I should have never made a full playoff prediction. I should have been patient and simply done a round-by-round preview. Although my NBA Finals is still intact (Miami/San Antonio), I only correctly picked one second round matchup (Oklahoma City/Los Angeles). Basically, I did awful. I’m happy I wrongly selected Chicago over Washington though because I’m loving how this Wizards team plays. It helps when you have a great, hungry point guard, and a solid rotation. Based solely on starting fives, Washington and Portland have two of the best. Trevor Ariza might be slightly overpaid (he’ll be even more overpaid this summer), but he has made the Wizards a lethal three-point shooting team because of his corner spot. Nene gets paid big bucks, but people, myself included, tend to forget about him since he’s usually injured. Marcin Gortat really did wonderful things against Joakim Noah. He had some solid offensive games in that surprisingly short series. I’ll breakdown each series, and provide a prediction.
Washington v. Indiana
The Pacers barely escaped the first round. I began writing this on May 4, but with finals, a paper and driving back home I couldn’t finish the preview. Last night’s game featuring many highlights from Bradley Beal and Ariza. Ariza couldn’t miss. He’s been a consistent 3-point shooter this year, so it should be no surprise he shot that well. The biggest advantage the Wizards should have is their backcourt, and the proved to be true last night. The Wizards shot poorly basically everywhere but the 3-point line. Can they count on those threes the rest of the series? I think so. Jeff Teague tweeted something about providing the blue print, meaning the Hawks exposed Indiana’s weaknesses. Obviously the Wizards do not have guys like Pero Antic and Paul Millsap to spread the floor in terms of being outside shooters. Both Nene and Marcin Gortat can make 15-footers, but neither is a true 3-point option. The starting line up of Wall, Beal, Ariza, Nene and Gortat are shooting 43 percent from three during their 20 minutes a game together this postseason. They did it against Chicago, and they’ll do it against Indiana. It helps when you have one of the best up-and-coming shooting guards, and a highly skilled point guard. John Wall should dominate this series, but not because of his scoring. He has some of the best vision in the NBA, and I think that will be proven this series. Gortat’s main strength is his strength. Gortat isn’t some scrub center. He’s a smart, strong, finesse player who has already given Roy Hibbert trouble. Hibbert has never been a good offensive player. He just happened to play very well against the worst rebounding team in the NBA these past two years (Miami). Hibbert gets exposed against actual centers. Although I think Hibbert will play better this series, I just think Gortat’s a better player. It’s true the Wizards do not have any player who can match up against Paul George. George needs to be the best player by a mile for Indiana to win this series. The Pacers clearly lack leadership and confidence. It’s evident in how they played against Atlanta for much of that series. George struggled to score last night (shooting 4-17, including 1-5 from three). I’m sticking with my initial pick.
Washington in six.
Miami v. Brooklyn
This is the series everyone has anticipated for since the summer. The tall, stocky Brooklyn guards and forwards (Joe Johnson, Shaun Livingston, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko) against LeBron James. The Nets have a number of guys who can try to cover James. It’s one of the big story lines of this series. Another story line was Brooklyn’s success over Miami in the regular season. Brooklyn went 4-0 against the Heat in four really entertaining basketball games. Dwyane Wade missed two of those games. Joe Johnson was a plus-17 during that regular season series. Brooklyn shot 36 percent from three in the regular season, but shot 41.3 percent in their four games against Miami. Johnson has been great against the Heat, especially since Wade missed two games. Johnson averaged 19.5 against Miami. His size presents matchup issues, and the way Brooklyn has played (with Paul Pierce at the 4 and Johnson at the 3) has given Joe some real great opportunities. Johnson is also one of the more clutch scorers in the NBA. Chris Bosh covered Johnson throughout the season, and Johnson struggled to score against him. Johnson shot 1 for 7 against Bosh in ISOs during the third game. The Brooklyn Nets have the roster to beat Miami. Deron Williams needs to be great. Brooklyn has to take advantage at positions where they have superior players. Neither team excels in the rebounding department. Miami finished last in rebounding, mainly because of how efficient there offense is, and also since they’re undersized. Paul Pierce plays major minutes at the 4, which obviously hurts their rebounding. Brooklyn averages the fewest amount of defensive rebounds this postseason, while Miami averages the fewest offensive boards. It’s going to be a grinder of a series, but Miami has what it takes.
