nba playoffs preview: 4-5 matchup

This is a rematch of last year’s match-up, except that the Clippers hold home court by virtue of winning the regular season series 3-1 after the two teams finished with identical records on the year. The Clippers continued building on their roster from last year by adding a few veteran role players while the Grizzlies decided to move in a different direction by getting rid of Rudy Gay. Is this year’s series going to have a different result?

These two teams play very different games. Memphis is the best defensive team in the NBA in terms of points allowed and also the only team that allows fewer than 90 points a game. They do this by playing a slow pace and relying on their significant post presence to get points. Zach Randolph has continued making weird, falling away, unbalanced baskets from near the rim with remarkable accuracy and Marc Gasol has continued to make a claim for the Most Valuable Gasol award in the NBA this year. Their backcourt is solid with Mike Conley continuing to provide consistent play and Tony Allen being a great defensive stopper. Post-trade, they did away with the low-percentage shots that Rudy Gay threw up to add veteran Tayshaun Prince, who has a very underwhelming but successful style.

On the other side of the coin is a team entirely predicated on point-guard play, forcing turnovers and getting into transition. Chris Paul continues to be the best playmaking point guard in the NBA and has made a motley crue of role players look like all-stars. Blake Griffin has polished up his very rough back-to-the-basket game somewhat, but it is still cringeworthy to watch. Caron Butler has been great this year when he’s been playing and even Chauncey Billups has worked his way back to health and he’s always looking for big shots to hit during the playoffs. Matt Barnes has been a spark-plug off the bench and his solid defense and ability to stretch the floor from three-point range will have the Grizzlies bench in a tiff.

In the end, though, I think the Grizzlies will take care of this match-up because of Z-Bo. DeAndre Jordan may be able to limit Gasol’s impact, but I don’t think Griffin will be able to hang with Randolph. I also expect the zebras to play a part in this series, especially if the Lakers get knocked out early against the Spurs. I’m going to call the Grizzlies in 7.

PREDICTION: Memphis win in 7 (4-3)

I’m sorry, but I’m still not convinced by the Nets. Which is weird, considering they have a pretty solid core with good inside-outside play but I guess they’ve just been flying under the radar. Brook Lopez has made some noise for a first-team all NBA selection with typically consistent play. Deron Williams has been solid without being spectacular. Joe Johnson continues to make the Atlanta Hawks front office look like idiots with the contract they gave him. Gerald Wallace has been decent offensively but his big value is really as a defensive stopper. Well, at least the Nets are back in the playoffs, but I don’t see them having too long a stay over here.

The Bulls, in contrast, have been extracting every ounce of over-achievement from their severely depleted roster. Not only are they missing Derrick Rose (whose participation has been the object of media speculation over the last week) but they’ve also had Joakim Noah battling injury towards the end of the regular season. In Rose’s absence, Nate Robinson has stepped up wonderfully, particularly in the last few weeks of the regular season in big match-ups. It seems like Robinson is a big-game player but with Robinson, you’re going to get a guy who can just as easily shoot you out of the game as shooting you into a game.

The Bulls have really been about defense and I think they’ll match up with the Nets pretty well. The Nets do have Reggie Evans swallowing up boards at an alarming pace, but I just don’t see the x-factor from them. Luol Deng has stepped up well as primary scorer for the Bulls team and Carlos Boozer has been consistent as ever. I think this series will really come down to whether Noah can come back healthy, since he will do a big part in limiting Lopez’s effectiveness. I think the Bulls defense will be able to handle the Nets from the perimeter.

I’m going to risk Noah being healthy and call an upset in this 4-5 matchup as well.

PREDICTION: Chicago in 6 (4-2)

nba playoffs preview: 3-6 matchup

This should be one exciting series. Scoring is the modus operandi of both teams and both franchises are enjoying one of their best seasons ever. Golden State is back in the postseason after a short hiatus while George Karl, the Nuggets coach, has once again disproved the theory that a team needs superstars to succeed. At one point during the season, it did look like the Nuggets would lose their 3rd seeding to either the Clippers or the Grizzlies, especially after they lost Danilo Gallinari for the season and Ty Lawson for the stretch, but they held on and even dominated opponents to end the season.

Denver has the best home record in the league this season at 38-3, a mark better than even the sizzling Miami Heat (37-4). Not only that, but they have managed to win 8 of their last 9 regular season games despite losing key players to injury. Although Gallinari is lost for the season due to a torn ACL, Lawson and Kenneth Faried are expected to be healthy for the postseason. The Nuggets run Moreyball-on-cocaine, meaning that nearly all their shots are either from beyond the arc or in the paint. They rely on forcing turnovers, getting offensive rebounds and getting lots of buckets in transition. The fact that they play their home games in Denver and are accustomed to the atmospheric differences helps, too. Visiting teams often find themselves out of energy by the 4th quarter.

