Saturday, April 19, 2014

2014 NBA Playoff Preview

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It's time for the probably the best time of the year, as both the NBA and NHL playoffs kick off this week, giving us two months of wild finishes, great comebacks, and of course, the glory of winning. I'm not nearly informed enough about the NHL outside of New York to write a playoff preview (Let's go Rangers!) But, I've got you covered on basketball. Yes, that's right, I will be breaking down the first round matchups, and predicting what we will be seeing for the rest of the postseason. At the beginning of every round, I'll be previewing the upcoming series, leading up to the Finals, when I will post a preview or recap everyday throughout the series. Hopefully I'll be able to throw in another live blog, as I have in the last two years.

First, we have to look back at the beginning of the year, and my season preview. I got twelve of the sixteen playoff teams correctly, leaving the Wizards in the ninth seed in the East, while missing the Raptors, Bobcats, and Mavs as well. I also predicted that the Bulls would win the championship, but, without Derrick Rose, that looks almost impossible. I still stand by my prediction of the Heat finishing third in the conference had Rose played a full season, but we'll never know.

So, I'll take my 75% accuracy into the playoffs and see what happens.

Eastern Conference

First Round
1 Indiana Pacers vs. 8 Atlanta Hawks. The Pacers had played pretty poorly (by their standards) for a while now, going 21-18 since January 22, including an 8-12 stretch to end the year. Despite that, they play in the Eastern Conference, which means, that as the one seed, they should have an easy ride past the first round. Case and point, the 38-44 Atlanta Hawks, who somehow backed into the playoffs after losing Al Horford early in the season. Indiana's talent will prevail, even though they will inevitably have one or two games in the series in which they struggle to score, probably because Paul George is off and Lance Stephenson can't lead the bench to any sort of success.

The key in this series, is Pero Antic. The only way that Atlanta will win, is if he is hot from the three point line, and pulls Roy Hibbert out from the paint, leaving the Pacers vulnerable down low. As a 33% shooter, I don't think it's likely that he can consistently be a threat, but stranger things have happened. Pacers in 5. 

2 Miami Heat vs. 7 Charlotte Bobcats. The Heat are the better team. That part is pretty obvious. Any team with LeBron James will usually be the best team on the floor. With Dwyane Wade having only played 54 games this season, he should be rested and healthy for now. That spells doom for the Bobcats. Despite being one of the league's best defensive teams in terms of point allowed, ranking fourth in that category, the advanced stats place them at 26th in Defensive Rating. Whatever those weaknesses are, they will probably be exposed against the Heat. Their biggest problem is their lack of a defensive big man, as Al Jefferson has never guarded the paint well. Look for LeBron and Wade to be attacking the rim constantly.

Despite being a poor defender, Al Jefferson is a great offensive player. After being overlooked over and over again, he came to Charlotte and had his best year since 2008-09. Averaging 21.9 points and 10.8 rebounds throughout the whole year, Big Al carried this Bobcats offense. From January 31 on, he put up 25-11. He's had games such as 40 points and 18 boards against the Lakers, 35 and 15 against the Nets, and even 38 and 19 against these Heat. Being the low post threat that he is, he possesses the ability to go off at any time. The Heat lack a true defensive big man as well, so expect to see Al take over down low at points, which will be enough to snag at least one game. He'll need to have the series of his life for his team to beat Miami. Heat in 5. 

3 Toronto Raptors vs. 6 Brooklyn Nets. The Nets have been the hottest team in the league since January, and I don't expect them to slow down any time soon. The Raptors lack the defensive force down low to counter Kevin Garnett and Andray Blatche, which is why Brooklyn should eventually prevail. Otherwise, these teams are pretty evenly matched. The backcourt advantage goes to Toronto, with Kyle Lowry's ability to frustrate the other team defensively, as well as his offensive prowess. Of course, we all know that DeMar DeRozan can score. Both of these players will keep them in the series. Otherwise, the Nets are the better team, especially considering their bench unit. Nets in 6.

4 Chicago Bulls vs. 5 Washington Wizards. This is one of the more interesting matchups in the first round, as the defensive minded Bulls face off against a young, upstart Wizards team. Washington is at their best when they are running in transition. Everything in this series will be determined by the transition game. Because Chicago's offense is one of the worst in the league, the Wizards should be able to get enough stops and push the ball, not allowing the Bulls to set up their suffocating halfcourt defense. As great as the Bulls are, Washington may just be a bad matchup.

But, those issues can easily be counteracted with Joakim Noah, Chicago's point center. If he is able to lead this offense to success on a consistent basis, the Bulls can slow the game down and take over on defense. While that's very possible, if the Bulls offense doesn't improve from the regular season, they're in serious trouble. Wizards in 7. 

Second Round
1 Indiana Pacers vs. 5 Washington Wizards. Pacers in 6. 

2 Miami Heat vs. 6 Brooklyn Nets. Heat in 7. 

Eastern Conference Finals
1 Indiana Pacers vs. 2 Miami Heat. Heat in 6. 

Western Conference

First Round
1 San Antonio Spurs vs. 8 Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs have had a pretty good season, and I love the connection between the rejuvenated Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki. But, seriously, the Spurs are so great, that I can't imagine them losing in the first round. I'll give the Mavs a game at best. Spurs in 5. 

2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Memphis Grizzlies. So we get to see the Grit and Grind Grizzlies against the Thunder in a rematch of last year's second round, which Memphis took pretty easily. The difference this year, is that Russell Westbrook is actually going to play this time around, which, along with an improved Reggie Jackson, and Kevin Durant's MVP level play, should propel the OKC to victory. Thunder in 6. 

3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. 6 Golden State Warriors. This had the potential to be a great series, but, Andrew Bogut will probably miss the entire series. That changes everything, because this allows Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan (but mostly Griffin) to take over the middle. I don't even have to talk about Chris Paul here, because that big man advantage is so great that it will win the Clips the series. David Lee will not be able to handle Griffin defensively.

Obviously Steph Curry will have one or two games in which he drains all sorts of threes, and Klay Thompson will join him, but, there's nothing that the Warriors can do to stop Griffin. Clippers in 4. 

4 Houston Rockets vs. 5 Portland Trail Blazers. After being one of the best teams in the league to begin the year, the Blazers have fallen off in the second half. They're still a great offensive team, but if their only chance is if they get back to their offensive dominance at the beginning of the season. A lot of that depends on whether or not Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum can knock down threes.

Not only are the Rockets better offensively, they have a defensive presence in Dwight Howard who can stifle LaMarcus Aldridge's killer post game. They also have Patrick Beverley, who will frustrate Damian Lillard. If those two Blazers are taken out of the series, then it looks like smooth sailing for Houston. Rockets in 6. 

Second Round
1 San Antonio Spurs vs. 4 Houston Rockets. Spurs in 7. 

2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 3 Los Angeles Clippers. Thunder in 7. 

Western Conference Finals
1 San Antonio Spurs vs. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder. Thunder in 7. 

NBA Finals
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Miami Heat. Thunder in 7. 

Finals MVP: Kevin Durant

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