2014 NBA Playoffs Preview: 4-5 Match Up

Well Day 1 of the NBA playoffs is in the books and most of my predictions look to be in jeopardy. The Thunder were the only home team to win, with the Pacers, Clippers and Raptors all relinquishing home-court advantage. Here’s hoping that that trend does not continue with today’s games!

Eastern Conference
CHICAGO BULLS (4) vs. WASHINGTON WIZARDS (5)

Regular Season Series: Wizards won 2-1 (split 1-1 in Washington)

This is a difficult match-up to pick because it’s in the Eastern conference and who knows what team will show up when? The Bulls have put together a great second half of their season having gotten rid of Luol Deng and finding some scraps off the free agent market in DJ Augustin. I don’t think anyone has mentioned Derrick Rose anytime recently with respect to the Bulls. Tom Thibodeau has continued to ride his starters for insane minutes per game and Joakim Noah looks like a legitimate triple-double threat on any given night. The Bulls have a lot of things going for them and given that their game is predicated around the playoffs with a slow, physical style, they’ll have an upper-hand in this series, in my opinion.

The Wizards have a lot of talent and probably realized they were not bad enough to tank and get into the lottery so they decided to try their hardest. Given how shitty the East is, they climbed up as far as the 5-seed and were competing for home-court into the last few days of the season. The Wizards are also quite young and have a chance to become really good, especially given that they’ll be getting valuable playoff experience at a relatively early stage in their stars’ careers. John Wall and Bradley Beal form a formidable backcourt and Gortat and Nene is a luxury that few teams have at the 5. Ariza has once again showed how he can be valuable in a system where he is not meant to be the primary offensive threat and has been putting up good numbers and hounding defense.

I think this series will be close because the Bulls, while great defensively, get into frequent scoring lulls. The Wizards, though young and offensive-minded, are not yet consistent enough to break down the Bulls in the half-court. This series is going to come down to the 3-ball. The Wizards are the 6th best team shooting three pointers percentage-wise, but don’t take that many. The Bulls will likely have to extend their range since the Wizards will just pack the paint. I think the Bulls win, but it’s going to be a tight series.

PREDICTION: Bulls in 7 (4-3)

Western Conference
HOUSTON ROCKETS (4) vs. PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (5)

Regular Season Series: Rockets won 3-1 (split 1-1 in Portland)

It’s “Rip City” vs. “Clutch City”. I don’t know what the “rip” in Rip City means, but that’s besides the point. As a Rockets fan who watched nearly every minute of nearly each one of the 82 regular season games, I am fairly confident in the Rockets ability to win this first round match up. However, given both teams rely so heavily on the three-pointer, this series could swing wildly. If either team can’t get it going from deep while the other is, expect large leads to develop. Both teams have also demonstrated an ability to come back from large deficits, so the game is probably not going to be over until the very end.

I don’t mind Portland as a team, but I think they are very streaky. They make a lot of bullshit shots (deep threes with the shot-clock running out, Wesley Mathews draining turnaround fadeaways from deep, Batum just generally shooting 8-foot stepbacks, etc.) and they are almost completely dependent on jump shooting. They are kind of like the Houston Rockets last year but with less defense. LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the best jump-shooters in the league and one of the worst back-to-the-basket players at his size. He is kind of like Dirk Nowitzki with less range. While he’s a great player, I don’t think he’s a “star” per se.

The Rockets have grown a year with most of their core and of course have had to integrate Dwight Howard into the line-up as well. With Howard, they have a true center who is athletic and dominant in the paint. D12 still has work to do in his back-to-the-basket game, but he’s come quite fast. His left-handed jump hook turning into the paint from the right block is nearly unstoppable and I’m surprised he doesn’t go to it as often. The Rockets also shoot a lot of threes–most in the league, in fact–and make enough of them to be worthwhile. Of our starting 5, three can drain it from deep at a high clip and T Jones can stretch the floor on a hot night. Our bench is where we struggle a little bit, but given that the Blazers bench is basically Mo Williams, offensively, I think we should be fine.

I expect this series to feature a lot of high-scoring games but the Rockets to prevail because their game is more polished and consistent. I would not be surprised if the Blazers steal one in Houston, but I fully believe the Rockets to be able to win on the road, if necessary.

PREDICTION: Rockets in 5 (4-1)

I’m heading down to Houston for Game 1 tonight and am pumped! Hopefully we start off the series on the right foot.

2014 NBA Playoffs Preview: 3-6 Match Up

The two 3-6 match-ups are rumored to be the best series’ in their respective conferences. I, of course, being a Rockets fan, believe that the Rockets-Blazers match up is the most interesting series, but hopefully not because it is close. Anyhow, more on that later.

