Eight teams gone, eight teams left and four spots open to advance into the conference finals of the NBA playoffs. We're zipping right along in an extremely exciting postseason to this point.
So far, we've seen the Chicago Bulls overcome some Old Testament-style plagues, the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs sweep with few issues, the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies fight their way to an ugly series victory, the Oklahoma City Thunder move on without an All-Star, the New York Knicks stumble into four wins and the Golden State Warriors emerge as the only real upset.
The second round that remains at our fingertips looks to be a thriller—four series with the capability of going the distance.
Few sure things remain at this point, and any remaining team could full well make it into the next round, regardless of how surprising it would be.
There are some definite favorites, but any upset would only be a fleeting surprise before becoming an exposition of weakness.
In anticipation (and a bit of reaction with what we've seen so far), it's time to take a flip through all four series that remain and break each one down.
- Game 1: Monday, May 6—7 p.m. ET on TNT
- Game 2: Wednesday, May 8—7 p.m. ET on TNT
- Game 3: Friday, May 10—8 p.m. ET on ESPN
- Game 4: Monday, May 13—7 p.m. ET on TNT
- Game 5: Wednesday, May 15—TBD on TNT If Necessary
- Game 6: Friday, May 17—TBD on ESPN If Necessary
- Game 7: Sunday, May 19—TBD on TNT If Necessary
Key Regular-Season Game: March 27—Bulls 101, Heat 97
It was possibly the most exciting, playoff-feeling basketball game of the regular season—the Chicago Bulls ending the Miami Heat's 27-game winning streak back in March.
In a way, this isn't an advantage for either team. Chicago showed that it can beat the Heat in an intense atmosphere with something actually on the line, but it also showed its cards to an extent.
These next four to seven games should get ugly, just like that game was, but the Heat are going to find ways to score, so the Bulls have to do the same.
Biggest Advantage: Miami's Healthy Lineup
The Chicago Bulls are a squad on the brink of collapsing. They're wet tissue paper sewn back together at this point, yet they seem as strong as ever.
Joakim Noah continues to deal with plantar fasciitis, the entire team just battled the flu and Luol Deng was carted off to the ER for a spinal tap with a possible case of meningitis. (He's rejoining the team for Game 1, but his status is still uncertain.)
X-Factors: Shane Battier and Nate Robinson
The unique skill set that Shane Battier brings to the table is pretty evident. He's still a tremendous defender. Whether it be against a smaller guy in the post or nearly anyone around the perimeter, he'll cover them.
What's even better for the Heat is that he's suddenly become a spot-up shooter extraordinaire and shot 43 percent for three on the season. He made just 22 percent of his long balls in Round 1, but don't look for that to be a trend.
Nate Robinson, however, is a horse of another species. I'd even say he's closer to a zebra.
Chicago needs Robinson to score in order to win games. He's one of the few offensive threats, capable of explosions that sway games.
Whether or not he's able to continue to be reliable for the Bulls will likely determine his future, so expect at least as much of Nate-Rob in this series as there was in the last.
- Game 1: Pacers 102, Knicks 95
- Game 2: Tuesday, May 7—7 p.m. ET on TNT
- Game 3: Saturday, May 11—8 p.m. ET on ABC
- Game 4: Tuesday, May 14—TBD on TNT
- Game 5: Thursday, May 16—8 p.m. ET on TNT If Necessary
- Game 6: Saturday, May 18—TBD on ESPN If Necessary
- Game 7: Monday, May 20—8 p.m. ET on TNT If Necessary
Key Regular-Season Game: January 10—Indiana Pacers 81, New York Knicks 76
I would expect at least one of these games at some point during the series. The Pacers defense is going to clamp down, New York is going to do the same when it comes upon a poor shooting stretch and we're going to be off to the grind-house.
New York's defense depended on Tyson Chandler in the January 10 meeting, and with Chandler still looking slightly shaky, it's possible that Indiana could have the upper hand.
This might not be the look of every game, but if one of the games later in the round slows down with nobody shooting efficiently, Indiana has a better ability to grind out wins than New York.
Biggest Advantage: Indy's Perimeter Defense
Indiana watched as opponents made an average of five three-pointers per game against them during the regular season. Not surprisingly, the Pacers held opponents to the lowest three-point shooting percentage in the NBA at just a shade under 33 percent.
New York made the most three-pointers of any team ever.
Something tells me that if there was a group that New York didn't want to run into in the first two rounds, it would be the Indiana Pacers.
