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Eight Burning Questions Entering the Second Round of the NBA Playoffs

Samuel Bell JrSenior Analyst IMay 5, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 04:  Ron Artest #96 of the Houston Rockets looks on in the second quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 4, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Now that all is well in the NBA world because of LeBron James' crowning of the coveted NBA MVP award, we can get to some second round playoff talk. D-Wade was the favorite to potentially surprise us all, but Kobe actually finished second in MVP voting.

I just had to say that.

Moving on, the first round of the 2009 NBA playoffs is over, and there were no huge upsets. The biggest upset was Dallas' pummeling of San Antonio in just five games.

After the seven-game series between Boston and Chicago, we could only hope that the rest of the playoffs can offer one series that can live up to the dramatics and big shots of that pairing.

It was sad that someone had to win.

Boston did win however, and now stare down the barrel of a Dwight Howard loaded shotgun that will likely have his way with Big Baby Davis and Kendrick "I always look angry but have no offense whatsoever" Perkins.

Seriously, has a player ever argued as many calls as Perkins does? If it were up to him, he'd slap someone across the head and draw an offensive foul on them.

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As we know with Perkins, he does his damage on the offensive boards and against smaller guards driving the lane defensively. So does Howard, so their matchup should be fun.

The second round offers up some intriguing matchups that are sure to provide everlasting moments that the NBA will show us next year for some cheesy campaign that is supposed to draw us in.

Showing Kobe Bryant still wearing No. 8 hitting that game-winning shot against Phoenix three years ago is ridiculous. Why not bring out Magic's sky-hook against the Celtics if we're doing big shots from playoffs past?

For many new NBA fans, they didn't even remember that Kobe wore No. 8 before, and hasn't he made enough big shots wearing the No. 24? Why not show the infamous alley-oop to Shaq against the Pacers when LA won it's first of three titles?

I'll stop now.

Entering the second round, I have eight burning questions that will be answered on our way to the conference finals.

There will be two questions for each matchup, and there are eight teams left with four series between them, meaning there is a total of eight burning questions.

As my friend doing a Michael Buffer impersonation said last night before we began to drink, "Let's get ready to, uh, stumble!"

Western Conference Semi's- (1) L.A Lakers vs. (5) Houston Rockets

1. Can Ron Artest and Shane Battier slow down Kobe Bean Bryant?

This is one of the biggest if not most important questions to be answered in this series. Kobe isn't a one-man show anymore, and the Rockets know that, but they must force Kobe to shoot a low percentage.

Historically, Kobe and the Lakers have used huge 4th quarters to thwart the attack of Houston. Therefore, the Rockets have to keep their defensive intensity for all four quarters.

LA has shown so far in the playoffs that they'll let you score, but they will simply score more than you. That won't work against Houston.

The Rockets are a really good defensive team, and Kobe knows Artest and Battier will look to get in his head. Will he put up too many shots and hover around 40 percent shooting, or will he look for his teammates more often?

The answer will lie in Artest and Battier's hands, but ultimately, nobody can stop Kobe for seven games but himself.

2. Will Yao Ming be able to dominate Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol?

Last season the Lakers went all the way to the NBA Finals without Andrew Bynum, and many people wondered would they have won the NBA title had Bynum been healthy.

It became a scapegoat for Lakers fans to chunk up the loss to the absence of Bynum, and the fear of Pau Gasol.

Bynum is in the Laker lineup now, but he doesn't look comfortable and hasn't been himself. Entering this series against arguably the most offensive center in the game, Yao, Bynum averaged 5 PPG, 3 RPG and 1 BPG.

That won't get it done against Yao. Bynum and the Lakers know that, and this series may very well lie in the hands of Bynum.

The Lakers need him to get it together and to do it fast, because if they allow Yao to average upwards of 25 PPG, the Rockets will have a real chance in this series. Gasol is too small to handle Yao, so Bynum has to try to stay away from foul trouble.

If Bynum is completely outclassed by Yao, look out LA.

Western Conference Semi's- (2) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks

1. Can the tandem of Josh Howard and Dirk Nowitzki out-duel Carmelo Anthony and Nene?

The Nuggets have been my favorite team to watch all season, and the weaponry they bring to the table will scare the crap out of Rambo.

With a healthy Nene Hilario and Melo Buckets, Dallas has its' hands full in this series. Dirk Nowitzki is the best shooting big man in the league, and Josh Howard is an all-everything type of versatile player.

