1) Miami Heat vs. 5) Chicago Bulls
How do the champs make this a clean sweep?
El Mariachi: LeBron James.
Can the beat-up Bulls push this to 5 or 6 games?
KOBEsh: There really isn’t any logical reasoning to this prediction. Everyone on the Bulls is either physically injured or seriously ill. Derrick Rose’s brother continues his rope-a-dope with the NBA fan base at large, a sentence which leaves me wondering “Why the fuck are we listening to Derrick Rose’s brother anyway?”
But the most salient point in defense of Joakim Noah and company? The Chicago Bulls have all the ingredients to beat the Heat–extremely physical defenders, capable shot-blocking bigs that can avoid foul trouble and enough three-point shooting to disrupt a usually sterling Heat perimeter defense. To push this to a 6 game series, Da Bulls must outrebound the Heat by double-digits every single game; after all, this sometimes offensively challenged Chicago unit simply doesn’t have the playmaker to outwit superior defenders like James, Wade and Mario Chalmers on game-to-game basis. More importantly, Jimmy Butler, Marco Bellinelli and Nate Robinson have to continue to shoot in the upper-30% on threes in order to open up the middle for Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. The Heat’s perimeter defense is completely predicated on their athletes moving inside-out so quickly, not on size alone. In order to counter-act that, those three perimeter players must hit shots.
Most importantly, the Bulls know they can beat Miami. Being the team that ended the 27-game streak in a raucous United Center, Chicago has that intangible confidence to combat a Heat squad that quite frankly, most oppositions are afraid of.
2) New York Knicks vs. 3) Indiana Pacers
How can the Knicks win this in 7 games?
KOBEsh: Well, Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith not going 14 for 43 would help.
Everyone loves talking about how tough the Pacers are–physical inside defense and perimeter stoppers like Lance Stephenson and Paul George. But what gets brushed under the rug is that the Knicks can match them blow for blow. Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler are hurting, but are every bit as effective as Roy Hibbert and David West in the paint. Yes, Paul George put a hurting on Carmelo yesterday afternoon, but George didn’t fare much better against Iman Shumpert, who held him to 5 for 14 shooting. With all the stars neutralizing one another, it will really come down to Ray Felton supplementing New York with enough scoring and three-point playmaking, for himself and others.
What’s truly hurting the Knicks is their complete inability to get efficient shots for the past four games–Melo is shooting 31.8% over that stretch, and J.R. is even worse at 28.6%. This can’t continue. Even at their worst and against a great Indiana wing defense, these two are not 30% shooters. Truthfully, I don’t expect their averages to rise more than 10%, but even that would make a gigantic difference in 3 losses in their previous 4 playoff games.
In many ways, these teams are very much evenly matched. Picking the Knicks in 7 games is relying on Anthony and Smith to explode and steal a game in Indianapolis. This will not be easy, and it should go right down to the wire in the Garden during Game 7.
But how can the upstart Pacers go ’95 on the Bockers and pull it out in 7?
The CDP: Despite significant injuries and roster turnovers, the New York Knickerbockers have had a resurgent season and won their first playoff series in over a decade. With Amar’e Stoudemire essentially missing the entire season, Melo played at nearly an MVP level and enjoyed a strong supporting cast with plenty of veteran leadership.
Unfortunately, New York fans, the dream run ends here. The Knicks were able to put up enough points to beat the Celtics (although barely, and unconvincingly, hitting 90 points just twice in 6 games), but they are now facing the most efficient defense in the league. The Indiana Pacers are not only healthier than the shell of the Celtics that the Knicks dispatched, but they also have the interior size to patrol the paint and Paul George. The small forward was incredibly effective on both Melo and JR Smith in Game 1, which has to be troubling to Bockers faithful everywhere. The Knicks are simply not going to be able to score efficiently enough to win this series.
1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 5) Memphis Grizzlies
Why do the Grizz pull the upset in 7 games?
AO: There are a few rock solid reasons the Grizzlies will prevail in this series. One thing that’s bankable is their ability to adjust after the first couple games of a series (see 4 straight wins vs LAC after losing the first two). The last 4 games against LAC weren’t even close. Memphis left most Clippers on the perimeter, didn’t send help against Blake and sold out to contain CP3. Then on offense they were absolutely relentless in getting the ball down low, but it was the creativity with which they did it which was so impressive. Especially with Z-Bo (Marc is more of a stand at the elbow and survey guy), they get him on the move a lot so he can do his patented quick moves. Overall, Hollins/staff >>>> Brooks/staff. That was not a typo.