Miami in six
Oklahoma City v. Los Angeles
The Clippers shot lights out in Game One. Let’s be real, the Clippers were used to playing that pace since they just finished their seven-game series with Golden State. Memphis really fought hard against Oklahoma City, and made things difficult for them. Oklahoma City saw how Blake Griffin’s game has expanded. Zach Lowe wrote a lengthy piece about Blake Griffin yesterday on Grantland (it’s a fantastic read, by the way). Griffin used his newly polished skill set yesterday against Serge Ibaka. He had a nifty bank shot early in the first half. He finished with five assists (it helps when your teammates knock down 15 triples). The biggest takeaway from last night’s game was the Thunder’s defense. Thabo Sefolosha lost JJ Redick on a screen, freeing him up for an uncontested triple early in the first quarter. Chris Paul hit threes without much pressure. Derek Fisher can’t guard anyone on the Clippers roster. Redick only shot two threes, but that’s not his game. He’s one of the best in the NBA with moving without the ball. He does a great job finding opening areas that give the Clippers fantastic spacing. The Thunder’s offense will be there. Durant and Westbrook will combine for 60 points in a couple games this series. Caron Butler won’t shoot as poorly as he did in Game One, and Reggie Jackson will actually show up. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jackson started tomorrow night for Sefolosha. DeAndre Jordan’s free-throw shooting scares me. He missed seven of eight last night. If the Clippers win this series, and the Spurs beat Portland, coach Popovich will have some fun fouling him. That being said, Kevin Durant will take over this series. He just needs his teammates to play better defense the rest of the series. This will be a long series. I think it goes the full seven since both of these teams have high power offense. The Clippers have the most efficient offense in this postseason (113.3), while the Thunder, in large part to their first round opponent, have an offensive efficiency of 105.8. The Clippers starters have the second highest scoring average together, behind Portland, with 44 points in 18 minutes together a night.
Oklahoma City in seven
San Antonio v. Portland
Tony Parker will torch Damian Lillard this series. Dallas wanted to take away San Antonio’s three-pointers last round, and they did a great job in doing so. They used a taller defender (Devin Harris, Shawn Marion) on Parker. Manu Ginobli was a primary ball handler during much of that series, and his ability to play pick & roll with Duncan, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter gave the Spurs some great looks. The Spurs defense was a little shaky against Dallas, mainly because of how well and efficient Dallas’ offense can play. LaMarcus Aldridge should have a great series. His ability to hit that midrange jumper has been crucial for Portland’s success. Lillard struggles on defense are due to his size and struggles to fight through screens. Parker should be able to penetrate through Portland’s defense. Wes Matthews and Nic Batum did a great job covering James Harden last series, forcing him into difficult shots and not really allowing him to get to the free throw line until Game 6. I don’t know if Portland’s bench is up for this Spurs task. Mo Williams is too small to make that big of an impact. He will hit threes, but he can’t do much from a playmaking standpoint like Devin Harris did against the Spurs. Portland has given up 332 points in the paint in six playoff games (55 a game), which is the highest average in the postseason. That had something to do with Dwight Howard, but still it shows Portland has a mediocre defense. Duncan and Splitter should have an impactful series. Matthews needs to play solid defense on Ginobili. Ginobili has been excellent this postseason (scoring 17 or more in five games against Dallas, while having five assists in five games). Aldridge, similar to Dirk Nowitzki in his ability to consistently knock down jumpers, will most likely be guarded by Splitter and Diaw. Diaw did a great job on LeBron James last postseason, while Splitter had the difficult task of covering Nowitzki. Dirk might not have put up those typical numbers, but he was the most important player during that series, freeing up Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Vince Carter, etc. The Blazers settle for more three pointers than Dallas. They don’t have as many slashers. Kawhi Leonard will have the privilege of covering Nic Batum. Batum’s one of the better passing small forwards, but Leonard does a great job of anticipating steals and using his length to disrupt passes. Batum needs a great scoring series, especially if San Antonio is able to limit Aldridge’s offensive impact. Overall, this is my favorite series of the second round, and I’m sticking with my Spurs to win.
San Antonio in six.