Something has to give.

Howard and Nowitzki were big parts of the train that ran Duncan and the Spurs out of town, and they'll have to be even better against the Nuggets. Denver is better defensively, and have renewed their commitment on both sides of the ball.

PG Chauncey Billups is part the reason for that, and the emergence of guys like J.R Smith and Dahntay Jones has helped solidify the Nugs.

Will the defense of Denver be able to hold down Dirk and Howard, or will the tandem of Anthony and Nene wear down that frugal front-line D of Dallas? The answer may determine your winner.

2. Which team will make more jump shots?

If you've watched the Nuggets and Mavericks play this season, one undeniable fact is both teams shoot jumpers. Lots of them.

With shooters like Melo, Billups, Smith, Nowitzki, Howard and Jason Terry in this series, there will definitely be some jump-shots-a-hoisting. Who will make a higher percentage?

Going by the first round, the best shooter for Denver from three was Billups at nearly 64 percent on 33 attempts. Dallas' best shooter from threewas surprisingly Jason Kidd, at 46 percent on 26 attempts.

It won't just be threes being shot from these teams, though. Both squads shoot a ridiculous amount of jumpers between 10 and 20 feet, and Nowitzki scores most of his points outside of the paint.

Jump shooting is a live and die by philosophy in basketball, and both these teams have lived through the first round making them. However, when that cold streak hits, which team can go inside for buckets?

Eastern Conference Semi's- (1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (4) Atlanta Hawks

1. Can Atlanta slow down Mo Williams?

We all know any series involving the Cavaliers starts and ends with the name LeBron James. He's almost like Kobe now where teams know they won't be able to stop him.

The question is, "can you stop James' sidekick, Mr. Williams?"

Atlanta knows that Josh Smith and Marvin Williams or whoever they suit up can't stop James, but Mike Bibby has to be the defensive catalyst, and that's a very bad sign.

Bibby is a borderline defender, and Williams is very explosive and can stop and pop. His ability to pass makes him even more dangerous, and if the Hawks aren't careful there'll be a flying No. 23 all over the court catching alley's from Mo.

If Joe Johnson can play better in round two and average something like 24 PPG, 5 APG and shoot over 50 percent while slowing down Williams, the Hawks may hang around in the series.

2. Will Atlanta's role players step it up?

Atlanta is one squad that depends heavily on their role players, and Joe Johnson is the closest they have to a superstar.

Josh Smith is very talented and athletic, but not in the ranks of Kobe, Bron, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo, and those other superstars. Despite depending a lot on role players, the Hawks still finished fourth in the East.

To have any shot against Cleveland, guys like Flip Murray, Al Horford, Marvin Williams, and Zaza Pachulia have to step up big.

Against the Miami Heat, the Hawks role players didn't play well as they usually do and that series went all seven games. If that happens again with the Cavs, Atlanta can book their flights for a nice vacation, early.

Eastern Conference Semi's- (3) Orlando Magic vs. (2) Boston Celtics

1. Can Boston continue to win without Kevin Garnett?

Flat and simple, the Celtics need Garnett. That much we know. What we don't know is how much.

The Celtics went seven games twice in last year's playoffs with Garnett, so that epic series against Chicago could have went similarly with K.G. We won't get a full barometer on the Celts until we witness this series.

If Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo can continue to carry the load, the Celtics will win this series, but if they tire then the Magic will have a great shot of pulling it out.

2. Can Orlando continue to make the three-point-shot?

D-Howard is a beast down low and will get his rebounds, blocks and high-percentage shots. The question is, can Orlando keep making three's?

Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, and J.J Redick reigned three's on Philly's heads in that first round series and closed the Sixers out without Dwight Howard. That was a showing of how impressive they can be when making their shots.

When they aren't making shots they go inside to Howard and run the offense through him. That isn't quite enough to oust the World Champs.

They need to be on their game, and whether or not they're making threes will be imperative in this series.

Those are just eight questions that will surely be answered in this second round of conference semifinal games.

Whose championship dreams will fade away like Kobe Bryant's back-to-the-basket jump shot?

It will be exciting to see, and like Yao Ming said, "hey, like the NBA says, it's where amazing happens." Amazing would be an upset of the Lakers at the hands of the Rockets.

Don't bet your Hyundai on it.

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