By: Dan Grant and David Osubronie
INT – DEEP IN THE SAME PAGE LAIR, SOMEWHERE IN THE WESTERN ADIRONDACKS OR POSSIBLY AT A SECOND CUP ON MOUNT PLEASANT ROAD
Grant: We did it again!
Osubronie: Did What?
Reynolds: Don’t tell me…
Grant: Yup. We missed it.
Osubronie: Missed what?!
Reynolds: Well I mean… it started on the weekend this time at least.
Grant: But this won’t go up until Wednesday!
Osubronie: What are you two talking about?
Reynolds: You should do it anyway. It’s important.
Grant: By myself?
Reynolds: Ummm, maybe Dave will help you.
Osubronie: Help you with what? WHAT IN THE BLUE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?!
Grant: David, we missed the beginning of the NBA’s second round. This, after we missed the beginning of the first round. We were supposed to do a preview. It’s pretty embarrassing.
Osubronie: So you guys need to hammer this one out pretty quick?
Grant: You know it. And we’d love your help, if you’re down.
Osubronie: What the hell, why not. Although this never would have happened at Game6ix.
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES vs. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Grant: Let’s kick things off with Memphis-OKC. By the time this article runs, two games of the series will have been played but as of now, there’s just been the one. My notes before the series started? ‘Series will hinge on whether Durant can go HAM without Westbrook, Ibaka can contribute offensively and conversely, Ibaka/Perkins/Collison can neutralize the Gasol/Z-Bo combination. Also, Tony Allen vs. Kevin Martin’.
While all of these things came to the forefront in Game 1, the difference maker in OKC’s victory was Durant going absolutely off the chain with a 35-15-6 performance and throwing in 2 blocks for good measure.
The other big thing was that Serge Ibaka was completely invisible in Game 1, or rather, noticeably putrid on offense. Memphis is going to start throwing the kitchen sink at Durant and he’s going to need help on the offensive end. Kevin Martin played as well as he could in Game 1 and that, coupled with Durant’s insane game was still only enough for a 2 point victory. Ibaka is going to need to improve on his 1-10 shooting performance (and only 5 rebounds! Gasol/Randolph had 10 apiece!), if the Thunder are going to take the series.
Keys to the series: Serge Ibaka needs to once and for all justify the James Harden trade by proving himself against Gasol and Randolph. It’s a tall order but it’s one that needs to be filled. Tony Allen didn’t do much of a job on Martin or Durant in Game 1 (Durant is terrible matchup for him due to height difference). Allen and Tayshaun Prince will need to do everything they can to slow those two down for the rest of the series.
Prediction: This is the toughest prediction of the second round. With Russell Westbrook out, my initial gut was to go Memphis. My notes before Game 1 said: ‘Memphis in 7. OKC misses Westbrook too much… or OKC in 7, home advantage, Durant in FU mode… can’t deciiiiiiide.’
I’m going to stick with my initial gut. I don’t think Durant can consistently have games like that and I think Z-Bo and Gasol are going to be too much for Ibaka.
Memphis in 7
Osubronie: As Dan mentioned, this is the first of two of my predictions that were written after Game 1 was played, although I’ll do my best to sound like these were my ideas all along. OKC-Memphis has the potential to be the best series of the second round. With Memphis coming in healthy after sending the Clippers packing in 6, it finally seems like the Grizzles have discovered an identity. Defense, Defense, Defense! With Tony Allen being one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and Gasol and Z-Bo pounding everything that moves in the paint, the Grizzlies have finally used their defense to become the legitimate contenders they hoped to be. Hats off to head coach Lionel Hollins for transforming his team to the elite and spurning the critics who thought they were screwed after losing their best scorer (Rudy Gay).
When Russell Westbrook went down with injury, I preached that finally we could see what OKC would look like without a trigger happy point guard. While Game 1 didn’t start off with the explosive speed we are used to seeing from Oklahoma with Westbrook on the court, we found out what Kevin Durant could do with the pressure solely on him. I think this is the series where we see his best impersonation of Kobe’s “You think I’m gonna pass” face. Even for Tony Allen, KD will be just too much to handle.
