The NBA's second season is finally here. Four games kick off the playoff action Saturday on ESPN and ABC, and our experts have it all covered. Let's debate!
1. Celtics vs. Knicks: What's the most intriguing storyline in the series?
(Game 1: 3 p.m. ET, ABC)
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: The Knicks' viability as a contender -- and there isn't a better first-round test than a Celtics team that will make them work for every bucket. Will the Knicks settle for table scraps offensively? Will their defense make the Celtics work a little bit? And how will Carmelo Anthony balance the task of carrying the load and sharing the burden?
Chris Forsberg, ESPNBoston.com: The idea that a Celtics team helmed by Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could be one-and-done is somewhat unfathomable. As inconsistent and injury-plagued as Boston's season was, you expect a more inspired brand of defensive-minded basketball in the playoffs. The Celtics have a chance at the upset if their 3-point defense (league-best since January) can help hose down the red-hot Knicks.
Nick Friedell, ESPNChicago.com: Can Carmelo Anthony continue playing at the same high level against the Celtics defense in a seven-game series? If he can, the Knicks will be headed to the second round and the Celtics will go back to wondering if they should trade away some of their key pieces and rebuild the roster.
Ramona Shelburne, ESPNLosAngeles.com: Carmelo Anthony's torrid last couple of months put him in the MVP conversation. But regular-season success and scoring titles do not make a legacy. Particularly a player like Anthony, who needs to shake the label of being something of a playoff flop. Everything is lined up well for Melo and the Knicks to make a deep run in the East. They have home-court advantage, they have two recent decisive wins against the Celtics and they have the biggest star in the series to carry them. They should win. But for a team that's won just one playoff game in 12 years, seeing is believing. Melo needs to deliver.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: The health of Kevin Garnett. It's not clear just how bad his ankle injury is and how it might limit him over regular game minutes. Last season's Celtics postseason run rested on Garnett's influence on games, especially the defensive end. He's still such a vital player for them in a postseason setting.
2. Warriors vs. Nuggets: What's the most intriguing storyline in the series?
(Game 1: 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Arnovitz: Typically, it's the 57-win team that drives the plot of a first-round series, but the Warriors have the matchup's most electric, charismatic and best player in Stephen Curry. Can he keep the Warriors competitive in his maiden voyage to the postseason?
Forsberg: It's a fascinating battle on the glass with Denver tops in the league in offensive rebound percentage (31.4) and Golden State best in defensive rebound percentage (75.5). Which, of course, means that somehow guard play will probably dictate this series. We know Steph Curry will have some big offensive nights, but can he slow Ty Lawson at the other end?
Friedell: The Nuggets were a great regular-season team, but can they make the next step in their progression without Danilo Gallinari? Stephen Curry can get hot in an instant and light it up -- I'm looking forward to this series more than any other.
Shelburne: Stephen Curry has been out of his mind lately. He's found his stroke, his game and his swagger. As impressive as Denver has been this season, particularly at home, Curry is the type of player who can change a series if he gets hot. George Karl believes firmly that you don't need a superstar to win in the playoffs. That theory gets put to the test in this series.
Windhorst: Can the Warriors make a dent in the Nuggets' dominant home court? There's some individual matchup intrigue, especially on how the point guards are going to figure out how to defend each other. But the Nuggets have been just so comfortable playing their up-tempo style at home that it will be a challenge for the Warriors to keep them from their comfort zone.
3. Bulls vs. Nets: What's the most intriguing storyline in the series?
(Game 1: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Arnovitz: There was a time when Deron Williams was a fixture in the playoffs as the lead in the Jazz's ballet. After a few rocky seasons with the Nets, he now has a chance to re-establish himself in that barstool conversation about the best point guards in the business.
Forsberg: Beyond Chicago's health, it'll be interesting to see how Tom Thibodeau tries to bottle up Deron Williams, who has been sensational since the All-Star Game (22.9 points on 48.1 percent shooting and eight assists per game). Would love to see the Bulls put defensive specialist Jimmy Butler on Williams, but Brooklyn's size at every position might make that tough.
Friedell: Will Joakim Noah be able to stay healthy and play at a high level? His foot is hurting him because of ongoing issues with plantar fasciitis. The Bulls aren't even sure how much he will be able to play. If he goes down at any point or is limited, Brook Lopez could be the difference in this series.
Shelburne: A player who isn't even playing. For as long as he remains out, Derrick Rose's status will hang over the Bulls. Is he coming back? Why isn't he coming back? How long until he comes back? At this point, the Bulls pretty much have to operate under the assumption that he won't. And they've done better than expected under the conditions all year. But as long as Rose is out there, as long as he's an option, you have to wonder if he'll come back.
Windhorst: How the Nets handle the pressure. This group has no postseason experience together. Because of their nature, the Bulls will make it hard to score and it's probably going to take discipline and calmness to execute on offense. These situations have not always brought out the best in the Nets this season.
4. Grizzlies vs. Clippers: What's the most intriguing storyline in the series?
(Game 1: 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Arnovitz: Where to start? How about the low block where Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph will square off in "Wrestlemania II." Randolph loves nothing more than to needle, prod and annoy Griffin, while Griffin would love nothing more to spin, dive, leap and drive Z-Bo into submission. Also -- watch how the Griz defend Paul and whether they can confine him to the left sideline.
Forsberg: It's Round 2 for Mike Conley vs. Chris Paul after last year's fascinating seven-game series between their teams. Paul owned the regular-season battle, but Conley's defense will play maybe the biggest factor in whether the Grizzlies extract revenge this season. Conley might be key in dialing down the tempo.
Friedell: The future of Vinny Del Negro. Lose this series and he figures to be gone. Win this series and then get bounced in the second round there's a good chance he could be gone as well. Can Del Negro lead his talented bunch to the Western Conference finals and prove some of his doubters wrong? He will if Chris Paul can get Blake Griffin to play at an even higher level.
Shelburne: This was a great first-round series last year. Tough, physical and brutal. When the Clippers prevailed in Game 7 on the road in Memphis, it was a coming of age moment for the franchise and its young group of stars. The only problem with this rematch is that anything less than another series victory will be seen as a regression for the Clippers, who won a franchise-record 56 games this season.
Windhorst: Can the Grizzlies score enough? They're a great defensive team, second-best in the league. But they're just not as dynamic or as deep offensively as they were last season when they lost in seven to the Clippers. The Clippers are also a top-10 defensive team. "Lawler's Law" could be first team to 90 in this series.
5. Make one bold prediction for Saturday's games.
Arnovitz: A tone-setting game from a hungry Blake Griffin. Every player has "something to prove" in the postseason, but Griffin truly wants to establish himself as the game's premier triple-threat big man. The tally? Let's say 28 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
Forsberg: The Celtics, inspired by what's going on back in Boston and eager to put their regular-season struggles behind them, upset the Knicks in Game 1 and steal away home-court advantage. Don't forget that Boston plays its best basketball when everyone writes them off.
Friedell: Curry goes off for 40 ... and the Warriors still lose.
Shelburne: Maybe it's the emotion of the moment in Boston. Maybe it's the pride of the Celtics and veterans like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Maybe it's a lack of faith in the Knicks. But something tells me Boston steals a game in New York this weekend.
Windhorst: Two road teams will win. I've got the Bulls and the Grizzlies.
Kevin Arnovitz and Brian Windhorst cover the NBA for ESPN.com. Chris Forsberg, Nick Friedell and Ramona Shelburne cover the NBA for ESPN Boston, ESPN Chicago and ESPN Los Angeles, respectively.
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