After an amazing first round of NBA Playoff basketball, it’s now time to take a look at the second round match-ups and make some predictions. Let’s get right to it.
(1) Indiana Pacers v. (5) Washington Wizards
Talk about two teams heading in opposite directions. The Pacers come into this series declining rapidly, barely avoiding an epic collapse in the first-round by overcoming a 3-2 deficit to the 38-win Atlanta Hawks. Paul George basically had to carry the load for Indiana while his teammates were up and down, averaging 24-11-5 with nearly 3 steals per.
The Wizards come in more confident than ever. Washington blitzed the Chicago Bulls, ousting the 4-seed in five games while winning three times in the Windy City. After so much talk about the back-court of the future in Washington, John Wall and Bradley Beal arrived in their very first playoff action.
While the guards get a lot of the credit for Washington, the key to their first round victory was Nene dominating Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah inside for five games. The Brazilian averaged nearly 18 per game on 55% shooting. He will be key against the quickly deteriorating Roy Hibbert and Pacer defense.
For the top-seeded Pacers, it’s going to come down to consistency. They have more talent and more experience, and their length on defense should harrass Wall and Beal all series long. But with the way they’ve played the past three months, can we really depend on the Pacer defense to do anything? And after watching the offense struggle to score points against the Hawks, it’s tough to see them keeping up with the Wizards frentic offense. While we all thought the Pacers-Heat Conference Finals was a lock for a good six months, it seems like Indy won’t be able to hold up their end of the deal. For the folks in Washington, the future has arrived.
Prediction: Wizards in 6
(2) Miami Heat v. (6) Brooklyn Nets
It feels like we were destined for this playoff match-up from the moment the Nets acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on Draft night doesn’t it? Even while Brooklyn was busy stumbling out of the gates, there was an inevitability of one more Lebron James-Paul Pierce/KG clash. Now in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, it’s finally here.
These teams got to the second round in complete opposite fashion. Miami swept through the Charlotte Bobcats and has pretty much been off for a week and a half. Brooklyn went through a 7-game battle with the upstart Toronto Raptors, needing a road win in Game 7 to advance.
So now that we’re here, what is there to look for? For one, how healthy is Dwyane Wade? With both Joe Johnson and Pierce carrying the scoring load for the Nets of late, Wade is going to have to check one of the two, likely the bigger Johnson. This could be a nightmare for the Heat, just ask half of the Raptors defenders what happens when Johnson has a mismatch.
For the Heat, it really comes down to Lebron. If he is able to be physical with KG and the Nets frontline, who will definitely try to rough him up, the Heat will have a much easier than expected time handling the Nets. On paper, this seems like an easy win for Miami, but you really can’t discount the heart of a grizzled veteran team like the Nets, who have been waiting for their shot at the Heat. At the end of the day, one team has Lebron James and one does not, advantage and series go to Miami.
Prediction: Heat in 6
(1) San Antonio Spurs v. (5) Portland Trailblazers
Now this is going to be a fun series. The Spurs enter their second-round encounter with the Blazers coming off of an impressive Game 7 blowout of the Dallas Mavericks. The entire team looked like it was finally clicking, and as a unit the Spurs really could not miss. The concern here is that it took the Spurs seven games to eliminate the 8th seeded Mavs.
Portland enters the second-round as the only Western Conference team to not go 7 games in their first-round series. After winning the first two games of their match-up with the Rockets in Houston, Damian Lillard provided us with the shot of the playoffs to eliminate the Rockets.
Seriously, I’m just looking for any reason to stick that shot in an article.
While Aldridge scorched the entire Rockets front-line in the first two games against Houston, he has steadily fallen back to Earth while Lillard has begun to skyrocket. The second-year guard averaged 26-6-7 dimes in his first playoff series, something only guys by the names of Jordan and James have done before him.
The Spurs meanwhile are lead by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili for what feels like the 100th straight playoff series. And guess what? They’re still humming along, winning games and advancing deep into the playoffs.
Duncan is not going to let Aldridge get off the way he did against Houston, while Parker and Lillard are basically a push, even with Lillard playing so well of late (Parker did have 34 in Game 7). The X-Factors in this series are going to be Nicolas Batum and Kawhi Leonard. Whichever forward gives their team the best games is going to give their team the win. Unfortunately for Portland, Gregg Popovich will take advantage of Leonard much more than Terry Stotts will with Batum. Add that and home-court advantage together, and the Spurs survive and advance, barely.
Prediction: Spurs in 7
(2) Oklahoma City Thunder v. (3) Los Angeles Clippers
And now for the premier match-up of the second round, the 2nd-seeded Thunder against the 3rd-seeded Clippers.
OKC comes into this series after surviving a slow, grind-it-out seven game series with the Memphis Grizzlies. Kevin Durant and Co. had to dig deep to overcome a 3-2 series deficit and avoid collapsing against the 7th-seeded Grizz.
The Clippers come into this after probably the most emotionally exhausting two weeks in NBA history. While dealing with the fast-paced Golden State Warriors, the Clips were simultaneously dealing with the backlash of racist comments from owner Donald Sterling. Despite trailing for much of Game 7, the Clippers were able to pull it out late and advance to their showdown with the Thunder.
For OKC, the plan is simple. Get soon-to-be MVP Durant the ball, and let him go to work. While Matt Barnes is a good defender, Durant should be able to get whatever he wants at all times. The only problem is it’s never that simple with Scott Brooks’ offense or with Russell Westbrook running point. Westbrook has had an up and down playoffs to say the least, but the reality is if OKC wants to win they need Russ to do what he does and do it well.
For the Clippers, it’s all about the Blake Griffin show. Chris Paul is dealing with a few nagging injuries, and having Westbrook hound him on defense is only going to make things tougher for Paul. Griffin needs to take it to Serge Ibaka and help the Clips get some easy buckets. Don’t discount the suddenly-emerging Deandre Jordan either. DJ came up HUGE late against the Warriors, and with Kendrick “Jumps 2 Inches on a Good Day” Perkins guarding him, Jordan has to be a monster on the boards.
These two teams are very well matched and that makes for an extremely interesting series. Memphis was able to really make OKC work because they like to slow it down and make the game grind to a halt. The problem is, the Clippers like to get up and down and keep things going at a fast-pace, which plays right into the Thunder’s hands. Expect the big name stars to trade heavyweight blows all series long, but at the end of the day, the MVP will give his team the edge in a hard fought series.
Prediction: Thunder in 7
First-Round Pick Records:
1. Rob 8-0
2. Ashley/Erin/Natasha 7-1
3. Belal/Greg/Glen/Vashti/Simone/Jeff 6-2
4. Zack/Mark/Kel/Luck/TJ 5-3