Lastly, I think the Russ Westbrook injury catches up to them in this series. After that injury, every game with Houston was a battle and a struggle for them. You could see it Sunday too; they are just struggling to score. Like great ones do, KD took them home with a dub. Still, the Grizzlies are sleeping well tonight, licking their chops for game 2.
How can the Thunder overcome such massive changes mid-playoffs and win this baby in 7?
Thunderstolt: The Thunder can win their series against the Grizzlies because of one man named Kevin, Kevin Martin. What K-Mart did in game 6 against the Rockets (25 points on 7-13) and on Sunday against the Grizzlies in game 1 (25 points on 8-14) pumps much needed life into a Thunder offense which seemed to grind to a halt at times since Westbrook went down. When Martin is scoring like he has the last two games it makes things much easier on that other Kevin, the one who went for 35/15/6 and put OKC on his shoulders with cold blooded shot after cold blooded shot in the 4th quarter of game 1.
The Thunder surely expects Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins to improve on their combined 2-16 in game 1, but they did not let their offense dictate how they played defense, which for the most part was stellar on the front line of Z-Bo and Gasol. The stat that jumped out to me from Game 1 is the Grizzlies only had four second chance points. If Ibaka and Perkins can continue to defend the post at a high level, K-Mart scores efficiently, Derek Fisher stays hot (57% from 3 this postseason!) and Kevin Durant is Kevin Durant, the Thunder can win this series.
2) San Antonio Spurs vs. 6) Golden State Warriors
How would this be a clean sweep for the Spurs?
KOBEsh: The Warriors are a young, streak-shooting team, whose inexperience leaves them highly prone to late game breakdowns, best exhibited by their failed auctioning-off of a Game 6 victory on Friday. In almost every way, they seem the best possible matchup for the veteran Spurs.
There’s no suggesting that the Warriors will be an easier or as easy of an out as the LA Lakers–if given the chance, David Stern should have ruled that a two-game sweep. Still, the Warriors have the unenviable task of trying to beat one of the best inside-out defenses, whose help and recover schemes absolutely destroyed the Lakers last round. Unlike that series however, San Antonio will load up on Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack, trying to get Golden State’s undersized front line of Harrison Barnes and Carl Landry to beat them. Without David Lee to serve as an equalizer in the paint, I don’t see the Warriors being able to create enough space in order to get hot shooting-wise. Unless there’s a serious injury to Tony Parker or Tim Duncan, this feels like a clean sweep for the four-time champs.
How could the Warriors push this to 5 or 6 tough games?
The King: As numerous people have noted, the Nuggets were a dream three-seed matchup for the Golden State Warriors. The San Antonio Spurs? With size (that can score), a solid defense that doesn’t give up three pointers and shooting to take advantage of the large number of three pointers the Warriors give up, this is the nightmare from hell. Barring injuries from the Spurs, the Warriors chances of winning this series are less than Bogut starting every regular season game next year. Can the Warriors make the series competitive though? They can take it to six games and here’s why.
Steph Curry: The more I watch, the more I am amazed by him. He’s one of the top shooters the game has ever seen and is always a threat to score, even when he’s shooting with a hand in his face. His development into a top-notch facilitator however, has been the real factor that has lead to the Warriors improved offense since the all-star break. Combine that with his remarkable ability to finish given his size and limited athleticism and I’d be shocked if Curry doesn’t lead the Warriors to victory in at least one or two shootouts (or blowouts if San Antonio has an off night). Curry is just too good to shut down for a whole series.
Oracle Arena: It’s reputation as the best home court advantage in the NBA is well deserved. There’s no chance the Warriors aren’t taking at least one of the first two at home.
Andrew Bogut: Finally healthy, Bogut played absolutely remarkable in the first round series against the Nuggets, both on offense and defense. He won’t have the same impact on this series as he did against Denver, but his healthy presence will help the Warriors address some of the weaknesses the Spurs exposed during their regular season matchups (only one of which Bogut played in).
With a developing young core and a healthy David Lee, the Warriors could be a really interesting team come this time next year. Right now however, they have too many holes that the Spurs will be able to exploit throughout this series. Unlike many who believe San Antonio will show up with brooms in their hands, I think the Warriors will be able to make the series competitive and take two games. Until next year, that’s the best the Warriors will do.