Keys to the series: Z-Bo/Gasol vs. Ibaka/Perkins basically cancel each other out to me so the key to this series is Kevin Martin. OKC needs someone else to score a heavy load every night. If Martin can continue to shoot from the left corner and make defenders pay for double teaming Durant, then this series will swing Oklahoma’s way.
Prediction: Oklahoma in 7
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS vs. SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Osubronie: The Warriors/Spurs match-up may seem like the series with two completely contrasting teams but the closer it gets the more I realize how alike they are. Both coaches have given us some of the greatest sound bites in the last 10 years (Pop/ Jackson). Both have point guards that seem to always make impossible shots (Curry/ Parker). And both team’s games put everyone to sleep, one just by being on the west coast while the other is just plain boring to watch. Still as great as Golden State was in the first round, I can’t see them doing that again against the Spurs. San Antonio’s bench is too deep, Duncan is playing too well and they have arguably the best coach in the NBA. As long as the Spurs are not hampered by injury, this series will not go the seven games most analysts are predicting.
Steph Curry has officially proven himself to be the NBA All-Star he should have been halfway through the season. Essentially out-shooting the entire Denver Nuggets team, Curry has taken full control of the Warriors and made them everyone’s favourite Cinderella team of this year’s playoffs. Andrew Bogut seems healthy and will be needed to help Carl Landry contain Duncan until David Lee can fully return. Sadly even with a fully healthy squad, the Warriors lack of playoff experience was present in the first round and will be exploited in the next. It will take sharp shooting and poise from Curry, Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack to even entertain the idea of moving on past the Spurs.
Keys to the series: Mark Jackson. He WILL be out-coached in this series. The key will be if he can adjust and adapt to keep his team spacing the floor and moving well in transition.
Prediction: Spurs in 5
Grant: The key to this series rests with the Golden State backcourt, on both the offensive and defensive ends. If they can continue to go NBA Jam like in Round 1, San Antonio is going to have some trouble. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are effective perimeter defenders, but Tony Parker is not great on the ball and Manu Ginobili is looking old these days.
That said, San Antonio’s offense is ruthlessly efficient. They’re the best passing team in the league and exploit all defensive weakness, of which the Warriors have a ton. The key again lies with Curry, Thompson and Jack. If those three can somehow contain Parker, the Spurs are going to have trouble creating offense. A low post war between Bogut and Tim Duncan is going to be fun to watch but I have to say, in a battle between the glass Australian and the Big Fundamental, I’m taking Timmy D everytime.
Keys to the series: I think the series is going to be insanely high scoring. The Spurs are going to need to dial it up to keep up with the Warriors pace and they have that ability with their shooting and passing. People discount them as the slow, plodding half-court Spurs of the mid-2000’s but these ain’t your slightly older cousin’s Spurs. If San Antonio can hang offensively (they can) this series will be over quickly.
Prediction: Spurs in 6
(Please note: These two predictions were both written before Game 1, a shootout that went to two overtimes. Steph Curry dropped 44 points and 11 assists for the Warriors and Danny Green made 6 3’s for the Spurs, while Tony Parker added his own 28 points and 8 assists. An offensive battle for the ages!)
INDIANA PACERS vs. NEW YORK KNICKS
Osubronie: Let’s face it, the Knicks/Pacers match up means only one thing: 24/7 coverage of Reggie Miller and Spike Lee! It’s easily one of the most entertaining rivalries in sports history. We get to see numerous clips of Reggie scoring 8 points in 11 seconds while Spike looks like he’s about to be sick. This time there is no Reggie; the Pacers thrive on being physical and using high post pick and rolls to muscle their way to the rim. Recent winner of the NBA’s most improved player award, Paul George has carried the load since Danny Granger went down with injury and potentially could take Indiana back to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pacers are larger at every position; these match-ups are a nightmare for the Knicks. So, as long as the Pacers can control NY’s 3 point shooting, they have a great chance at pulling off the relative upset.
