NBA Week Ahead: Key Storylines in the First Week of NBA Playoffs

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NBA Week Ahead: Key Storylines in the First Week of NBA Playoffs
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The NBA playoffs started off with a bang, with some of the games coming down to the wire and others ending on a sour note. The first round of the playoffs is always exciting because there are multiple games on every night. The action literally never ends. With that being said, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle.

Here are some thoughts and what to watch for this week in each playoff series:

 

Chicago Bulls (No. 1) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (No. 8)

Of course. by now you have heard the sad news about the reigning MVP, Derrick Rose. Rose tore his ACL Saturday with 1:22 left in the fourth quarter.

Coach Tom Thibodeau chose to leave Rose in because the 76ers had cut the lead to 12. Blame Thibodeau all you want for leaving Rose in, but this is playoff basketball. The Bulls needed to send a message to the 76ers.

In retrospect, the move looks foolish, but that's the way Thibodeau coaches—with his foot all the way down on the gas pedal.

ACL injuries aren't only a season-ending injury; they are a career-altering injury. Hopefully for Rose, the Bulls and NBA fans, he can return next year at some point with full strength. 

The injury to Rose may be a gut punch to the Bulls' championship odds, but it's not a Mortal Kombat fatality.

Other than maybe the San Antonio Spurs, the Bulls still play the best team basketball in the NBA. Even without Rose, the Bulls are still the best defensive team in the NBA. Sunday, Thibodeau said, "Derrick's not only a great player, he's a great teammate, he's a great person, but it's not a death sentence."

Marc Serota/Getty Images

The Bulls played without Rose for a majority of the second half of the season. Yes, it will be tougher for them to win the NBA championship, but it's not impossible.

Now that the Bulls are without Rose for the remainder of the playoffs, someone on their squad needs to step up and become the late game head honcho. The defense will still be there for the Bulls, but who will they depend on late in close games when they need a bucket? This is C.J. Watson's time to shine.

Meanwhile, Andre Iguodala needs to play better if the 76ers are going to have any shot at upsetting the Bulls. Eleven points on 3-11 shooting is not going to cut it. 

 

Miami Heat (No. 2) vs. New York Knicks (No. 7)

Those who picked the Knicks for a possible upset are looking pretty foolish right now.

Think about this: What have the Knicks done this season to make an upset seem possible? The Heat won 46 games this year in their sleep. The Knicks fired their coach midseason because they were playing horribly.

If Carmelo Anthony isn't scoring for the Knicks, no one is. This was evident Saturday when Anthony finished the game with 11 points on 3-of-15 shooting. Amar'e Stoudemire is no longer the MVP-caliber player he was at the beginning of last season. It's sad how fast some players can lose "it" overnight. 

The injury to Iman Shumpert is a huge loss for the Knicks. He was the Knicks' best perimeter defender, and now he is expected to miss 6-8 months after tearing his ACL. Two crucial ACL tears in one day. This season has not been kind to the players. Without Shumpert, the Knicks will have no one capable of slowing down Dwayne Wade.

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Keep an eye on Tyson Chandler's production. He was clearly at less than full strength because of the flu.

Turnovers killed the Knicks. They need to take care of the ball if they want to even dream about beating the Heat. It's not rocket science: Turnovers lead to fast breaks. When the Heat get fast breaks, they are unbeatable.  

Remember Jeremy Lin? Apparently he's eying a Game 4 return. This could be a bad thing for the Knicks. The playoffs are not the time to experiment with chemistry. If he does return, don't expect him to play huge minutes. 

 

Indiana Pacers (No. 3) vs. Orlando Magic (No. 6)

This was supposed to be the bathroom-break playoff series because the Magic are playing without Dwight Howard. Now all of a sudden the Magic look like they have a real shot to upset.

The Pacers came out Saturday clearly overlooking the Magic. That shows just how inexperienced they are, which should be an alarming sign. Teams that show up unprepared don't last long in the playoffs.

The Pacers won't overlook the Magic again because they know the Magic are capable of beating them. It will still be tough for the Magic to win this series, but they still have enough playoff experience to make it interesting. 

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Is Danny Granger good? He's the best player on the Pacers, but what does that mean? At the moment he looks like a fake All-Star. The Pacers need to do everything they can to get Eric Gordon in the offseason. They need a reliable go-to guy to make themselves a legitimate title contender.

 

Boston Celtics (No. 4) vs. Atlanta Hawks (No. 5)

The Celtics thought so little of the Hawks that they conceded home court advantage to them late in the season, opting to rest their players. The Hawks played Sunday like they took that personally.

The Hawks look like the Hawks from the past couple seasons on paper, so they've been largely overlooked. The difference between these Hawks and the ones from the past few seasons is Josh Smith. He has raised his level to All-Star status. Smith finished Sunday's victory with 22 points and 18 rebounds.