Eastern Conference
TORONTO RAPTORS (3) vs. BROOKLYN NETS (6)

As The Rock might have said, “Finally the Raptors are back in the playoffs.” Of course, anyone could have said that, but just hear it in your head in The Rock’s voice. The Raptors have built a surprisingly successful season and one of their best (if not the best) regular season franchise records. This is on the back of Kyle Lowry, who was once again snubbed for an All Star bid. When he was back in Houston, he was definitely playing at an all-star level but of course the West is packed with guards. The East, not so much, so it can be understandable that he took it personally and out on the rest of the NBA. After Lowry, DeMar DeRozan has stepped up remarkably consistently for a guy whose go-to shot is an extremely low-percentage mid-range jumper. But when he gets hot, the hoop looks wiiide open. Valanciunas is growing into his role and although he is not dominating, he puts up good numbers.

The Raptors season essentially turned when they got rid of Rudy Gay. Terrence Ross has also stepped up remarkably well as has former Rocket Patrick Patterson. In fact, the Raptors are now the new Rockets rejects team with Lowry, Patterson and Hayes adorning their roster. Vasquez has been a great back-up PG and is a guy who I think should have earned a starting spot somewhere, by now.

The Brooklyn Nets are almost the polar opposite of the Raptors in that they are an aging squad with little to no upside. Nearly everyone on their roster is a known quantity. Luckily for them, those quantities are actually pretty good. When the Nets announced a potential starting lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez back in November, the league was scared. However, those quantities did not pan out as expected and several injuries hurt the Nets along the way. However, the Nets have been one of the hottest teams of 2014 and it looks like their pieces have finally learned how to play together. I actually think they can string together enough wins to “upset” the Raptors purely based on the fact that they know how to win in the postseason.

PREDICTION: Nets in 6 (4-2)

Western Conference
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (3) vs. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (6)

This is going to be an awesome series just because these two teams hate each other. I’m sure you’ve seen the narrative from ESPN complete with all the videos of the fights, shoving, pushing, etc. Steph Curry is in an awesome shooting season that is, surprisingly, not as proficient as last year. Luckily for the Warriors, Klay Thompson has made up the gap and had an awesome season. The Warriors play defense, but they play a very nasty type of defense that could potentially be illegal. Hand-checking galore. Their offense is based solely on the success of Curry and how much activity he can create. Igoudala gives them a guy who can match up with most 2’s and 3’s in the league and win.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, the Clippers best players are at the PG and PF spot. I have no doubt that Igoudala will take his turn guarding Chris Paul, especially in late-game situations with the clock running down, but for the most part Paul will have a field day with Curry guarding him. Blake Griffin this year has shown a surprisingly dramatic year-over-year improvement in his post game and I’d actually put him up there in the top 10 list for back-to-the-basket players. It’s been fairly impressive, though extremely ugly.

I think this series will be close, with a few ejections and lots of late game heroics. I think the Clippers will pull it off just because they have improved their bench by leaps and bounds this year. But it’s gonna be an awesome series!

PREDICTION: Clippers in 6 (4-2)

2014 NBA Playoffs Preview: 2-7 Match Up

Let me continue looking at the NBA playoffs first round match-ups (and hoping I can churn them all out before the playoffs start!). On the docket today is the 2-7 match-up.

Eastern Conference
MIAMI HEAT (2) vs. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS (7)

Regular Season Series: Heat won 4-0

This is Charlotte’s last season as the Bobcats and, I believe, their second season ever in the playoffs. Unfortunately, they got swept last time and I think they would be hard-pressed not to get swept here. Even though the Heat have been struggling of late, they’re still the defending champions and have the best player in the world on their roster. A lot of national media suggests that this team’s postseason runs will depend on Dwyane Wade’s availability and while I agree, I think the biggest gap is still the Heat bench. Even if Wade plays out of his mind, their starting line-up can’t play 48 minutes a game so Cole, Battier and Allen have to come to the party. The latter two have been having rough seasons, but I’m inclined to believe that they were taking it easy. To put it another way, Miami didn’t really try very hard and still ended up second in the Eastern conference. If they had tried harder the last few weeks, I have no doubt they would have easily usurped the top seed in the East from the Pacers.

Charlotte is a defense-first team (which is strange considering that they have Al Jefferson on their team) that likes to slow the game down. I also saw a stat yesterday along the lines of them having the fewest turnovers per game in the last few months of the season. Miami feasts on turnovers and it will be rougher for them to get easy points off of them. Charlotte have also been increasing their offensive efficiency month-over-month so they have some balance. However, I still don’t think it is enough to even win a game in this series. I think the Heat will turn on their playoff mode and give the Bobcats one last romping in their current uniforms. Jefferson, though a big, prefers to live outside the paint, so I don’t think the Haslem/Bosh/Andersen/Oden(?) rotation at center will be too unmatched.

