For the first time in NBA history, the league will feature three Game 7s on Saturday. Prior to that, though, the schedule will toss out three more potentially series-killing Game 6s on Friday evening. Brooklyn, Dallas, and Houston all have their backs against the figurative walls, with Toronto, San Antonio, and Portland attempting to move onto the second round. Because the play has been so tight so far this postseason, it’s more than reasonable to anticipate that the NBA will be scheduling just as many Game 7s for Sunday.
Here lies one quick-hit question for every team involved in Friday night’s action:
Brooklyn: Which Deron Williams will show up?
Win/loss statistical comps are the hackiest hack-hack that’s ever been hacked when it comes to sportswriting, but DW’s 12.7-point and nearly seven-assist lines from his team’s losses just aren’t going to cut it. The Raptors have done well to meet Deron in transition off of misses, it’s true that wings Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce have dominated the ball at times, and that Shaun Livingston is the ostensible point guard, but Williams truly needs to push the action off of both Toronto misses and in the half court. Another first-round ouster on the heels of his “pretty good” play just shouldn’t be tolerable considering his gifts.
Toronto: Can Kyle Lowry hack it again?
Kyle Lowry wasn’t exactly taking bad shots in Game 5, but he was firing away with abandon from long range in ways that don’t usually translate on the road, much less for two games in a row. On top of that, you can bet that the Raptors are more than ready to send Lowry as initial double-team help (before the bigs can rotate) once the Nets run their iso-Joe Johnson plays at the top of the key or elbow. Kyle is a sturdy sort who seems indefatigable at times, but if his legs leave him at the absolute worst time, the Raptors better prep for a Game 7.
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Houston: Will the Rockets be able to sustain the containment of LaMarcus Aldridge?
The Rockets have done well to not only crowd LMA with Omer Asik on both pick and rolls and isolation setups, but they’ve managed to get away with shading extra defenders toward LaMarcus briefly as he gathers the ball off a pass, forcing just enough delay to send him into a bit of a tizzy. This has been enough to deter Aldridge in the Portland losses – where he’s shot 32 percent from the floor – but it wasn’t sustainable during PDX’s Game 4 win, one that saw the All-Star drop 29 and 10. Houston doesn’t have to make a mess out of LMA’s percentages to win, but it wouldn’t hurt.
Portland: Can the Trail Blazers take terrible advantage of Houston’s guards?
Rocket guard Patrick Beverley is the only thing approaching “solid”-levels of defense in Houston’s backcourt, and even he can be a little flighty at times off the ball, and beyond Patrick the Rocket perimeter defense is a mess (and, frankly, the fever-stricken Beverley should not be playing). If the Blazers can feed off of Houston’s aggression in semi-doubling LaMarcus Aldridge, with LMA firing passes to cutting Portland guards, the Blazers could lay-in their way to the second round.
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San Antonio: Can the Spurs continue to suss out Dallas’ defense?
It probably isn’t fair to call the Mavericks’ defense “gimmicky,” but coach Rick Carlisle has had to utilize some zone-ish concepts in order to make up for the various shortcomings of his individual players – whether they’re beset by age, inability, or nagging injury. San Antonio’s second-half offense in Game 5 was a gorgeous clinic of cuts off the ball, back screens, pinpoint passing and off-glass finishing. Dallas will no doubt have counters ready in Game 6, but the Spurs have to think on their collective feet and counter those counters in real time.
Dallas: Can Dirk Nowitzki play hero?
It’s rather cheap to suggest that, in a team sport, one star should be the main force behind extending a series against a team with the NBA’s best record. And San Antonio has the various wings and bigs to make Dirk Nowitzki work on either end, and that’s all before a Tim Duncan potential switch-over is considered. Still, 18 points on 41 percent shooting (Nowitzki’s postseason work thus far) doesn’t exactly scan as Dirk-like, even considering San Antonio’s personnel and fabulous scheming. If Nowitzki comes through with, at the very least, a classic second half of shooting and efficient play, the Mavs could be heading to a well-earned Game 7.
That’s the hope, at least. We don’t want this first round to ever end.
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