At Sixes and Sevens
If you told me a week ago that, out of the six and seven seeds—Magic, Nets, Spurs, and Thunder—the Thunder would be the only team without a win after two games, I would have told you to stop talking about basketball to me for a while. But here we are, with the Magic, Nets, and Spurs having stolen homecourt advantage, and a talented Thunder squad fully capable of turning things around. March Madness may have spilled into the NBA Playoffs, and here’s what each of those teams needs to do to get positive results in their two home games.
My gut tells me that Orlando’s game one heist had a lot more to do with Toronto underachieving than anything else, especially considering the smackdown the Raptors laid on the Magic in game two. Lowry shook off his playoff demons (which is to say that he scored more than one point) and Kawhi looked unstoppable. But the Magic are headed to Orlando to play in front of a fan base starved for meaningful springtime basketball, and anything can happen in front of a hostile crowd. If Vučević can get back to his normal production and Kawhi cools off—or maybe the Raptors feel tired from riding too many rollercoasters at Disney World—the Magic could potentially steal another game and send it back to Toronto 2-2 for a pivotal game five (stop drooling Clipper fans).
Brooklyn has real talent, and they showed it game one. Russell has blossomed into a prime-time scorer and Dinwiddie looks like he could dribble drive through a WWII mine field. Still it seems the Nets success rests on the status of Philly’s co-stars. The whispers of Embiid’s injury concerns have cranked back up into shouts, and Ben Simmons is apparently flipping a coin pregame to decide whether he shows up. The Sixers used a third quarter explosion to put away the Nets in game two, but if you take away that quarter, they’ve been thoroughly outplayed so far this series. The Sixers are loaded with talent, but having only played 12 total games at full strength they have real chemistry deficiencies. The Nets’ players, on the other hand, know exactly who they are and what their role is, and they’re having fun doing it. The Nets aren’t going to wait around for the Sixers to figure out how to put together their all-star puzzle and are in prime position to win both home games to go up 3-1.
San Antonio Spurs:
After letting a 16-point lead, along with the chance of going up 2-0 heading back home, disappear it would be easy for the Spurs to get discouraged. They shouldn’t. Despite Jamal Murray going absolutely bonkers in the fourth, and the Nuggets looking like they kind of, sort of, maybe found their feet, the Spurs remain securely in the driver’s seat of this series. The Nuggets have been a team plagued by inconsistency, and now have to go into San Antonio—where the Spurs were 32-9 in the regular season—and those contested, off-balance Jamal Murray jumpers aren’t so likely to fall. On the flip side, Derrick White is emerging as yet another “of course this random Spur is really good” player, and DeRozan and Aldridge are better than every Nugget not named Jokic. San Antonio just needs to stay the course and play smart, calculated basketball, and if that alone doesn’t beat Denver, the Nuggets might beat themselves.
Oklahoma City Thunder:
It’s starting to feel like panic time in Oklahoma City. ‘Playoff P’ looks like a shell of himself, Russell Westbrook is getting toasted by Damian Lillard, and Steven Adams is like a 2019 Chevy Silverado that somehow already has 200,000 miles on it. Their shooting has been abysmal, connecting on just 10 of their 61 attempts from deep. The good news: they can’t shoot this bad forever, and history supports this. Almost every team in playoff history has shot significantly better at home. In a familiar building, backed by an incredible fan base, the basket is going to look a lot bigger for the Thunder’s open 3’s, and a lot smaller for Lillard’s moon bombs from 30-feet. An optimist would say that Portland merely held serve at home, and with a former MVP in Westbrook and premier two-way player in George, the Thunder should do the same.