The 6 Juiciest Storylines Remaining in the 2nd Round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs
For basketball fanatics, there's a yearly debate about which is better: the NCAA tournament or the NBA playoffs? College basketball advocates will point to March Madness, as the first two days in particular are filled with surprise finishes and Cinderella candidates.
For NBA fans, you can't get enough of the storylines the postseason provides.
In a seven-game series, there's plenty of time for rivalries to begin, or in many cases intensify. The basketball is of higher quality than it is in the NCAA, but the narratives between games are what create gripping, if not addictive entertainment.
When looking ahead, the Miami Heat's chase for a three-peat will become one of the top talking points across the league. That said, it's their redemption series against the Brooklyn Nets that has our attention, as no title was ever won without escaping the second round.
There are plenty of storylines to come as we approach the championship, but it's what people are talking about today that can't be ignored. We've said goodbye to one of the best first rounds in NBA history; now it's time to digest what's happening in the conference semifinals.
New School vs. Old School
During the last 14 years, few teams in the NBA have been further apart when it comes to playoff success than the Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs. Portland is currently in the second round for the first time since 2000, while the Spurs haven't missed the playoffs (and have won three titles) in that span.
Now the two are facing off in the Western Conference semifinals, and at this point, old school has a clear advantage over new school, as San Antonio took down Portland 116-92 in Game 1.
The Blazers have time to turn it around, but the squad from the Pacific Northwest was completely shut down in the first contest. Despite a strong performance from LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers were held to just 4-of-16 from behind the arc and gave up 33 points and nine assists to Tony Parker.
The story here, however, isn't about one game; it's about experience. You can't expect the Spurs to win every game so easily, but they have the coaching staff and roster makeup of a dynasty that's not ready for the championship window the close.
All that said, Damian Lillard's rise to stardom epitomizes what new school has to offer. Portland has youth, athleticism and a hunger to win, but the question is: Will that outweigh championship experience?
Consistent Roy Hibbert?
Roy Hibbert has been a topic of discussion throughout the postseason for all the wrong reasons. Luckily for the Indiana Pacers, a 28-point, nine-rebound performance in Game 2 against the Washington Wizards has officially broken him out of his slump.
Or has it?
Despite putting together a solid showing in two of his last three outings, Hibbert hasn't exactly been a model of consistency. After Game 3 against Atlanta, David West told reporters, "We've all tried to talk to him, keep him confident, you know. But he's hurting."
West went on to say, "He wants to help us. He wants to play well. He's hard on himself. But we've got to figure a way to get him involved. He's got to figure a way to get himself involved."
Those are words of encouragement if we've ever heard them, but they're far from words of confidence. The big man has yet to prove he's reliable, and if we're to believe Indy is a true contender, Hibbert has to be a force in the middle on a regular basis.
The Coaching Carousel
Just because we're in the playoffs doesn't mean we can't start thinking about next season. In fact, that's what almost every general manager is doing at this juncture—most notably those who have parted ways with their head coaches.
Let's start with the Golden State Warriors. As soon as the Dubs were eliminated, the team sent Mark Jackson packing, and almost as quickly came reports of the team reaching out to Steve Kerr, per ESPN New York's Ian Begley.
Speaking of Kerr, let's not forget about the New York Knicks. Phil Jackson is looking for a new lead man to roam the sidelines, and his former player comes to mind.
Then, of course, there's the Los Angeles Lakers. Mike D'Antoni is out, and the team is looking for someone who can handle a roster in flux.
Taking it one step further, how about coaches on the hot seat? According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, Frank Vogel is "coaching for his job." Scott Brooks has also been a topic of discussion, as Grantland's Bill Simmons suggested on The Herd with Colin Cowherd (via The Oklahoman's Erik Horne) that a spot might open in Oklahoma City .
To summarize, we'll see new faces in new places next year, and we don't have to wait for the postseason to finish for the changes to take place.
The Washington Wizards' Emergence
The Washington Wizards got lucky. They took advantage of a vulnerable Chicago Bulls team, and now they've been graced with the same opportunity against the struggling Indiana Pacers.
The Wizards have had an easy path, and they can't be for real at this stage in the game, right?
At this point in the process, the Wizards are one of the best stories of the playoffs. For those who watched this squad in the regular season, it's not a surprise to see Bradley Beal and John Wall thriving. For those who didn't, it's time to embrace one of the best up-and-coming franchises.
Despite the sarcastic comments to open this segment, the East truly is watered down. It's almost a shame that the Toronto Raptors are home and the Pacers are competing, although a potential Pacers-Miami Heat series still holds a certain appeal.
The nice part is that the Wizards aren't falling into the trap of underachieving. In fact, they're doing the opposite.
Nobody saw them performing so well this late into the year, and it's been refreshing to see new faces still playing this deep into the season.
Can Brooklyn Match Its Regular-Season Success Against Miami?
The Brooklyn Nets got the matchup they wanted. After resting all five starters in the regular-season finale (a 114-85 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers), the team fell to the sixth seed—the exact seed they would need to earn a second-round matchup with the Miami Heat.
The answer to the question above already has its answer: No, the Nets aren't going to sweep Miami the same way they did in the regular season. They're already down 1-0, and quite frankly, the Heat looked like a different beast in their 107-86 Game 1 victory.
However, if you take the query less literally and focus on the big picture, there's still the question of whether the Nets can translate their regular-season success to a seven-game series.
In the regular season, Brooklyn defeated Miami four times. Three of those games were decided by a single point, while the other went to double overtime.
None of the Nets' victories were convincing, but their ability to slow the pace is what negated Miami's athleticism—something they will have to do again if they hope to live up to their regular-season success against the Heat.
Will MVP Award Fuel Kevin Durant?
Kevin Durant is the NBA's MVP. That fact became official between Games 1 and 2 of the second round.
With Durant's emotional speech still on our minds, we have to ask ourselves: Is this the only time we'll see him hoisting a trophy this season? He's spoken openly in the past about being sick of second place, and with one goal officially accomplished, the Larry O'Brien trophy becomes that much more important.
Up to this point, Durant's playoffs have been a roller coaster. Inefficient shooting plagued him in the series against the Memphis Grizzlies, yet a brilliant Game 7 was enough to sneak into Round 2—not to mention a near triple-double against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 2 of the second round.
Now he has L.A. in his way, and while the team hopes to knock Durant off his perch, his recent accomplishment might be enough to motivate him past the dominant Clips.
All that said, it's Durant who is the MVP, and Durant who is ready to do something about always being in second place.