So, how about that for an opening round of the playoffs? Five game 7’s, eight overtime games, and road teams had 23 wins. Did I mention that we had 2 buzzer beaters as well? Man, this really has been the best opening round of the playoffs that I’ve ever seen. Also, incase anyone was keeping score at home, I correctly picked all but one series in the opening round of the playoffs (damn you Memphis!). In this article, I continue to breakdown the NBA conference semifinals by each matchup and discuss what each team has to do to advance to the next round. Here’s to hoping this round is as exciting and entertaining as the first!
Indiana versus Washington
Indiana was on the verge of possibly the biggest collapse in postseason history. They managed to put together 6 solid quarters of basketball to beat the Hawks in seven games, but it wasn’t easy. Washington, however, has been the biggest surprise thus far and has played just as well, if not better, than Miami. Game 1 begins Monday night in Indiana.
Can Indiana get it together?
This is the billion-dollar question on everyone’s mind. Game 7 is when they finally played like the team that deserved the top seed in the East. They need to focus on how they are going to attack a Washington team that plays just as well on the road as they do at home. Lance Stephenson might be hitting his stride to be another guy Paul George can rely on. David West put the team on his back to win game 6, and has been their only front court player. Like I said last round, Stephenson needs to be the guy to facilitate and get other guys involved. The Pacers are 31-4, including two games this postseason, when he get 5+ assists. The Pacers were 2-1 this season against the Wizards. In the one game they lost, Stephenson had 4 assists, but in the two games they won, Stephenson had 5 and 10 dimes.
Will Washington continue to be as good defensively?
The good news for the Wizards is that they were the best defensive team in the playoffs in the first round. They allowed less than 90 points a game, including only 69 in their game 5 series clinching win against the Bulls. To be fair, Chicago struggled mightily all year to score, but Indiana isn’t much better offensively. Where Washington needs to improve in this series is their inconsistency on both ends of the court. A lot of their high-percentage shots came from the Bulls being bad and shooting 42% from the field. If Indiana gets hot early in the series, they could be in trouble.
Who wins the series?
I might have been the only person who believed Indiana could beat the Hawks when they were down 3-2 in the series. They are still a solid defensive team, but they need to shoot much better. But the truth is, the Pacers are so fragile right now that it’s hard to tell which team will show up this round. Washington, on the other hand, probably had the easiest matchup in the first round besides the Heat. John Wall can take over games if called upon, and Nene has been playing like an All-Star. Also, the Wiz are the only team to have all 5 of their starters average double-digit points in the first round of the playoffs. I’m honestly torn as which way to go because it is so close. Washington has the momentum, but those last two wins against the Hawks will be huge for the Pacers confidence. When all else fails, I rely on the team with the home court advantage, so I will say the Pacers win in 7 games. Home court hasn’t meant much this postseason but I think it will be the difference in this series.
Miami versus Brooklyn
This is going to be the most talked about series this round of the playoffs. LeBron and Wade versus KG and the Truth. Brooklyn is 4-0 during the regular season against the Heat. The last time a team swept the defending champ in the regular season, only to play them in the playoffs, that team beat the champs in the playoffs as well. To be fair to Miami though, three of those regular season games were decided by just one point. Game 1 is Tuesday night in Miami.
Will the extra rest pay off for the Heat?
Miami did their job in the first round and swept the Bobcats. But the fact of the matter is that they beat the second worst team in their conference, who’s best player was hurt the majority of the series. Regardless, this will be their first game in over a week. Their may be some rust but I expect the Heat to be looking to fresh from the extra rest. Also, Chris Bosh will need to be big in the paint because they lack the size in the backcourt to compete with Brooklyn. Miami was the worst rebounding team in the league, so LeBron and company will need to be on the boards to maximize second-chance opportunities.
Can the Nets rely on their experience to dethrone the Champs?
Brooklyn was built specifically to beat the Heat in the playoffs. They may have struggled for parts of this season, but they always managed to play well enough to beat Miami. Having Pierce and KG gives Brooklyn a huge boost because they know LeBron and Wade’s game so intricately from their years in Boston. What they will need is to do is reduce the fouls and slow down Miami’s pace on offense. If they can defend Miami’s half court offense, then they stand a good chance of winning this series.
Who wins the series?
This will be another close series like Brooklyn played in the first round. I’m a firm believer in winning big games making teams more confident. This will also be the Heats first big test of the playoffs. I don’t know how much more the Nets will have in the tank after this year, so they will be going all out this series. Miami has a lot of questions of their own, but it’s hard to count out the defending champs. I feel an upset here, so I will take the Nets winning in 6. Miami just isn’t the same team of seasons past, and Wade’s knees are a major concern. They lack to depth to make up for when he’s out, and Pierce will be ready to slow down LeBron like he does before.
