tyson Chandler's 20-minute goose egg, and Boston still lost. The Knicks will play better, but as long as the Celtics' offense is built around Jeff Green having to be the second scorer behind Pierce, the Celtics' putrid offense will lose as many games as the Knicks win.

Gutierrez: Fiction. The Celtics blew a great opportunity -- one that might not be available again in Game 2 if Pablo Prigioni is healthy and provides relief for Jason Kidd. But they didn't lose it more than the Knicks won it. The way that game was played, it was going to be ugly for whoever lost. The Knicks pulled it out because they have the player who can more regularly hit difficult shots.

Robb: Fact. The Knicks stepped up their defensive game in the second half, but the truth is there was little about their effort that was overly impressive. Instead, it was Boston's poor shot selection and countless unforced turnovers that cost them a chance to steal a very winnable Game 1.

Schmidt: Fiction. The Celtics weren't out there alone. We praise New York for a funky, yet potent, offense, but teams don't win 54 games without some sort of defense. Maybe Boston's weaknesses on offense make New York look like more of a defensive juggernaut than is accurate, but the Knicks made shots and defended exactly as well as they needed to.


3. Fact or Fiction: The Heat will lose a game in Round 1.

Cavan: Fact. The Bucks got what they wanted out of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis … and NOTHING from anyone else. The Heat will likely advance barely blemished into the conference finals, but "Fo', Fo', Fo'" ain't happening. There will come a game -- in Milwaukee, most likely -- in which someone beyond the Bucks' backcourt manages to step up. I'm looking at you, Ersan Ilyasova.

Cianfrone: Fiction. The Heat will let a game stay closer than it should, but in the end, the Bucks don't have an answer for LeBron James and have no real front-court scoring. Even if Ellis or Jennings get hot, the Heat can eliminate them from the game with James. The talent disparity is just too big.

Gutierrez: Fiction. It certainly wouldn't be surprising if the Bucks decide to share the ball, get hot from 3-point range and steal a game. But it's hard to picture this Heat team letting down -- even when they get to Milwaukee. There's a different vibe to this team, as evidenced by the 27-game win streak, that won't allow it to let a game slip away.

Robb: Fact. The Bucks hung tough with the Heat for the better part of three quarters in Game 1, providing a glimmer of hope for my Heat in 5 prediction. The Bucks will need more from their frontcourt to earn a win, but I expect those guys to come through with at least one strong performance back in Milwaukee.

Schmidt: Fiction. Milwaukee's best opportunity will likely come in Game 3. Miami should be confused about arriving to a locale where the temperature doesn't quite reach 40 degrees and the rain isn't warm, so the Bucks might be able to pull one out. But that sentence seems way more fiction than fact.


4. Fact or Fiction: Melo is the most important player in the playoffs.

Cavan: Fact. That "Win Now" is the season's refrain tells you how important the Knicks view their current window, however narrow. LeBron might be King, Kevin Durant a usurper, and CP3 a merciless marshal, but don't underestimate the power of a starving kingdom to drive its savior.

Cianfrone: Fiction. With LeBron James, the Heat are title favorites. Without him, they drop down to the level of the Knicks and Pacers. There just isn't a player who affects the title picture as much as James, especially with the level he is playing at, at the moment. Melo is a close second.

Gutierrez: Fiction. The Knicks have performed well in big games without Melo during the regular season. When the ball is moving and J.R. Smith is taking good shots, they can still win even without huge performances from Anthony. The most important player is probably Chris Paul. His team would be absolutely lost without him.

Robb: Fiction. Melo is the most important piece on the Knicks, but the NBA playoffs is a two-way game. Anthony doesn't do enough on the defensive end of the floor to merit that title. Until someone is able to stop him, James is still the most important player out there, even on a loaded Heat roster.

Schmidt: Fiction. He means a great deal to the Knicks' success, and without him, New York wouldn't be getting out of the first round. But there's no basketball player on planet Earth more important than James right now. He barely moved on Sunday and tossed up stats that would represent a career game for most.


5. Fact or Fiction: Denver's lack of star power is a fatal flaw.

Cavan: Fact. Now it is. With a healthy Gallinari, the Nuggets had the depth, gameplan and gumption to make a serious run at the Finals. They might yet make some noise, but losing Gallo will come back to haunt them sooner or later. Which is a shame; we could've used a fun narrative foil to the Heat's superhero exploits.

Cianfrone: Fiction. The Nuggets' fatal flaw is the rash of injuries that have hit them recently. They lost their best shooter already, and who knows how Kenneth Faried will play after missing Game 1. If healthy, this team had a chance to win the West, but now a trip to the Western Conference finals seems like a bit of a stretch.

Gutierrez: Fiction. It would help if the team was completely healthy, but it's still one of the few superstar-free teams that could go deep into the playoffs. They've shown it by beating the Oklahoma City Thunder three out of four times this season. Unlike superstar-driven teams, the Nuggets' depth still translates in the playoffs because they're balanced. Even Evan Fournier, who wasn't in the rotation all season, is a threat.

Robb: Fiction. Injuries might end up being Denver's true fatal flaw, but a lack of star power isn't a major issue. The Nuggets have a number of capable role players who do their jobs incredibly well. With a savvy coach like George Karl pulling the strings, they have the ability to hang tough with anyone in the West.

Schmidt: Fact. Denver isn't going to win a title without a guy who can transcend the game and become unstoppable. It isn't so much that one star is necessary, but having someone who can be the best player on the court at any time is necessary. From a talent level, how could Denver possibly overcome a team like Oklahoma City? They can't.