NBA Playoff Mid-Series Fear Meter 2.0: 8 Teams Ranked From Least To Most Fearful

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Each of the eight remaining teams in the NBA Playoffs played four games in the second round, and two of the four series were tied at two games each. Now it's time to assess the level of fear each of the remaining teams should be feeling, both in their current series and going forward – ranked from least to most feared:

Trail Los Angeles Lakers, 3-1

Golden State's series against the Lakers makes its championship run last season all the more remarkable. The Warriors are a solo act now, and Stephen Curry can be enough at times, but they are searching for answers against Anthony Davis and company, trying JaMichael Green and Gary Payton II in a starting lineup that has never It was less than his problems. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are showing their age. Andrew Wiggins has recovered. Jordan Poole hasn't. It was the backbone of last year's resurgence.

When everyone except Curry is relegated to a role player, that might be enough for Lonnie Walker IV or D'Angelo Russell to provide enough support for Davis and LeBron James to tilt the series in Los Angeles' favor. leaves the place.

What's left of the Golden State's glory will be better on display from Wednesday. The Warriors could complete a comeback, especially with Games 5 and 7 at home, but on the other hand another loss leaves a lot of questions about the dying dynasty. Green can become a free agent. Thompson wants an extension. Why Poole paid $128 million on either deal is a puzzle that weighs more than when Green punched him for it.

Trail Miami Heat, 3-1

The Knicks have two games left in the series at home if they can reach a Game 7, but Miami's Jimmy Butler is on another playoff run, and he has no answer for his brutality. New York's only win against the Heat came while Butler rested his sprained right ankle, and he hasn't shown any hindrance since returning from injury in Game 3. The Knicks are built on toughness, and Miami is just that tough.

It doesn't help that New York can't shoot (28.2% on 35.5 3-point attempts) and can't generate much offense with Jalen Brunson's drives to the basket. Most concerning is Julius Randle's performance. An All-NBA talent for the past two regular seasons, he has been languishing in the post season, shooting 34.1% from the field and averaging more turnovers (3.9) than assists (3.7) in his only career playoff action.

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Whenever Butler mercifully ends another thrilling Knicks season that ends well short of the ultimate goal, New York must ask itself: Has it reached its limit with Rooster Randle as a central figure in its offense? Is?

Tied with the Boston Celtics, 2-2

76ers should be thrilled with their current position. Boston is the better team, but James Harden has taken a few games from a team that forgets how focused it needs to be to finish an . They may only need one more harrowing piece to pull off an upset, as long as Joel Embiid can continue rehabilitating his sprained right knee, to unlock an MVP effort or one of his own in this three-game set. Let's make two attempts.

The Sixers have also given Philadelphia hope, and that can be a dangerous thing. Another losing series for the Celtics – and winnable this time – will fuel debate about both Harden's potential homecoming with the Houston Rockets, Embiid's stability in the playoffs, and Doc Rivers' viability as coach.

Philadelphia 76ers superstar Joel Embiid and Boston Celtics counterpart Jayson Tatum carry legacies in the remainder of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

5. Boston Celtics

Tied with the Philadelphia 76ers, 2–2

The Celtics could face a horrifying reality of their own if they suffer what would be a crushing defeat. The road to the NBA Finals will never be easy for this group. First-year head coach Joe Mazzulla's job could be in jeopardy if he can't solve his team's late-game woes. A loss will only increase noise about Jaylen Brown's future in Boston, even if he achieves All-NBA status and is guaranteed a max extension.

Brown is 26, Jayson Tatum is 25, and the Celtics can expect both stars to keep rising, but Al Horford is 10 years his senior, and they can only keep Marcus Smart, Derrick White, and Malcolm Brogdon that long. Can be kept together till The window is now there, and it always closes faster than anyone expected.

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Still, the Celtics Needed win this series. They're beating the Sixers by 11.5 points per 100 possessions — on par with the mighty 2017 Warriors — and those margins are nearly impossible to lose. About.

Tie with the Denver Nuggets, 2-2

Devin Booker averaged 36.3 points on 63.7% shooting in this series, and increased those numbers to 41.5 and 79.1% in the last two games (both Suns wins), making him the all-time playoff heater. Even if he cools down, there's always the possibility that Kevin Durant — averaging 32 points per game against Denver despite shooting 3-of-25% in the series — could be just as hot. They might be enough to win the whole thing.

That means pulling a shallow supporting cast past a deep Denver roster. Deandre Ayton's future in Phoenix grows bleaker with each no-show. Chris Paul, the 38-year-old future Hall of Famer, is injured again. The Suns are banking on Jock Landell, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Terrence Ross and other players, the casual NBA fan doesn't know how to give Booker and Durant any help, and that's a frightening thought.

3. Denver Nuggets

Tie with , 2-2

Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray have been impressive on their own against the Suns. Jokic posting 57/43/87 shooting splits 37-14-10 is almost inconceivable, and the fact that this series is tied can be attributed to the two superstars competing against him on the Sun. goes. There is no shame in losing to a pair of snipers, but the Nuggets may also never see a clear path through the Western Conference, and this is the fear.

If they make another exit in the second round then it is unlikely that there will be major changes on the horizon. Michael Porter Jr. needs to earn his $172.6 million contract, and if he never does, it's a roadblock to a title – and another team won't want to get their hands off it. The Nuggets have talent. All they need to do is show it.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

Lead Golden State Warriors, 3-1

At the trade deadline, the Lakers were ranked 13th in the Western Conference behind the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, owning a bottom-10 organization in both offense and defense, and LeBron James playing on a tear. . tendon in his right leg. The 38-year-old veteran is still playing through that injury, but the Lakers are 25-11 (best team in the West) since dropping Russell Westbrook and giving up draft equity in favor of D'Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, Jared Vanderbilt and Malik. Are. Beasley.

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Anthony Davis's health is the real difference-maker. He is capable of being the best player in a series with Stephen Curry, logging astronomical double-doubles and anchoring the league's top defense. There is always real concern that he falls back down to earth and injures himself doing so, or that James' leg is broken beyond the point of not returning this season, or both. But the Lakers are one win away from a comfortable week before the conference finals, and it's hard to bet against James when another finals is on the way.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James and Golden State Warriors counterpart Stephen Curry may both envision one last shot at a title, but only one will advance.  (Harry How / Getty Images)

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James and Golden State Warriors counterpart Stephen Curry may both envision one last shot at a title, but only one will advance. (Harry How / Getty Images)

1. Miami Heat

Lead New York Knicks, 3-1

The Heat have no business here other than Butler. They lost to the Atlanta Hawks in a play-in tournament opener and trailed the Chicago Bulls in the fourth quarter for their last chance to make the playoffs. They toyed with injuries to Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo in a first-round series against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, and Butler rattled them — in five games, no less. Doesn't sweat compared to the knicks.

The Heat have no fear by nature, and they have nothing to lose. The Knicks are the only team to reach the conference finals as the eighth seed, and they did so in the lockout-shortened 1999 season. The rest is just gravy for Miami, and their past success against the Celtics or 76ers will give the Heat a boost.