X-Factors: J.R. Smith and David West
I'm assuming I don't need to go too deeply into why J.R. Smith is the X-factor for the Knicks. Smith is the 2013 Sixth Man of the Year, he's incredibly volatile and he can easily swing a game one way or the other.
Smith is always a threat to come out and hit a half-dozen three-pointers, but he can also take some truly horrible shots in the last few minutes of a game. He's not as much of a coin flip as he used to be, but there's definitely a risk-reward scenario with Smith.
Meanwhile, David West is perhaps the most intriguing player in this entire series. He's a monster of a man in the post, but he's also a reliable floor spacer.
West could be used as everything from a constant attacker in the paint to a mid-range decoy depending on the game.
Not only that, but he forms a nice duo with Roy Hibbert in the post and an inside-outside combo with Paul George.
- Game 1: Oklahoma City Thunder 93, Memphis Grizzlies 91
- Game 2: Tuesday, May 7—9:30 p.m. ET on TNT
- Game 3: Saturday, May 11—5 p.m. ET on ESPN
- Game 4: Monday, May 13—9:30 p.m. ET on TNT
- Game 5: Wednesday, May 15 —TBD on TNT If Necessary
- Game 6: Friday, May 17—TBD on ESPN If Necessary
- Game 7: Sunday, May 19—TBD If Necessary
Key Regular-Season Game: None
Try as I might, there's just no way for me to stretch any of the regular season games between these two into a preview of the playoffs.
Russell Westbrook played at least 31 minutes in each game during the regular season, and with him not on the floor, there's just no telling how different the games will go.
The first playoff game between the two should be pretty exemplary of the rest of the series. Kevin Durant will take the lead from start to finish, and the Grizzlies will spread the ball around and attack the paint.
Biggest Advantage: Oklahoma City's Best Player
The Memphis Grizzlies didn't have the best player on the floor in their first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, and they won't have him against the Thunder either.
While the Grizzlies may have gotten over it in the first round, Durant is a completely different beast to deal with. Sometimes having the best player in the game is a big enough advantage to swing a series.
X-Factors: Kevin Martin and Tony Allen
Both equally important to their team, and both equally inept on one end of the floor.
Kevin Martin is great to watch when he's consistently hitting three-pointers. It's something that could turn a series.
However, a poor shooting night mixed with a regular night defensively for Martin can make him a waste of a body.
Tony Allen is the same way, but on the other side of the floor. He's capable of covering almost any perimeter player in the NBA (although he didn't see much of Durant in Game 1), and he really can change a series with his defense.
Offensively, he is lucky to find a few baskets a game, which does keep him off the floor at times, but his defense is among the NBA's elite.
- Game 1: Monday, May 6—9:30 p.m. ET on TNT
- Game 2: Wednesday, May 8—9:30 p.m. ET on TNT
- Game 3: Friday, May 10—10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
- Game 4: Sunday, May 12—3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
- Game 5: Tuesday, May 14—9:30 p.m. ET on TNT If Necessary
- Game 6: Thursday, May 16—TBD on ESPN If Necessary
- Game 7: Sunday, May 19—TBD If Necessary
Key Regular-Season Game: March 20, San Antonio Spurs 104, Golden State Warriors 93
I think it's safe to say that the Warriors were underestimated in the first round; we shouldn't take the same thoughts into the second round.
The biggest threat to San Antonio is Stephen Curry heating up and the rest of the Warriors hitting three-pointers. Golden State is going to do that at some point throughout the series.
San Antonio picked its battles, kept the ball out of Curry's hands as much as possible and let the long twos fly rather than an endless rain of threes.
Biggest Advantage: Tim Duncan
Tony Parker is the best player in this series, and an argument could be made that Stephen Curry has the ability to be a close No. 2, but Tim Duncan has more to say about this series than anybody else.
With the Warriors holding the advantage on the three-point line, they'll be constantly in fear of getting a shot blocked by a defensively dominant Duncan.
X-Factors: Tiago Splitter and Jarrett Jack
San Antonio hasn't had a two-way big man to put next to Tim Duncan since David Robinson. Splitter is the best it's had after a long line of Rasho Nesterovics, Nazr Mohammeds, Francisco Elsons and Dejuan Blairs.
Splitter could be the key to the series, giving the Spurs a two-pronged point of attack against Andrew Bogut and whomever else Golden State is putting into the post.
Golden State has perhaps the most explosive scorer playing basketball on the West Coast,rec Stephen Curry, capable of knocking down three-pointers one right after the other, but Jarrett Jack's ability to heat up is different.
Curry generally has a pre-heating period, but Jack is just an instant source of heat. Jarrett Jack God Mode will raise its head during this series—the only question is how often?