The favorites, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, are looking poised to sweep their first-round foes, while the Boston Celtics and the Oklahoma City Thunder are still looking for that second offensive option to help them get over the hump.
Partial results of the opening series are giving us an idea about which teams will make the quarterfinals cut. Still, a handful of questions hounds the eight matchups presently in contention.
1) Is Cleveland officially back?
Up 3-0 against the Indiana Pacers, the team has every reason to celebrate. The Cavs just recorded the biggest second-half comeback ever in their last game, so why worry? Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love watched from the bench as LeBron James willed a cast of role players to victory. The problem is, we all know how things have turned out for a King without any superstar help—see 2007, 2014, and 2015 NBA Finals.
2) How far will the Bulls go?
Chicago may have found a mismatch in their favor versus Boston, but, should it win against the Celtics, the same cannot be said about its next opponents. Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and Rajon Rondo will need sustained production from their unheralded big men, who will most likely be picked apart by the rugged frontcourt of the Washington Wizards (which currently leads their own series with Atlanta, 2-0).
3) Time to blow up Toronto?
The Milwaukee Bucks has come up with the best meme so far in the postseason, even better than their 'Bandwagon Cam':
The Raptors obviously didn't help their case, succumbing to the up-and-coming Bucks, 104-77, after barely getting out of Game 2. Down 2-1, a premature Toronto elimination will prove that the genius of team president Masai Ujiri—acquiring Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker before the trade deadline—could only do so much for a star pairing that continues to underachieve.
4) Are the Wizards for real?
Paul Millsap may have won Round 2 with Markieff Morris in terms of output, but the latter had the last laugh as Washington mightily defended homecourt and put the Hawks in a 0-2 hole heading to Atlanta. Though bannered by one of the most top-heavy starting lineups in the league, the Wizards success lies in its backcourt dominance and significant contributions from the bench.
5) To play or not to play KD?
As expected, the Golden State Warriors are toying with the 8th seed Portland Trail Blazers, which sorely miss the inside presence of injured center Jusuf Nurkic. The Dubs have posted a 20.5 average margin of victory in the first two games even without their best player (sorry, Steph), so this one should be a no-brainer. After all, who needs Durant when you have JaVale McGee going perfect from the floor for 15 points?
6) Is Grit and Grind done for?
Coach David Fizdale's rant might have had a positive effect on his boys, as Memphis made things a bit interesting by taking Game 1 of its homestand. At the end of the day, though, San Antonio's formula—no matter how boring—is too potent to be toppled. On the other hand, despite trying to keep up with the times of small ball, the Grizzlies' style of play has proven to be outdated in this era of sheer pace and space.
7) Who is the next man up after Russ?
Russell Westbrook is such a curious specimen. In one half, he's making everybody—including himself—look better, and in the next, the man is chucking shots like there's no tomorrow. What is certain, though, is that the OKC superstar is giving his maximum effort every game. This should rub off on his teammates, who still haven't risen to the occasion on both ends of the floor.
8) Will health bring the Clippers good luck?
This is probably the first time in the postseason that Los Angeles will be in full strength, barring freak injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. By some twist of fate, one of the opposing team's top players (Rudy Gobert) has yet to suit up. With everything going their way, Doc Rivers is the most pressured of all the playoff tacticians, not even factoring a looming summer of free agency.
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