J.A. Adande and Israel Gutierrez discuss the most intriguing matchups in the opening round of the NBA playoffs.
J.A. Adande: How excited am I for the playoffs? I'm even fired up to watch the Eastern Conference. Yeah, the much-maligned Leastern conference. It turned out that seven of the eight teams have winning records, so it's not as littered with sub-.500 squads as we thought it would be.
What it does have is a ton of playoff newcomers. Seventeen rotation players (by my count) are making their playoff debut in the East, including the Washington Wizards backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal. I won't hold them to the 36-point, 11-assist standard set by Derrick Rose in his first playoff game, but that does show the ceiling, and it speaks to the wild nature of these playoffs.
Be prepared for something you weren't prepared for. Don't take it for granted, for example, that we will see the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. How do you see these playoffs? Turmoil, or chalk?
Israel Gutierrez: This has nothing to do with the playoffs, but I finally decided to look up the origin of the word "chalk" as it relates to sports -- mildly interesting if you're looking for a brief homework assignment.
But given that the term itself is outdated, I'll go ahead and say there'll be more turmoil, but most, if not all of it, will come out of the West.
I'm not of the opinion that the Pacers' struggles will worsen, or even continue, in the postseason. The Pacers' failures down the stretch had as much to do with not knowing how to handle sudden adversity and less to do with forgetting how to play basketball (although George Hill's past few games could suggest he's suffering from at least temporary amnesia). They might've already rediscovered their confidence by beating the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday and maintaining that No. 1 seed despite the tailspin.
And if they haven't bounced back into form, then a first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, despite Indiana's history of struggling in Atlanta, will help them do it. And, unless you're picking Miami to not make the conference finals, I wouldn't predict turmoil in the East.
But in your half of the bracket, how can you not anticipate significant drama? Have you noticed the signs? The Thunder needed a one-point home win against the Detroit Pistons, where turmoil has lived and grown comfortable over the past few years, just to secure the No. 2 seed. And they're supposed to feel comfortable playing a Memphis Grizzlies team that's won its past five games -- all of them having a playoff urgency -- and is built to dictate tempo in the postseason?
J.A.: I'm not worried. Yeah, I saw how they barely squeaked out a win against the Pistons. I also saw how Kevin Durant refused to let them lose that game. This season has turned into Durant's Neo-dodging-bullets-on-the-rooftop moment. It's time to recognize him as The One. That makes picking a champion from this field a little easier.