A pair of 5s: Nets-Heat, Blazers-Spurs
1. Fact or Fiction: LeBron should make driving to the basket his top priority.
Israel Gutierrez, ESPN.com: Fact. But that doesn't necessarily mean he shouldn't take outside shots. It should be his top priority to get to the rim and try to break through that collapsing Nets defense. Late in the game, that will pay off the way it did Monday, with a sucked-in defense unable to get to Chris Bosh in the corner for the tiebreaking 3-pointer.
Zach Harper, A Wolf Among Wolves: Fact. In this series, LeBron is shooting 82.5 percent in the restricted area. He's more likely to score at the rim right now than he is taking a free throw. James has dominated whomever is defending him and is just being a bully on his way to the basket. Keep going there.
Daniel Nowell, TrueHoop Network: Fact. Game 4 showed how little the Nets are able to keep LeBron away from the rim, and continued aggression will either yield another monster night or open up more shots like Chris Bosh's dagger.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: Fact. It's impossible to argue with the results from James' drives in Game 4, one of his best playoff performances ever. The only quibble is how much pounding James should be taking with a more difficult conference finals series looming. The Heat might not need him to play as aggressively tonight.
Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN New York: Fact. Fact. Fact. Why it took LeBron this long to attack every Net who stands in front of him is baffling. He can take every Net off the dribble whenever he wants. And I don't care if the Nets are shrinking the paint or daring him to shoot from the outside. As soon as James attacks, he can draw fouls, and defenders, at will. Aggression and points in the paint have helped decide games in this series.
2. Fact or Fiction: Paul Pierce is playing in his final games as a Brooklyn Net.
Gutierrez: Fact. It's doubtful the Nets would commit any significant money to Pierce given how much money they still have committed for next year, especially if they are ousted this round. Brooklyn needs to get younger on the wings, and Pierce is probably going to look for a team with legitimate title chances next season.
Harper: Fiction. The Nets don't really care about the money they spend as long as they have cap space/flexibility in 2016, right? So if they can convince Kevin Garnett he still has life in his body and game, bringing back Pierce for a good chunk of change next season or the next two seasons seems like a good move.
Nowell: Fiction. Pierce had too much success this year to retire, and seems too proud to walk into a new situation at this phase of his career. As the linchpin of the Nets' funky midseason lineup shift, Pierce showed that he's got a few more years of vexing defenses.
Pelton: Fiction. Money certainly won't be an issue in re-signing Pierce, and the Nets will still be in win-now mode next season. Pierce may look for a better chance of winning a championship, but he's got ties in Brooklyn and might be talked into the notion that the Nets can reach the next level with a healthy Brook Lopez in 2014-15.
Youngmisuk: I don't even know if Pierce knows the answer to this one yet, so I am going fiction. There's no guarantee Kevin Garnett is retiring after this season, which could affect Pierce. There could be better opportunities to win a ring elsewhere. But with Brook Lopez on the mend, an owner who is willing to spend whatever it takes, a general manager who likes to wheel and deal, and a coach who will only get better, perhaps the Nets could make another run next season with Pierce.
3. Fact or Fiction: The Spurs have something to prove in Game 5.
Gutierrez: Fiction. They lost a game in Portland. That's not exactly "sky is falling" type of stuff. They went seven games with Dallas, but there were so many oddities to that first round, you almost have to dismiss it and judge teams based on second-round performances. And the Spurs probably have looked like the best team since the round started.
Harper: Fiction. The Spurs have nothing to prove at this point until the next round. After going up 3-0 in the series, the likelihood of them dropping four straight is next to zero percent. Maybe they'll want to prove it's good to take care of business, but there is no concern about them moving on or not being good enough.
Nowell: Fiction. First of all, the Blazers won 54 games, and second of all, the Spurs have so demonstrated their superiority to this point that another (unlikely) loss is not going to really expose anything about them. The only thing these Spurs have to prove is that they're able to win a championship.
Pelton: Fact, but only for one player: Manu Ginobili. Ginobili has had a terrible series, but it didn't cost San Antonio until Game 4. Should the Spurs advance, they'll need more from him in the Western Conference finals. Now would be a great time to get going.
Youngmisuk: Fiction. The Spurs have nothing to prove. They just need to finish and get as much rest as possible. Even if they lose this next game, in my mind, they still have nothing to prove. Proving something comes in the Western Conference finals and potentially beyond.
4. Fact or Fiction: Portland's season is a success regardless of Game 5.
Gutierrez: Fact. How many people had Portland in the playoffs at all? They know their weaknesses now, which is depth and maybe adding some athleticism. But the Blazers are further ahead than anyone projected at the start of the season.
Harper: Fact. The Blazers were hoping to be a playoff team this season after upgrading the bench and getting a year of experience under Damian Lillard's belt. Going into the season, there were concerns about LaMarcus Aldridge staying. Months later, they were the 5-seed, made the second round, and have a great future.
Nowell: Fact. It would have been a success even if they'd been swept, though the fact that they took Game 4 takes a substantial amount of sting off. The Blazers arrived at this point earlier than even they expected, and now get to focus on the improvements that will let them go deeper.
Pelton: Another lopsided San Antonio win would reinforce the gap that still exists between the Blazers and the conference's best teams, but that's picking nits, given everything Portland has accomplished this season.
Youngmisuk: Fact. LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard gained valuable playoff experience and confidence. They know what they are capable of in the playoffs now. That should only make them better for next season.
5. Fact or Fiction: The home teams win on Wednesday night.
Gutierrez: Fact. Unlike the Pacers, who refuse to make things easy for themselves, the Heat and Spurs will close out their respective series at home in five.
Harper: Fact. We'll see both series end tonight and the Finals' contestants from last season should get an extra day or three of rest. Not to take anything away from the Nets and Blazers, but these series should be over.
Nowell: Fact. Too much of a talent gulf in each series, and too much had to go right in Portland's and Brooklyn's wins for them to be able to count on another. Two real contenders have closeout opportunities while the rest of their conferences are stuck in tight series. I don't think either lets this opportunity pass.
Pelton: Fact. Break out the top hats and monocles. I see a pair of gentleman's sweeps in the offing.
Youngmisuk: I think fact. I expect the Spurs to win. As for the defending champs, Miami should come with the urgency needed to finish off the Nets. But we've yet to see the Heat play their best game. LeBron needed to score 49 to win Game 4. The Nets have had their chances in every game. If they execute better in the second half and the final minutes, the Nets could steal Game 5. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if the Nets were to somehow force the series back to Brooklyn.
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