Golden State is returning to the playoffs with a pretty solid offensive unit but one that has ushered in some semblance of defense into their line-up as well. This isn’t the same GSW team that stunned Dallas a few seasons ago, but it’s packed with lots of multi-faceted offensive player. Stephen Curry is the most important player on this team and is proving his credentials as an elite shooter by eclipsing the single-season three-pointers made record set by Ray Allen. However, one often overlooked facet of Curry’s game is his ability to hit a variety of different teardrops in the paint.

The pressure doesn’t go off once Curry goes to the bench as he is backed up by Jarrett Jack, a candidate for 6th man of the year and probably even Most Improved Player. Jack has been on a tear, notching up 40% from beyond the arc and being very aggressive offensively. Watch out for a bunch of transition jumpers from him. Beyond Jack, the Warriors feature several solid offensive players in David LeeKlay Thompson (another threat from three-point range), Harrison Barnes and Carl Landry. However, I think the key for them being able to pull off an upset this year is going to come down to how much play they can get out of Andrew Bogut. Bogut is a rim-protector and shot-blocker but he’s also unfortunately one of the most injured players in the league. Expect a layup drill from the Nuggets if Bogut cannot get dressed for these games.

I think this will be a very exciting serious and actually contemplated giving the Warriors the upset pick here, but the Nuggets’ resilience despite injuries through the end of the season (as well as their easy 3-1 victory in the regular season series) encourages me to use logic instead.

PREDICTION: Nuggets in 6 (4-2)

I won’t lie, this is a series I’m unlikely to watch and one that I’m guessing is going to be relegated to NBA TV for a lot of the games. This should make it fairly obvious that I haven’t followed either of these teams this season, but I’ll try to cobble together a little preview.

From the Pacers perspective, this has been the season of Paul George, the leading candidate for Most Improved Player of the year. And it couldn’t have come a moment too soon for the franchise, who lost Danny Granger for most of the beginning of the season and even towards the end after a few games played. They’ve been led well from the point guard position by George Hill and David West has been as solid as ever. And of course, Roy Hibbert remains one of the top defensive centers in the league. However, it is still hard for me to get too excited about this team. I think they’ll play well but aren’t near being contenders, yet.

Atlanta, meanwhile, managed to string together a decent season despite trading Joe Johnson away to the Nets. Al Horford has put in a steady season and Josh Smith has once again put in decent numbers despite being one of the stupider basketball players to play the game (seriously, stop shooting three-pointers, Josh). I guess this team also has Jeff Teague and Lou Williams but I feel like they’re injured and I cannot bother to find out. These two teams split their regular season series 2-2, but I expect the Pacers to walk away with this one.

PREDICTION: Pacers in 5 (4-1)

nba playoffs preview: 2-7 matchup

The Los Angeles Lakers not only clinched their playoff berth on the last day of the regular season but also managed to leapfrog over the Houston Rockets to take the 7th seed by virtue of winning the season series. The San Antonio Spurs, in contrast, have had their playoff qualifications on ice for about as long as anyone can remember although key injuries to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili led to them losing the top seed in the Western Conference to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers won in a hotly contested overtime affair yesterday for the right to play San Antonio. Let’s see why.

After a typically age-defying season in San Antonio, the Spurs have been cold down the stretch. Part of it was obviously injury, but part of it may have just been to coast through to the playoffs. The Spurs have dropped 7 of their last 10 games, starting with the two point loss to the Heat (which I believe was a Chris Bosh buzzer-beater). That said, they were dealing with injuries to key players leading up to the playoffs and probably wanted to prevent any further harm. Tim Duncan has been monstrous this season, one of his most efficient seasons in the league. The “greatest power forward of all time” has averaged nearly 18 points, 10 boards and 3 blocks a game in 30 minutes a night. That is insane. He should be fresh in the playoffs.

The Lakers have been dealing with injury issues of their own and unfortunately none of those injury situations will be resolved come playoff time. After losing Kobe Bryant to an Achilles’ injury last week, the Lakers regrouped very well to qualify to the playoffs and grab the 7th seed. Mike D’Antoni has finally realized that Pau Gasol is a superior player to Earl Clark and he is getting the minutes once again. The offense can again run through Dwight Howard–something he is a lot more comfortable with. If Steve Nash can get back into the mix quickly, this Lakers team may actually become more of a threat than the ball-hogging Kobe version.

