As the NBA’s second season descends upon us, these playoffs have a completely different feel than last years. Going into last season’s playoffs the question was about LeBron James and the Heat and whether they could get over the hump, and that they did, beating the Thunder in 5 games and finally for James capturing that title. Now, the narrative is different. The question is can anyone beat the Heat? Miami has come off it’s championship with a tremendous regular season in which they had the 2nd longest winning streak in NBA history winning 27 in a row. LeBron James had an uncanny and prolific season which will most likely (landslide IMO) give him his 4th Most Valuable Player award. Can anyone stop the Heat? Will a team in the East, like the Pacers or Knicks challenge them? Or whoever survives the West war, will they have anything left for Miami? All these questions will be answered in hopefully dramatic fashion, one step at a time.
1. (1) Miami Heat vs. (8) Milwaukee Bucks (Miami won Season Series 3-1)
Will this be the series that everyone makes jokes about because of how much of a cakewalk it’ll be for the defending champs? What would mildly make this series interesting? The only question is for me is whether Miami if they’re up 3-0 like I think they’ll be, will they go for the kill to save the legs of James and Wade for a presumably tougher series in the semis? Besides that, this is a complete mismatch. In the 1 game the Bucks defeated the Heat in Milwaukee on December 29th, the Bucks had 5 players in double figures including Brandon Jennings and Monte Ellis combining for 39 points and 16 assists. D-Wade’s health here is an interesting story, as I feel if he is this would be a great opportunity for him to dominate his matchup with Ellis. Another interesting thing to watch is how much Larry Sanders will have to cover for the defensive mistakes of Jennings and Ellis (which will be plenty) and have to guard Chris Bosh? It’ll be a tough chore for one of the best frontcourt defenders in the game. If the Bucks get a game here it would be a hell of an accomplishment.
PREDICTION: Heat in 4
2. (2) New York Knicks vs. (7) Boston Celtics (New York won Season Series 3-1)
One thing that jumps out to me about this series is the fact that there isn’t a lot of data as far as how the teams are presently constituted. KG missed the final 2 regular season meetings as did Tyson Chandler. The Knicks as they are now rely a lot on Kenyon Martin to provide toughness on the interior and how they defend. While you’d think that Paul Pierce vs. Carmelo Anthony would be the key matchup as most people highlight, in this scenario you will see plenty of Melo vs. Jeff Green which will be a very pivotal matchup that while the Celtics won’t win, if they get something closer to a situation in their favor as far as limiting Anthony’s efficiency offensively, that’s where the Celtics could have a chance to make this series interesting. Carmelo in the 4 games against Boston this year is only 36 of 103, which factors out to 35%. When the Knicks have been at their best is when Melo is operating at a high efficiency and the Knicks are scoring the 3 ball. The question here is whether the Celtics can defend at that level consistently in a 7 game series. How much do KG and Pierce have left to carry this team? In all actuality this is a series that has the Knicks written all over it. They have the better team, and more talent. An unknown factor here is dealing with the fact that they are the favorite here, and with high expectations and high stakes we’ll find out how ready the Knicks are. The Celtics as game as they’ve been in the past will have a moment or two in this series, but the Knicks have too much here. Look for Raymond Felton to be another key in this series in his matchup with Avery Bradley.
PREDICTION: Knicks in 5
3. (3) Indiana Pacers vs. (6) Atlanta Hawks (Season Series Tied 2-2)
I really want to see the Hawks. As far as this series goes, these teams are a whole lot different than when they started the season. In 2 earlier meetings, the Hawks had Lou Williams, and without him since he’s gone down with injury has been stark. Truth be told, they’re not as good as they were when they had him. The Pacers have risen from their early season struggles to become along with the Knicks as a team to be a threat to Miami. The Pacers are clearly the better team here. For the Hawks to have a shot in this series Al Horford and Josh Smith will have to play like all stars and they’ll need one perimeter guy (Kyle Korver) to have a big series. With Paul George spearheading the league’s best D, it’s hard to see these Pacers deterred from a 2nd round showdown with the Knicks. I’m giving the Hawks a couple of games though because the Pacers haven’t done things easy all year.
PREDICTION: Pacers in 6.
4. (4) Brooklyn Nets vs. (5) Chicago Bulls (Season Series won by Bulls 3-1)
The Bulls are coming into this one as banged up as they’ve been all season. Taj Gibson is returning from injury, but Joakim Noah is doubtful to play in the series with the same nagging foot injury that has plagued him all season. If the Bulls had been healthier coming into this series, I would’ve picked them easily. With the Nets strong isolation play, it’s the perfect offense for the Bulls D to pick apart. They’d make the games ugly and put the Nets in the compromising position of actually trying to run something creative. Without Noah, Brook Lopez will have a big series. Truth be told, as Lopez goes, so goes the Nets. Deron Williams as well as he has played will be that much better if Lopez is efficient and productive. What I’m curious to see is how long the Nets will be able to get away with playing Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace in the starting 5 as I’m sure the Bulls will force opportunities their way. As far as the Bulls are concerned offensively, generating it period will be their undoing here. Relying on Nate Robinson in the playoffs isn’t exactly a blueprint for success. With that being said, I take Nets eeking this series out in Game 7.