The Celtics thought this series was going to be a cakewalk. Now they have to worry about not going down 0-2.

What is Rajon Rondo doing? Not only did he cost the Celtics late in Sunday's game, but he could likely be out for Game 2 as well. Rondo wants to be viewed as a leader, but in order to be a leader you need to keep your cool. Ejections and suspensions can swing a playoff series in an instance.

If Rondo does miss time, that means it will be "Paul Pierce time." Don't expect him to struggle two playoff games in a row. 

Steve Kerr said it best during the game Sunday night. The absence of Ray Allen hurts the Celtics more than just his ability to hit big shots. He's also a valuable decoy. If Allen is unable to return and make an impact for the Celtics, they could get knocked out early.

 

San Antonio Spurs (No. 1) vs. Utah Jazz (No. 8)

The Jazz have built a promising team. They may not be able to beat the Spurs in this series, but they will be a serious title contender in the years to come. Maybe even as soon as next season.

The two days of rest before Game 2 will do wonders for the Spurs. Who would have thought they'd get more rest in the playoffs than in the regular season?

In case you haven't realized, Tony Parker is a legitimate MVP candidate. He showed that in a big way Sunday, when he torched the Jazz for 28 points and eight assists. With Rose out for the playoffs, Parker is arguably the best point guard in the NBA. 

The "big fundamental" Tim Duncan still has it. He may be a shadow of his former self, but that just goes to show how good he once was. The Jazz are stacked in the low post, and Duncan still managed to score 17 points, grab 11 rebounds and dish out five assists.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 2) vs. Dallas Mavericks (No. 7)

The Mavericks played great basketball Saturday and they still lost to the Thunder. If they could have stolen Game 1 in Oklahoma City, the Mavericks would have had a real shot at upsetting the most exciting team in the Western Conference. It will a much more difficult task now. Kevin Durant won't struggle two games in a row.

Even though they were able to overcome it, the Thunder's weaknesses were once again evident in Game 1. When either Durant or Russell Westbrook struggle, the Thunder are very beatable. The Mavericks weren't quite good enough to overcome it, but the Thunder gave them a gem. In later rounds, the Thunder are going to have to find ways to execute when their two best players aren't hitting shots. 

Even though Durant struggled for a majority of the game, he still hit the big shot when it counted. Not only was the shot a huge confidence booster for himself, but it crushed the soul and hope of the Mavericks.

Game 1s set the tone in a playoff series. By hitting the game-winning shot, Durant made it known that he's still the best player in the Western Conference.  

 

Los Angeles Lakers (No. 3) vs. Denver Nuggets (No. 6)

We may have the makings of a sweep here. Despite their athleticism, the Nuggets are just too small for the Lakers. Andrew Bynum abused the Nuggets, blocking a record-tying 10 shots, finishing with the Lakers' first playoff triple-double in 21 years.

However, it might be a bad thing for the Lakers to beat the Nuggets in four games. If the Lakers sweep, Metta World Peace will still have two games left to serve on his suspension. The Lakers will need him in the possible Lakers/Thunder playoff series in Round 2. 

Even though Bynum was the story Sunday, Kobe Bryant still had his usual 31 points. Aaron Afflalo is a solid defender, but he is severely overmatched by the Mamba. 

The Nuggets are a nice collection of talent, but they still need that one "guy" who will push them over the top. The Lakers have three "guys." 

By the end of the playoffs, could Bynum be the best player on the Lakers? It's a long shot, but it's a legitimate possibility. As crazy as it sounds, at the moment Bynum is the best center in the NBA. 

 

Memphis Grizzlies (No. 4) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (No. 5)

The Grizzlies must have been reading too many of their press clippings because they fell asleep at the wheel Sunday night against the Clippers. The Grizzlies were outscored 35-13 in the fourth quarter.

A 26-1 run is unheard of. Aren't the Grizzlies supposed to have a lockdown backcourt?

It's become worrisome that the Grizzlies are everyone’s "sleeper" team. You can't be a sleeper team if everyone else sees you. The Grizzlies played arrogant Sunday and in return got kicked in the face. 

Forget the fact that they are the Clippers. Forget the fact that Vinny Del Negro coaches them. Forget the fact that they only have two dependable players. As long as Chris Paul is running the show, you can never count the Clippers out.

He's going to finish in the top four for MVP voting and is one of the best basketball players on the planet. That's a huge edge for the Clippers.

Where was Zach Randolph? Other than doing push ups on the floor, he was horrendous. This isn't last year, when Randolph was one of the top five players in the playoffs. If he is unable to outplay or at least match Blake Griffin's production, the Grizzlies could be in serious trouble.

The Grizzlies need to send a message in Game 2. They got punked Sunday in the worst way possible. They clearly have the talent to beat the Clippers, but they cannot get ahead of themselves. That's why they play the games. 

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