1. Is it a good thing that the first round has been so easy for the Spurs?
Michael Erler: Overall yes, for several reasons. One, they ended the season at less than their best so having a few practice games to improve before having real risk is a good stroke of fortune. Two, a potential sweep will buy their veterans rest and not wear them out unnecessarily, and that's always valuable this time of year. Finally, just the reality that they're going to win is in and of itself a good thing. It sounds obvious and simplistic, but you can't win a championship without getting out of the first round, so just being one of the last eight teams standing, with minimal effort expended, is a positive.
Bruno Passos: Well, a tough first round didn't do San Antonio much good last year! Every opponent poses such a different challenge in the playoffs that I don't think a seasoned team like the Spurs would benefit from a slugfest right out the gate. I'll take rest and more prep time for the next round almost every time.
Jesus Gomez: I'm a bit ambivalent about playing against such an injury-riddled, talent-deprived opponent. Sure, it will let Pop manage minutes and maybe give bench guys a last chance to earn a spot in the rotation. That's obviously positive. At the same time, I wonder how hard it will be for, for example, Kawhi Leonard to adjust from guarding Matt Barnes to checking Kevin Durant. I guess I'd take this over a back and forth series but I'm not sure rest is more important than rhythm at this point of the season.
Chris Itz: Pop's probably telling them how pathetic their offense is. Telling them how if they're only dropping 94 on the Grizz, then what are they going to do when they're playing against a team that isn't featuring a 39-year old Vince Carter as their leading scorer. I think the Spurs' defense, even playing against what is admittedly not a legitimate playoff team as presently constructed, is a testament to the fact that the team is still focused on what they have to do. The Spurs have allowed just one player to average double-digits, Carter with exactly 10, in the first two games. That's ridiculous.
J.R. Wilco: I guess we can ask ourselves how Golden State feels now that it'll take them at least five games to get past the Rockets. When it comes to conserving energy for later rounds, a short series is a good series. In a way, the Spurs are getting a taste of being the top seed in the NFL. Memphis isn't exactly a bye, but they're as close as you can get in the NBA.
2. The Grizzlies' first round win in 2010/11 seemed like the start of a rivalry. Is there any animosity left between the two franchises now?
Erler: I can't imagine why. Even when the Grizzlies were at their best, they didn't have guys who were arrogant or demonstratively talking trash, outside of Tony Allen perhaps, and as far as I recall he was only questioning the severity of Manu Ginobili's injury in a bit of in-series gamesmanship. But Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have been nothing but classy with regard to the Spurs. If anything, the guy who stirred the pot in their games was Lionel Hollins, but Pop was friends with him anyway.
Passos: I think there's plenty of mutual respect, but animosity? Nah. There's too much mirth in the Spurs locker room for that.
Gomez: The Spurs beat them too many times after that admittedly painful loss for any real rivalry to develop, I guess. There's probably a lot more mutual respect than animosity between the two franchises.
Itz: I like the Grizzlies franchise, they have built a solid culture over there and have been a good squad for the past six years and I think that does engender respect. That said the Spurs have completely owned them for the past five seasons, I can't imagine there being any kind of rivalry/animosity between them.
Wilco: There's no animosity between the blogs, that's for sure. I did a Frat with Kevin Lipe of the Memphis Flyer and appeared on Grizzly Bear Blues' podcast. Neither of those guys seemed the least bit salty, and both of them expect a sweep.
3. Ettore Messina and Ime Udoka have reportedly emerged as potential head coaching candidates for other teams. How much would it hurt to lose both in the offseason?
Erler: Not much, probably. Pop lost his two long-time assistants in Mike Budenholzer and Brett Brown after the 2013 season and replaced them with Jim Boylen and Sean Marks and the team had better chemistry than ever, especially on offense, and won a championship. Continuity with the players is more important than the coaches and outside of Pop I'd argue that the two most valuable assistants have always been Chad Forcier and Chip Engelland because they develop the players' skills.
