What an absolutely awesomely crazy first round that was! We had 5 Game 7’s four of which were in the Western Conference. We saw buzzer beaters (Hi Damian Lillard), we saw the Clippers overcome their team turmoil and almost saw both #1 seeds collapse. Let’s see if the NBA version of the Elite 8 can match the madness.
Washington Wizards versus Indiana Pacers
These two teams could not have played more opposite series. The Indiana Pacers struggled mightily with the below .500 Atlanta Hawks, finally closing them out in 7 games. For most of this series, they look uninspired, lethargic and had a really hard time finding a rhythm. Game 7 saw the reemergence of the Pacers that took the Heat to the limit last season. They out-rebounded Atlanta by almost 20 and for once, looked like they really wanted it more. They had 16 blocks and Roy Hibbert actually looked like himself and not Darko Milicic. Indiana will need to continue front court dominance if they want to play for an NBA title this season.
The Wizards made short work on the usually tough Bulls in 5 games to advance. The Wizards looked like a very capable, balanced team throughout this series with good contribution from Nene, John Wall and Bradley Beal. While Joakim Noah is a very good player, the Chicago Bulls really didn’t have much else. I want to caution fans on reading too much into that decisive 5 game series because it was truly painful at times watching Chicago play offense as they looked less competent than the Washington Generals. I love the direction this Wizards team has taken and the 3 road wins in their first round series should give the Wizards a lot of confidence heading into the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Based on what we saw in the first round, this should be a very good series. While I love what the Wizards are building out in DC, they went up against a team who just couldn’t score and had no chance. Against Indiana, they will face a proven big time scorer in Paul George, dominant post players in David West and (if he chooses to come out of hibernation Roy Hibbert) and a bench that is capable of putting up points. The Hawks gave teams a model of how to beat Indiana which is beat them from the perimeter. The Wizards have guys in Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal who can rain 3’s and have enough talent on the inside to keep the Pacers honest. With all the turmoil in Indiana, I am going with upset here.
Verdict: Wizards in 6
Brooklyn Nets versus Miami Heat
Based on the regular series, this series should be a lot of fun. It took Brooklyn 7 games but it was a Paul Pierce block that got them past the pesky Raptors and into the semi-finals. Paul Pierce continues to come up huge in big games, Deron Williams has been playing much better than he did during the regular season and Joe Johnson is still their go-to scorer. This series will be determined by how well the role players on the Nets play. Marcus Thornton, Shaun Livingston, Mirzo Teletovic and Alan Anderson all have the ability to get hot from deep. Mason Plumlee could have a much larger impact on this series due to Miami’s lack of front-court depth. With the depth of the Nets and their ability to get scoring from almost every position, it’s no wonder they were able to go 4-0 versus Miami during the regular season.
Miami eased to a first round sweep of the punchless Bobcats. I think that series would’ve been tougher for Miami had Al Jefferson been fully healthy simply because Miami does not have anyone who can match up with really talented big men. LeBron looked awesome and with the after-sweep rest, this team will be energized and ready to reverse their 0-4 record from the regular season. The key to Miami will always start and stop with the Big 3. Chris Anderson, Udonis and Chris Bosh could have a big impact on the glass during this series as New Jersey doesn’t really have a big rebounding or shot-blocking presence on the inside.
I know that regular season numbers tell a different story but I think Miami should be able to see off New Jersey in their quest for a three-peat. Even though the Nets went into win-now mode with the signings of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, they just don’t have the depth or front-court presence to beat Miami 4 times out of 7. The series will likely feature a lot of close games but in the end, Miami will move on.
