Round 1 is in the books. The Heat and Spurs are now the favorites to reach the finals and both flexed their muscles by sweeping their opponents. The other 6 series went at least 6 games including last Friday’s Game 6 Bonanza that turned out to be all closeouts. There was one game 7 with the Chicago Bulls going into Brooklyn and winning with a roster decimated to injuries and sicknesses. This season has been impacted by injuries more than years past and now Russell Westbrook joins the list of fallen stars. Westbrook tore his meniscus and has been ruled out for the playoffs but so was Golden State’s David Lee who played for a minute in Game 6. If the Thunder make a deep run, I wouldn’t be surprised if Westbrook returns
#1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #5 Memphis Grizzlies
The Westbrookless Thunder survived James Harden and the Rockets barely. The Grizzlies on the other hand fell down 0-2 to the Clippers and never looked back by winning the next 4 games in convincing fashion. The Grizzlies won 2 of 3 in the regular season and I think they would have given the Thunder a run for their money with Westbrook but now without Westbrook I like Memphis. I like Lionel Hollins over Scotty Brooks on the sidelines and in a game of chess which this series will be. The Grizzlies have one of the best perimeter defenders in Tony Allen and now can put him on Kevin Martin instead of Westbrook while Mike Conley can run wild on the offensive end. The Grizzlies have much bigger and more reliable options in the paint with Randolph & Gasol who get to the foul line and will put Perkins and Ibaka in foul trouble. The Thunder have one clear cut advantage and his name is Kevin Durant. Usually in the NBA playoffs, the team with the best player advances but I don’t think this will be the case. Durant is good enough to win 2 games by himself but he is going to need some help for the Thunder to advance and I don’t think he gets it.
Grizzlies in 6
#2 San Antonio Spurs vs. #6 Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have been a great story and Steph Curry has returned to his Davidson form as the darling of the playoffs but the clock is about to be struck midnight. The Spurs are just flat out better than the Warriors on both sides of the ball. Tony Parker had his way against the Lakers backcourt and will do more of the same with the Warriors backcourt. Tim Duncan has NEVER lost at home against the Warriors. Some players just own certain teams and Tim Duncan has him name written under the right shoe of every Warriors player.
Steph Curry is going to need help from his running mate Klay Thompson in the “best shooting backcourt in NBA history” because Curry won’t be getting wide open looks against the Spurs like he did against the Nuggets. Mark Jackson is proving people wrong and is doing a great job coaching this young team. When the season started who would have thought the Warriors would be the last team alive from California. Greg Popovich will have the Spurs close out the Warriors shooters and design ways to expose the gaping hole of the Warriors called DEFENSE.
Spurs in 5
#1 Miami Heat vs. #5 Chicago Bulls
The Miami Heat have gone 41-2 since Groundhogs Day. One loss was against the Knicks where Carmelo Anthony went for 50 points and did I mention that Dwayne Wade and LeBron James didn’t play. So the Heat have only lost ONE game with their starters playing since February 2nd. How can a team beat the HEAT 4 out of 7 when they have only lost once in a half of a season? The one loss by the way was to the Chicago Bulls who happen to be their second round opponent. I am from Chicago and a little bit crazy but not crazy enough to pick the Bulls (even though there is nothing more I would rather see). The Bulls head into Miami banged up, coming off a 7 game series with Brooklyn including an epic game 4 Triple OT victory & a Game 7 road victory without 3 key components. Luol Deng has Spinal tap and his status is uncertain, as so is the availability of Kirk Hinrich. Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson are recovering from the flu-like symptons and Joahkim Noah continues to play through Plantar Fasciitis. The things the Bulls do have are HEART & Defense which is a makeup of their coach Tom Thibodeau. The Heat on the other hand are well rested coming off a sweep of the Bucks and Dwayne Wade is ready to go against his hometown team. LeBron James is the best player on the planet right now and just won his 4th MVP in 5 years. The only other MVP in that time frame is sitting on the Chicago bench and will Suit Up.
The only question though is will Derrick Rose’s suit be Armani or Dulce & Gabbana? The Bulls and Heat split the regular season matchups. The Bulls can out rebound the Heat and Jimmy Butler’s defense can contain Wade but even a healthy Luol Deng is no match up for LeBron. The Bulls don’t have the firepower without Rose to win 4 games against the Heat.
Heat in 6
#2 New York Knicks vs. #3 Indiana Pacers
The Knicks advanced to the 2nd round for the first time in 12 years and avoided history by not being the first team to blow a 3-0 series lead. Carmelo Anthony is in a shooting slump and the Knicks go as he goes. Carmelo needs to turn things around and fast if the Knicks will advance to the Conference Finals. The Pacers hit a funk in Atlanta in games 3 and 4 but got their groove back by winning the next 2 including the closeout game 6 on the road which no one saw or attended. The Pacers are a great defensive team and the NBA’s most improved player Paul George could see time defending Carmelo Anthony and has the length and athletic ability to shut down Melo. The Pacers should out board the Knicks in every game limiting the Knicks second chance opportunities making it harder for Carmelo and JR Smith to get going. Frank Vogel is the best coach you’ve never heard of and will put the Pacers in prime position to win.
Pacers in 6
(Photo Credit: Andrew Shackley)