PREDICTION: Heat in 4 (4-0)

Western Conference
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (2) vs. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (7)

Regular Season Series: Thunder won 3-1 (lost 1 at Memphis)

The last time these two teams matched up in the playoffs, the Grizzlies disposed of the Thunder in 5 games. Of course, this was a Westbrook-less Thunder where Durant was just starting to figure out how to play like Kobe Bryant does every night. I, of course, think the Thunder were lucky to get past the Rockets with some good old help from the zebras in Games 1, 2, and 3. Anyways, I’ll let bygones be bygones. The Durantula has now figured out how to play as sole alpha dog with Westbrook out most of the season and it is a very, very scary thing. The ease with which the man puts up 30+ points is ridiculous. Of course, Westbrook is back for the playoffs so the Thunder are doubly dangerous because they can play with or without Westbrook with ease, now.

The Grizzlies calling card is paint presence and slow pace. The Thunder love running. It is going to be the classic “grit-and-grind” vs. “run-and-gun” (or “pace-and-space”) match-up. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, the Thunder have ample frontcourt depth to deal with Randolph and Gasol in Ibaka, Perkins, Collison, Adams and maybe even Thabeet. While the Grizzlies have added some 3-point spacing to their squad with Mike Miller and Courtney Lee, they are still very much an inside-inside-inside-okay-I’ll-pass-it-outside team. Defensively, Conley will be outmatched by Westbrook and Tayshaun Prince will get to guard Durant. Prince is/was a defensive specialist from his Detroit days, but I’m not sure he has enough to contain KD.

I’ve talked before of series which are closer than the scoreline. I think this will be the opposite. I expect OKC to record some easy victories and the Grizz to start off well at home. But ultimately I think the Thunder will prevail.

PREDICTION: Thunder in 6 (4-2)

That’s it for this installment. Next I’ll look at the 3-6 match-up featuring the Nets and Raptors in the East and the Warriors and Clippers in the West. Just one more day to playoffs!

2014 NBA Playoffs Preview: 1-8 Match Up

The 2014 NBA Playoffs are going to get going in just a few days and a quick glance at the match-ups promises some exciting basketball over the next couple of months. As I’ve been doing for the last few years, I’m going to go ahead and do a short preview of each series and predict who I think is going to win the series. I’m going to go down the series by match-ups, previewing each conferences’ match-up one-by-one.

Eastern Conference
INDIANA PACERS (1) vs. ATLANTA HAWKS (8)

Regular Season Series: Tied 2-2 (both teams split at home)

This is a surprisingly tough series to predict. Indiana looked like the cream of the crop for the first half of the season and then everything seemed to fall apart. Despite this, Indiana managed to snag the top seed in the East, though that was mainly because the Heat didn’t really appear to care. Interestingly, this is also the same first-round match-up from last year’s NBA Playoffs, though in that case it was a 3-6 match-up.

The Pacers may finally have gotten back on track but the Hawks have a team that can be dangerous. They have a bunch of second-tier role players, in my opinion, and I think the Pacers probably have the 3 best players in this series (David West, Lance Stephenson and Paul George). I think the series will be closer than the scoreline suggests, but the Pacers will manage to hold on. I wouldn’t be surprised if they take a dump and get knocked out, though.

PREDICTION: Pacers win in 5 (4-1)

Western Conference
SAN ANTONIO SPURS (1) vs. DALLAS MAVERICKS (8)

Regular Season Series: Spurs won 4-0

It’s that time of the year again when everyone has forgotten about the Spurs and is talking about the Thunder, Heat, Pacers and Clippers as serious contenders. Really? The Spurs just put in another 60-win season and have guaranteed home-court advantage for as long as they last in the playoffs. The Mavericks get to face the Spurs on the virtue of losing to Memphis in the last day of regular season. I honestly think both teams should have come to an understanding before the game and let the Mavs win because I think both teams would have a better match-up. I think Memphis matches up better with the Spurs and the Mavericks would have a shot against the Spurs. Anyways, no point mulling over hypotheticals.

San Antonio dominated the regular season series, winning all games somewhat comfortably. Dallas, in my opinion, overperformed this season because Monta Ellis finally became slightly more efficient and their role players outperformed expectations. I don’t think they have near enough to get around the Spurs, though. As a result of the dominating season, the Spurs have once again managed to rest their key pieces liberally and are entering the playoffs scorching hot (even though they are on a 2-game losing streak resting most of their important players). They got and integrated Kawhi Leonard back from injury at the ideal time and even allowed him to rest for the last couple of games.

I think there’s a high probability that the Spurs bring out the brooms in this series, but I’m willing to bet that Dirk will have at least one of those ridiculous games where everything goes in, regardless of how silly it looks. So I’ll give them a split at home.

PREDICTION: Spurs win in 5 (4-1)

So there you have it. I’m expecting the top seeds to take care of business fairly easily, although I’m way more confident about the Spurs than the Pacers. Next up I’ll preview the 2-7 match-up!