Saturday's marquee Game 3 showdowns will prove vital in shaping the rest of the NBA playoff picture. Both series on the schedule are knotted at one apiece, and defense should be a common theme throughout both games.
The Oklahoma City Thunder may be the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, but they are a far different team without superstar point guard Russell Westbrook. Facing a relentless Memphis Grizzlies squad doesn't make things any easier.
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how the Indiana Pacers bounce back at home after getting annihilated by the New York Knicks in the last matchup by 26 points.
Below is viewing information and a breakdown of the biggest key for each team in the forthcoming semifinal clashes this evening.
New York Knicks at Indiana Pacers
Key for Knicks: Integrating Amar'e Stoudemire into Rotation
Head coach Mike Woodson's plan for New York's All-Star power forward is to play him for about 10 to 15 minutes in Game 3, as reported by Jared Zwerling of ESPN New York.
Zwerling points out that Stoudemire underwent a right knee debridement and hasn't played since March 7. It will be interesting to see how Woodson utilizes him and when it will be appropriate to insert him into the action.
The playoffs are far more intense than the regular season by nature, and it will be quite the atmosphere to be thrown into on the road against an extremely physical Pacers team.
Indiana is not only second in terms of points allowed per game, but it is also the top rebounding team. That means Stoudemire will have to be aggressive on the boards and establish himself in the post as quickly as possible.
Stoudemire has every right to take the court as long as he's fit to do so, since he was the one who initially signed a max contract to put Knicks basketball back on the map. It just remains to be seen if he'll be effective in this role.
Key for Pacers: Clean up Turnovers
Twenty-one turnovers simply isn't going to get it done—especially against a Knicks team that has made a living off of playing fundamentally sound, offensively efficient basketball in terms of ball security.
Paul George in particular was pressing far too much in Game 2, coughing it up a whopping seven times. It was a collective letdown by the Pacers, but they had to overcome 16 giveaways in the opening win in Madison Square Garden, too.
It's a discouraging trend that has to be put to a halt now for Frank Vogel's squad. The Pacers play their best ball when the scoring onus isn't on one player, and George too often took the initiative in the last matchup.
HoopsWorld.com's Alex Kennedy points to the incredible team effort that won Indiana the first game:
Alex Kennedy @AlexKennedyNBA
The Indiana Pacers beat you with their balanced attack. Six Pacers in double-digits tonight and leading scorer (West) with just 20 points.5/5/2013, 10:14:51 PM
Sloppiness with the ball was still a problem then, but it shows what happens when George takes on more of a distributing role. That was the case in the Atlanta Hawks series, which was ultimately successful. Elias Sports Bureau shows just how well the versatile George thrived in Round 1:
Elias Sports Bureau @EliasSports
Paul George led the @Pacers in points, rebounds, assists, and steals in first-round series vs Hawks. Game 1 vs @NYKnicks at 3:30 ET on ABC.5/5/2013, 6:10:11 PM
So this problem essentially falls on George to fix. He is on the cusp of being a legitimate star in the league, and his play from the 3 position dictates how smoothly the offense runs.
One thing is relatively certain: If David West's shot attempts, Lance Stephenson's three-point attempts and George's turnovers even come close to matching each other again as they did in Game 2, Indiana will be hard-pressed to win another game.
Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies
Key for Thunder: Better Play from the Frontcourt
Kevin Durant has been doing it all for OKC thus far in the series, including leading the team in rebounding by a wide margin.
Though the Thunder need Kevin Martin to step up as a No. 2 scorer in lieu of Westbrook on a consistent basis moving forward, the bigs up front for Oklahoma City will make or break this series.
The tandem of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka are among the most formidable from an interior defensive standpoint. Unfortunately for the Thunder, Memphis has Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
The Grizzlies were plus-17 in Game 2 on second-chance points, and that's largely due to the ineffectiveness of Perkins and Ibaka on the glass.
Ibaka only had five rebounds in each of the previous two contests and sank just one of 10 shots in Game 1. CBS Sports' Royce Young did, however, point out a positive in the midst of that:
Royce Young @royceyoung
Serge Ibaka might be just 1-10 with only five rebounds, but his defense on Z-Bo has been simply outstanding.5/5/2013, 7:28:19 PM
When the vastly improved jump shot of Ibaka is falling, OKC is tough to beat. But Randolph can bother Ibaka with his athleticism and hard-nosed defense even 15 feet away from the hoop.
If the Thunder expect to steal a game in FedEx Forum, their starting front line needs to begin showing more consistency on both ends of the court.
Key for Grizzlies: Keep Letting Mike Conley Jr. Create
Bleacher Report highlighted Conley's monstrous Game 2 eruption in which he carried the scoring load, generated opportunities for his teammates and even crashed the boards with surprising effectiveness:
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
Mike Conley almost records a triple-double (26 pts, 10 rebs, 9 assts) to lead the Grizzlies to a Game 2 victory over the Thunder, 99-935/8/2013, 4:37:13 AM
That type of performance on the road is precisely what the Grizzlies needed, and it showed that Conley is capable of thriving under postseason pressure in one of the NBA's toughest environments.
What that game really exposed, though, was the significant advantage Memphis has in the point guard matchup.
Neither Bobby Jackson nor Derek Fisher have a prayer of staying in front of Conley, which should only continue to make life difficult for OKC. Conley can get by anyone off the dribble, and he has two big men in Gasol and Randolph on the inside who have wonderful hands and finesse around the rim.
Typically not a team known for their offensive firepower, the Grizzlies should produce enough points to win this series as long as head coach Lionel Hollins lets Conley set the tone.
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