NBA Playoffs: Five Things To Watch For Tonight
The Orlando Magic closed out a sweep of the listless Charlotte Bobcats Monday night to become the first team to move into the second round of the NBA playoffs.
Three teams have a chance to clinch their series and join the Magic in the conference semifinals.
The storylines are plentiful as the Heat try to keep their win streak alive, the Bulls try to slay the Goliath that is King James, and the Mavericks try to prove they're not washed up and over the hill.
Then there's the Kobe issue. That's where we'll begin our look at the five key things to watch for in tonight's action.
Can Kobe Get His Groove Back?
Kobe Bryant has been battling issues with his ankle, knee hamstring and finger. Team doctors say the finger break is healed but there is some arthritis in the digit.
That doesn't explain how Bryant can go from 39 points of domination in Game Two to not taking a shot until 9:06 remained in the second quarter Sunday en route to 12 points.
The troubles began in the fourth quarter of Game Three, when Bryant shot just 2-of-10 from the field.
Kobe says he's 100 percent and credits the Oklahoma City Thunder's defense. Teammates say he's just trying to charge up the offense by feeding short jumpers to Pao Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
Kobe has taken breaks before to reassert his place in the team hierarchy, but that was back in the Shaq days and in the regular season.
Can the Thunder Continue to Own the Break?
What was supposed to be a breeze series for L.A. is two wins away from the coronation of Kevin Durant as the new Kobe. That's largely because of the Thunder's defensive intensity.
The Thunder look like a younger and more athletic team and have out-everythinged the Lakers. The interior defense has made Gasol and Bynum non-factors and led to rebounds and fast breaks. OKC outscored the Lakers, 21-2, in fast break points in the 110-89 Game Three blowout.
The Lakers have to shrink the free-throw differential. The Thunder are getting to the line by driving the lane, executing the breaks and outworking the Lakers for second-chance points.
Gasol vs. Jeff Green is a key matchup. Green's range has forced Gasol out to play defense and led to drives and free throws. Will the Lakers switch up tonight and go with the quicker Lamar Odom on Green?
This is a bad matchup all around for the Lakers. We just didn't figure the Thunder were ready to step up.
History is against the upstarts though. The Lakers are 17-0 all-time in Game Five when the series is tied, 2-2.
Celts-Heat: Which Team Supports Their Stars?
Dwayne Wade was amazing in Game Four to prolong this series with his 46-point performance and his talk-to-the-hand posturing. But it will take more than Wade to send the series back to Miami.
The true difference in Game Four was that Michael Beasley and Quentin Richardson finally helped, with 35 points combined. But what about Jermaine O'Neal? Remember when he was a rising star? He had just two points in 18 minutes Sunday.
The game will be won by the supporting cast tonight. Dorell Wright, Udonis Haslem, and Mario Chalmers have been outdone by Kendrick Perkins, Michael Finley, Glen Davis, and Rasheed Wallace throughout the series.
Perkins was quelled Sunday and the Heat role players were on fire from three land. If that continues, there will be a Game Six.
Can the Mavs Avoid Another Disastrous Third Quarter?
The Dallas Mavericks were well on their way to evening out the series Sunday. They led the San Antonio Spurs by 11 at the half. Tim Duncan was absent and scored just four points in the game. Manu Ginobili went just 4-for-16 from the field.
Then the series completely changed in the third quarter. The Spurs outscored Dallas, 29-11, in those 12 minutes. They double-teamed Dirk Nowitzki and made him take uncomfortable shots when he got any at all (just 10 field goal attempts for the game).
The Spurs were physical and outgutted the Mavs to the point that they just looked old. Their second-tier players shined.
If the Mavs are to get to Game Six, they'll have to keep DeJuan Blair and Richard Jefferson in check. Will George Hill explode for 29 points again? Unlikely. But they can assure that won't happen by actually playing defense.
It has been bizarre to see vets like Jason Terry and Jason Kidd look so rattled. They'll need to be factors in Game Five. Their slashes to the basket and threes will help neutralize the double-teaming of Dirk.
Can the Bulls Return to Game Three Form?
It doesn't seem likely, as Game Three was more about the Cleveland Cavaliers letting their foot off the gas pedal than it was Chicago dominating.
But there were differences that can be duplicated. The Bulls must keep Antawn Jamison (24 points and seven boards Sunday) in check. LeBron James is going to get his points. It's all about shutting down their No. 2 man.
Derrick Rose and Luol Deng need to find ways to create the drive. That will set up Kirk Hinrich for the kind of shots that led to 27 points in Game Three as opposed to 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting Sunday.