San Antonio versus Portland
What’s the bigger surprise here: San Antonio being the last team move on to the next round of the playoffs or Portland beating Houston in six games? Nobody gave Portland much of a chance to win, especially with their non-existent defense. Dallas took the Spurs down to the wire, and they were one more Vince Carter miracle shot from being knocked out of the playoffs. It’s an aging San Antonio team versus the young guns in Portland. Game 1 is Tuesday in San Antonio.
Is San Antonio too old to keep up with Portland’s pace?
Time looks to be running out for the big three in San Antonio very quickly. Timmy D is slowing down with each game it appears, and Manu has completely disappeared for quarters at a time. They were having a hard time attacking Dallas’s man and zone defense, while their bench provided minimal production at best. The biggest question I have is if the Spurs can keep up with the young legs of Portland who continuously run with their starters on the floor. Pop will need to balance rest for his older guys, while not relying too much on his bench for long stretches of a game.
Can Portland continue to play defense?
I was very surprised with how well Portland played against Houston. That was some of the best basketball they played since the first 30 games of the season. People were comparing them to the Pacers at points for how much they fell apart at the end of the season. Most importantly, their defense played much better against a good offensive team in the Rockets. They need to carry that over to this series if they want to make a run to the finals. They have the athleticism to outplay the Spurs, but they will need to play smart and cover the extra pass while rotating shooters.
Who wins the series?
Portland has a real chance to make some magic happen here. I really like their matchup against the Spurs, probably more than most people, and I think San Antonio is in trouble if they don’t slow the pace of the game down. Portland’s big three averaged over 41 minutes a game in the first round, while San Antonio didn’t have anyone average over 35. The Spurs will need to lock down the paint and prevent LMA or Lillard from taking over late in a game. My heart says Portland in 6 but my brain says San Antonio is 7. I’m going to go with the proven coach and there is no one better than Popovich in the game. But to be honest, this series could easily swing the other way in Portland’s favor if San Antonio doesn’t play better than they did in the first round.
Oklahoma City versus Los Angeles
This series is the very definition of one team’s strength versus another’s weakness. Chris Paul is still CP3 but he struggles against big, athletic guards like Westbrook. Durant loves to drive into the lane, except when a team has big bodies like Griffin and DeAndre waiting for him. Mark my words: this series will be won outside of the big stars on each team. Whomever wins between Crawford, Barnes, and Reddick against Jackson, Butler, and Sefolosha will advance to the next round. Game 1 is in Oklahoma City on Monday night.
Is OKC not as good as advertised?
The short answer is no. They got, arguably, the toughest matchup for them in Memphis in the first round. While they may have been one non-punch to the face away from being eliminated, they were the better team in that series. So yes, Russell Westbrook is the most frustrating player in the league to watch at times. And yea, Durant fell flat off his game the first five games of the series. But look no further than games 6 and 7 to see how good they were when they needed it most. Durant and Westbrook averaged 50 points, 19 rebounds, and 12 assists together, all while having only one bench player (Reggie Jackson) scoring double-digit points. They will need more production from Ibaka, Jackson, and Butler on both ends of the floor if they want to win this series.
Can the Clippers ride this high to the next round?
There is not a better story right now than the Los Angeles Clippers in all of sports. From having a racist, bigoted owner who managed to offend everyone on the planet in 5 minutes, to the players protesting and almost walking off the court, L.A. is supporting their team like the Lakers never existed. But the fact-of-the-matter is that they were one big shot away from losing game 7. They got torn apart by Golden State on both ends of the floor, and needed big production from their bench to carry them. There’s no doubting that the Clippers are talented enough to advance, but this Hollywood magic will wear off soon. When is does, how they answer when things go bad again is what will determine if they can beat the Thunder.
Who wins the series?
The Clippers will have so much more athleticism on the court than OKC. You can’t tell me that Kendrick Perkins guarding DeAndre Jordan isn’t a dream matchup for the Clippers. Also, Doc Rivers knows how to win and coach his to a win when they need it most. Scott Brooks, on the other hand, has been out-coached his last two years in the postseason and continues to not adjust late in games. He simply doesn’t know how to control Westbrook at times, and relies on a one-pass offense that hurts his team. Luckily for him, that one pass usually goes to the best player on the planet this year. Durant seems to have taken that unreliable nonsense to heart, and will be looking to prove why he deserves his first MVP award. If I’ve learned one thing as a basketball fan, it’s not to doubt the Slim Reaper once he gets hot. That’s why I’m picking the Thunder in 6 games. The Clippers can very easily win this series, but they’re inconsistent play at times is what leads me to stray away from them. They got burned by the Warriors pick and pop game, and OKC runs that as well as anyone in the league.