Passos: Despite the numerous exits from his circle, I think Pop appreciates some continuity on his bench. Messina, besides being a venerable basketball mind, has always seemed like a Pop kind of guy, and Udoka's relationship-building and corporate knowledge are valuable assets in their own right. The Spurs will find capable replacements, but with the imminent turnover Pop's going to experience on his roster, would some stability among his assistants keep him around a year or two longer?
Gomez: It's definitely not ideal to keep losing assistant coaches. Fortunately, the Spurs brought back James Borrego and Jaques Vaughn last season and Becky Hammon is more experienced now. The selfish part of me wants Messina and Udoka to stay for a couple more years but if they get job offers, they should probably take them now that Pop has made it clear he's not retiring anytime soon.
Itz: Erler makes a good point; if the Spurs lost Engelland, or Forcier, I think I would be pretty upset. The Spurs are always losing assistants and if they lose Messina and/or Udoka they'll find guys to step in, no problem. Now Chip Engelland, there's only one Chip.
Wilco: As long as Pop's around, he'll train up his assistants to the point where other franchises will want to hire them away. The only time it'll be a problem is when it's time for the Spurs to identify a successor for him.
4. Most first round series have been lopsided so far. Will any of them reach a Game 7?
Erler: The odds of any series in any round in any sport reaching a game 7 is always remote. Even when it gets to 3-2 the pressure on the team facing elimination, even if they're at home, just gets immense, and teams that get that third win tend to thrive on the chance to hammer the final nail in the coffin when they smell the finish line. (Back-to-back cliches, man I'm a gas-bag.) To answer the specific question, no, but if any do I'd go with Raptors-Pacers and still give the Hornets a puncher's chance of coming back against the Heat.
Passos: It doesn't look like it. The Eastern Conference was the best chance at a Game 7 and both the Hawks and Heat are showing the value of experience and star power. Along with the 4-5 matchup in the West, we're seeing three of the league's best coaching stories fizzle out a bit in the pressure cooker that is the postseason.
Gomez: It really doesn't look like any series is that close. Celtics vs. Hawks had the potential to be a nail-biter but injuries have really hurt Boston. That's probably still the only one that has a chance of going the distance, if Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley can return or the bench steps up.
Itz: No way. I bet we only see one series see a sixth game.
Wilco: I don't expect any first round series to go the distance, but I wouldn't be surprised if more than one did in the second round.
5. Which team has impressed you the most so far? Who has disappointed the most?
Erler: The Heat's offense has been amazing. They're a full-time small-ball team now and it's really opened up their offense. Even though they don't have too many three-point shooters, they're still getting whatever they want because they have two guys who can get into the paint in Wade and Dragic and Whiteside is really good around the rim. The Clippers' bench has been much better than advertised as well, they're looking very dangerous, even with Blake Griffin at less than his best. As far as disappointments go, the top one has to be the Celtics, right? No one on the team can throw it into the ocean. Marcus Smart makes Ricky Rubio look like Stephen Curry.
Passos: I'm really looking forward to seeing how far the Heat can go. They're an experienced, versatile group with a few rookies that seem ready to make an impact in the playoffs. The most disappointing? It's probably the Celtics, after how they looked against the Cavs at times last year.
Gomez: The Clippers' defense against the Trail Blazers has been phenomenal. The Heat's offense has demolished the Hornets. Yet to me the most impressive team is the Raptors. I honestly expected them to fold like they had in past years when they lost Game 1 but they showed mental strength and won the next two. As for the most disappointing team, it has to be the Hornets. I thought they had a shot against the Heat but they look clueless on defense. I didn't expect them to look this bad.
Itz: I'm going Heat and Charlotte, respectively. I really expected that to be a competitive series but the average margin has been a whopping 22 points for the Heat, who are scoring 119 points per contest. I'm pretty excited to see how far Miami can go.
Wilco: I'm pulling a page from Draymond Green's book to say that a team can't disappoint if they're injured. So Memphis and Boston are exempt here. I guess I'm disappointed that the Rockets didn't do better against a short-handed Warriors squad. But they've disappointed all year long, so it's not that big a deal, I guess. On the impressive side, I'll go with the Clippers and the Heat. Both have looked terrific.