Yes, the second round was far less entertaining than the first round. Everyone knows that. The two best teams in each conference made it through two series, setting up a nice conference finals. The Clippers had a serious chance, but the Nets, Wizards and Blazers didn’t really. These are the two match ups mostly predicted before the playoffs began. The Pacers get another crack at Miami, and the Spurs/Thunder get to rekindle their six-game series from 2012. Let’s breakdown the Pacers/Miami series first.
Indiana v. Miami
Yes, the Pacers have struggled, and struggled. They were murdered on the glass in a Game Five meltdown loss to Washington. But this Pacers team will give Miami trouble, at times. I know people said that about Brooklyn, and the Nets really didn’t have an answer in Games One and Two, and needed a three-point fest to win Game Three. Game Four and Five were close, but Miami was clearly the superior team. Indiana is different. Roy Hibbert plays different against Miami. Atlanta and Washington combined to shoot 26 percent from five to nine feet out against Indiana. Miami shot nearly 53 percent from that range during their first two series, according to NBA Stats. Indiana’s defense is still really good, even if their offense has droughts. The Pacers are scoring 91 points a game this postseason, which simply won’t cut it against the Heat. It was nice to see David West shoot well last night. He’s a big part of their effort to beat Miami. The Pacers don’t really have a dominant offensive lineup this postseason. Frank Vogel has always stuck with his starting five, no matter what style the other team plays. He did that last spring when the Knicks played small ball, and it worked well for them. He experimented with Copeland at the four against Atlanta, and who knows, maybe he’ll do that again. The Heat will do a number of different things, but they might have to play a traditional four and five, especially if Roy Hibbert can find success. Marcin Gortat is a better interior defender than any member of the Heat. Hibbert needs to be great for the Pacers to win. Greg Oden might find some playing time, but honestly the Heat could take notes from how Atlanta and Washington played against Hibbert. Pero Antic took Hibbert away from the basket, something Chris Bosh is fully capable of doing. Bosh has continued to improve his outside shot. Bosh is shooting 51 percent from the field during the postseason, including 48 percent from three (note: might be a flawed statistic since much of that took place against Charlotte; Bosh shot 36 percent against Brooklyn, which is still a very decent number). The Pacers will steal a game or two, but Miami’s too talented.
Miami in five
Oklahoma City v. San Antonio
The Spurs took a 2-0 lead in the 2012 Western Conference Finals, only do lose four straight to the Thunder. Thabo Sefolosha did an excellent job on Tony Parker, and James Harden had a wonderful series. So much, however, has changed since that series. The Spurs have asked for increase roles for Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills. Marco Belinelli gives the Spurs a very good three-point option. The Thunder lost James Harden. There’s really no use comparing 2012 and now. There’s really no use comparing the Thunder’s 4-0 sweep of the Spurs as a measure of any indication that the Thunder will beat San Antonio. Each team had important players missing during those four games. Reggie Jackson scored 27 and had eight assists on January 22. That was the Spurs/Thunder’s third matchup of the season. That was before the Spurs fantastic win streak. Tiago Splittler missed that game, as did Russell Westbrook. Jackson scored 20 or more points in three of the four games against the Spurs. That’s pretty staggering since Jackson has scored 20 or more points once this postseason. The Spurs are historically bad against quicker guards, which is why Jackson is the X-Factor in this series for Oklahoma City. He needs a big time series. We know Westbrook and Durant will continue to combine to shoot 38-plus shots a game. Jackson has to provide that burst. Oklahoma City’s defense will struggle against San Antonio. The Spurs are shooting nearly 39 percent from three this postseason and have the highest PPG of the remaining four teams. The Thunder used Nick Collison and Steven Adams together last night, which helped them down the stretch. It’s unknown what rotation Scott Brooks will use against San Antonio. The Thunder don’t have a set rotation like the Spurs do in terms of how many minutes certain players play. Reggie Jackson played at least 25 minutes in five of the six games against the Clippers. He might play even more against the Spurs. The Thunder will look for as many advantages as they can find, and Jackson is a big one. Collison only played one double-digit minute game against the Clippers until last night’s 17-minute performance. Guys who you wouldn’t expect to step up (a la Arron Baynes against Portland) might make a big difference this series. It’s that close. Tiago Splitter has been great against Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge this postseason, but Serge Ibaka is nowhere near the focal point of the Thunder’s offense like Nowitzki and Aldridge. Splitter, however, has a tough time on offense against Ibaka. Ibaka, assuming he’ll be healthy, needs to continue his great defensive play. He’s the anchor on defense. Whoever covers Tony Parker will have a difficult time. Sefolosha did it in 2012, if I remember correctly it was only after the Spurs went up 2-0. Sefolosha, however, cannot be on the floor for 25-plus minutes a night because of his offense. Look for Gregg Popovich to play TP more minutes, especially when Sefolosha hits the bench. Patty Mills does some good things in the pick and roll, but it’s Manu Ginobili who is the more featured guard in the pick and roll when Parker’s on the bench. Ginobili makes some really good decisions that lead to easy buckets for Tim Duncan and Splitter. The Thunder really don’t have anyone to cover him, which obviously favors San Antonio.
Bottom Line: This should be a competitive series. I’m hoping for a seven-game classic. Leonard on Durant should be fun at times. Leonard doesn’t have the fire like Tony Allen, but Leonard has great length, anticipation and skill. It would be cool to see a couple monster Durant games to add to his historic season, but I’m sticking with my initial pick–the Spurs.
San Antonio in six