The NBA regular season is now officially over and the games can really begin. The pretenders have been sent home, and now the time to shape legacies, Hall of Fame credentials, and championship glory is upon.
The major question in the East will be in regards to can anybody sustain enough excellent play to knock off the Heat? Is it now Carmelo Anthony’s time to take that next step towards a championship?
Out West the Oklahoma City Thunder are the favorites, but the San Antonio Spurs are simply consistent greatness. Do the Clippers have enough toughness to show they belong?
All these and many more questions will be answered in the next few weeks, but right now BSO will preview the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs.
(1) Miami Heat vs (8) Milwaukee Bucks
Well any chance you had of the Miami Heat sleep walking through this series, and not paying their full attention was lost the moment Brandon Jennings opened his mouth and told the world that the Bucks would beat the Heat in 6. Jennings spoke confidently, but for such a gigantic upset to take place, Jennings and his back court running mate Monta Ellis will have to play above their head, simply out of this world. Jennings must dominate his matchups with Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole to have any shot of an upset materializing.
The Monta Ellis and Dwyane Wade matchup will be key because Ellis has to at least match Wade’s output. Ellis like to compare himself to Wade, but in three regular season meetings, didn’t come close to matching Wade’s output or skill level. Dwyane Wade averaged 24 points a matchup to Monta Ellis’ 10, and that simply can’t happen. Ellis will have to stay within himself and not get frustrated when he can’t get to the basket. Finally Milwaukee center Larry Sanders may be the important factor. Sanders is a leading candidate for Most Improved Player, and must average the 9.5 rebounds and close to three blocks a game he averaged during the regular season for the Bucks to have any chance.
I applaud Brandon Jennings for his confidence and for trying to exude some swagger, but I’m not buying it. The Miami Heat’s big three are just better than the Milwaukee Bucks entire 11, and that’s without the Heat role players doing their normal damage.
(2) New York Knicks vs (7) Boston Celtics
This series in a nut shell is all about Carmelo Anthony and the legacy he wants to create for himself. The Knicks will go as Anthony goes, and he will need to continue to sharing the ball, playing defense, making good decisions, and most importantly leading. Carmelo will need to win his matchup with Celtics small forward Jeff Green on both ends of the floor. It does the Knicks no good for Melo to scorch Green on offense and then turn around and give up buckets to green.
Tyson Chandler must provide the same interior presence he provided when healthy. He won’t duel with Kevin Garnett on the offensive end of the floor, but he has to protect the rim for the Knicks. The Celtics must do a good job of running the Knicks shooters off the three-point line. Jason Kidd, Steve Novak, and J.R. Smith are going to be three ball heavy, and the Celtics must prevent the Knicks from going on huge spurts via the three.
This series in my opinion is all about the Knicks, most importantly Carmelo Anthony and how he wants to go down in history. Anthony finally got the Knicks a high seed, only to run into a Celtics team with enough grit and toughness to subject him to another first round exit. I value the effect Kenyon Martin has on Melo, and that will help get the knicks over the edge.
(3) Indiana Pacers vs (6) Atlanta Hawks
This series has the potential to be surprisingly boring. Hawks forward Josh Smith simply has dollars and free agency on his mind, so it will be interesting to see if he even wants to play. Most pundits would assume Smith is auditioning for a max deal. For the Hawks to be successful, Al Horford will have to be successful playing away from the basket and bringing Roy Hibbert away from the rim.
For Indiana it’s quite simple, they must put Atlanta out of their misery. Paul George should be able to get anything he wants on the perimeter, and David West will simply be solid David West on the inside.
Josh Smith is more concerned about a max deal than a playoff run, and the Pacers simply are to tough a group.
(4) Brooklyn Nets vs (5) Chicago Bulls
This matchup is intriguing but also could get lopsided. The Bulls are without Derrick Rose unless a Willis Reed like returns happens. Most importantly, their anchor Joakim Noah is dealing with a foot problem and potentially could miss the entire series. The fact is for the Nets to be successful, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson must dominate this series. There is no Derrick Rose for Williams to deal with, so it’s simply Williams against Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson. With Noah being out, The Nets must force feed Brook Lopez and treat him like a star. Lopez should be the first option until Noah can return.
