1. Are the playoffs the new lottery?
Anthony Calabro: Adam Silver couldn’t have scripted a better first round. The Pacers, Spurs, and Thunder are all top seeds and they’re all vulnerable. More teams need to think, “Let’s just get into the playoffs and see what happens” as opposed to “Let’s stink for the next 3 years and hope things work out.”
Daniel Christian: Sure. Any Eastern Conference team on Indiana’s side of the bracket has a real chance of making the Conference Finals. That could invaluable playoff experience for a young team like the Wizards, or groundbreaking for a team like the Hawks, who have never made the Conference Finals since their relocation. As for the Western Conference, if you’re good enough to make the playoffs, you’re probably good enough to compete with any team in the league for a single seven game series. No series seems like a safe bet this year (except Miami-Charlotte).
Angus Crawford: Contrary to the frustrations of the broken/unbalanced playoff bracket structure, there have been curve balls aplenty in the opening stanza of late-April basketball. It’s (at very least) refreshing that 10 of the first 19 games on offer have resulted in victories for the road team.
Eric Goldwein: It’s looking that way. If you get into the Eastern Conference playoffs and you don’t have to play the Heat, there’s a chance. That certainly gives teams added incentive to invest in mediocrity. The West is a different story. Though the Spurs and Thunder may be a little more vulnerable than we anticipated, they’re also playing some really freakin’ good teams in Dallas and Memphis. This might be the best Mavericks squad since the 2011 championship, and the Grizzlies, arguably, have been the top West team since Marc Gasol’s return.
Tom Sunnergren: At the moment, things sure do look wide open out East. Stew on this: The Nets had a 10-21 record when you drank champagne with your buddies on New Years Eve, and now they’re probably the second-best team in the conference. Strange days, fellas. Strange days.
2. Is LaMarcus Aldridge making the long two cool again?
Calabro: LaMarcus Aldridge is making LaMarcus Aldridge cool again. On PTI, Jason Whitlock said LA was the third best player in the NBA. Two games changed everything, apparently.
Christian: It looks like it. He’s picked the Rockets apart and has easily been the best player in the playoffs to this point. His midrange game has been absolutely lethal, and if the Rockets don’t do anything about LA’s long two barrage, they could be out sooner than expected.
Crawford: If the Rockets fall in the first round, do they make a sound? Talk about two diametrically opposed approaches to the game. LMA sourced 47.3% of his total points via the mid-range jumper this season, per NBA.com, and that penchant doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon. Props to him for contradicting the narrative and going against the grain by latching onto long twos.
Goldwein: Oh man. The other day I went to the park just to practice my mid range, just so I could be like LA. Chances are you’ve already stumbled across all those fancy graphics (here’s one) that demonstrate just how insane Aldridge’s mid-range game has been in these playoffs. Turns out a 7-footer that can hit jumpers — even if they’re not threes — is a good asset to have on your team.
Sunnergren: I’ve always maintained that, if a guy could drain 20 footers at a crazy rate–like a couple standard deviations above league average–he would be the coolest guy in the NBA. Taking long twos is insane–they just don’t drop often enough to justify taking them. Which is what makes taking, and making, them so cool. It’s the recklessness itself that makes them attractive. 16-23 footers are basically the cigarettes of NBA shot selection.
3. Which is the more vulnerable 1-seed, Pacers or Spurs?
Calabro: Pacers. Might have to check the analytics on this, but pre-game bouts between teammates is probably a bad thing.
Christian: The Pacers. The Spurs certainly face the more feared opponent in Dallas, who is a very legitimate threat to San Antonio’s hope of capturing consecutive Western Conference titles, but it’s hard to ignore Hibbert’s inexplicable ineffectiveness and the Pacers’ sheer inability to score at times. The Spurs emit an aura of stability and poise. The Pacers appear to lack both of those traits at the moment.
Crawford: Pacers. The meltdown in Nap Town thus far has been… uh, not pretty. Let the record show that Andrew Bynum persists as poltergeist-like locker room influence.
Goldwein: Pacers, by virtue of the series score, but don’t count out the Mavs. Dallas has outscored San Antonio by 16 points, which suggests the two-game split is hardly a fluke. The games were in San Antonio, too. Dirk isn’t going to go down without a fight.
Sunnergren: The Pacers. They suck, man.
4. Andre Miller is to basketball as ____ is to ______.
Calabro: Neil deGrasse Tyson is to Science.
Christian: Raekwon is to hip-hop.
Crawford: Richard Lewis is to stand up comedy.
Goldwein: Seinfeld is to Fox.
Sunnergren: Eric Goldwein is to Hoop76.
5. Evan Turner and Lance Stephenson — who reportedly fought each other before game two — face off in a Billy Madison-esque, basketball-centric decathlon. Who wins?
Calabro: Evan Turner wins by default as Lance Stephenson gets into a road rage incident on the way to the contest.
Christian: Stephenson, but only because he pulls a boot out of a pot of boiling chemicals.
Crawford: Lance Stephenson triumphs, if only because Evan Turner is beginning to remind me of “The Puppy Who Lost His Way.”
Goldwein: Stephenson wins, but then he gives the company to Luis Scola.
Sunnergren: Lance Stephenson. I couldn’t imagine Evan Turner winning a game of cards at this point.