So the first round of the NBA playoffs finally closed as the Chicago Bulls won on the road to become the last team to book their tickets to the conference semis. Let’s take a look at my scorecard for the first round of playoffs first before I go ahead and make my predictions on the second round based on what I saw.
Miami Heat 4-0 Milwaukee Bucks (PREDICTION: 4-0)
New York Knicks 4-2 Boston Celtics (PREDICTION: 4-2)
Indiana Pacers 4-2 Atlanta Hawks (PREDICTION: 4-1)
Chicago Bulls 4-3 Brooklyn Nets (PREDICTION: 4-2)
Oklahoma City Thunder 4-2 Houston Rockets (PREDICTION: 4-1)
San Antonio Spurs 4-0 Los Angeles Lakers (PREDICTION: 4-2)
Golden State Warriors 4-2 Denver Nuggets (PREDICTION: 2-4)
Memphis Grizzlies 4-2 Los Angeles Clippers (PREDICTION: 4-3)
Not bad, if I say so myself. I got two on the dot and 5 correct series winners with the incorrect scoreline, most of which really ended up being due to injuries. The Nuggets-Warriors pick was actually one I lamented over before going with the team with the best regular season home record, but apparently all it took was one loss at home to change the tide of that series. Now, let me look ahead at the conference semis.
Western Conference Semifinals
Oklahoma City Thunder (1) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (5)
I think Oklahoma City is lucky to have made it after the first round after losing Russell Westbrook, winning Game 2 and Game 3 on the back of some contentious calls and having to deal with substandard coaching for the entire series. I’m very proud of my Houston Rockets for putting up the effort that they did and I’m very optimistic about their future given that this is Year 1 of rebuilding and we now have 5 more years of Daryl Morey and James Harden to look forward to.
All that said, it looks like Scott Brooks finally got his head out of his ass during Game 6 and benched Kendrick Perkins in favor of the far more useful Nick Collison. It also helped, of course, that his role players remembered how to shoot while Houston triggered the “die-by-the-three” clause of their playing style, in the fourth quarter. Anyhow, the Rockets-Thunder series was almost the polar opposite of the Grizzlies-Clippers series in terms of play style as well as personnel. Both the Grizzlies and Clippers have solid half-court offenses and play a slowish pace (more the Grizzlies than the Clippers).
Looking at this series, I expect the Grizzlies to win, but not as easily as I thought before. The post-Russell Westbrook Thunder have finally figured out how to play without him but at the same time I think the Rockets laid a pretty good gameplan of how to beat them by shutting down KD. The Grizzlies were the best team in the NBA this season in terms of points allowed and they have several good defensive wings (Tayshaun Prince, Tony Allen) that they can use in single coverage against KD.
I expect this series to go down to 7 games because the Grizzlies are very poor from long-range and rely on post offense which I think Ibaka and Perkins can actually deal with pretty well. However, I still think the role players for the Thunder don’t show up consistently enough to make up for Westbrook’s loss. Grizzlies in 7 (4-3).
San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Golden State Warriors (6)
This should be another tremendously exciting series. Both teams have a bevy of sharpshooters and like to spread the floor and go to work on the perimeter with a series of pick and rolls. The Spurs have been rolling this postseason (what’s new?) and their efficient sweep of the Lakers means that Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have had ample time to rest up given that they’re both returning from injury. For a team whose core is all in their mid-30s, that was the perfect set-up for them. But can they run with the Warriors?
David Lee’s absence will mean a big deal for the Warriors because he was a phenomenal rebounder and would also force Duncan to defend. Lee may still play a few minutes here and there but I don’t expect any of them to be meaningful minutes. Carl Landry has been filling in well for Lee but he’s not nearly as consistent (and he’s not an all-star, either). Luckily for the Warriors, Andrew Bogut has been giving them really good minutes and has stayed away from injuries. That could all change in one play, though. I think the Spurs will prove to be too powerful in this match-up, although I’m gunning for the Warriors. Spurs in 6 (4-2).
Miami Heat (1) vs Chicago Bulls (5)
The Heat really brushed away the Bucks without much of an afterthought, killing Brandon Jennings’ dreams swiftly. The Bulls have been battered by injuries and barely managed to scrape past an underwhelming Brooklyn Nets team. Unless we see Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng make a return, I don’t see Chicago putting up much of a fight. I think they might split at home because Tom Thibodeau is such a great coach, but Miami will close this series out pretty easily. Heat in 5 (4-1).
New York Knicks (2) vs. Indiana Pacers (3)
Can you believe this is the only series in these playoffs where both top seeds actually made it through? The Knicks have looked a bit shaky (or shaaakkkyyy as Royce White would put it) after Carmelo’s insane form finally fell through but they were able to power their way past an offensively-challenged Celtic roster. The Indiana Pacers dispatched the Hawks with a little bit of a fight, but I don’t think anyone was surprised. (Side note: It’s going to be an interesting off-season in Atlanta with both Josh Smith and Al Horford becoming free agents.)
I really have no idea how this series will transpire. The Knicks may have recaptured some of their swagger after the Game 6 victory in Boston, especially now that it looks like Iman Shumpert has made a full recovery from ACL surgery. The Pacers weren’t really challenged in their first round series even though they dropped two games on the road and ended up with a few blowout victories. This should make for an interesting series as the Knicks try to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since… forever.
I think they succeed because even as far as Paul George has come this season, Carmelo knows how to turn it on when he needs to and he’s a far superior offensive player. I think the Knicks role players and bench is just a lot better at knowing what their roles are (and nearly all of their roles is “3-point specialist”). Anyways, we’ll see. I’ll take the Knicks in 6 (4-2).