If you haven’t heard, Thunder star Russell Westbrook is out for the playoffs with a torn meniscus. I still think the Thunder could win the Western Conference without Russ, but there is no arguing that the injury totally opens things up in the west. The team that really should be licking its lips is the Clippers. Virtually every other team in the west has some sort of issue right now. The Spurs are old and bumbled into the playoffs, losing seven of their last ten. Denver has looked lost defensively against Golden State. And those four teams (Thunder, Clippers, Spurs, and the Nuggets) account for all of the really legit contenders in the Western Conference. The wild, wild west just got even more intriguing. Now for some notes on tonight’s games:
- It really goes without saying that the Celtics, who trail the Knicks 2-0, need to win tonight. The C’s blew great chances to win in both games one and two and now face the virtually impossible task of beating the Knicks in four out of five games. A win tonight would be nice, but for Boston to win the series they really need to take both games three and four and also probably five. The atmosphere will definitely be electric and earsplitting at the garden tonight, but will the Celtics find some way to deal with New York’s swarming defense? Will they be able to get it to Paul Pierce at the elbow and on the block? Will they find a way to slow down Carmelo Anthony (just a wee bit)? If the answer to these questions is ‘no’, the Knicks will likely win tonight and all but seal up the series. (Check out this post for more on this series: A Few Thoughts On The Knicks-Celtics Series)
- The Lakers are, like the C’s, down 2-0. They also, like the C’s, have offensive issues (when Steve Blake is your third leading score, things aren’t going so well). Their defense hasn’t been impressive either. That will need to change tonight for the Lakers to beat SA tonight. Expect plenty of backseat coaching from Kobe Bryant via the Twitter machine.
- While the Lakers and Spurs go at it, the series that everyone is talking about, the one that pits the Golden State Warriors and the Denver Nuggets, will also be taking place. Game two in that series was an exercise in offensive effiency and defensive futility. With the series shifting to Oakland for game three, the Nuggets will need to bring greater defensive intensity (they allowed the Warriors to drop 35 points each in the last three quarters of game two) to have any chance of pulling off a win on the road. Oracle Arena will be humming for the Warriors’ first playoff appearance since 2007.