The opening round of the playoffs is in the books. How will the second round play out? Our crew weighs in.
1. What is the best matchup of the second round?
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Golden State-Memphis, and not because it's an even match, a contrast in styles or anything like that. It's because any matchup that features Golden State is the best matchup. The Warriors are one of the most compelling basketball teams we've seen in a long time. Watching them build this thing and log new moments is some high-grade sports programming.
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Insider: Rockets-Clippers. The Rockets want a track meet. The Clippers want a vacation. Can the Rockets take advantage? The Rockets averaged 104.4 possessions per 48 minutes against Dallas, easily the speediest series in the playoffs. Dwight Howard looks healthy and James Harden looks hungry. Let's see what the Clippers have left in the tank.
Baxter Holmes, ESPN.com: Can't imagine anything will be on the same ludicrous level as Clippers-Spurs, but Cavaliers-Bulls should be fascinating. J.R. Smith? Out two games. Kevin Love? Sidelined the rest of the way. Which means the Cavs are on shaky ground against a Bulls squad that's looking ferocious lately.
Ramona Shelburne, ESPN.com: Bulls-Cavaliers. At least I hope it is. This was going to the best series before Kevin Love got hurt and J.R. Smith was suspended for the first two games. I'm a little worried those factors will throw the Cavs off, but then I'm reminded that they still have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. They should be just fine. The Bulls have been privately angling for this series for months. They've finally got their wish. Let's see what they can do with it.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: On one hand I don't even want to consider this question on the grounds that I'm going to need more time to grieve over the fact that we don't get any more Clippers/Spurs. But Cavs/Bulls obviously has the most potential of the choices on the board to replicate the closeness we just saw from the two Western Conference heavyweights. Don't think the basketball will be nearly as pretty, though.
2. Who is the most intriguing player of the second round?
Arnovitz: Blake Griffin. Game 7 of Round 1 was Chris Paul's defining performance, but if you want to chart how the Clippers grew from the kid who couldn't stop breaking his toys to a team that could mount a takedown of San Antonio, look at Griffin's trajectory. He averaged better than 24-13-7 for the series. When nobody was looking he became a smart defender. Two years ago, his free throw woes were a point of obsession. Now he casually knocks down 8 of 10 from the line in an elimination game. With Paul hurting, the Houston series is his showcase.
Haberstroh: LeBron James. Who else? No Kevin Love means the two-time champ will have to play out of his comfort zone at the power forward position more. That alignment maximized the Heat's title chances, but banging with Joakim Noah or Taj Gibson down low will be taxing on his 30-year-old frame.
Holmes: Chris Paul. He's played at a level worthy of serious MVP discussion all season, and he'll need to continue that (and maybe more) vs. the Rockets if he wants to shake the label of never-advanced-beyond-the-second-round, a tag that haunts the game's greatest point guard.
Shelburne: I was going to say Derrick Rose because when he's on, the Bulls look like they can beat anyone. You just never know when he's going to be on, which makes him infinitely intriguing. But the hamstring injury to Chris Paul in Game 7 of their first-round series now makes him the biggest question mark. The Clippers need him to dominate like he did against the Spurs, but Doc Rivers said he didn't think he'd be able to play in Game 1. So all eyes on CP3 now.
Stein: Chris Paul. He just enjoyed the finest moment of his playoff life to hush all of his postseason critics. But his hamstring, according to hints dropped by Doc Rivers, is a mess. The biggest X factor in the West from here might well be how close to peak CP3 can get in the Houston series.
3. What's one bold prediction for the second round?
Arnovitz: For sheer entertainment value, Draymond Green and Zach Randolph will be the best show in town. It'll be a loud, physical, fleshy mess of trash talk, mind games and cheap-ish shots. With Mike Conley potentially out, Dray and Z-Bo might be the extent of the drama -- and won't disappoint.
