One of the most consistently entertaining teams in the league this season has been the Golden State Warriors, with the long-range bombs of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, as well as the lockdown defense and all-around excellence of Andre Iguodala, contributing to the spectacle. The sixth seed in the mighty Western Conference will face the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, which looked like a deceivingly even matchup on paper until a rib injury removed key cog Andrew Bogut from the lineup. Elsewhere, I promise this is the last time I talk about the New York Knickerbockers basketball franchise until the end of the playoffs. Also, the Pacers are in dire need of a renaissance from both Paul George and Roy Hibbert if they want to make their date against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
1. Andrew Bogut has fractured a rib, and the Warriors could be in trouble: With their barrage of scoring and one of the league’s most entertaining players in Steph Curry, the Warriors have fought their way into the hearts of basketball fans everywhere as head coach Mark Jackson’s so-called “no excuses team.” A big part of what they’ve been able to accomplish is starting center Andrew Bogut, who seems to have finally found a place of supreme comfort. Alas, and much to Jackson’s hot seated chagrin, Bogut sustained a cracked rib which will leave him out indefinitely, handing his sizable onus to Jermaine O’Neal. Clippers center DeAndre Jordan is much more athletic than O’Neal, and that matchup could prove to be the death knell for a team which once looked so promising. Jackson may find himself on the way out as well, particularly if his Warriors see an expected early exit.
2. THE KNICKS SIGN LAMAR ODOM, NOTED PROPONENT OF THE TRIANGLE OFFENSE AND SAVIOR OF THE CARMELO ANTHONY FREE AGENCY DEBACLE: …or probably not. Odom signed a two-year deal just before the Knicks’ final, meaningless win over the Atlantic champion Toronto Raptors, and his knowledge of the system Phil Jackson plans to implement may help him secure a roster spot for what will inevitably be a long and difficult 2014-’15 Knicks campaign. So long and difficult, in fact, that Anthony, the franchise’s most talented player since Patrick Ewing, may not want to stick around to reap the benefits of cap space in the summer of 2015, which will feature an expected free agency class including, but not limited to, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Love. “I want to come back,” Anthony said, according to Marc Berman at the New York Post. “I also want to win.” Anthony was the only member of the draft class of 2003, which included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and, of course, 2004 NBA Champion Darko Milicic, to have never missed the playoffs before this season, so he understandably feels embarrassed and upset. Time will tell if the Zen Master can coax the former scoring champion, coming off a season in which he averaged 27 points and eight rebounds, into sticking around for another cold winter in the Rotten Apple.
3. The Pacers need Roy Hibbert and Paul George to return to All-Star form, and fast: Hibbert and George, the two most important keys to the Pacer engine, have not been playing up to expectation, and it is burning the Pacers. Hibbert’s rim-protecting defense is LeBron James’ kryptonite, and to have him producing on that end at DPOY-levels, which is where he was slated to be prior to the start of the season, is a must. The Pacers only win when they stop the other team from scoring, and they are heading into a first round matchup with the Hawks which could prove to be more difficult than any of ESPN’s analysts, none of whom picked the Hawks and only one of whom said the series would go to seven games, are predicting: In four regular season games between the two teams, each team won twice, with the Hawks picking up the most recent victory, an April 6 drubbing of the Pacers in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. In those games, the Hawks outscored the Pacers in total, 387-372. Both of the Hawks’ victories came by at least ten points, while the Pacers only outscored the Hawks by double digits once, and just barely. All of this is more reason to look to Paul George as the beacon of hope, a man who can flip the switch and score at LeBron-esque levels. The problem is that his switch has been diffused for the last two months or so, with a few notable exceptions. George must be the offensive wizard he was in the first half of the season if the Pacers expect to dominate the Hawks, let alone beat them at all.