What am opening first round it was for the NBA. The Clippers narrowly edged out the oh-so-tough-to-beat Spurs on a Chris Paul prayer off the glass. The Bucks put their stamp on the playoffs as a team not to be taken so lightly in the not so distant future. The Nets, or rather savvy vet Jarrett Jack, pushed the Hawks to their breaking point. Washington whizzed past the Raptors in style. Hell, even Kevin Love’s shoulder popped out of its socket it couldn’t stay still because of the excitement.
But if you thought that was good, the second round has been even better.
Two words support my argument. Derrick Rose. Not to mention more heroics form Paul Pierce (man he never goes away). The Grizzlies have proven so far that formula trumps the flash of the sky-high Warriors by taking a crucial 2-1 lead over the projected champs. Blake Griffin is a beast right now (need I say more than the 13 assists in game 1) even without his little bud Chris Paul. It’s the first time in NBA history that the lower seed in each series leads the series after 3 games.
A thin line runs between win and loss for each team. So who will win? Here’s who, but absolutely, no guarantees. Let’s start with the East.
Series 1: #1 Atlanta Hawks vs. #5 Washington Wizards (Washington leads 2-1)
Washington is a good team that was very much disparaged during the regular season. They have bigs who can bang and finesse (Gortat and Nene) and can counter Horford and Millsap on the block. But the real key to this series has been the frontcourt. Wall has been hurt the last two games, but how about Bradley Beal. After a quiet regular season he has erupted the over the past two with averages of 22.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game (averaging 7.5 assists per game without Wall in the series). Pierce is a rock (15.7 points per game, 5.0 rebounds per game) and complements the young guns so wall. At this point, Washington simply seems like the more seasoned team, against a team that has thrived on asserting their system all year long.
That’s not to say Atlanta has played poorly. This series could very well be 2-1 Atlanta, if not for “the Truth.” But the truth is the Hawks can play better. Teague played his best game in Game 3, scoring 18 points and dishing out 7 assists, but shot only 5-15 from the field. Paul Millsap only took 6 shots, scoring 8 points and grabbing 2 rebounds in Game 3. Mike Scott needs more run (23 minutes in 3 games), as does Schroeder (18 points in Game 3 in only 20 minutes). Putting in Schroeder gives Atlanta more of an up-tempo style and can very well confuse a pretty stable defense. In the end though, Atlanta needs to shoot better (.433 in the playoffs vs. .466 in the regular season) and they gotta find a way to cool the Wiz kids down. But tbh, I don’t think they have a chance. The Wiz will continue their magical run.
Prediction: Washington in 6
Series 2: #2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #3 Chicago Bulls (Chicago leads 2-1)
Ah, the Kevin-Loveless Cavs. They were also without the heavy shooting J.R Smith for the first two games due to suspension. But that hasn’t stopped LeBron in the playoffs. He’s been spectacular these last two games (averages of 28 and 9 points assists respectively in Games 2 and 3). But Derrick Rose silenced the critics who said he can’t play on one day’s rest. He dropped 30 in Game 3, including the off the glass game winner.
This is another series that will go down to the wire. Both teams hate each other. And in all honesty, more calls have been going the Cavs. But kudos to the Bulls for taking the bull. They’ve hung tough. Joakim Noah has statistically been awful (2.7 points per game in the series) but his infectious energy has been an extreme positive for this team and the main reason that Thibs has stuck with him through and through. Timely contributions from Mike Dunleavy (16 points, 6 rebounds in Game 3) and Nikola Mirotic (12 points, 8 rebounds in Game 3) have kept the team afloat. The real key to this series now has to be the extent of Kyrie Irving’s leg injury. He was off in Game 3 (11 points, 3-13 shooting) and if he has to sit out a game or two, this series could take a turn for the worst for the Cavs. Dellavedova (9.5 points, 6.5 assists per game in Games 2 and 3) has been spectacular, but he’s no Uncle Drew. Can LeBron carry the Cavs on his own? It could be 2010 all over again. Or maybe he’ll rise to the occasion. One thing is for sure, the winner of Game 4 will win the series.
Déjà vu won’t happen again.
Prediction: Cavs in 7
Now we transition to the West:
Series 3: #1 Golden State vs. #5 Memphis Grizzlies (Memphis leads 2-1)
It’s time to start appreciating Mike Conley. The guy has established himself as a top 8 point guard in today’s league and only gets better every year. Sure, Marc may be the rock and Randolph the implied star, but Conley is the glue. After giving up 101 points in Game 1, the Grizz are back on top defensively (89.5 points per game allowed in the Series). They even stole a game on the road, something I thought I’d never say in this Series. If this were any other team, I’d say the Grizzlies have this series in the bag.
But this is the Golden State Warriors we’re talking about. They won 67 games in the regular season easily. They didn’t even break as sweat. Steph Curry waltzed his way to the MVP, Kerr to Coach of the Year (well deserved by the way) and they cruised through Round 1 of the playoffs. But the Grizzlies are their polar opposite. They’re a slow team (25th in pace) and make you play half court. The Warriors don’t have much of a post presence (maybe Draymond Green) but they’ve been forced to shoot contested jumpers. Curry has only averaged 20.5 points per game on 40 percent shooting). Iguodala, who has to score in this series, can’t buy a three pointer in these playoffs (3-12 in his last four games). Kerr may have to start leaning on Festus Ezeli more defensively on Zach Randolph because it’s too easy for him. Curry has to dominate Conley for the Dubs to start winning some, especially at the Fed Ex Forum. Regardless, this is a tough series but it’s too early to start panicking. Give the Dubs time and they can turn this series around. But they gotta start playing Warrior basketball, with a fast pace, threes flying, ball movement. The defense is fine, but the offense has to improve.
The Grizz will win one more in the series, but the Warriors are too good to go home this early.
Prediction: Warriors in 7
Series 4: #2 Houston Rockets vs. #3 Los Angeles Clippers
This is a series that many can forget about. So does Houston have a problem? Yes, they do. The bench is has been good. Josh Smith (who was so good last series) is putting up duds (8 points/game in the series). Terry, however, is playing better (12 points/game in the series), as has Brewer (11 points/game these last two). But the starters have to play better and sometimes being good won’t be good enough. Not against these Clips. Howard can’t just double-double. He has to double-double with authority. 14 and 14 in Game 3 won’t cut it. Houston never was a great defensive team (17th in points allowed in the regular season), but in the playoffs they’ve been atrocious (15th out of 16 teams in field goal percentage allowed, .468). If they want to win or even elongate the series, they’re going to have to buckle down defensively. Losing Patrick Beverley (left wrist) really hurts the team in terms of their intensity.
As for the Clippers, they’ve been down this road before. But they’ve always gone up against a tough minded team like the Spurs or the Grizzlies. These Rockets aren’t tough. They’re beatable and the Clips know that, having had statement wins in games 1 and 3. Even without Chris Paul, the team has managed to stay afloat with beyond stellar play from Blake Griffin (27.3 points per game, 14.3 rebounds per game, 7.0 assists per game) and Deandre Jordan (10.6 points per game, 13.3 rebounds per game, 2 blocks per game). When CP3 does inevitably return, this team will be even better. Factor in electric guard Jamal Crawford (17.3 points per game) and other key bench players (Glen Davis, Spencer Hawes) and this team could pull the slight upset over the boys from Texas.
But to me, this is Lob City’s year.
Prediction: Clips in 6
And that’s a wrap. I’ll see you guys in the Conference Finals as we edge closer and closer to the final countdown, the NBA Finals.