Top 10 storylines of second round
LeBron's injured elbow has been the biggest newsmaker of the conference semis
Other injuries -- Kevin Garnett's knee, Kobe's aches -- are also worth tracking
Among the notable players thus far: Celtics' Rajon Rondo, Magic's Jameer Nelson
Almost two games deep into all the conference semifinal series and a number of stories have already become headliners. Of course, the most notable has been LeBron James' elbow injury. Who else made the list of top 10 second-round newsmakers? Take a look ...
LeBron James' elbow
The ailing joint has its own Twitter feed (@LeBronsElbow), which had attracted more than 6,200 followers as of Thursday afternoon. If that's not a clear sign James' sore elbow is the biggest storyline right now, perhaps the Cavaliers' Game 2 against Boston meltdown was. LeBron went 7-for-15 from the field and 0-for-4 from three-point range in the Cavaliers' blowout loss Monday. If James' can't get his jumper to fall, he's containable one-on-one, a huge development for a Boston team that felt before the series that it could guard everyone else with one defender. The paint won't be easy for James to navigate without the threat of a three-point shot, making his ability to heal -- fast -- vital for the Cavs' season. And, perhaps, their future.
Urban Myth No. 345: The Suns' success on offense is tied directly to the performance of Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire. It's true that the two need big games to keep the Suns in contention, but with defenses keying on the dynamic duo, the pressure shifts to Phoenix's role players -- specifically Jason Richardson, Channing Frye and Jared Dudley -- to make big shots. So far, so good: The troika is knocking down nearly 50 percent in the postseason.
Richard Jefferson's effectiveness
It's no secret that the freewheeling Jefferson has struggled in San Antonio's complex read-and-react system this season. But Jefferson had better get it together, fast. His duds in Game 1 of San Antonio's first- and second-round series' played a significant role in the Spurs' digging an early hole. (He did have 18 points and 10 rebounds in the Game 2 loss to the Suns.) Jefferson has a favorable matchup against Phoenix, whether it's against the 37-year-old Grant Hill or 6-foot-3 Nash checking him on the defensive end. That's a matchup he has to win.
Mo Williams' jumper
Cavs coach Mike Brown said Williams has to play better. Williams agreed. He shot 1-for-11 in Cleveland's Game 2 loss, and he's missed all seven three-pointers in the series. With LeBron hurting, Williams' ability to knock down perimeter shots -- thereby keeping Boston's D from packing the lane -- becomes that much more critical.
Kyrylo Fesenko's defense
Fesenko stunned Denver in the first round with better-than-expected play, clogging up the lane and converting 57.1 percent in the first round. But against the Lakers, Fesenko is shooting 22.2 percent and hasn't been able to do much with a surging Andrew Bynum (12.5 points, 12 rebounds). The Jazz don't have any other options at the pivot -- don't expect Kosta Koufos to suddenly become a factor -- and they need Fesenko to bang bodies with Bynum until sixth man Paul Millsap can make an appearance. If he can't, Utah's 2-0 hole could become a lot bigger.
Kobe Bryant's health
Bryant rarely loses a battle with his body, and this postseason has been no different. But Bryant's achy hands and legs contributed to a couple of clunkers in the first round and it's fair to wonder just how much a body that has been through 237 regular-season games and 52 playoff games since the 2007-2008 season can take. A quick dismissal of Utah would provide the rest Bryant needs going into what is expected to be a grueling conference finals and a physical NBA Finals.
George Hill's play
Hill's importance to the Spurs is twofold: As a starter, Hill enables Gregg Popovich to keep a proven scorer (in this case lightning bug Tony Parker) with the second unit, an important dynamic in the rotation. And against Phoenix, Hill's offense is counted on to put pressure on Nash and make the Suns' superstar work on the defensive end. Those variables make Hill the biggest wild card in San Antonio's second-round series.
Rajon Rondo's dominance
Big Four? How about the "Big One Plus Three Other Guys"? The Rondo vs. Mo Williams/Anthony Parker matchup was one Boston figured to be able to exploit, and that's been the case with the Boston point guard averaging 20 points (on 60 percent shooting) and 15.5 assists in the first two games. The Cavaliers have to find some way of keeping the uber-quick point guard out of the lane, where he has been creating havoc -- and a whole lot of scoring opportunities for his teammates -- all series.
Kevin Garnett's knee
Technically speaking, a foot issue is keeping Garnett's name on the injury report, but it's his balky knee that gets the attention. Garnett has done a respectable job chasing Antawn Jamison around screens on defense and drawing double teams of his own offensively. But that knee still looks like it's one good twist from putting him on the shelf. Jamison's game will keep Garnett in perpetual motion, making the knee's response worth watching.
Jameer Nelson's shooting
Any early votes for playoff MVP have to include Nelson, who is averaging 22.8 points on 51.4 percent shooting, including 45.5 percent from beyond the arc. Nelson has cracked 50 percent shooting for the season once in his career -- his injury-shortened 2008-09 -- so his numbers should dip eventually. But until they do, Nelson's hot hand is just another weapon the rolling Magic have to complement Dwight Howard.
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