While the NBA playoffs are normally all about chalk in the early going, that simply hasn't been the case thus far with lower-seeded teams putting several top contenders on the ropes.
As dire as it looks for those teams right now, there is still plenty of time to turn things around. Provided some adjustments are made, a few of the teams that are trailing in their first-round series absolutely have what it takes to rebound.
Here is a breakdown of three teams that find themselves in less-than-ideal situations right now, but will ultimately dig deep and advance to the second round.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder have a history of issues with the Memphis Grizzlies come playoff time, and that has continued despite OKC's impressive regular-season showing. The Thunder were ousted by the Grizz last season without the services of Russell Westbrook, and even though they are at full strength currently, Memphis has still been a handful.
After taking Game 1, Oklahoma City has since dropped consecutive overtime games and now finds itself trailing 2-1 in the series. The Thunder's Game 2 loss was particularly heartbreaking since they mounted a huge comeback in order to force OT. According to ESPN Stats & Info, OKC went on a scoring rampage in the latter half of the fourth quarter:
Thunder outscored Grizzlies by 17 points in last 7:43 of regulation— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 25, 2014
Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph were able to rally the troops, though, and the Grizzlies somehow managed to stem the tide. A loss in Game 3 would have put them in a very difficult position, but the Grizz now have all the momentum.
When top teams struggle, their star players often absorb the brunt of the criticism. That has been the case for Kevin Durant despite the fact that he is averaging 33 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game thus far. KD has been asked about whether or not Tony Allen's defense has adversely impacted his play, but Durant doesn't see it that way, per Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com.
"It's not like I'm just totally getting locked down," Durant said. "He's making it tough, but it's not like I'm just nonexistent. I don't know what you guys have been watching. He's just making me work, like everybody else will."
As long as Durant continues to play his game, good things will happen. The Thunder could easily be up 3-0 in this series had things gone their way in overtime, and now that their back is against the wall, expect them to rise to the occasion.
It was no secret entering the playoffs that the Indiana Pacers were vulnerable despite salvaging the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Indiana stumbled down the stretch, and it has left itself upset-prone in a major way. Through three games in their first-round series, the Atlanta Hawks have certainly taken advantage to the tune of a 2-1 lead.
Both of the Pacers' losses in this series have been by eight or more points, and as mentioned by ESPN's Skip Bayless, they simply haven't had an answer for the sparkling play of Hawks point guard Jeff Teague:
Hawks just look better than Pacers. Biggest difference: Hawks have Teague at PG (22, 10 assts), Pacers stuck w/ GHill (1-10, 4 assts).— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) April 25, 2014
Pacers star Paul George has done his best to prop up the team with averages of 21 points, 11 rebounds and five assists per contest, but he simply hasn't gotten any help. Guard Lance Stephenson has pitched in a bit; however, it hasn't been enough with the Hawks truly banging on all cylinders.
Also, the Pacers seem to be a team divided. Per SportsCenter on Twitter, Stephenson and teammate Evan Turner mixed it up prior to the series:
Pacers G Lance Stephenson confirms that he & Evan Turner got into scuffle before Game 1 of series vs Hawks, but denies punches were thrown.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 23, 2014
That seemingly set the tone for what has been a nightmarish start to the playoffs for Indiana. As bad as things look for the Pacers right now, there is no question that they are one of the deepest and most talented teams in the league.
With that in mind, there is no reason why they can't overcome a 2-1 deficit. Advancing to the NBA Finals or even the conference finals may be a tall order at this point, but Frank Vogel's team will find a way to rally and reach the second round at the very least.
Which trailing team is most likely to mount a first-round comeback?
After signing center Dwight Howard and pairing him with superstar guard James Harden, the Houston Rockets entered the 2013-14 season with the expectation that they would compete for a championship. That goal is very much in trouble at this point, though, as Houston is in a 2-0 hole against the Portland Trail Blazers after a pair of spectacular games.
The combination of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard has been absolutely deadly for the Blazers, and they have managed to outperform their counterparts in Howard and Harden. There is no question that Harden's play is what has hurt the Rockets most. Although he is averaging 22.5 points per game, his miserable field-goal percentage of under 30 percent is unacceptable.
Conversely, Howard has been great. D12 has posted averages of nearly 30 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks per contest in the postseason. In fact, Howard has taken the bull by the horns and established himself as the alpha dog for the Rockets:
Dwight Howard says Rockets have to play inside out, forcing Blazers' big men to work harder. » pic.twitter.com/mxM9O6S9Jy— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 22, 2014
The fact that Howard is playing so well is a great sign for the Rockets. Provided Harden is able to at least approach his regular-season form, Houston definitely has a chance to mount a comeback.
It won't be easy since Portland boasts a deep and talented team, but the duo of Harden and Howard is extremely difficult to stop when they are both at their best.
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