13 Burning Questions Facing Remaining 2014 NBA Playoff Teams
The 2014 NBA playoffs have given us some of the best, most entertaining basketball we've seen in a long time. There have been eight overtime contests, incredible game-winners and we're about to watch five Game 7s take place in one extraordinary weekend.
And we're still in Round 1.
For those who haven't gone fishin', congratulations—you've made it this far. The playoffs, however, are just getting started, and for those looking to advance, there are questions that must be answered at this point in the process.
*All rankings and statistics are accurate as of Saturday, May 3 at 6:00 a.m. ET.
Question: Improve or abandon the three?
The Atlanta Hawks aren't taking advantage of the three-point line. Despite being tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for the sixth-best long-range shooting percentage (out of 13 remaining teams), the team has completed just 20 of its last 66 attempts from downtown (in losses).
The good news for Atlanta is that it hasn't been so awful in wins. Take Game 5 for instance. The team went 15-of-27 from downtown, and it walked away with a 107-97 victory.
Considering that discrepancy, the Hawks must do one of two things: convert on more threes or balance the attack. It's okay to play at the rim when your shot isn't falling, but it's the current offensive scheme that has turned Roy Hibbert from an All-Star into a bench warmer.
Indiana is the No. 1 seed for a reason, but its struggles as of late have the Hawks on the hinges of an 8-1 upset. Now it's time for them to make the right adjustments, particularly from behind the arc.
Question: Can Deron Williams set the tone?
The Brooklyn Nets brought in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to be the final pieces of a championship puzzle. That notion has held true through the first round of the playoffs, but it's become clear that Deron Williams is the one who will lead this team if it's going to compete for a Larry O'Brien Trophy.
In spite of having "gone missing" early in the series against the Toronto Raptors, the 29-year-old had one heck of a performance in Game 6. He scored 24 points in 39 minutes and helped force a Game 7.
Despite Pierce and Garnett's championship experience, Williams is the catalyst for high-energy execution. The Nets play off him, and when he can get going early, it makes all the difference late.
The Nets have the experience over Toronto, but the Raptors have the youth. A close Game 7 will give Brooklyn the edge, but if Williams can't find his groove, Toronto won't hold back.
The Dallas Mavericks have forced a Game 7 against the San Antonio Spurs. Don't take anything away from them at this point in the series, as that was a feat few saw coming when the postseason began.
The problem is, this group has struggled mightily on defense all year, which is hardly conducive to a deep run.
Dallas finished the regular season 20th in points per game allowed, and it's currently ninth out of 13 (teams still in the playoffs) in that category. It's found ways to win high-scoring affairs, but the defensive battles have each gone the Spurs' direction.
If the Mavs can sneak past San Antonio, they'll have an offensive juggernaut waiting for them in the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland averaged better than 111 points per contest in its first-round series, and while its porous defense will balance the competition, the Blazers would have the edge with home-court advantage.
Golden State Warriors
Question: Can the Dubs survive another bad performance from Curry?
Stephen Curry nearly became the poster child of the 2013 playoffs with his showcase of unstoppable shooting. That's the player the Golden State Warriors need in 2014, and that's the player both casual and avid fans crave this time of year.
In Game 6 against the Los Angeles Clippers, Curry was far from that player. In fact, he was nowhere close. He scored just 14 points on 6-of-16 shooting, and while he did have seven assists, he negated those dimes by turning the ball over seven times.
The inconceivable part about Game 6 is that the Warriors actually won. Credit Golden State's role players; credit Chris Paul's health; credit whomever you want. It was a great game to watch, but you have to wonder if the Dubs can get away with that as the playoffs progress.
Question: Will Roy Hibbert show up?
The Indiana Pacers have forced a Game 7 against the Atlanta Hawks, but it was never supposed to come to that.
At this point, the narrative surrounding the Pacers largely involves Roy Hibbert. The problem is that he's been a story for all the wrong reasons. To put it nicely: He has completely underwhelmed.
As B/R's Stephen Babb recently discussed at length, Hibbert's performance has been anemic on a historic level. The last All-Star to record zero points in consecutive playoff games was Jim King in 1968, per ESPN, and as Babb stated, "The bigger question may be how Hibbert's affected in the long term."
If the rest of the team can step up and play a gritty Game 7, Indiana won't need a bounce-back performance from Hibbert against the Hawks. The problem is, there's no guarantee they close out Atlanta. However, if they do, they'll need the center to step up immediately for Round 2.
Many have called for the benching of Hibbert, and his play on the court has resulted in just 12 minutes per contest in Games 5 and 6. That's bad to a whole new degree, and if the Pacers go out in Round 1, it's going to be the topic of discussion for an entire offseason.
Los Angeles Clippers
Question: How healthy is Chris Paul?
Chris Paul hasn't looked right as of late. As ESPN's Arash Markazi pointed out during Game 6 against the Golden State Warriors, the guard was noticeably favoring his left hamstring, as well as his left hand and wrist.
At this point, Paul's health is a mystery. According to Paul himself, he intends to play through the pain.
"Only thing I couldn't play through was the shoulder thing," he recently told Markazi, referring to a separated shoulder from January. "This is fine."
But in reality, what else is he supposed to say? He's a competitor who isn't going to share too many details, leaving us (and the Warriors) clueless when it comes to just how healthy he is.
Question: Can Memphis win one without Zach Randolph?
Zach Randolph has done wonders for his image over the years. Despite once being known as a bad boy Jail Blazer, he's forced people to talk about his on-court performances over his off-court controversies.
