April 22, 2013

SMITH | Five Stories That Will Define the NBA Playoffs

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Will Russell Westbrook Continue to Shoot More Than Kevin Durant?

It seems as if every time Oklahoma City loses in the postseason, Russell Westbrook has also jacked up more shots than the ultra-efficient Kevin Durant.  This so-called problem has made it questionable whether or not the two can co-exist on a championship team.  While I personally believe the problem is overrated it certainly will make headlines over the next couple of weeks as the playoffs progress.  The difference this year is that in the absence of James Harden, Oklahoma City may actually need Westbrook to step up his scoring load.  Kevin Martin may be a prolific three-point shooter, connecting on 43 percent of his long-range shots this season, but he lacks the playmaking ability Harden did.  The issue is that when Westbrook gets too shot happy he does in fact take away opportunities from Durant.  The two reached the Finals last season though and if it weren’t for a guy named Lebron James playing in Miami, they would undoubtedly be the favorites this year.Playoff Basketball Is Back in New York

This might seem a bit brash considering the New York Knicks qualified for the playoffs the last two seasons but being a low-seed and having no real expectation for advancement made it hard for New Yorkers to really getexcited. This year, though, the Knicks came in as the 2 seed and expect to bring June excitement back to the Mecca of basketball.  Further the Brooklyn Nets earned the 4 seed in their inaugural season in their new home and have ridden a strong second half from Deron Williams to assert themselves as contenders as well.  The elephant in the room for both teams though is can they play enough stifling defense to climb deep into the playoffs.  The Knicks finished the year at 15th in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions and the Nets finished 17th.  These lowly marks show vulnerability from both teams but if Brook Lopez can continue to improve his ability to act as a stopper and if Tyson Chandler is fully healthy don’t be surprised by major improvements on that end and a long series against Miami from either squad.

Do the Lakers Have Enough Gas in the Tank For a Playoff Run?

Forced to fight for their playoff lives it seems as if the Lakers have been playing postseason style basketball for weeks now.  The good news is that this intensity was worth it in helping the team reach the playoffs, but the extended minutes from their starters might prove detrimental now that their here.  Also, while the team did show strong play without Kobe Bryant to end the season there is no doubt that he will be a big loss during postseason play.  San Antonio might be an aging team but Tim Duncan and company are primed to show they have one last run in them and Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol haven’t proven they can play consistently well together.  Barring a huge surprise I think the Lakers will fall in 5 but this team has been full of surprises all year and with two All Star big men they can never be counted out, especially if they start to get on a roll.

Can the Fast-Breaking Nuggets Be Successful in the Half-Court?

The Denver Nuggets won 57 games this year by playing at the second highest pace in the NBA at by far the highest altitude.  The Nuggets literally ran teams out of the building en route to leading the NBA in points per game.   The problem for Denver is that most of their scoring tends to come in transition and they lack a true half-court scorer, often a necessity for postseason success.   With probably their best pure scorer in Danilo Gallinari out for the entire postseason with a torn ACL, the burden of creating offense in the half-court will likely fall on the shoulders of veteran Andre Miller.  In Game 1 against Golden State, Miller came through by scoring 28 points including a game-winning basket in the waning seconds, but will the 37 year old be able to keep this up?  I suspect the Nuggets will get past a flawed Golden State team in the first round but a healthy Spurs team in Round 2 could present an insurmountable challenge.

Just How Good is Lebron James?

This is the main question that will be asked over 1000 times on SportsCenter over the next month or so.   The numbers prove that 2013 LeBron is unarguably one of the best players of all time but without continuing to win rings his legacy will always face doubters.  This season LeBron posted a career best 31.6 player efficiency rating, 26.9 points per game, 8.0 rebounds per game, and 7.3 assists per game, all while being the best defender in the NBA.   He did this as his team also accumulated a legendary 27-game win streak.   However, none of this will be remembered with the same adulation if LeBron fails to win another ring.  He can put it up all the numbers he wants but without at least multiple championships he will always be ranked behind Michael Jordan in the greatest player ever discussion.  Can LeBron win five more championships? Without a doubt he can.  But doing it is another issue, and it will be fun to watch him go for number 2 this spring.

Original Author: Alex Smith