For the Bulls to be successful they must pressure Deron Williams on both ends of the floor. When Robinson is in the game, run him off screens, high pick and rolls, and simply go at him. Carlos Boozer can’t be normal Boozer, and he must be physical and aware during this series.
The Nets have the superior talent, but that talent has been known to shrink at times. I think the Bulls are tougher and have the better coach.
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (8) Houston Rockets
The Oklahoma City Thunder chose Serge Ibaka over James Harden, and Harden is returning to show them they are wrong. In what can be the most entertaining series of the first round, the Thunder and Rockets will light up the scoreboard. The Thunder will need to corral Russell Westbrook. Westbrook will see red in his matchup with Jeremy Lin, and Oklahoma City cannot afford Russell Westbrook to get into one on one battles, or the meltdowns if things don’t go his way.
The Harden vs Sefolosha matchup will also be key. On paper you would expect Harden to dominate Sefolosha, but Thabo is a superior defender and knows James Harden pretty well. The Rockets must understand that Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are going to do what they do, but they need to prevent the rest of the Thunder from going off.
The Rockets are a year and another top-level player away, but they will definitely make this series entertaining. They just won’t win it.
(2)San Antonio Spurs vs (7) Los Angeles Lakers
Without Kobe Bryant in this series, the intrigue simply isn’t the same. The Lakers have a chance, but they have to do it on the defensive end. The Lakers must maintain Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. If those two are able to create havoc off the dribble, this series could be over quickly. The health of Steve Nash will be imperative as well. Nash isn’t the best defender when healthy, but a one-legged Nash against Tony Parker simply isn’t fair and will get ugly.
For the Lakers to have any chance they must play inside out, with less of it outside. Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol should get the bulk of the touches. The Lakers need to force the ball into those two, and go at a Tim Duncan who isn’t young anymore.
With Kobe Bryant, picking the Lakers wouldn’t have been such a big deal. Without Mamba, it’s a hard sell. San Antonio will just be too much, and the coaching comparison isn’t even close.
(3) Denver Nuggets vs (6) Golden State Warriors
This series could be the most entertaining series of the first round as well. Hopefully both arena’s have a backup scoreboard, because points will be scored. There are key matchups all over the place, and it starts at the point guard position. Ty Lawson and Stephen Curry are two of the more respected guards in the NBA, but are polar opposites. Curry is a scorer, but he definitely has to be more of a distributor during this series. Curry will need to be prepared to see Andre Iguodala or Corey Brewer on him at times, and that in itself will turn him into a passer.
Lawson will have to make good decisions and play the game under control. Lawson will need to run but when it’s good for the Nuggets. He does have the potential to run the Warriors right out the building. JaVale McGee will have to be a defensive factor on David Lee.
The styles are completely opposite, but both exciting. The Nuggets want to run, run, run. The Warriors will run, but prefer to pound it inside to Lee and run their screen and role. The Nuggets are the deeper team, and get the edge.
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs (5) Memphis Grizzlies
This is the matchup of the first round where a set team will never get over the hump until they can get past their bully. The Grizzlies bully the Clippers at times, and Blake Griffin and company won’t get over the hump until they can figure the Grizzlies out. Chris Paul will need to set the pace, pick and choose the “Lob City” approach. The Grizzlies want to grind it out on both ends of the floor and will punish certain Clippers players before giving up a highlight reel dunk.
Expect to see Tony Allen chasing Paul and Jamal Crawford at times to add some tough defense. The matchup between Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Blake Griifin, DeAndre Jordan will be key and most likely determine the series. For all their highlight reel plays, the Clippers big men come off a bit soft at times, and will have their toughness tested by Z-BO and crew.
The Clippers are trying to get over the hump and may finally have enough pieces and scoring to get it done.