Game 3s: Who's ready to rumble?
Get ready for some playoff intensity. The Raptors and Nets, tied 1-1, resume play Friday night (ESPN2, 7 ET) in Brooklyn, where the home crowd promises to be fired up like never before. The Bulls, down 2-0 to the Wizards, will surely bring the energy as they fight for their playoff lives in D.C. (ESPN, 8 ET). And the Rockets, also in a 2-0 hole, will be playing desperately to stop LaMarcus Aldridge and the Blazers in Portland (ESPN, 10:30 ET).
Here are 25 takes on Friday night's games:
1. Fact or Fiction: The Nets have the Raptors right where they want 'em.
James Herbert, TrueHoop Network: Fact. The Nets got the split they needed in Toronto despite poor outside shooting and total Raptors domination on the glass. The rebounding disparity will probably remain, but Brooklyn should make more of its open looks at Barclays.
Danny Nowell, TrueHoop Network: Fiction. It's true that Brooklyn has shown it poses a consistent problem to the Raptors, who lack the ballhandling to deal with the Nets' defense. But it's a tied series and the Raptors are more than talented enough to win in Brooklyn.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: Fact. After taking Game 1, Brooklyn would have loved to get a road sweep, but securing home-court advantage in the series was good enough given how evenly matched the two teams look thus far. If the Nets can take care of business this weekend, they put tremendous pressure on the Raptors to keep their season alive at home.
Kyle Weidie, Truth About It: Fact. The Raptors' starting unit hasn't fared well over 26 minutes in the two games so far (minus-12 in plus/minus), and it wasn't that different over 33 regular-season minutes against Brooklyn (minus-22 in plus/minus). The Nets likely approached this series OK with just stealing one game in Toronto, which certainly qualifies as "right where we want them."
Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN New York: Fiction. Yes, the Nets stole home-court advantage but they had Toronto on the ropes and let the Raptors off the hook in Game 2. The young Raptors have tasted playoff victory and DeMar DeRozan now knows how to take over a playoff game. Brooklyn won 15 straight at home earlier but Toronto played tough in Brooklyn twice this season. Something tells me this series is only just beginning.
2. Fact or Fiction: The Wizards really are this good.
Herbert: Fact. A fully functional Nene makes Washington a difficult matchup for the Bulls. The Wizards were already talented and balanced, but the big man has made all the difference.
Nowell: Fact. The weight of Chicago's coaching advantage, significant as it is, was probably overrated considering the relative potency Washington has when healthy. The Wizards should be good enough to beat a hobbled team like Chicago consistently -- and their side of the bracket is looking a little soft right now, too.
Pelton: Fiction. They're dangerous with a healthy Nene, but we're barely two weeks removed from Washington losing at home to Charlotte in an important game. What we've seen so far also has a lot to do with Chicago's inability to score.
Weidie: Fact. Yes, the Wizards are really this good against a Bulls team that struggles to score and is susceptible to letting individual matchups get the best of their team concepts. The Wizards are also a more well-balanced team than given credit for -- they can play with speed, they can shoot and they can pound in the paint. The issue has been doing such things consistently against lesser-talented opponents. So far in the playoffs, against a high-quality team like the Bulls, Randy Wittman has his team focusing at a high level.
Youngmisuk: Fact. The Bulls will fight back. This series is far from over. But Washington has the talent. It just needs the experience and the confidence that comes with each playoff win. If Washington can get to the second round, John Wall and Bradley Beal will only be that much more dangerous and they will have a legitimate shot of getting D.C. to the Eastern Conference finals.
3. Fact or Fiction: The Bulls' season ends in Washington this weekend.
Herbert: Fiction. The Bulls aren't just going to lie down, and let's not forget Washington needed late-game rallies to get both of its wins in Chicago. It was a spectacular start for the Wizards, but this Bulls team will be a tough out.
Nowell: Fiction. The Bulls have too little quit in them not to take a game, even if it is on the road.
Pelton: Fiction. I've counted Chicago out prematurely too many times. With some adjustments, and a desperate level of effort on defense, I think they'll win one of the next two games.
Weidie: Fiction ... or maybe fact? Chicago's season won't end in Washington via a sweep. I have the Wizards winning Game 3 but the Bulls giving one last-ditch effort and stealing Game 4. Game 5, in Chicago, will be a hard-fought contest, just as the first two have been so far, and the Bulls will survive to play a Game 6. So, on its second trip to Washington, Chicago's season will end, just as I predicted from the start.
Youngmisuk: Fiction. As good as the Wiz are playing -- and I think Wall could explode in one of these next two home games -- I can't see a Tom Thibodeau team getting swept. The Wizards are still in uncharted territory for this young squad. The Bulls should be able to get back to Chicago for a Game 5.
4. Fact or Fiction: Portland is a legitimate threat in the West.
Herbert: Fiction, though I'm nervous because the Blazers remind me of the 2011 Dallas Mavericks team I picked to lose every round. Portland plays beautiful ball but just doesn't have the pieces to be a great defensive team, so I can't envision a Finals run.
Nowell: Fact. As long as LaMarcus Aldridge is playing like Shaq Nowitzki, Portland's opponents have no good options. I suspect Houston -- and whoever's next, should Portland advance -- will continue to play Aldridge straight-up rather than let Portland shoot open 3s, but Aldridge is making that strategy look less tenable daily.
Pelton: Fact. At this point, nobody in the West is in a better position to advance to the second round, and if you get there you're a legitimate threat. LaMarcus Aldridge won't keep up this level of play, but if he stays anywhere close to it the Blazers can beat anyone else.
Weidie: Fact. With all the other Western Conference series close, if the Blazers can continue to return to their early-season form, there's no reason to think they can't contend for the NBA Finals. And with all due respect to the Spurs, the Grizzlies and Clippers might pose the toughest challenges to Portland from a personnel standpoint (remember, we're throwing regular-season records out the window), and both Memphis and L.A. are on the other side of the bracket.
Youngmisuk: Fiction. But there are two reasons they could become a threat -- LaMarcus Aldridge and the parity in the West. Aldridge won't continue to score 40 every game and will run into a better defense. But he's becoming a dominant force and is on what could become a magical playoff run. And if teams like San Antonio and Oklahoma City lose early, the West will be wide open.
5. Fact or Fiction: The Rockets' season ends in Portland this weekend.
Herbert: Fiction. The Rockets have overcome James Harden's inefficiency to be competitive against Portland. Houston should be able to make an adjustment and get him going. This series is closer than it seems.
Nowell: Fact. I don't feel great about this one, but Houston seems ready to fold, and the Portland crowds aren't going to make things any easier. If Game 3 gets sticky, I could see Houston packing it in.
Pelton: Fiction. Unless Houston collapses mentally, the previous two games were too close to suggest a likely sweep. The Rockets can play much better than they have, and I think they will do so at some point this weekend.
Weidie: Fiction. Kevin McHale is a champion, and somehow that just has to channel to a win in Portlandia. Even in the comfort of his own bed, LaMarcus Aldridge can't stay this hot, can he?
Youngmisuk: Fiction. Houston certainly is in deep trouble. And Portland is one of the hardest places to play in the NBA and that's during the regular season. But I still think Houston has too much talent and firepower to be swept.