The NBA playoffs have been thrilling so far, and Round 1 hasn't even concluded yet.
The Memphis Grizzlies and Atlanta Hawks both roared back from 2-0 series deficits. Memphis got the all-important road win in Game 5 and hold the momentum for Friday's potential closeout game. Atlanta can put all the pressure on the No. 3 seed Pacers with a win to force Game 7.
Meanwhile, the New York Knicks and OKC Thunder are suddenly unable to win a playoff game after reeling off three victories apiece to open their series. They stand on the precipice of making ignominious history if they can't find a way to notch a fourth win.
With that much juicy action around the NBA on Friday, it must mean that it's time to peer into the crystal ball and prognosticate some results. Who will go home, and who will live to die another day? Most importantly, who will flirt with NBA history as the first team to blow a 3-0 series lead?
New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics
Prediction: Knicks 91, Celtics 82 (also check out my full Game 6 preview)
The New York Knicks failed to close out the Boston Celtics at the "World's Most Famous Arena," and now they head back to TD Garden attempting to close out the series yet again after two whiffs.
If the Knicks become the first team to blow a 3-0 series lead, it will make nine out of 10 seasons in which Carmelo Anthony has exited the playoffs in the first round.
While they missed the chance to close out early and rest up before Round 2, the Knicks will halt their schneid and finally play like the No. 2 seed for the first time since Game 3.
There are too many trends in this series that are very unlikely to hold up: New York's poor shooting, their middling defense, Kevin Garnett getting 17 rebounds a game and Jason Terry racking up points out of spite.
New York is due to play a solid game on Friday, and it'll grab an all-important win up in New England just as it did with its active D and efficient scoring in Game 3.
Indiana Pacers vs. Atlanta Hawks
Prediction: Hawks 98, Pacers 89 (also check out see my full Game 6 preview)
This is a series where the home team has won each game by double digits. The Indiana Pacers have home-court advantage in the series, so the Atlanta Hawks will need to steal a road win, but first they have to take care of business in Georgia.
They will do so with defense. The Hawks found success with beefing up their lineup and adding reserve center Johan Petro to the frontcourt. It's helped Atlanta to match up against the stout Pacers, and it will need to harness that size and toughness to stay alive.
The Pacers ranked in the bottom third of the league in effective field-goal percentage, which adjusts for three-pointers. They cannot win a playoff series by shooting jump shots, so Atlanta must push Indy out to the perimeter for contested jumpers.
The Hawks have to channel the fervor of the Philips Arena crowd and amp up the defensive intensity to fend off elimination. Facing a 2-0 hole in Game 3, Atlanta swarmed on D and forced Indy into bad shot after bad shot.
The Hawks have to keep the ball out of the paint and contest every jump shot. If they can force Indy to live from mid-range, that will also give ATL numbers on the glass.
Atlanta will keep the dominance of home cooking going in the series to force a Game 7.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets
Prediction: Thunder 104, Rockets 98 (also check out see my full Game 6 preview)
The Oklahoma City Thunder still wear the Western Conference crown, but they haven't looked like it against the Houston Rockets. Following a 29-point blowout in Game 1, Houston has played OKC to the wire in every game.
While the Rockets have shooters up and down their roster, OKC has too much playoff experience to let this one slip away. Even without Russell Westbrook, the Thunder are the vastly superior team.
OKC must surround Kevin Durant, who has now become a point forward, with effective support on offense (meaning Kevin Martin can't shoot 1-of-10 again). But turning in a better defensive effort is of paramount importance.
As Serge Ibaka returns to Texas for the first times since his flubbed layup in Game 4, he will play with singular focus. Look for 15 points, a dozen boards and a quadrant of blocks.
Between just KD, Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha and Derek Fisher, the Thunder entered these playoffs boasting 367 games of postseason experience. Houston doesn't have anything close to that level of playoff mettle, and that will put OKC over the top on the road.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Memphis Grizzlies
Prediction: Grizzlies 98-90
The Los Angeles Clippers won 56 games and their division this year, but they are still in danger of getting just as far as the much-maligned L.A. Lakers did in the playoffs. After kicking off the series with a pair of home wins, the Clips have been going nowhere fast.
The Memphis Grizzlies have played like Rudy Gay never existed, with Mike Conley improving on his scoring average and assists per game from the regular season.
Marc Gasol has been sublime on both ends of the floor, and Zach Randolph has returned to the elite form he displayed to start the season.
After stealing Game 5 on the road at Staples Center, the Grizz ride a wave of momentum into FedExForum for Game 6.
When a team follows a pair of home wins by stealing a victory on the road, it demoralizes the opponent—especially if it is the favorite. Now Lob City can't get anything going, as everyone except Chris Paul pulled a no-show for Game 5.
With their stout defense and ferocious rebounds, the Grizz will complete their mauling of the Clippers and set their sights on the wounded OKC Thunder.