|John Wall and the Wizards will continue the rejuvenation of Washington basketball. Photo from 5thquartermag.com|
Wow. That's my reaction to the amazing first round that we just witnessed. Coming off of probably the best round in the history of the NBA playoffs, and maybe, in all sports, I'm certainly looking forward to round two, which should be pretty good as well. Obviously, with only four matchups instead of eight, it will be hard to live up to the same excitement that came with the first round, but this time, the games will be closer, and there will be more at stake. All four series have are very intriguing, and I wouldn't be totally surprised at an upset in any matchup. Let's begin with the Eastern Conference:
1 Indiana Pacers vs. 5 Washington Wizards. After struggling in every game of the series, and still finding itself tied 3-3 with the Hawks (because they were, in fact, facing the Hawks), the Pacers get it together and advanced with a great Game 7 win. On the other hand, the Wizards totally blew the Bulls out of the water in their first round series which surprised even me, and I picked them to win the series, albeit in seven games, and not five. Back in my full playoff preview, I predicted this matchup, and for the Pacers to win it in 6, because I assumed that they would have figured out their issues by the time this series rolled around. It turns out, I was mistaken. The only reason why the Pacers are still alive, and not sitting at home watching the Wizards feast on the Hawks, is because the Hawks are not a very good team in the end. As horribly as the Pacers played at times, their talent was able to prevail in the end and lead them to victory over DeMarre Carroll and the boys. The Wizards are a much better team, and will be able to exploit Indiana inside unless Roy Hibbert returns to form, which I do not see happening. Without him being a true rim protector, which was one of the main problems for the team not only against the Hawks, but in the second half of the regular season, when the team was trending downwards, not only will Nene and Marcin Gortat have their way inside, John Wall will be able to attack the rim without fear. The Pacers cannot afford to play sloppy offense in this series, because that leads to turnovers, which leads to multiple fastbreak opportunities for a Washington team that loves to fly up and down the floor. Hold on...does this mean? Yes, the Wizards are going to the Eastern Conference Finals. Wizards in 6.
2 Miami Heat vs. 6 Brooklyn Nets. Okay, the Nets did in fact sweep the Heat in the regular season. Does that mean that Brooklyn will win this series? Not at all. This time around, a fully rested team, featuring a healthy and spry Dwyane Wade will be ready to attack the rim. And, Mason Plumlee wasn't so great during the Raptors series when he did play, which means that the Heat will have to test him early to see how he is defensively. If he's in any way less than he was during the regular season, I see no way that the Nets win this series. Even if he plays, well, I don't really see any advantages that the Nets have. Deron Williams is quite inconsistent, and if he's passive early on, the game is essentially decided in favor of Miami. With a relatively old team, it will be hard for the Nets to stop Miami in transition, despite what occurred between these two in the regular season. Things are different now. Heat in 5.
1 San Antonio Spurs vs. 5 Portland Trail Blazers. Yet another great matchup to watch, it will be exciting to see the upstart Blazers take on the Spurs. Overall, San Antonio is a much more disciplined team, and they have more talent, but that doesn't mean that Portland will go down without a fight. LaMarcus Aldridge can singlehandedly win this series for him team if he plays great. I'm not asking him to play like he did in the first two games of the first round series in Houston, but, around that level. But, on the other side, Tony Parker will have his way with Damian Lillard in their one on one matchup, which will be hard for the Blazers to defend, because their only rim protector is Robin Lopez. Look for Parker to attack consistently, and score a lot of points. But, don't rule out Aldridge's ability to take the game into his hands. Spurs in 7.
2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 3 Los Angeles Clippers. I'll venture to say that this is the best second round series in the league. Both of these teams are well equipped to win the championship should they win this series. Usually, the biggest offensive advantages that the Clips have are at the point guard and power forward positions, but those will be taken away somewhat thanks to the defensive abilities of both Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. Westbrook will certainly be able to bother Chris Paul with his defensive energy. Ibaka, along with Steven Adams and Nick Collison will defend Blake Griffin, and force him into foul trouble, which does not bode well for the Clippers. In addition, the Thunder have the best player in the series, Kevin Durant, so that will allow them to take this series. Obviously the Clippers are still really good, but these particular advantages will lead to a close Thunder victory. Thunder in 7.