The 2013 NBA playoffs have never been more exciting and unpredictable.
So far, we’ve witnessed the Miami Heat dominate the Milwaukee Bucks, the Los Angeles Lakers being swept by the San Antonio Spurs and the Chicago Bulls hanging on long enough to win a Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets. Game 6 was the lucky number for the Knicks, who toppled the Boston Celtics, and the Memphis Grizzlies, who overpowered the Los Angeles Clippers, who failed to live to the hype. To sum it all we’ve seen high-level action and perseverance, despite players battling injuries and sickness.
Many storylines will carry on as the postseason continues. But here are five storylines to watch for in the semifinals.
1) Can anyone stop the Miami Heat?
The defending champion Miami Heat steamrolled the Bucks in a four-game sweep. How bad was this series?
The Bucks just couldn’t contain MVP LeBron James, who led the series in points (24.5) and assists (6.8) per game. Chris Bosh led the team in rebounds per game with eight. The Heat won all their games in double digits, including never trailing in Game 4. Their defense was also relentless, holding top Milwaukee scorers Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings less than 15 points per game each. They also held shooter J.J. Redick to 4-for-12 on 3-pointers.
The Heat face the Chicago Bulls in this semifinal matchup. They have plenty of rest while the Bulls came off a seven-game victory over the Nets. The Heat could likely trounce their next opponent if they play their dominant ways and not like their level of play in Game 1. Will the Heat dominate the Bulls to advance, or will they come back to earth?
2) Will the Oklahoma City Thunder survive?
The Thunder survived in a six-game set against the Houston Rockets, defeating their old teammate James Harden. However, it came at a cost.
The Thunder will be without point guard Russell Westbrook thanks to a torn meniscus. Kevin Durant and company will have to carry on without him for the rest of the postseason. They face the Memphis Grizzlies, whose roster consisting of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley seems determined to make their mark this postseason. Durant struck first, hitting the game-winning shot with 11.1 seconds remaining, taking Game 1 of the series. However, he can’t do it on his own.
The Thunder were clear favorites to win the West. Now, Westbrook’s absence creates a void that this franchise might not recover from.
3) Can Derrick Rose play in this postseason?
Derrick Rose tore his ACL in the 2012 playoffs and his return has been heavily discussed all season. No one expected the latest development from the Bulls’ All-Star guard.
ESPN reported Rose is not ruling out a return to face the Heat. He sat out Game 1, but might come back later in the series. Rose could help, considering Kirk Hinrich (calf) and Luol Deng (illness) missed Game 1 as well. Rose was cleared to play in March, but he hasn’t played a game since the injury.
The Bulls were depleted going into their matchup with the Heat. They did look fine in Game 1, as they took the first game in Miami 93-86.
Rose can provide the Bulls with another weapon. The main question is the rust. Will the Derrick Rose of old show up or will Rose show that basketball rust as expected?
4) Will the great postseason of Stephen Curry continue?
Welcome to Stephen Curry’s world. The guard exploded in the first round with 30 points and 13 assists in Game 2, 29 and 11 in Game 3, and scoring 22 of his 31 points in Game 4 in the third quarter. And on top of that, he sprained his ankle.
Curry led the Warriors with 24.3 points and 9.3 assists during that series. This has been his coming-out party and he did it against an injury-riddled Nuggets team. Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried played with injuries, while Danilo Gallinari missed the series due to a torn ACL.
The Warriors face the San Antonio Spurs, a team that will be a real test for the young squad. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the rest of the Spurs can cause them problems. They are built for the postseason; the same can’t be said for Golden State. They dropped Game 1 to the Spurs 129-127 in double overtime.
They did have a great performance, leading the Spurs up until the near end of the fourth quarter. However, it’s clear from the game that Stephen Curry starts and ends the discussion. He scored 44 and recorded 11 assists in Game 1, but it wasn’t enough. If he’s not on, the Warriors don’t stand a chance.
5) Are the New York Knicks for real?
Will the real New York Knicks please stand up? Despite advancing to a showdown with the Indiana Pacers, the Knicks enter this battle with issues. Carmelo Anthony still is their scoring machine. Raymond Felton is running an effective offense. However, Tyson Chandler is not at 100 percent. The Knicks also failed to sweep the Celtics, which could lead to problems with the Pacers.
The Pacers and Knicks tied with two victories apiece during the regular season. The Pacers can cause problems for the Knicks on all sides of the court. Roy Hibbert is a force underneath the basket, scoring 14.7 points, grabbing 8.8 rebounds and leading the team in blocks per game with 1.8 in the postseason. Their leading scorer, Paul George (18.7), also leads the team in rebounds with 9.5 a game. Forward David West and guard George Hill can also help the Pacers win this matchup.
Game 1 showed the Knicks’ inability to come back from the Pacers’ lead. Indiana took the first game 102-95 at Madison Square Garden. That’s bad news for the Knicks, especially down 1-0 with only one more guaranteed game in the Garden.
The Knicks cannot afford to slip in this matchup. Once they do, it could mean a short visit in the semifinals. Which are the real New York Knicks? Are they the team that dominated the first three games of their series with the Celtics or the one that couldn’t gain any traction in Game 1 against Indiana? After all, it’s been more than 40 years since they smelled the sweet scent of a championship.