With one week of NBA playoff action in the books, here are a few takeaways:
The 76ers and Pelicans are legitimate:
The Pelicans finished off the Trailblazers on Saturday, sweeping them 4-0 in the series, and the Sixers are up 3-1 on the Heat with the series going back to Philadelphia for Game 5. In a guard-driven league, the difference-maker for both teams has been their center.
Anthony Davis has been nothing short of spectacular for the Pelicans through four games, averaging 33 points and 12 rebounds per game in the series, capped off by a 47/11 performance in Game 4. He has undeniably been the best player of the playoffs so far and his chemistry with Rajon Rondo has been evident through, among other things, a bevy of alley-oops. If the Pelicans backcourt of Rondo and Jrue Holiday can continue to play at an elite level with Davis playing to his capabilities, the Pelicans will be a very tough out.
Joel Embiid struggled for the Sixers on Saturday but that shouldn’t diminish the fact that he’s the piece that makes them Eastern Conference contenders. His ability to stretch the court, face players up and either hit the jumper or drive to the basket makes Philly’s offense click. “The Phantom of the Process” also gives them an edge and toughness in what has been and will continue to be a highly physical series.
Can the Cavaliers win without LeBron scoring 40?
The Cleveland Cavaliers scored 100 points in a Game 2 win over the Indiana Pacers. LeBron James scored 46 of those. His 28 and 24-point outings in the other two games haven’t been enough to get it done and Kevin Love has vastly underperformed. This team looks like it will need an elite Kevin Love to get through this series, let alone get to the finals. Can the Cavs win three straight if they lose Game 4 in Indiana? As the old adage goes, never doubt LeBron, but…
The 2014 draft class needs to step up
Jabari Parker of the Bucks and Andre Wiggins of the Timberwolves need to step up and perform at a level they haven’t played at in order for either of their teams to have a chance in their respective series.
After seeing relatively little playing time in Game 1 (15 minutes) and Game 2 (10 minutes), Parker scored 17 points in 30 minutes in a Game 3 win over the Celtics. The Celtics have more size down low than the Bucks, which means the Bucks need to have better wing play than the C’s. Wing play has been the Bucks’ strength this season and their offense is built around it, but in Game 4 Parker has to take it to another level and perform as well or better than he did in Game 3, because if the Celtics get a 3-1 lead it’s over.
Wiggins, the No. 1 pick in 2014 while Parker went No. 2, has had the better NBA career thus far. However, he has to contribute, as he did, to the type of balanced offensive attack that led to a Game 3 Timberwolves win over the top-seeded Houston Rockets. Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler have to share the ball and all play well and score in similar quantities to have any hopes of pushing the Rockets to seven games — they’re simply not good enough when only one of them has a great game and the other two struggle.