NBA Playoff Schedule 2012: 10 Burning Questions for Thursday's Game 6 Action
The NBA playoffs watched a fourth team advance yesterday, as the Miami Heat progressed through to the semifinals. With three teams on the brink of elimination, Thursday could provide some more series winners.
The Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers all currently lead their respective series 3-2 and have a chance to close out their opponents tonight. The Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Denver Nuggets all want to avoid elimination.
With speculation and questions swirling, here are the 10 burning questions that will ultimately decide the outcome of Thursday's games and, in some cases, the entire playoff series.
1. Can the Chicago Bulls beat the injury curse?
After staring elimination right in the face, the Chicago Bulls pulled out an impressive performance to take Game 5 and keep their series alive.
The Bulls entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but with the injuries sustained by Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, as well as the season-ending injury to reigning MVP Derrick Rose, it's no surprise that they have struggled against the Philadelphia 76ers.
With their dominant play inside and on the glass, both Noah and Gibson are crucial to Chicago's success. According to the latest reports, the former is unlikely to go, while the latter should be ready.
The Bulls need both parties to contribute as they look to beat the injury curse and force a Game 7.
2. Will Andre Iguodala finally start shooting well?
Andre Iguodala entered the NBA playoffs as one of the Sixers' go-to guys on offense, but hasn't been able to get going at all in their series against the Chicago Bulls.
Despite playing more minutes than any other player on their roster, Iguodala ranks fifth in total points for the series and is posting numbers well below his regular-season averages. His 45.4 shooting from the field and 39.4 percent conversion rate from deep are nowhere to be seen in the playoffs.
Iguodala is averaging just 30.6 percent from the field on 19-of-62 shooting and a woeful 15.0 percent from beyond the arc on 3-of-20 shooting. Overall, he's taken 82 shots this series with a shooting percentage of just 26.8.
The Sixers need better shooting from Iggy if they want to beat the Chicago Bulls.
3. Will the Chicago Bulls defense win the battle once more?
In Game 5, the Philadelphia 76ers were held to their second-lowest playoff total in history with just 69 points—largely due to the Bulls' defensive effort.
Chicago was able to control the pace of the game and restrict the Sixers' points in transition, forcing them into a style of play with which they weren't comfortable. As pointed out by Elton Brand: "The Bulls aren't one of the top defensive teams for no reason."
If Chicago is to win Game 6 and force a deciding Game 7, the Bulls will need their defense to step up once again and lead the way. Without Rose and likely Noah as well, Chicago's offense is lacking, and thus, must win the defensive battle.
4. Can Paul Pierce bounce back?
Moving on to the Celtics-Hawks, the biggest question for Boston fans surrounds Paul Pierce, who wasn't looking at all comfortable in the Game 5 loss to Atlanta. Pierce didn't perform anywhere near his best and seemed to be having trouble with his left knee and his lateral movement as a result.
Pierce claims that he's "good to go" for Game 6, but a large question mark still hangs over his ability to dribble effectively and be the offensive presence that his team desperately needs. He was excellent when Rajon Rondo missed Game 2 with a suspension, and Boston will be hoping for that kind of performance from him in Game 6.
5. Can the Hawks continue to dominate from deep?
They may be averaging less than 30 percent from three-point range throughout the series, but in Game 5, the Hawks lit it up from deep and perhaps won the game as a result.
Their 7-of-16 combined shooting doesn't encapsulate the extent to which their three-point shooting had an impact on the game; a 5-of-5 stretch late in the second quarter brought them back into the contest.
Marvin Williams was 3-of-6 and Jeff Teague 2-of-3 as the Hawks finished the night averaging 43.8 percent from deep—just a hair worse than their shooting from the field.
If they can continue to shoot well from beyond the arc, the Hawks will take Game 6.
6. What impact will Rajon Rondo have on the game?
Although Paul Pierce and the Hawks' deep shooting will be important, this game rests in the hands of Rajon Rondo.
If he has another one of his triple-double nights, then the series is over. If he is contained early as he was in Game 5, then the Hawks have a real chance.
With a chance to clinch the series, Rondo willed the Celtics back in to the game late, but couldn't quite get the job done on the final play.
He has more than 50 assists for the series and leads the team in steals. He also ranks third in total points scored and fourth in total rebounds—not bad for a player who was forced to sit out one game.
If Rondo can fire on all cylinders, then the Celtics will too.
7. Just how tired are the Los Angeles Lakers?
After creeping back in to the series with athleticism and intensity, the Denver Nuggets will no doubt look to do the same again at home in Game 6 against the Lakers.
Playing at altitude will no doubt benefit the Nuggets. Coach George Karl commented on the Lakers' fatigue playing a part in Game 6:
My hope—I don't know if this is true or not—is that fatigue will come our way. The running of the game, the tempo of the game and the pace, the way we play... They're getting tired of hearing it and you're probably tired of hearing it, but our only chance to beat them is run them and play with tremendous energy and intensity...
8. Can the Lakers defense hold up for one more night?
Throughout the regular season, the Denver Nuggets led a high-flying offense that averaged more than 100 points per game. In fact, to score just 100 points was a relatively quiet night in the Mile High City.
However, throughout the playoffs, the Nuggets are averaging just 95 points per game. They have only scored 100 points twice this series and have been held under 90 points twice also.
Maybe it's the Lakers defense, maybe it's just poor shooting from Denver or maybe it's a mixture of both. Whatever the case, if the Lakers can suffocate the Nuggets offense for just one more night, then they may close out the series in the process.
9. Which Kobe Bryant will show up?
We all know that Kobe Bryant loves to step up come playoff time, and 2012 is no different, with the Mamba lighting it up once again for the Lakers.
Bryant has been a scoring machine, but he's also chipped in distributing the ball and hitting the boards. Together with Andrew Bynum, Bryant will lead the Lakers attack in Game 6, seeking to close out the series.
The real question here is not whether Bryant will have an impact on the game, but what type of impact he will have and whether that impact will be enough to finish off the series in Denver.
10. Will the Lakers continue to dominate with offensive boards?
For the Denver Nuggets to force Game 7, they will need to win the rebounding battle over the Lakers—particularly on the defensive end.
Whilst JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried both have been effective on the defensive boards for the Nuggets, Andrew Bynum, Paul Gasol and Jordan Hill have all gotten to the offensive glass and will be looking to dominate once again in Game 6.
Hill has an impressive 21 offensive boards in just over 100 minutes and could very well be the decisive factor in the Lakers offense via second-chance points.
For the Sixers-Bulls, I think the No. 1 seed somehow wins again despite the injury curse and forces a Game 7. Chicago's defense is playing very well, and with Andre Iguodola unable to find his rhythm, the Sixers' offense once again will be largely ineffective.
Chicago Bulls by four points.
For the Hawks-Celtics, I'm going with Boston's Big Three (or Four) to clinch the series and give their aging bodies some well-deserved rest. Atlanta can't keep up its impressive shooting from deep, and while Paul Pierce still isn't 100 percent, Rajon Rondo definitely is and will lead the Celtics to a series-clinching victory.
Boston Celtics by three points.
As for Nuggets-Lakers, it's tough to go against Kobe Bryant in the playoffs. He is playing incredible basketball, and with enough offensive help from Gasol, Bynum and company, the Lakers will be too much for Denver.
Los Angeles Lakers by seven points.
These are just my predictions. I would love to hear yours and your thoughts on the 10 burning questions that will decide Thursday's Game 6 action.
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