As the postseason clock slowly ticks its way towards midnight, there are several teams whose playoff runs will come to an end sooner than they would have liked.
The good feelings that resulted from opening-round victories will be short-lived for half of the squads left in the NBA's version of the Elite Eight. The intensity of the conference semifinals is at a different level than it was just a series ago: The whole "win or go home" mantra seems much more tangible now that the Larry O'Brien Trophy is a distinct possibility.
With the cream set to rise to the top in short order, a number of teams will soon be forced to involuntarily begin their offseasons. And while they'll put up a good fight before they leave, there isn't much they can do to prevent their departure.
It only took the Chicago Bulls one game to put the Miami Heat—and the rest of the basketball world—on notice.
Their optimism will be short-lived, however. LeBron James and Co. have been served with an official wake-up call, and now that their attention has been fully aroused, expect to see a different Miami team from here on out.
"We have to fight for our playoff lives right now, play a much harder and much more committed game together," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra in an interview on Tuesday with Ira Winderman of the Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Ignore the rumors of a possible Derrick Rose return to Game 3, as reported by Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld. Even with their All-Star point guard, the Bulls simply don't have enough talent to beat Miami four times in a seven-game series. Chicago struggled to close out the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, so the thought of them taking out the defending champion Heat is unconscionable.
Stephen Curry may be the most valuable player in the playoffs right now, but he's simply not transcendent enough to lead the Golden State Warriors over the San Antonio Spurs.
The Warriors' collapse in the final few minutes of Game 1 is merely Exhibit A: The Spurs showed that they're a battle tested group that is used to the pace and the intensity of the postseason. Meanwhile, an inexperienced Golden State spent so much energy building an early lead that it had nothing left in crunch time.
Curry won't have a better game in the series than the one he had in the opener (44 points, 11 assists), yet he still walked off of the court with a loss. That fact, plus his team's inevitable regression to the field-goal percentage mean (Golden State is shooting 49.7 percent from the floor in the postseason), will soon lead to the end of the Warriors' run.
After knocking off the higher-seeded Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, the Memphis Grizzlies have what it takes to beat a short-handed Oklahoma City Thunder team. But having the ability to advance to the Western Conference finals is one thing: Defeating Kevin Durant to get there is another matter entirely.
The Thunder are one of the few teams left that can neutralize (or at least manage) the impact of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Conversely, as good as Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince are on the defensive end, Durant is still going to get his 30-plus points virtually every night. If/when another member of the Thunder emerges as a consistent No. 2 option, Oklahoma City will be one of the toughest outs in the entire playoff field.
Durant may be tired of finishing in second, but he won't have to do so against Memphis—at least not this year.
The New York-Indiana series has the potential to be the most physical of the second-round matchups, and the Knicks simply don't have the muscle to tussle against the likes of Roy Hibbert and David West.
New York barely outrebounded Indiana in Game 2, and that was with Carmelo Anthony, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith combining for 21 of the team's 37 boards. Amar'e Stoudemire is slated to return to the Knicks' lineup in Game 3, but it's unreasonable to expect him to bang in the paint for more than a 20-25 minute run.
Anthony broke out of his four-game shooting slump to help the Knicks tie the series, but he and Smith are far too erratic to carry a team through multiple rounds in the postseason. And while the Pacers also rely heavily on perimeter scoring, they have a couple of low post options (Hibbert, West) that give them a quite a bit of flexibility on offense.