Can you believe that we’re just now entering the second week of the 2014 NBA Playoffs?
Just one week of postseason basketball has provided more roller coaster ride thrills than anyone could’ve possibly envisioned. Higher-seeded teams have been upset with consistency, no-name players have become heroes and every single series has provided final-minute thrills.
As the second week of the postseason rolls around, however, the smiles and excitement possessed by fans and analysts are not shared by the teams involved. Closing out a series is as difficult a task as any in the playoffs, and overcoming a deficit is no easier.
The question is, which teams are under the most pressure entering Week 2 of the 2014 NBA Playoffs?
Brink of Elimination
As it presently stands, the Charlotte Bobcats, Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets are all currently on the brink of elimination. The Bobcats trail the defending champion and No. 2 seed Miami Heat 3-0, while the Bulls are down 3-1 against the Washington Wizards and the Rockets 3-1 against the Portland Trail Blazers.
There’s no greater pressure than staving off elimination, which makes this an obvious trio of selections.
The good news for the three listed teams is that Charlotte, Chicago and Houston will all play elimination games at home. Charlotte went 25-16 at home during the regular season, Chicago finished at 27-14 and Houston was 33-8.
Despite that level of proficiency, all three of those squads are winless at home during the postseason. That’s led to a combined record of 0-5 on their respective home courts.
To close out the playoffs with a winless home-stand would be one of the most gut-wrenching endings possible.
Outside of the teams facing elimination, no squad is under as much pressure as the Indiana Pacers. Not only are the Pacers the most unstable No. 1 seed in recent memory, but their late-season collapse has carried over from the regular season to the playoffs.
Indiana picked up a rare road win over its semi-rival Atlanta Hawks, but a home loss in Game 5 would render that meaningless.
Dating back to the 2005-06 season, the Pacers are 4-17 during regular season and playoff road games against the Hawks. That makes Game 5 an unequivocal must-win affair with the current series tied up at 2-2.
The question is, can the Pacers actually win two straight home games? Who knew that’d be a legitimate question for the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference?
Indiana hasn’t won two in a row at home since March 26. After taking Game 2, that’s exactly what the Pacers will need to do in Game 5.
Jobs and an everlasting legacy as a No. 1 seed suffering a first-round exit could depend on it.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder are led by the front-runner for MVP, Kevin Durant, an All-Defensive mainstay, Serge Ibaka, and one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league, Russell Westbrook. OKC also features a dangerous sixth man, Reggie Jackson, and slew of energy players who provide Scott Brooks with a physical brand of weapons.
With all of that firepower, the Thunder are currently stuck in a 2-2 tie with the pesky Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies have played an outstanding series. Memphis also reached the 2013 Western Conference Finals, which makes its initial underrating so puzzling.
Most importantly, the Thunder have committed significant mistakes. Westbrook is shooting 35.1 percent from the field, Durant has a slash line of .396/.265/.758 and ball movement has been virtually non-existent within OKC’s offense.
That’s all led to Oklahoma City being exploited as a team that relies far too heavily on jump shots and isolation basketball. Without a low-post presence or any form of movement along the perimeter, the Thunder have been playing to Memphis’ elite defensive strengths.
While Oklahoma City’s marvelous comeback in Game 4 may swing momentum—as overstated a concept as any in the NBA playoffs—the Grizzlies have displayed impenetrable resilience. They’ve fought off rallies, a loss and stunning buzzer-beaters. Through it all, Memphis has played like the better team in this series.
If OKC loses Game 5, it will head back to the FedEx Forum with the task of avoiding elimination against a confident and capable team in their home venue. That makes Game 5 a must-win.
San Antonio Spurs
If I told you before the season that both the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the Western Conference would be in danger of facing first-round upsets, you’d have written it off as nonsense. Lo and behold, the second week of the postseason features the two teams with the best records in the NBA fighting for survival.
In the case of the No. 1 seed, the San Antonio Spurs trail the Dallas Mavericks 2-1.
The Spurs haven’t played very well during the first three games of the series, but Game 3 was a different type of loss. Despite receiving a go-ahead basket from Manu Ginobili with less than two seconds on the clock, the Spurs lost when Vince Carter hit a game-winning corner 3-pointer as time expired.
The Spurs’ will and determination will be tested in a critical road game against the Mavericks in Game 4.
The Spurs failed to exceed 92 points in both Game 1 and Game 2, but erupted for 108 points during Game 3. Tony Parker exploited Jose Calderon‘s defense and Kawhi Leonard attacked in transition, but San Antonio needs to display the brand of balance that has created its unparalleled sustainability.
Game 4 is a must-win for San Antonio. A 3-1 hole against the Dirk Nowitzki-led Dallas Mavericks would be close to insurmountable.
Tags: 2014 NBA Playoffs