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Bring Me a Higher Love: Five Observations From the NBA Playoffs’ Opening Weekend

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Getty Images

Well, it wasn’t the greatest opening weekend. Half of the games were decided by at least 28 points. But the postseason is a marathon, and there were some promising wrinkles on display. Here are five things we learned:

1. Kevin Love is thriving at the 5.

Feeling the pressure from the Pistons, who were shooting the lights out from 3 and going blow-for-blow with the Cavaliers, Tyronn Lue made the first big positional adjustment of his playoff coaching career. Love’s move to the 5 shifted him from having to guard a scorching Marcus Morris, forced the Pistons to spread out their defense, and opened the Cavs big man for pick-and-pop 3s against Andre Drummond. Love finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds, and Cleveland was lights-out in his 12 minutes at center, with a 126.1 offensive rating and 90.9 defensive rating.

2. There is a clear hierarchy out West.

The Warriors won by 26, the Thunder won by 38, and the Spurs won by 32. Those blowouts aren’t a huge surprise, considering the top three seeds in the West averaged 65 wins and the bottom three averaged 42. The good news for fans of the underdogs is those teams don’t have much to lose. They can play loosely and experiment with various combinations of players, because just avoiding a sweep would be an accomplishment.

3. Postseason Paul George is back.

After missing almost all of last season, George made a strong case for being the second-best player in the East during his playoff return. He dominated DeMar DeRozan in every facet, and stuffed the stat sheet to the tune of 33 points, four rebounds, six assists, four steals, and two blocks. When the lower-seeded team has the best player on the floor, the upset is always in play.

4. The Hawks do have stars.

Atlanta was lauded for its starless approach in Year 2 of the Mike Budenholzer era, but Year 3 has made it clear that the Hawks’ success is incumbent on their two big men. Al Horford and Paul Millsap are two of the most versatile bigs in the league, excelling inside and out on both sides of the ball. They combined for 38 points, 19 rebounds, five assists, and five blocks in their Game 1 win, presenting a ton of matchup problems for a Celtics roster full of one-way big men.

5. The Heat look good.

Miami was easily the most impressive Eastern team in the first weekend, running the Hornets off the floor in a 32-point blowout. The Heat have reinvented themselves after losing Chris Bosh, becoming a pure four-out team that spreads the floor, moves the ball, and rains in 3s. Talent matters: With a surplus of wings, an All-Star-caliber point guard in Goran Dragic, and one of the league’s most talented big men in Hassan Whiteside, they are as dangerous an opponent as anyone in their conference.

This piece originally appeared in the April 18, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.