• We are now over a week into the NBA Playoffs and 15 of the 16 teams that qualified are still standing. The New Orleans Pelicans put on a show and swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the process. But that’s our lone sweep to this point as most first round series have exceeded expectations and been far more competitive than most imagined. This is the first time since 2014 that the NBA has only had one first round sweep.

    No matter how many games it takes, the rest of the first round will wrap up this week. Let’s take a look at what to watch for in NBA action in this edition of the Week Ahead.

    Western Conference – Rockets vs. Wolves (HOU leads 2-1)

    This week’s schedule:
    Monday: Game 4 in Minneapolis
    Wednesday: Game 5 in Houston
    Friday: Game 6 in Minneapolis (if necessary)
    Sunday: Game 7 in Houston (if necessary)

    Houston appeared untouchable just a couple of days ago. They fought through a poor performance in Game 1 to win anyway and then demolished the Wolves in Game 2. It was considered the most likely sweep of the bunch entering the first round and nothing about those first two games suggested otherwise. But then Minnesota came out in Game 3 with mistake-free basketball and shot nearly 20 percent better from deep than the Rockets en route to a 16-point win. It took an immaculate shooting performance for the Wolves to get the job done in addition to a very helpful game from Derrick Rose. You have to wonder if Minnesota can find that three more times though. If the Wolves can pull out another big win tonight, it changes everything. A lot of it will ride on Jimmy Butler who finished with 28 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four triples last time out.

    Western Conference – Thunder vs. Jazz (UTA leads 2-1)

    This week’s schedule:
    Monday: Game 4 in Salt Lake City
    Wednesday: Game 5 in Oklahoma City
    Friday: Game 6 in Salt Lake City (if necessary)
    Sunday: Game 7 in Oklahoma City (if necessary)

    Operation: Shut That S*** Off will commence in tonight’s Game 4. That is of course a mission created by Russell Westbrook in an effort to stop Utah’s hottest player through three games – Ricky Rubio. Rubio hasn’t been especially efficient but he’s still putting up 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 2.3 steals and 2.3 3-pointers, including a triple-double in the lopsided Game 3 win. If Westbrook does dedicate himself at the defensive end to shutting down Rubio, it may help. Or it could open things up for Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles and a host of other members of the Jazz’s diverse attack. OKC has had big leads in each of their two losses using a quick-firing offense. But when things get stagnant at that end, the Thunder lose their way at both ends. They need Steven Adams to stay out of foul trouble to be successful. He’s played a total of 48 minutes in the last two games, both losses.

    Eastern Conference – Celtics vs. Bucks (Series tied 2-2)

    This week’s schedule:
    Tuesday: Game 5 in Boston
    Thursday: Game 6 in Milwaukee
    Saturday: Game 7 in Boston (if necessary)

    Of all the competitive first round series, this one has been the most dramatic. Each team has taken an easy one at home and squeaked out another. Do the Celtics have enough talent to avoid the Bucks pulling the upset? One could argue that Milwaukee has the two best players in the series as the Greek Freak is averaging 28, nine and seven with Khris Middleton not too far behind at 26, six and four. The emergence of Jabari Parker and Thon Maker off the bench hasn’t made things any easier. Parker has very suddenly turned into a reliable scoring option and Maker has been a rim protecting machine, swatting five shots in each of the last two games. Boston played well at home in Games 1 and 2 and crawled out of a 20-point hole in Game 4 to nearly steal a road win. Despite a pure talent discrepancy and the Bucks’ bench coming alive, the Celtics are up for the challenge and will still need to lose a home game to lose the series. Milwaukee finished 19-22 on the road during the season so as good as they may look, stealing one in Boston won’t be an easy task.

