Round 2: Nets-Heat, Blazers-Spurs
Does the Nets' regular-season sweep of the Heat matter? Can the veteran Spurs keep up with the young legs of the Blazers? Our 5-on-5 crew previews Tuesday night's big games.
1. Does the Nets' 4-0 record against the Heat this season mean a thing?
Zach Harper, A Wolf Among Wolves: It means they finished four wins higher in the standings than had they gone 0-4. You had three one-point wins and the other win went to double overtime. Factoring in the randomness of an NBA schedule, it feels like this 4-0 could have been a coin flip all along.
Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: Yes. Is it the be-all and end-all? Of course not. But confidence is key in basketball, we all know that, and that regular-season success should give Brooklyn a boost coming into the series at the very least. Now, if Miami wins Game 1, those four games become moot immediately.
Daniel Nowell, TrueHoop Network: Yes. It means a thing, which is that the Nets, unsurprisingly, will not let age or perceived disadvantages prevent them from competing. Prediction-wise, it's not very useful, but it's an indicator that the Nets are capable of stretching this series.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: Definitely. Tom Haberstroh went into more depth in Tuesday's Per Diem, but there's a proven relationship between season series and playoff series. Brooklyn isn't intimidated by Miami and causes problems with its size on the perimeter. The Nets won't be an easy matchup for the Heat.
David Thorpe, ESPN Insider: Nothing in terms of an advantage. Maybe it gives the Nets more confidence, but that is neutralized by a better focus to be expected from Miami. Plus, these eight days off will help a lot, and they never had those eight days before playing the Nets in the regular season.
2. Tony Parker or Damian Lillard, who ya got?
Harper: I've got Tony Parker, but I had to think about it for a few minutes, which shows you the level Lillard is playing at this postseason. Next season, I'll probably take Lillard, but for now, Parker can still influence a game as much as any player in this series.
McMenamin: Parker. Just because it's really asking: Gregg Popovich or Terry Stotts, who ya got? Pop will figure out something to corral Lillard over the course of the seven-game series. It took the Spurs awhile to get clicking defensively against Dallas, but they got there in Game 7. Parker does come into the series with a bum ankle, but it hardly stopped him in the first round. I go with the vet.
Nowell: In terms of team importance, Parker. In terms of easily measured production, Lillard. Parker is the brain of the Spurs' hydra, and containing his ability to spread the ball around is central to success against the Spurs. Lillard is the (slightly) more combustible scorer and will hunt his shot more than Parker will.
Pelton: Parker. It feels like blasphemy to pick against Lillard after his first-round series and late-game heroics. We're four days removed from Lillard making the most important shot I've ever seen in person. But their regular-season numbers were similar on a per-minute basis, and I think Parker gets the edge thanks to his defense.
Thorpe: Parker. Lillard is great, maybe even special, but Portland will have a tougher time dealing with Parker's ball-screen drives and paint finishes.
3. LaMarcus Aldridge or Tim Duncan, who ya got?
Harper: I'll take Aldridge, but that's mostly because the Spurs don't require Duncan to do nearly as much as they used to. Aldridge's postseason has been a higher level than his great regular season, and I'm not sure how you defend his post game.
McMenamin: Aldridge will assuredly put up better numbers than Duncan. He averaged 29.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in the first round, compared with Duncan's 17.3 points, 8.4 boards and 1.9 blocks. Duncan beat him in shooting percentage -- 58.0 to 47.9 -- so the gap in their production isn't quite as wide as it seems. But still, individual matchups only matter in the context of what it does for their teams. Duncan doesn't need to dominate Aldridge for the Spurs to win. But the Blazers need Aldridge to edge Duncan to have a chance.
Nowell: Aldridge. Duncan has a legacy Aldridge can't match and plays for the better team, but right now Aldridge simply means too much for the Blazers. Put it this way: You could see the Spurs winning a game in which Duncan scored 10 points. Hard to say the same of the Blazers and Aldridge.
Pelton: Aldridge. While a case can be made for Duncan's rim protection, Aldridge is the more versatile scorer at this point of his career, as he showcased against Houston in the first round and likely will again this series. If a tie-breaker is needed, Aldridge's ability to log 40-plus minutes per night is it.
Thorpe: Aldridge has the potential to have a far better series stats-wise, as he is the focal point of the offense, compared with a more complementary role for Duncan. But Duncan's leadership is the best in basketball, and he will have a huge impact on the series.
4. Who wins the Heat-Nets game Tuesday night?
Harper: Even with the rust factor, I think the Heat win Tuesday night. They'll have a healthy and rested Dwyane Wade, who is still one of the most dangerous players in the game. We could see the role-playing wings have big games, too, if the Nets don't hit from outside.
McMenamin: The Heat. They're rested. They're at home. They're better. Unless Deron Williams is motivated by Chris Paul's Game 1 majesty against Oklahoma City and happens to turn in the type of performance necessary to reignite the, "Who is better, Williams or Paul?" debate. But I don't see that happening.
Nowell: The Heat. Rested and ready to finally be tested, the Heat will show their full ability Tuesday night. Miami is capable of making this a quick series, and the Heat's season series with the Nets may have the effect of making them take it seriously enough to do so.
Pelton: Nate Silver's research on FiveThirtyEight on Monday showed rested teams have a big advantage in the second round, and Grantland's Bill Barnwell has shown rust doesn't really exist in the first game after a long break. I think Miami wins Game 1 comfortably.
Thorpe: Miami is the better team and the far more rested one. The rest might even trump the talent in terms of significance.
5. Who wins the Spurs-Trail Blazers game Tuesday night?
Harper: I'm going with the Blazers in an upset. The Spurs are likely to take the series, but it will take a few adjustments against a team riding high from a great series that established their presence when they beat the Rockets.
McMenamin: San Antonio. The Spurs saw how much trouble they put themselves in against Dallas by only splitting the first two games at home. And they also saw how the Blazers blitzed the Rockets by going up 2-0 in their series while starting off on the road. The Spurs will bring the proper urgency to get it done.
Nowell: Blazers. The Spurs are the logical pick in this series, and will likely win it, but the Blazers have the drop on San Antonio with a few extra days of rest and preparation. I suspect a fired-up team steals this one on the road.
Pelton: I give the relatively rested Blazers a better chance than Brooklyn of joining the L.A. Clippers and Washington Wizards in winning Game 1 on the road, but most likely San Antonio will take care of business at home, despite the quick turnaround from Sunday's Game 7.
Thorpe: Spurs have an advantage defensively and are at home against a team as "tired" as they are. So they have to be called the favorites for the game and the series. But based on what we have seen in this season's playoff games, who the heck knows who will win any game? I have played, coached, studied and analyzed this game for 40 years, but I certainly cannot predict what will happen between teams this talented.