By this Saturday, each series in the 2012 NBA Playoffs will have at least completed the pivotal third game of their respective match-up. By the time a series hits its third game, we’re able to separate the contenders from the pretenders. Here are a few things that this year’s playoffs have shown us so far.
Every possession in the playoffs matter! It sounds like a very simple concept, right? The meaning goes much deeper than those six words would indicate. So far we’ve seen Derrick Rose, Josh Smith, Iman Shumpert, Mo Williams, Amar’e Stoudemire and Caron Butler fall victim to injury. Rose, Shumpert, Butler and possibly Stoudemire, were each lost for the remainder of the playoffs. All four players are crucial components to their team’s success, and their injuries could have ended the season for their respective franchise. Josh Smith was recently diagnosed with patellar tendinitis after banging knees with Kevin Garnett. The Hawks star is currently doubtful to play in tonight’s game three, but should be able to return for Sunday’s match-up in Boston. Los Angeles Clippers guard Mo Williams, suffered a forearm contusion and is currently listed as day-to-day, but is expected to play in Saturday’s game in the Staples Center. The news on Mo’s injury was a little easier to handle, after Caron Butler was lost in game one with a broken hand. Each of these injuries have come at inopportune times, leaving their team’s playoff chances in peril. Injuries are “usually” things that can’t be controlled, but the 2012 playoffs have proved that this isn’t always the case.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said about the New York Knicks, who followed a 33-point loss in game one, with a ten point loss in game two. But, the greater loss game at the conclusion of the second game. Starting power forward Amar’e Stoudemire sought to unleash a bit of frustration en route to the locker room, and punched through the glass casing of a fire extinguisher. The Knicks big man said he assumed the casing was made of plastic and didn’t expect his hand to be injured. Stoudemire underwent surgery to repair muscle damage in his left hand, which forced him from game three. While the 100 million dollar man hopes to play on Sunday, chances are fairly slim. Although he may have been able to escape severe damage to his non-shooting hand, the timing of this injury may have damaged his chances of remaining a Knick beyond this season. The former all-star has now been forced out of a series in back-to-back years as a member of the franchise, and is already the subject of trade rumors. With three years and 60 million dollars remaining on his current deal, it will be very difficult for the Knicks to move on from the man they call STAT. If game four is anything like the others, the off-season decisions may come much sooner than expected for the Empire State.
When it’s all said and done, who will remain standing? At this point in the tournament, we’ve already seen which teams have come to the table meaning business. The Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs have all taken command of their respective series. While the Lakers and Spurs have yet to play a third game, the two game series lead has made quite a statement. Each of these veteran teams should continue to coast through their respective match-ups, where they will both meet a formidable opponent. The Lakers are poised to face the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have all but eliminated the defending NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks, after taking a 3-0 series lead. With the “Lake-show” & OKC likely to finish their respective match-ups within four to five games, the time for rest and proper preparation will be very limited. But the intrigue for this series couldn’t be any greater, as L.A. will welcome back Metta World Peace, who was suspended at the end of the regular season for his elbowing of OKC’s James Harden.
Similar intrigue can be found in the next series for the Spurs, who enjoy a comfortable 2-0 lead on the Utah Jazz. San Antonio will likely have the luxury of resting for a while, as they await the winner of the Los Angeles Clippers & Memphis Grizzlies match-up. After two thoroughly entertaining games, the series is nodded up at one game apiece. With each team being very evenly matched, this series has a strong possibility of going the full seven games, which bodes well for the veteran Spurs. After being eliminated by Memphis in last year’s playoffs, it will be interesting to see how the Spurs respond if the two franchises square off once again. Head Coach Greg Popovich was recently named NBA Coach of the Year and will undoubtedly be put to the test, no matter who his team faces in round two.
On the Eastern side of the tournament, the Miami Heat is coasting into the next round while the rest of the conference battles it out. With a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Knicks, Miami will likely wrap their first round match-up with Sunday’s game four and await the winner of the Pacers versus Magic series. Indiana stepped into the driver’s seat after taking game three in blow-out fashion. Orlando, who is without their star big man Dwight Howard, was able to steal game one on the road, only to drop the next two games by a combined 38 points! It seems as though Indiana has awaken and will be taking their talents to South Beach very soon.
As Chicago wrapped up game one of their match-up versus the Sixers, they saw their leader tear his ACL as time wound down in the fourth quarter. Derrick Rose was immediately ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs, which resulted in a much deflated Bulls team being blown out in game two. The match-up will shift to Philadelphia on Friday, along with the series momentum. Although the Bulls are a very formidable opponent without the leadership of the reigning MVP, this series has “upset” written all over it.
Similar to the Bulls and Sixers, the four-five match-up between Atlanta and Boston could also result in an upset. The Hawks jumped all over the Celtics in game one and defended their home-court with a nine point victory. With Rajon Rondo suspended and Ray Allen out with an injury, all the odds were in Atlanta’s favor to take command of the series in game two. However, behind veteran leadership and phenomenal coaching, the Celtics were able to pull out a victory in the arena known as “The Highlight Factory.” An untimely injury to Josh Smith and the likely return of both Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, the possibility of an upset looks very bleak for Atlanta. After these next two games in Boston, the final highlight seen in the Peach State may be that of the doors closing on the Hawks’ 2012 season.
Steve Rivers has contributed to The Source, ESPN Rise and a host of other online publications. Follow him on Twitter: @TheKidSkoob.