Two of the NBA’s best teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers both took back home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday. OKC got a surprising 32 points and nine rebounds from Reggie Jackson to hand the Memphis Grizzlies their first loss at home since February 5. Indiana got huge shots down the stretch from David West and Paul George to even its series with the Hawks, 2-2. Both teams are locked in spirited first round battles, but an early playoff exit for each team could doom both franchises for the near future.
Oklahoma City went from losing in the NBA Finals two years ago to the Miami Heat to going down in round two last year to these same Grizzlies. Granted, Russell Westbrook was out with an injury. OKC is fully healthy now and had an outstanding season behind likely league MVP Kevin Durant. They are fully healthy and are now locked in a three-game battle to save their season, so a first round loss to the Grizzlies would bring about some questions that fans may not be prepared to answer, such as: did the front office doom the team by trading James Harden? Are Westbrook and Durant not going to work? Has this team peaked? Scott Brooks’ job could also be on the line as well.
The Indiana Pacers have been the most polarizing team in the NBA for months. The Pacers started 33-7, but limped to the finish line and are now tied 2-2 with the only team in the playoffs with a losing record. Indiana’s team chemistry has reportedly gone into the gutter since Danny Granger was shipped out, and Andrew Bynum and Evan Turner were brought in. There are questions already up and down the roster, regardless of whether or not Atlanta can pull off the upset. Roy Hibbert has been a complete no-show, Paul George’s play has declined throughout the season, and Lance Stephenson’s ego could drive him to leave town in free agency this offseason. This was supposed to be the Pacers’ year, and it looked to be early on, but if this team goes down in round one it will almost certainly tear the franchise apart. The Indianapolis Business Journal opines that coach Frank Vogel could be on his last legs if this team makes an early exit. Expectations were sky high after the Pacers went toe-to-toe with the Heat and took them to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
If offensive discourse and locker room chemistry respectively turns out to be the undoing of the Thunder and Pacers, the NBA is in for the demise of two of its best and most exciting teams. Neither team has excess amounts of money or trade assets to improve much down the road. It is possible that both have peaked and could be in for unceremonious roster breakdowns. Rumors are still afloat that Durant and Westbrook are ultimately destined to go their separate ways, as well as Stephenson departing Indiana and the roster being stuck with overpaid stars in Roy Hibbert and Paul George. It is definitely the “glass half empty” approach, but first round losses could completely decimate both of these teams.
Commentary by Justin Hussong