Can the Pelicans upset the top-seeded Suns?

Can the Pelicans upset the top-seeded Suns?

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A week ago at this time, the NBA playoffs had just started with an exciting weekend of first-round openers. And though there was only one game to glean from, we dove head-first into some snap judgments about each series.

Some of our early overreactions have been prescient. The Timberwolves are giving the No. 2 seed Grizzlies all they can handle in the Western Conference. The Heat are dialed in and look like they could be the class of the East.

Other overreactions have been proven to just be overreactions. The Suns likely will not cruise to the NBA Finals. The Nets definitely won’t.

While we start to answer some questions, there is plenty left to try to figure out. So let’s once again dispense with nuance and rational thought and break down the biggest overreactions from the weekend in the NBA playoffs:

Suns on the ropes

New Orleans pulled off the most surprising result of the weekend with a convincing 118-103 win Sunday over Phoenix that tied their series at 2-2 and raised some alarms for the top-seeded Suns.

Devin Booker missed his second consecutive game (and could be out for the rest of the series) with a hamstring injury, and his absence highlighted the Suns’ need for more playmaking and shot creation beyond Chris Paul. Paul struggled Sunday, stifled on the perimeter by Pelicans rookie defensive whiz Herb Jones. The offense can get stagnant at times, especially when Paul isn’t going, and the 36-year-old point guard can’t be the savior every night. As long as Booker remains out, the Suns will need more consistent contributions from the rest of the offense or they will leave the door open for the Pelicans to spring the upset.

Jonas Valanciunas scored a playoff career-high 26 points in the Pelicans’ Game 4 win.

Celtics smothering Nets

As good as the Heat have looked, the Celtics have been the most impressive team in the East — and maybe both conferences — so far in the playoffs. Boston took a 3-0 lead on Brooklyn with a 109-103 win Saturday in a series that initially looked like a de facto conference finals.

Jayson Tatum has continued his ascent to top-tier stardom. More impressively, though, the Celtics’ top-ranked defense has made life miserable for Kevin Durant, guarding the Nets star as well as any team ever has. Durant was limited to 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting in Game 3 and is shooting 36.5% for the series. Kyrie Irving has also struggled. After scoring 39 points in the opener, Irving has shot 10-for-30 in the last two games. With a defense as good as any in recent years, the Celtics are primed for a sweep.

Disaster for Brooklyn

There’s no other way to put it for Brooklyn, and disaster might not be strong enough to describe a first-round exit for a team that had championship aspirations. Through all the drama of the regular season, it was thought that as long as the Nets got to the playoffs, they could be formidable no matter their seed. Instead, the series has exposed the Nets’ roster limitations and lack of scoring depth behind Durant and Irving. Ben Simmons has been ruled out for Game 4, but his potential return is far too little too late to help turn things around for Brooklyn.

Heat and Bucks OK without stars

Injuries have unfortunately become a major storyline early in the playoffs, with several big names missing time already. Miami and Milwaukee appear equipped to weather their key injuries and remain top contenders.

Khris Middleton is out with a sprained MCL, but the Bucks didn’t miss a beat Sunday in a 119-95 rout of the Bulls to take a 3-1 series lead. Kyle Lowry has a strained hamstring, but the Heat took care of the Hawks with a 110-86 win to also go up 3-1 in the series. Both teams showed off their depth in winning big without their stars and saw role players step up, including Grayson Allen scoring a playoff career-high 27 points off the bench for Milwaukee.

Trouble brewing for Philly?

Another key injury emerged Sunday when Sixers star Joel Embiid underwent an MRI that revealed a torn ligament in his right thumb. Embiid injured the thumb in Game 3 against the Raptors and played Game 4 on Saturday with a brace. He had 21 points in 39 minutes as Toronto won 110-102 to cut Philadelphia’s series lead to 3-1.

Embiid plans to play through the injury and said he will have to manage any pain. The Sixers should still be in good shape to finish off the Raptors, but Embiid’s health going forward will be Philadelphia’s biggest concern. James Harden no longer has the same explosiveness he once did. If Embiid’s injury becomes too much to bear, the Sixers could struggle to find offense and see another postseason derailed.

Warriors all the way back

They’re thinking big in the Bay Area as the Warriors opened the playoffs looking a lot like the teams that won three championships in recent years. Steph Curry is healthy again after missing the end of the regular season with a foot injury. Jordan Poole has been the breakout star of the playoffs so far. Draymond Green is playing like the best defender in the league again. Klay Thompson is nearly back to top form. And while Denver cut Golden State’s series lead to 3-1 on Sunday with a 126-121 win in Game 4, the Warriors have re-established themselves as the team to beat in the West.

Follow Matt Eppers on Twitter @meppers_.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NBA playoff overreactions: Can New Orleans Pelicans beat Phoenix Suns?



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