That said, the Lakers’ biggest Achilles’ heel (sorry, Kobe) is their defense. Although they were able to stifle Houston yesterday, that was more a case of the Rockets taking a bunch of stupid three-point shots (8-33 from the field…). The Spurs offense is much more refined and actually has a low-post presence that can effectively spread the floor. Duncan and Splitter will match up well with Howard and Gasol. Tony Parker will ruin Steve Blake. If Ginobili is back in the fold, there is no one on the Lakers who can stop him, either. Basically, the Lakers will have to outscore San Antonio, something that I wouldn’t be envious of being able to do when your best players are 4’s and 5’s and like the ball in the post.

The Spurs won the regularly season series 2-1, with all three games being pretty tight. I think they’ll drop a couple in Los Angeles thanks to David Stern, but I expect them to take care of business, here.

PREDICTION: Spurs win in 6 (4-2)

I hate giving credit to the New York Knicks but they’ve been playing pretty superb basketball this season. With Amar’e Stoudemire injured and no other singular offensive threat in the starting lineup, it looks like Carmelo Anthony has finally got a core of players around him who don’t mind just passing the ball into him and watching him shoot. And luckily, for him, he has done this with stunning accuracy over the last few weeks en route to an improbable scoring championship, beating out Durant, the leader for most of the season.

The difference this year is two-ingredient cocktail: 1 part J.R. Smith and 1 part dead-eye three-point shooters. Smith is the leading candidate for sixth man of the year and helped New York stay relevant when they were battling injuries mid-season. They’ve got a plethora of shooters on their roster, most of whom don’t really want anything to do with the ball other than catch and shoot it when open. Raymond Felton finally looks like he hasn’t retired early to open a donut store.

Much credit must be given to the Celtics who managed to fight their way to a playoff spot in the consistently paltry Eastern Conference despite losing Rajon Rondo midway through the season. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have had good (but not great) seasons and Jeff Green has provided some much needed offense. They’ve also got a couple of dead-eye shooters in Jason Terry and Courtney Lee but both these guys haven’t had the chance to break free from the slow-pace Celtics offense. Avery Bradley has also been fantastic defensively and will probably spend some time guarding the likes of J.R. Smith if he gets hot.

The Knicks should win this one easily on paper, having taken the season series 3-1, but it’s foolish to take the Celtics for granted come postseason. Defense wins championships, after all. I think they’ll hang on for a victory in 5 or 6 games, but the series will be a lot closer than the final scoreline will suggest.

PREDICTION: Knicks win in 6 (4-2)


nba playoffs preview: 1-8 matchup

It’s been a while since I blogged so I figured what better way to get back into the scheme of things than kicking off my annual playoff previews and predictions. With an exciting day of games just complete, the NBA playoff brackets are finally set up so I’m going to go ahead and start previews by seed matchups. Hopefully I’ll get all of these out of the way before the playoffs start up on Saturday!

This series is a match made in David Stern heaven, which probably explains the questionable officiating in the final regular season NBA game between the Lakers and the Rockets. The obvious storyline at play here is James Harden returning to the city that made him and his magnificent beard famous and trying to topple them in the playoffs. Harden has a lot to prove since the Thunder front office essentially told him they didn’t think he was worth the money.

In the regular season, the Rockets fell 2-1 to the Thunder, managing to record a 3-point victory in their final attempt after two lopsided blowouts. In that victory, Harden had 46 points, going 14-19 from the floor including 7-8 from the three point line. In the losses, Harden averaged 21.0, shooting 9-33 from the field (4-12 from deep). Going by Harden’s efficiency over the last month or so, I don’t see this improving anytime soon, especially given that Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins will be erasing a lot of shots at the rim. I feel like Jeremy Lin is going to be spending most of his night running around trying to catch Russell Westbrook and hence is offense will be stagnant.

For the Rockets to win, they’ll have to shoot lights out over the course of the series because defensively they have no one to stop Kevin Durant and Westbrook. For a team that shoots so many threes, I figure that they’ll catch enough fire at least once in the first four games to steal one. I see this OKC winning the first two at home, the Rockets winning the third and losing the fourth before the Thunder wrap it up at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Sadface.

PREDICTION: Thunder win in 5 (4-1)

The Bucks may have stolen a regular season match-up from the Heat but with the league’s MVP (LeBron James), official cry-baby (Dwyane Wade) and resident velociraptor (Chris Bosh) and surrounded by sharpshooters from deep, I don’t see them repeating any of it in this first round match-up. The Heat have been on cruise control since February and have been outplaying opponents with ferocity.

Really, the only shot Milwaukee has is if LeBron has a debilitating injury. A team more inclined to play down low may have been able to steal a game away but the Bucks’ best players are Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. Sure, Larry Sanders may have a few exciting defensive plays, but I wouldn’t put my money on the Bucks being able to stop anything the Heat do offensively.

PREDICTION: Heat win in 4 (4-0)

I hope to hit up the 2-7  match-up tomorrow!