The Knicks may be feeling great after eliminating the Celtics, however they will have to dig a lot deeper to beat the Pacers. With Carmelo and J.R. Smith both in an offensive funk, the Knicks will have to rely on the recent elevated play of Raymond Felton and the possible return of Amar’e Stoudemire. Felton torched the Pacers for 18 points while shooting 8-12 from the field in Game 1. If he continues to win the point guard battle with George Hill until Melo/Smith get their grooves back, the Knicks can get to the Conference Finals and give everyone the match up we’ve been waiting for all year.
Keys to the series: Tyson Chandler hasn’t looked like himself in months, although has been coming off of an injury. The Knicks will need his defensive presence against Roy Hibbert who dominated the paint in the first game. Chandler will need to try his best to intimidate the best rebounding team in the league until he gets help from Amar’e who is slated to return in Game 3.
Prediction: Knicks in 6
Grant: Winning Time! In Round 1, Paul George showed that he is an offensive force to be reckoned with. In Game 1, the Pacers won even though George struggled to find his shot. Huge contributions from Lance Stephenson, DJ Augustine and especially David West combined to carve up the Knicks suspect defense. As we’ve seen all year, the Knicks struggle when the three point shot fails to fall. However, in Game 1, it was more a case of even getting the three point shot off. The Knicks made 7 of 18 three’s, which isn’t great, but they also took – and missed – a lot of two point shots, which is not their usual modus operandi. Carmelo was just 10 of 28 from the floor and J.R. Smith was just 4 of 15. If the Pacers can continue to brutalize the Knicks with their physical defense, New York is going to struggle; however, I believe the Knicks superior talent and passing will eventually prevail.
Keys to the series: Carmelo Anthony. Head and shoulders the most talented player in the series, Melo needs to find a way to be effective against West, George and the rest of the Pacers defense. He needs to lift the Knicks here; it’s why he was brought to town.
Prediction: It might get ugly but I think Melo is going to be too much for Indiana once he finds his range. J.R. Smith is also bound to go off and win the Knicks at least one game. The Pacers defense will be a constant force however, with Roy Hibbert controlling the paint. I think the Knicks win in 7 in an absolute bloodbath.
Knicks in 7
MIAMI HEAT vs. CHICAGO BULLS
Osubronie: After sweeping the Milwaukee bucks, It feels like it’s been months since Miami played its last game. Well, thanks to the Bulls/Nets series going seven games, it has been awhile. People will try to dissect this match-up in a thousand ways, but it is very simple. The Bulls are hurt. They have absolutely no chance if Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich are not at 100%. Derrick Rose is not a factor in this series and shouldn’t be because I think he should stay out until he’s absolutely ready. That’s not a rival fan talking, that’s just common sense.
Miami seems to have found a greater chemistry than it did during its 27 game win streak. The bench is producing at a higher level than they did during its Finals run of last year. Finally, there’s that guy who just won his fourth MVP in five years. Miami’s only concern is the health of Dwyane Wade and the bone bruises that kept him out of Game 4 against the Bucks. With over a week to heal and potential chance for more rest against the injury ridden Bulls, his health shouldn’t be a problem. Chicago is a great team lead by a great coach, however, this will be over a lot faster than most people think.
Keys to the series: Carlos Boozer. With Noah unable to play at his best, Boozer must find a way to take advantage of every possession he has, when pitted against Chris Bosh. Being stronger, faster and a better low post player, should guarantee Boozer to get at least 20-10 every night. The problem will be when he gets hot and Spolestra decides to throw LeBron at him. When that happens? Game over for Chicago.
Prediction: Miami in 4
(Please note: This was written before Game 1 of the Heat/Bulls series. No one ever accounts for the Nate Robinson factor.)
Grant: I wanted to finish this piece with a flip comment about ‘Bulls are too banged up and Heat are too awesome. Heat in 5’
Those were literally the entirety of my notes for this matchup. But then the Bulls handled the Heat in Game 1!
I still think Miami wins the series, and basically for the same reasons that Dave outlined. That said, I think the Bulls will win at least one game on their home turf, so I see the series going a game longer now.
Prediction: I’ll stick my original Heat in 5 because it’s not fair to cheat, but I think the series probably goes 6 now.
Heat in 5
Daniel: And next time we’ll get these posted before the third round starts, right?