PREDICTION: Nets in 7
1. (1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (8) Houston Rockets (Thunder won season series 2-1)
The Thunder without James Harden won 60 games this year, which is a hell of an accomplishment. Mr. Harden got traded to Houston, where he showed how talented of an individual he is averaging almost 26 points a game with 5 boards and almost 6 assists and leading the Rockets to the playoffs. This series will be easy on the eyes because in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden you have 3 of the most dynamic players in the league, 2 of the higher scoring teams in the league, and just an all-around fun matchup to watch. There won’t be a lack of scoring here. The problem for the Rockets here is guarding Durant and Westbrook, which they can’t. The Thunder have more weapons, homecourt advantage, and play a semblance of defense that Houston won’t be able to come close to. There may be some fun individual moments from Harden in this series, but OKC is the Western Conference favorite, and for good reason.
PREDICTION- Thunder in 5
- 2. (2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Los Angeles Lakers (Spurs won season series 2-1)
To say there was turbulence in the Lakers season would be an understatement of epic proportions. A team widely thought to be Oklahoma City’s main challenger and a title favorite struggled this season through injury, bickering, coaching changes, and almost anything you can come up with. Now, they’ll be without Kobe Bryant whose ability to play through injury took a toll on him no doubt. They’re also waiting on the status of Steve Nash (hip, hamstring) as they could definitely use his playmaking ability in this series. They’ll be taking on a Spurs team who’s banged up coming into Game 1 Sunday. Despite resting a bunch in the past month, Tony Parker hasn’t looked like himself since spraining his ankle in March. He’s also been fighting a sore neck and you have to wonder if he can play at the All-NBA level he was playing earlier in the season. Also, Manu is out too, so dare I say can the Los Angeles Lakers with all their problems upset the Spurs who have churned out all those wins like they usually do? No, I’m still not convinced. The Lakers are not only missing Kobe Bryant but still haven’t shown any type of consistency despite their 20-8 stretch to close the season. They can’t guard the perimeter and can be exposed on the pick and roll. San Antonio is intelligent enough offensively to decipher the Lakers size and take advantage of their perimeter matchup. Don’t be shocked if this series goes long though, just based on the Spurs not being the Spurs.
PREDICTION: Spurs in 6
3. (3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Golden St. Warriors (Nuggets won season series 3-1)
This series is fascinating on a lot of levels. The Nuggets closed the season playing great ball, but the injury bug caught them too with losing Gallo to the ACL, Faried’s sprained ankle, and Lawson’s Heel (Lawson looks healthy though). The Nuggets haven’t lost at home in what seems like forever, and on paper this matchup looks favorable against a Golden State team that hasn’t really been as consistent since the earlier part of the season. What I’m looking for from the Warriors is obviously Steph Curry, and more Steph Curry. Curry broke out this year as a player, staying healthy for the most part, setting the 3 point record in the regular season, and having a game for the ages in the Garden scoring 54 in one of the best regular season games in one of the greatest regular seasons in the last 20 years. Whenever players make THAT jump, with this being his 1st dance in the postseason, I’m looking for Curry to come out like gangbusters. How the Nuggets defend him will be key to how long this series goes. If Curry has an awesome series, then I can see this being tooth and nail all the way. Andrew Bogut’s effectiveness and whether he can play at all or not defensively is something to watch here. The Nuggets, especially at home are all about paint points, and if Golden State can’t protect the rim, then yikes. I like Denver, but there’s something about Golden State that makes me pause for a second, but just a second.
PREDICTION: Nuggets in 6.
4. (4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies (Season Series tied 2-2)
A rematch of the 7 game war that the Grizz and Clips had last year? Why not? That series had great moments like the Clippers 26 point 4th quarter comeback in Game 1, and them beating the Grizzlies at their own game in the 7th game on the road. Now the Clippers have home court advantage in this edition and are riding a 7 game win streak headed into the playoffs. Memphis on the other hand after trading Rudy Gay have really gone back to their meat and potatoes of pounding the ball, even though Zach Randolph hasn’t looked like himself. Marc Gasol has played tremendously on defense this year (DPOY candidate) and will be a key offensively here. There is no Kenyon Martin or Reggie Evans to rough up Gasol and Randolph so the oness will be on Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan to defend the frontline. Once again, Tony Allen will be guarding Chris Paul for 7 games and that will be fun because both players are healthier this time as opposed to last year. This is another tight knit series and will probably be the best and most hotly contested one again. Offensively the Grizzlies struggle to score, and that will be their undoing. As much as I don’t like the way the Clippers play, they have more firepower, and will have a Game 7 in their gym.
PREDICTION: Clippers in 7.