    Eastern Conference – Sixers vs. Heat (PHI leads 3-1)

    This week’s schedule:
    Tuesday: Game 5 in Philadelphia
    Thursday: Game 6 in Miami (if necessary)
    Saturday: Game 7 in Philadelphia (if necessary)

    If we’re judging things strictly based on wins and losses, nobody in the East looks better than the Sixers right now. After four games in each series, Philly is the only one with a series lead. Even when they play poorly, they do enough to get the job done. In Game 4, the Sixers turned it over 27 times and shot just 23 percent from long range. The Heat forced their will at the defensive end but got demolished on the boards and falling short, 106-102. Miami’s Game 4 failure is a real shame because it puts the Sixers in prime position to finish things at home on Tuesday. In Games 1 and 3, Philly made 18 3-pointers in each. Their shooting volume will be way up again in Game 5. If the Heat can survive another onslaught by J.J. Redick or Marco Belinelli and push the series back to South Beach, we’ve got another story on our hands. But until that happens, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and company have to love their chances.

    Western Conference – Warriors vs. Spurs (GS leads 3-1)

    This week’s schedule:
    Tuesday: Game 5 in Oakland
    Thursday: Game 6 in San Antonio (if necessary)
    Saturday: Game 7 in Oakland (if necessary)

    It’s been a highly emotional time in San Antonio so it’s fitting that the Spurs stepped up and delivered an electric performance in Game 4. But the odds say that that will be their final home game of the season so it’s great that they sent their fans home happy. The defending champs shot only 38 percent and turned it over twice as much as the Spurs in Game 4 while Manu Ginobili turned back the clock with 16 points including three 3-pointers to put San Antonio over the top. Could that happen again on Tuesday? It’s not out of the question. But the Warriors won Games 1 and 2 by a combined 36 on their home floor and it’s not likely that Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green combine for 7-for-25 3-point shooting again.

    Eastern Conference – Raptors vs. Wizards (Series tied 2-2)

    This week’s schedule:
    Wednesday: Game 5 in Toronto
    Friday: Game 6 in Washington, D.C.
    Sunday: Game 7 in Toronto (if necessary)

    The Wizards have proven to be a completely different team at home in the playoffs. They’re now 8-0 in the last two seasons at home in the playoffs after tying the series up with Toronto. But the one problem that the Wizards are facing is the fact that the home team has controlled each game and have to figure out a way to buck that trend in Canada at some point this week. A lot of it will ride on Bradley Beal who was nothing short of incredible in Games 3 and 4. In Toronto, Beal has averaged 14 points on 39 percent shooting and three total 3-pointers. He turned that around with 29.5 points on 53 percent from the floor and nine triples in DC. If Beal can throw one of those games together north of the border, the Wizards could be the first 8-seed to pull off a first round upset since 2012.

    Eastern Conference – Cavs vs. Pacers (Series tied 2-2)

    This week’s schedule:
    Wednesday: Game 5 in Cleveland
    Friday: Game 6 in Indianapolis
    Sunday: Game 7 in Cleveland (if necessary)

    It’s been a wild back-and-forth series but we’re just about back to square one with these two teams. When Cleveland plays competent basketball, led by LeBron James and his ridiculous 33-12-8 stat line to this point, the Cavs win. But when every non-James Cav no-shows and the defense falls apart, the Pacers aren’t afraid to take full advantage. The key to a Pacers’ series win may obviously ride on Victor Oladipo, their all-world guard. But another major ingredient is the success of Bojan Bogdanovic. When Bojan scored more than 15 points this season, the Pacers went 25-5. They’re already 1-0 after his 30-point explosion in Game 3. If Indy can get another epic night from Bogdanovic, the pendulum swings back in the Pacers’ favor.

    Injury Report

    Marcus Smart (thumb) is targeting a return as soon as Game 6 on Thursday. At the latest, Smart will return in a potential Game 7 on Saturday.

    Josh Richardson (shoulder) is questionable for Game 5 on Tuesday but he currently has every intention to play.

    George Hill (back) did not play in Game 4 and should be considered questionable for Wednesday’s Game 5.

    John Henson (back) has missed the last two games but the Bucks likely aren’t worried with Thon Maker’s success in Games 3 and 4. Henson is questionable but probably won’t see the floor in Tuesday’s Game 5.

    Fred VanVleet (shoulder) is doubtful for Wednesday’s Game 5 but OG Anunoby (ankle) is expected to play for the Raptors considering the injury didn’t keep him out for the second half on Sunday.

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