Verdict: Miami in 6
Portland Trailblazers versus San Antonio Spurs
Here we go with the Wild, Wild West. Every series in this conference went 7 games, they were all close and we could not have 4 different teams in the semifinals. The Spurs somehow allowed the Mavericks to take them to 7 games. Until the final game, they really didn’t play a complete team game the entire Mavericks series, which is scary. Tiago Splitter was arguably their best player that series but he can be neutralized if a team goes small. The keys to success for the Spurs in this series will be their depth and taking away what the Blazers do best. Gregg Popovich is the best in the NBA at taking away what a team does best. Against Dallas, he took away Dirk and forced other players to beat him. I think in this series you will see the Spurs look to contain Aldridge and Lillard and force players like Wes Matthews and Robin Lopez to beat them. The Spurs will also look to wear down the Blazers. Portland’s depth is nowhere near what San Antonio brings to the table and if the Spurs bench can outplay Portland’s, it could force a ton of minutes from the starters early.
Portland’s series with Houston was one of the most entertaining, nail-biting and exciting first-round series we’ve ever seen. The strength of this team is scoring. Four of their five starters can fill it up on any given night and Robin Lopez has been known to score 15-20 as well. LaMarcus Aldridge will come away as the next NBA breakout star after this postseason just due to how fantastic he was against Houston. This team is balanced, athletic and has the offensive horses to keep up with San Antonio. The major areas of concern for the Blazers would be depth and defense. They do not have a very deep bench and must rely heavily on their starters for scoring and minutes. As seen versus Houston, they are also not the most defensively sound team. However, it remains to be seen how their defense works against a team without a true superstar scorer.
This series will be a lot of back and forth close games. These two teams finished their season series tied 2-2 and I don’t see why the playoffs will be any different. At the end of the day, I think the Spurs depth and home court advantage will end up being too much to overcome.
Verdict: Spurs in 7
Los Angeles Clippers versus Oklahoma City Thunder
This is the first round series I am the most excited for. Ever since the Donald Sterling comments, many fans have rallied behind the Clippers as their choice pick to win it all. They were just involved in a very tough series against last year’s semifinalist Golden State Warriors. The Clippers are star studded up front (Chris Paul, Blake Griffin) and have a lot of complimentary pieces and depth to make a run at the NBA finals. They have a future Hall of Fame coach who will get everything he can out of this team and will maximize the value of the pieces available to him. Even with DeAndre Jordan, this Clipper team is not the most sound defensively. Chris Paul is a great theft-artist but is small and not the best defender against bigger guards. Since Jordan is an elite rim protector, they may be able to neutralize Russell Westbrook’s ability to get to the rim and force him into more outside jumpers. However, they will have no answer for Kevin Durant and will have to rely on their scoring ability to counter him.
The Thunder was finally able to shake off their kryptonite that is the Memphis Grizzlies. Russell Westbrook may be playing some of the best basketball of his career and it looks like he has struck a good balance between scoring and facilitating. Reggie Jackson has also emerged this season as a valuable 6th man and Caron Butler may have been one of the best in season pickups this year. Kevin Durant is easily the best player in this series and Russell Westbrook may be the second best player. Where the Thunder is most vulnerable in my opinion is against teams who have two big men they can roll out, which the Clippers do. Serge Ibaka is a very good player but he can’t play both Jordan and Griffin at once. Also, the Thunder has no answer for the shooting of J.J. Redick from the shooting guard position. If there are weaknesses to the Thunder, these areas are where the Clippers can exploit.
Just to get any bias out in the open, I will be rooting for the Clippers. Chris Paul is my personal favorite player in the NBA and I really want to see him win a ring. This series will go seven games and I think there will be instances where both teams dominate. If Chris Paul were limited, this would be an easy series. However, in Game 7, he looked as good and healthy as anytime this postseason. When all is said and done, I am going to go with the upset because I think if the Thunder begin to struggle, Westbrook will try to take on too much scoring which will only hinder them more.
Verdict: Clippers in 6
Thank you all so much for reading through all of this! What an awesome playoffs we’ve had so far and I think it’s only going to get better! Please give me a follow @weigel_a and continue to check tjrsports.com for the latest on the NBA and NHL playoffs. Have a fantastic week!