A Quick NBA Round Two Prediction

Posted: 05/06/2014 by levcohen in Basketball

It’s funny and somewhat ironic that, after such a long round one that spanned two weeks because teams had at least one rest day between each game, round two started way way way too early. As in the next day, also known as last night. Couldn’t they have given us at least another day to digest what happened in the crazy first round? No, I guess they couldn’t, which means that I am late on my predictions. Two games were played last night, and although one of my predictions was unaffected (Wizards over Pacers in six), I really have to rethink the other one (I had Thunder over Clippers in seven, but after they were thoroughly outplayed on home court, it’s tough to pick them). And the other series’ start tonight, which means I really have to rush, so the predictions will be fairly short.

Eastern Conference:

5 Washington Wizards over 1 Indiana Pacers in six: I have lost all confidence in the Pacers, and I had before game one. There were many people on both sides of the coin before this series started. The optimists felt that games six and seven were turning points for the Pacers. This team, they figured, is so talented and they fed off of chemistry last season and in the first half of this year. They just needed a wakeup call, and they got it in the form of a seven game series against the Hawks. From a pure Xs and Os point of view, this is also a much better matchup for the Pacers’ big men. While the Hawks had Paul Millsap and Pero Antic as their big men and shooting threes, the Wizards feature Nene and Marcin Gortat. I don’t think either will become a three point threat any time soon. And it also looked as if Paul George was turning the corner. The pessimists, and I’m included here, felt that there is now three months of solid evidence that the Pacers just aren’t a great basketball team, and certainly not the cohesive machine they were in the first half of the season. The tough series against the Hawks was not a blessing in disguise but a true indication of the way the team is playing right now. I don’t think that will change. Meanwhile, the Wizards are in many ways the opposite. They didn’t have anywhere close to the season the Pacers had, and their season was full of as many downs as ups. But they look like they are heating up at the right time, especially from beyond the arc. The ironic thing is that the starting lineup, which features a true point guard (John Wall), two swingmen who can shoot and play defense (Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza), an enforcer (Nene), and an efficient scorer down low (Gortat), is much more well-rounded than the vaunted Pacers starting lineup, which features a bench off guard (George Hill), a guy who too often is out of control (Lance Stephenson), the star (George), the enforcer (David West), and, well, zero points, zero rebounds Roy Hibbert. So, yeah. Wizards in six on home court.

2 Miami Heat over 6 Brooklyn Nets in five: I’m giving the Nets a game, but they might not even win one. Yes, they went 4-0 against the Heat in the regular season, but we know that Miami doesn’t play anywhere close to their top level in the regular season, and all four games were toss-ups. Dwyane Wade only played in two of the four games, and Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis got a lot of run against the Nets. That won’t happen again. The Heat also have the three best players in the series. A team can win without the best player in the series by playing team basketball and tough defense, but when one team is just so much more talented than the other, the less talented team almost never wins, even when they aren’t up against one of the most dominant players NBA has ever seen. To be fair, the Nets have modeled their team to be the Heat’s kryptonite. The Heat are great against the pick-and-roll, but the Nets rarely rely on the pick-and-role. The Heat like double teams so they can kick out to shooters, but the Nets don’t really need to double because they have big, strong, crafty guards. And you can’t underestimate the fact that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce really, really hate the Heat and that they aren’t scared. That counts for something. Just not enough, which is why I see the Heat closing it out on home court in game five.

Western Conference:

5 Portland Trailblazers over 1 San Antonio Spurs in seven: Inexperienced Blazers on enemy court in a game seven against Gregg Popovich and the big three?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! You bet. The Blazers and Spurs are probably as evenly matched as two teams can be. They both emphasize their point guard (Damian Lillard and Tony Parker) and a big man (LaMarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan) to score points. They both pick-and-roll a lot. Both have role players who can hit threes (Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Danny Green, Manu Ginobili). The Spurs have the better bench, but I’d take the Blazers starting lineup any day. In the playoffs, when rotations are squeezed, that matters, and it matters a lot. I also think that Batum is one of the most underrated players in all of basketball right now. He doesn’t always score a lot of points, but he has a lot of confidence in himself (some tough shots near the end of close games), can hit long shots, drive, and, most importantly, play lockdown defense. Basically, he’s the rich man’s version of one Kawhi Leonard. I expect to see Batum on Parker defensively a lot, and I think he can stop the smaller guard. Meanwhile, I don’t think the Spurs have the interior defense to slow Aldridge down. You saw the limited success Dwight Howard had on the scorching hot big man, and the Spurs don’t have an interior defender nearly as good as Howard. Meanwhile, there is no way Parker can come close to stopping the quicker and more explosive Lillard, which means the Spurs will have to put Leonard on Lillard defensively. That makes sense in theory against most teams, but not against Portland, simply because the Blazers have no weak link in their lineup. Parker can’t just guard the weakest player on the floor, because whoever he is on (Matthews seems most likely) will destroy him, kind of like they destroyed James Harden in the last round. I think the Blazers are going to score a lot of points. With all that being said, the Spurs are also going to score a lot of points. It’s hard to pick against a Popovich team with homecourt advantage, but it’s even harder to pick against a team that should have won it all last year and is a better team this year. Ginobili looks reinvigorated, and could take over the series. Duncan had a somewhat subdued series against Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks, but he has plenty left in the tank. Green is also due to hit some threes. In the end, I knew I was going to pick the Blazers as soon as Lillard’s amazing, series ending shot went through the net. It might be a heart over head pick, but (I think) I really believe the Blazers can get past the mighty Spurs.

2 Oklahoma City Thunder over 3 Los Angeles Clippers in seven: After all that, I’m sticking with my pick. Most of it is just that I’d hate to change a pick after one game, but I also have some real reasons for doing this. The Thunder got embarrassed in game one. The Clippers did everything right, and their shooting was off the charts. They shot 55% from the floor and hit 15 of their 29 three point attempts, including a career-high eight for Chris Paul. Despite being thoroughly out-rebounded, the Clippers were able to rest their starters for the fourth quarter. Only Blake Griffin played more than 28 minutes, and he was limited to just 31. The thing is, the Clippers just aren’t going to keep shooting that well, and the Thunder aren’t going to keep playing this poorly. For a moment, just exclude Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. I think they’ll do more as the series goes on, but they didn’t play all that poorly. The rest of the team did. Given open three after open three, the supporting cast hit just one of nine from beyond the arc before the meaningless fourth quarter. Caron Butler shot one of seven from the floor, Reggie Jackson shot one of eight, Jeremy Lamb was three of eight, and Derek Fisher was two of five. That there is the reason that the Thunder lost by 17, and I think it’ll turn around a little bit. I also still expect there to be some close games in this series, and the Thunder, with their superior free throw shooting, should win those games. I also don’t think they’ll keep turning the ball over more than twice as much as the Clippers, and I don’t think they’ll hit six fewer threes on just one fewer attempt. I still think this will turn around, with the Thunder winning a close game seven at home.

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