Although the NBA playoffs are still in the early stages, pressure is already beginning to mount on teams that were viewed as top contenders but haven't lived up to that elite billing so far in the postseason. It points toward an intriguing finish to the opening round.
As other teams struggle to separate from their first-round foes, the Miami Heat have cruised out to a 2-0 lead over the Charlotte Bobcats. After a mundane regular season by their standards, it appears Miami is ready to make a serious push toward a third straight title.
The Heat are one of the eight teams in action during Saturday's playoff slate. Let's check out an updated list of odds (via Odds Shark) for those contests and then take a closer look at some of the teams facing pressure much sooner than they had hoped when the round began.
Odds for Saturday's Games
|Odds for Saturday's First-Round Games|
|Series||Road Team||Home Team||Line|
|ATL leads IND 2-1||Pacers||Hawks||IND -2|
|SA-DAL tied 1-1||Spurs||Mavericks||SA -3.5|
|MIA leads CHA 2-0||Heat||Bobcats||MIA -5.5|
|MEM leads OKC 2-1||Thunder||Grizzlies||OKC -3|
|Odds Shark (April 26 at 9 a.m.)|
Teams Facing Early Playoff Pressure
Two months ago, the Pacers looked like a team capable of dethroning the Heat in the East. They faded down the stretch, however, and they haven't been able to get things back on track. The Atlanta Hawks thoroughly outplayed them in the second half of Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead.
While there's no shortage of blame to go around for a team that's looked completely out of sync at times, the poor play of Roy Hibbert leads the list of concerns. He's been a virtual non-factor so far, as stats passed along by John Buccigross of ESPN illustrate:
It's hard to imagine the Pacers coming back to win the series unless Hibbert elevates his level of play in a major way. Given the lack of interior depth the Hawks possess, it's a series the talented center should dominate, but it just hasn't happened.
A season that had so much promise is quickly slipping away. If they don't regroup fast, the team will look back at this season as a huge missed opportunity because the talent is there for them to make some serious noise. But their play has failed to impress for quite some time now.
San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio's series with the rival Dallas Mavericks is level at one, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Dallas could very easily be leading 2-0 after holding a 10-point lead with under eight minutes left in Game 1 before a ferocious Spurs comeback. The Mavs didn't make the same mistake in Game 2.
The biggest cause for concern for San Antonio is its play on the offensive end. The team's offense, which operated like a well-oiled machine for most of the season, has committed 32 turnovers as compared to just 31 assists through two games.
It's led to questions about whether the Mavericks discovered something while preparing for the series to slow down the normally efficient Spurs. Bryan Gutierrez of ESPN provided remarks from Vince Carter, who said the only formula is holding an intensity advantage:
That's the formula. We have to play, from top to bottom, like it's our last game. Everybody answered the challenge. The tough thing about it is that we have to do it again, again and again for us to come out victorious in this series.
San Antonio is a veteran, battle-tested team that's endured plenty of playoff series during the era of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Going out on the road isn't a big day for them. But their performance in the first two games simply wasn't good enough to advance, let alone win another title.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies are three games into what's become a very entertaining series. After Oklahoma City won the opener in routine fashion, Memphis has fought back to win two straight overtime thrillers to grab the lead.
As expected, the trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka has been terrific leading the charge for the Thunder. The problem is the lack of production from anybody else. No other player is averaging more than five points per game in the playoffs.
By contrast, the Grizzlies have five different players averaging in double digits and another in Beno Udrih only a shade below that mark. Mike Conley in particular has turned some heads with terrific play, that's all but eliminated the advantage Westbrook usually gives Oklahoma City.
While the Thunder certainly have more star power, that won't be enough for them to move on unless they start getting some help from the role players. Game 3 is absolutely crucial because they don't want to fall in a 3-1 hole and be forced to win three straight against a clearly formidable opponent.