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.
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)
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!