Unfortunately for Randolph, and more specifically the Memphis Grizzlies, the big man will miss Game 7 against the Oklahoma City Thunder because he punched Steven Adams, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN.com).
When breaking down Memphis' chances at a deep run, the question of offense comes to mind. We know what this team can do defensively, but lacking consistent offense can be a debilitating problem—just ask the Chicago Bulls.
All that said, the team has to get past the Thunder to make that a conversation. Heading into Game 7, the narrative surrounds what the team can do without Randolph in the lineup, especially if Mike Conley is hobbled or limited because of his hamstring.
Question: Should Dwyane Wade take on a greater load?
The Miami Heat are LeBron James' team. They have been for four seasons, and barring a surprise departure in free agency, they're going to be for quite some time.
All that said, the supporting cast is far from a bunch of scrubs—namely Dwyane Wade. The 2-guard posted decent numbers in the series against the Charlotte Bobcats, but as B/R's Sam Richmond points out:
Wade's scoring output (15.6 points) and efficiency (43.2 percent shooting) in the final three games of the Bobcats series were worse than his numbers in the 2013 postseason, when he posted by far the worst postseason numbers of his career (15.9 points on 44.7 percent shooting).
Richmond goes on to point out that Wade's production in 2013 was hindered by the health of his knee—something that isn't a factor this time around. With Wade being healthy, it would behoove the roster to give him more responsibility. James needs a partner in crime the further the team goes, and Wade can be that guy if he improves his efficiency.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Question: Can Serge Ibaka play a bigger role?
When it comes to the Oklahoma City Thunder, everybody wants to talk about Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. The two stars are hoisting nearly 50 shots per game as a tandem, which wouldn't be a huge problem if it weren't for inefficient shooting.
While we won't go as far as calling either unreliable, it's fair to ask the question: Can this team rely on just the two of them deep into the playoffs?
When thinking of Serge Ibaka, rim protection comes to mind. The question here, however, is whether or not he can step up on offense—maybe more appropriately: Will the Thunder let him?
Durant and Westbrook are dominating the ball, and not so coincidentally, Ibaka's shots per game have dropped to just 9.5 in the postseason. The 24-year-old is shooting 57.9 percent from the field, and against the stingy defenses of the West, having a consistent third option is crucial.
Portland Trail Blazers
Question: Can the Portland Trail Blazers beat a good defensive team?
The Portland Trail Blazers have advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 1999-00 season. As they say in Rip City, "It's a great day to be a Blazer!"
Unfortunately for Portland, the team is not going to average 111.7 points per game the rest of the postseason. A series with the Dallas Mavericks will give PDX a reason to believe it can, but whether it's Dallas or the San Antonio Spurs in Round 2, dropping those kinds of numbers becomes less likely the further you get.
Assuming Portland's high-powered offense balances out (even if it remains potent), the team's scant regard for defense remains alarming. It has anchors on that end of the floor in Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez, but the team finished the regular season 22nd in points allowed.
The Houston Rockets were a worthy adversary in Round 1, but their lack of defensive attention is what led to such evenly matched outcomes. Now we get to see what Portland can do against a real defense (potentially San Antonio), and we get to see how far it can go in this revival of a season.
San Antonio Spurs
Question: Will consistency be a problem for Tony Parker?
When it comes to the San Antonio Spurs, we've heard the same questions for years. Has their championship window closed? Will age catch up to them? Do they have enough athleticism to compete?
For the sake of not rehashing old storylines, we'll focus on a more specific query, which is whether or not Tony Parker can consistently be counted upon to carry the team.
At this point, the 31-year-old has posted the following points in consecutive games: 21, 12, 19, 10, 23 and 22. His field-goal percentage was over .500 for Games 1, 2 and 3, but it was below 40 percent in Games 4 and 5.
The problem isn't just consistency between games; it's also consistency between halves. We've seen numerous occasions already where he'll come out hot only to finish ice cold.
Parker and the Spurs are the No. 1 seed out West for a reason, but the competition in the conference is incredible. San Antonio will utilize its depth throughout the playoffs, but a star showing from its floor general will become even more crucial should it compete in the later rounds.
Question: Is inexperience still a concern?
The Toronto Raptors made fans forget about their lack of playoff experience when they played a gritty contest en route to a Game 1 loss. That theme rang true again when the team won three of its next four, and fanatics up north remain confident that good things are on the horizon.
Despite losing Game 6 on the road, the Raptors have proven that youth, athleticism and desire to win are more important than postseason experience.
Or are they?
Toronto has looked good up to this point, but now that it's headed for a Game 7, we must ask the question again of whether or not it has the experience to take down veteran units. If it gets past the Nets, life won't get any easier, as the Miami Heat are on the other side waiting.
Question: Is inexperience still a concern?
Like the Toronto Raptors, the Washington Wizards entered the postseason with inexperience being one of their biggest concerns. Also like Toronto, they were slated to face a veteran group that was used to winning, albeit one without its best player.
Thus far, Washington hasn't shown that it's intimidated. The team went into Chicago and stole the first two on the road, then it closed out the series three games later, topping the Bulls 4-1.
With so much success so early, fans in Washington are thrilled with the return to prominence. The question is: How will this team fare when a series gets tight deeper in the postseason?
Only time will tell, but note one thing: This group is fun to watch. So long as the players stay loose and stand tall against adversity, they'll be one of the most entertaining groups to witness however long they last.
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