Fans of NBA hoops have gotten more than their share of thrills in the the first round of the 2014 playoffs. Only one team held home court advantage after the first two games. In San Antonio, where the top seed in the mighty Western Conference has found itself under attack, the questions about the team’s old legs are already arriving.
Are there historic upsets in the making in round one? There’s still plenty of basketball to be played, but the opening series have revealed flaws in the favorites and strengths in the underdogs. Here are five things we’ve learned from the NBA Playoffs so far.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge can perform on a super-human level in big games
Who was the last player to rack up 89 points in the first two playoff games for his team? It was Michael Jordan, who did it for the Bulls in 1988. Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge made sure to add a new entry in the record books in his first two games against Houston. Aldridge followed a 46-point performance in the opener with 43 points in the second game to help the Trail Blazers steal both games on the road against the Rockets. Heading back to Portland, the Blazers hold the series in their hands.
Aldridge managed to outshine Dwight Howard and James Harden while pushing his team into position to knock off favored Houston at home. During the season, the Rockets had stretches in which they looked like the best team in the NBA. It could all come crashing down at the hands of Aldridge and the Blazers.
2. The Western Conference is tougher than anyone imagined
Looking at the Western Conference brackets, it was easy to project San Antonio finding its first challenge in round two, where the team would face the favored Houston Rockets. Then Portland and Dallas came to town. After the brutal treatment at the hands of the Blazers in Houston, the Rockets find themselves down two games to none, while San Antonio is reeling after a blowout loss to the Mavericks. Dallas is one of the toughest eight-seeds in recent memory. In the West, there are no easy playoff wins. The underdogs are making sure of that.
3. The Pacers’ Frank Vogel has his job on the line
Hopes were high for Indiana going into the 2013-2014 season. Out of the gate, the Pacers proved worthy of their championship aspirations. Their dreadful performance at the close of the season was enough to doubt that they’d go far in post-season play, but there may be greater consequences. ESPN reports head coach Frank Vogel may lose his job if the Pacers don’t put on a good showing in the 2014 playoffs.
After yet another loss in the first game against Atlanta, reports surfaced that Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner were restrained from brawling in a pre-game practice. That marked the umpteenth time that locker-room discord had disrupted Indiana’s season. Vogel may not be able to control the volatile Stephenson and stop the Pacers’ bleeding in time to advance. Unfortunately for the respected coach, it may cost him his job.
4. Dwayne Wade is still the force Miami needs
Miami struggled at the close of the regular season without Dwayne Wade. Questions surrounding Wade’s health and effectiveness — should he ever return — haunted the Heat leading into the first round of the playoffs. Through the two games in Miami, Wade has looked sharp and efficient, providing the precise boost LeBron James lacked in difficult times for the Heat during the season.
In game one, Wade scored 23 on 10-of-16 shooting with 5 assists; in game two, he racked up 15 points on 4-of-10 from the field with 6 rebounds. With Wade’s production back in the rotation, Miami again is the clear favorite to win the Eastern Conference Finals.
5. The case for the Washington Wizards is real
If Miami is going to have a heavy challenge to reach the NBA Finals, it may come from the Washington Wizards, who have have been so hot in recent weeks that they appear capable of beating anyone. Bradley Beal led the Wizards to their second win in Chicago with a strong overtime performance to give Washington a 2-0 advantage heading home. Before everyone projects who the Bulls may beat in the second round of the playoffs, they have a worthy adversary in round one.
Nene has tormented Joakim Noah in the series, shooting an efficient 8-of-13 in game two after posting 24 points on 11-of-17 from the field in the series opener. For a player the size of Nene, the intimidating style Chicago plays is no deterrent. The Wizards center has fouled out of both games in the series. Washington will need better efficiency from its guards to make it the conference finals, but the team’s front line has shown it’s solid enough to pick up the slack.