Bryan Altman, CBS Local Sports
We’re roughly a month into the playoffs in both the NBA and the NHL and we’re getting closer and closer to finding out which teams will compete for a championship in their respective sports. We’ve seen plenty of incredible things in the playoff thus far and there is no shortage of juicy storylines that will unfold within the coming days and weeks as we continue towards the finals. Here’s a look at the latest and most important stories from around the NBA and NHL Playoffs.
Can Anybody Beat The Blackhawks?
It wouldn’t be entirely fair to the Minnesota Wild to say that it was easy for the Chicago Blackhawks to sweep them out of the playoffs 4-0, but the notion of a sweep certainly implies that it was. The Wild were one of the hottest teams in hockey coming into the playoffs and made relatively quick work of the higher seeded St. Louis Blues (won series 4-2) in the first round, but they were no match for the Blackhawks.
Corey Crawford has reverted to his Stanley Cup champion form after being usurped by Scott Darling in round one, who in all likely will resurface on “Where Are They Now” lists before he does so on the ice again. Meanwhile, Patrick Kane has not only recovered from his broken collarbone injury, but will be battling Corey Perry in the next round for dibs on the Conn Smythe trophy.
The Blackhawks look unbeatable. Sure, the Ducks will have home ice and can possibly give them a run for their money in a seven-game series but the Blackhawks have been here before and are firing on all cylinders. They seem to be the overwhelming favorites to win their third cup of the decade if all things stay the same.
Don’t Call It A Comeback (Yet)
The New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens looked all but left for dead after falling behind 3-1 and 3-0 in their respective series’. The President’s Trophy winning Rangers were dropping close game after close game to the Washington Capitals while the Tampa Bay Lightning took a commanding 3-0 series lead after scoring with just one second remaining in Game 3.
So, uh, what happened? Now the Rangers are preparing for a Game 7 on home ice Wednesday night after taking a thrilling Game 6 in Washington 4-3 while the Canadiens have a chance to send their series to seven games with a win in Tampa Bay on Tuesday night. Momentum is a fickle thing in the playoffs and it appears to have shifted quickly from the underdogs to the respective favorites in both of these series’.
Cavaliers In Pain
When Kevin Love went down for the rest of the playoffs we all knew the Cavaliers were in trouble. Down the stretch Love had finally found his role with the Cavs and the Eastern Conference appeared to be theirs for the taking. Now, Cleveland is not only without Love, but might be dealing with a 50 percent healthy Kyrie Irving. And in addition to the injured Irving, J.R. Smith and LeBron James both sustained apparent leg injuries in their Game 4 win over the Bulls.
Clearly King James wasn’t in too much pain as he channeled his inner MJ for the last second winner to tie up the series, but the ankle is still a cause for concern. The Bulls have given the Cavs all they can handle and having three of their five starters dealing with injuries in addition to the injury to Love might not bode well for the Cavs’ chances as they look to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
Golden State Shocker?
The Golden State Warriors, most notably the Splash Brothers of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, are getting all they can handle from perennial playoff stalwarts, the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies took a 2-1 lead in the series on Saturday and now have a chance to go up 3-1 at home on Monday night, putting the league’s best regular season team in a precarious position to say the least.
The big bodies of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have done some heavy lifting for the Grizzlies. The big men combined for 43 points and 23 rebounds in Saturday’s game and have been dominant on the inside against a Warriors team that thrives offensively thanks to their backcourt play.
Speaking of the Warriors’ backcourt, after shooting 50 percent from three in Game 1, Steph Curry is just 4-21 (19 percent) from three after shooting 44 percent from behind the arc all year. It’s becoming more and more apparent that the Warriors just don’t have the scoring depth to make up for when the league MVP can’t shoot above 40 percent from downtown. If Curry doesn’t regain his form soon, the Warriors might be making a quicker than expected exit from the 2015 playoffs.
The Free Throw Adventures Of DeAndre Jordan
Hack-a-(insert name here) is an abomination and needs to be put to rest immediately at the conclusion of this season. The footage from the first half of the Clippers-Rockets game last night might one day be used as an alternative means of capital punishment. It was that bad. Clippers’ center DeAndre Jordan attempted 28 foul shots in the first half. He made 10 of them.
Based on those statistics you would think that the Rockets’ strategy worked – only serving to embolden teams’ “Hack-a-Whoever” strategy for the foreseeable future. Mercifully, that was not the case. The Rockets fouled so often that they forgot how to play real basketball and as a result lost 128-95 – their second straight 25-plus point loss to the Clippers. Now they face a 3-1 series deficit and if they don’t come up with a better strategy, they’ll be packing up their lockers sooner than later. Oh yeah, the whole fouling thing really just made Jordan angry too. And you won’t like him when he’s angry.
Wiz Without Wall
The Atlanta Hawks were the best team in the Eastern Conference throughout most of the NBA season, but it’s been the Wizards that have looked dominant for most of the postseason. First they dispatched the favored Toronto Raptors in four-straight games and now find themselves up 2-1 on the Hawks with a chance to take a 3-1 stranglehold at home tonight.
Unfortunately, the injury bug has reared its ugly head and has claimed Wizards’ star point guard John Wall. Wall sat out the Wizards’ Game 3 win after suffering five non-displaced fractures in the teams’ Game 1 victory. Without Wall the long-term prognosis for the Wizards isn’t great. They might not even be able to replicate their miraculous Game 3 result without him. The point guard hasn’t been ruled out for the series yet but Washington is proceeding as if they won’t have Wall’s services this round and beyond.
For the Wizards to advance without Wall and get the chance to play the Cavaliers or the Bulls for a spot in the NBA Finals it would require one of the better team performances in recent memory. Or, a lot more of this from Paul Pierce.
While there have been plenty of surprises and just as many disappointments in the playoffs thus far the best news is that we’re only half way through. From here on out, the games only get better, the competition only gets stiffer and the stakes only get higher. Seeing how these storylines unfold over the next few weeks is going to be a blast.