First-round storylines

Israel: Depends on how. If Lillard is just putting up a bunch of shots and hitting, not really. He needs to distribute as well as Steph does, too. And it's funny you mention Stotts needing a playoff victory, because you can say the same for Kevin McHale. They didn't bring Howard in just to exit in the first round.

In fact, let's put it this way: Outside of Rick Carlisle, there isn't a coach out West who wouldn't be heavily impacted by a first-round loss. That includes Memphis' Dave Joerger, who's following up a coach who reached the conference finals last season, and Gregg Popovich, who wants to rid himself of Game 6 nightmares once and for all.

OK, one more trip to the East. Brooklyn is the trendy pick as the "if not the Pacers and Heat, then who?" option in the Eastern Conference. Yet, this first-round matchup with Toronto isn't exactly Nets-friendly. The Raps want to take advantage of their athleticism on the wings, which could flummox the old-school approach from Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson.

Pierce held up just fine against Toronto in the regular season. Johnson not so much, shooting 37 percent over four matchups. Did the Nets make a mistake by not securing that 5-seed and facing the slower  Chicago Bulls? Because if you're going to beat Miami or Indiana, you first have to actually play Miami or Indiana.

J.A.: I'll take Brooklyn's experience over Toronto's athleticism and home-court advantage. Whatever athleticism Pierce and Kevin Garnett have left can be unleashed without any need to keep something in reserve. But the biggest story in the East isn't who's going to play Miami or Indiana. It's whether Miami and Indiana are going to play each other. It's going to happen, and the Pacers are going to get past them this postseason. They wound up with that home-court advantage they (rightfully) felt they had to have, and they'll use it to get to the Finals against the Thunder.

OKC gets past the  San Antonio Spurs in the West. Remember the Spurs? That team with the best record in the league? Why does it seem like they're not a part of any playoff conversation? The reason they're not more prominent for me is that the Thunder at their best impressed me more than the Spurs at their best. It's concentrated greatness over weeks, rather than sustained excellence over months, that matters most in the playoffs.

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