Haberstroh: LeBron James and Kyrie Irving will average a combined 70 points per game. With Love off the floor, the two combined for 63.3 points per 40 minutes in the regular season, but no J.R. Smith for the first two games means all of the shots for LeKyrie. It probably won't be efficient , but it won't stop them from filling up the scoring column.
Holmes: Paul Pierce, also known as King Troll, will continue his vintage play against the Hawks, and he and the rest of the Wizards will knock out the East's top seed to reach the conference finals. #Truth
Shelburne: No one is giving the Grizzlies any chance in the second round against the Warriors, but I think Memphis' style will throw the Dubs off kilter for at least a game. I don't see how they win the series if Mike Conley doesn't come back, but I think it's more competitive than the blowouts most are forecasting. The Griz are battle-tested.
Stein: Atlanta turns back time to January and plays the East's best ball of the round. Only you can decide if that's bold enough for you, but it qualifies for me because I feel like the masses have pretty much given up on the Hawks.
4. Who will meet in the East finals?
Arnovitz: Atlanta and Cleveland. In their four-game bludgeoning of Toronto, the Wizards figured out that finding shots doesn't have to be a chore. The Hawks demonstrated that over 82 games, so we'll give them the edge. There's no decisive edge in Cavs-Bulls. The Cavs will be pushed hard, and for the first two games they'll have to do it with essentially a seven-man rotation. But LeBron.
Haberstroh: Cavaliers and Hawks. Borrowing a little rule from my man Brian Windhorst, "Don't bet against the team that has LeBron James." Hawks will rediscover their 60-win-caliber play against the Wiz.
Holmes: Wizards and Cavaliers, meaning Paul Pierce and LeBron James will go head-to-head once again in the postseason. Happy Day.
Shelburne: Two weeks ago I would've said Cavs and Hawks without blinking, but the whole world changed in the first round. The Wizards swept the Raptors, Kevin Love got hurt, Chicago took six games to dispatch of the kids in Milwaukee and the Hawks took six to end Brooklyn's season. Chicago has the talent to beat Cleveland, but they've been so inconsistent this season, it's hard to see them getting it together to beat the Cavs here. The Hawks have been similarly inconsistent, but man, when they're good they're good. So after all that, I'll still go with the Cavs and Hawks.
Stein: Cleveland and Atlanta. But I don't say it with a great degree of confidence on the Cavs' side. Losing Kevin Love and playing the first two games without the suspended J.R. Smith is major stuff. The door has been opened for the Bulls to steal this series even amid the various concerns about the respective gas tanks of their key guys after a harder-than-it-had-to-be series with Milwaukee.
5. Who will meet in the West finals?
Arnovitz: Warriors and the Clippers. We've covered Golden State, which can beat you big or small, in the half court or on the break, one-on-one or with movement. After a few years of postseason hazing, the Clippers have now been initiated into the legion of Teams We Can Trust. Blake Griffin is playing the best basketball of his career, and Chris Paul seems personally appalled by the prospect of losing this year.
Haberstroh: Warriors and Clippers. The Rockets don't have the bodies, and the Clippers' starting five is a beast, even if Chris Paul isn't 100 percent. The Dubs roll just like they have all season. Getcha popcorn.
Holmes: Warriors and Clippers, meaning the hot rivalry between these teams will boil over into what should be a fantastic series.
Shelburne: If Chris Paul recovers quickly, I think the Warriors and Clippers will reprise their epic seven-game first-round series from last season. But I've been wrong about the Rockets all year. They continue to surprise. So I'm going to cop out on this one. If Chris Paul is healthy, I'll pick the Clippers. If not, the Rockets should advance.
Stein: Warriors and Clippers. I repeat: This question gets a lot easier to answer when we know the state of CP3's hamstring. But the Clips, to me, deserve to be picked to win the next round even though Houston must be loving the idea of facing the potentially wounded Clips as opposed to the ultraseasoned Spurs. Survive a Game 7 with the Spurs and you earn my pick. Of course ... I don't think Steph Curry versus James Harden in the West finals would be a huge problem for anyone. Would it?