Welcome one and all to my second Week in Review! Despite the black cloud that is currently being cast by Donald Sterling, I wanted to use this space to cover each First Round series and offer my expectations for the final few games. There may or may not be a piece on the Donald Sterling comments coming later.
Our journey begins in Hotlanta where the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks are knotted up at 2-2 heading back to Indiana for game 5. The Pacers squeezed out a much needed road win on Sunday and still are the favorites in this series. The shame here is that the Hawks are going to lose because they just don’t have enough. The Pacers are primed to be upset and with a healthy Al Horford, I think that Atlanta might have enough to do it. Unless they go absolutely crazy with the 3 ball, Indiana is just too talented to lose 2 of 3 to a team that finished with a losing record and would’ve missed the playoffs by 10 games in West. Pacers still win but don’t be surprised to see this go the distance.
Charlotte versus Miami has been exactly what we thought it would be. Al Jefferson, even though hurt, has played extremely well but Charlotte just can’t match up with Miami. They can’t play good enough defense to keep the Heat in check and they don’t score enough to outscore Miami. That is a very, very bad combination and it showed in the blowout loss in Charlotte’s first home playoff game in a long time. I am hoping for their fans that the Bobcats pull the game tonight but it won’t matter. This series is over!
Now we get to the two most intriguing series thus far in the East. The Raptors and Nets have lived up to exactly what I thought this series would be: two pretty good yet very flawed teams where someone has to win. Toronto is playing very good defense right now and got a HUGE road win on Sunday to take back home-court. The Nets really miss the scoring of Brook Lopez because there is a conspicuous hole in their front court. The Raptors meanwhile are just plugging along and no one is really talking about them. I really hope they win because Toronto has been starving for the Raptors to be good and the national stage could be a great way to develop some stars for that organization. This one will go down to the wire: I am hoping Raptors in 7 but I am starting to lean Nets in 7.
We wrap up the East with the Wizards and Bulls. I don’t think many hardcore NBA minds are surprised that Washington has almost wrapped this series up. While I love the play of Noah and feel the Bulls cast of players is solid, they just do not have a go-to scorer at the end of the game when you need a bucket. No offense to him but when DJ Augustin, the guy you picked up earlier this year for nothing is your second best player, that’s when you know trouble is a-brewing. Washington is a fun, young, enigmatic team that as a fan, it’s hard not to be drawn toward. You can watch them play beautiful basketball and then like game 3, you can watch Nene headbutt someone and get tossed. Now up 3-1, the onus is on Washington to close this series up as quickly as possible. Young teams have notoriously had a hard time closing out veteran teams and this should be no exception. Wizards should move on and continue to grow this very good, young nucleus.
I am channeling my inner Will Smith when I refer to this as truly the Wild, Wild West. Every series out West is close, long shots are leading title contenders, there are over time games and buzzer beaters galore. I know Hollywood is running out of movie ideas but they could take a creative direction from the Western Conference playoffs.
Dallas and San Antonio have long been in-state rivals. Going into this series, the Spurs had won 10 in a row over them and I (along with most people) predicted this series would be quick. San Antonio is so deep and isbuilt for the playoffs. The Mavericks on the other hand love giving up leads, choking games away late and squeaked into the playoffs edging out the Suns. So naturally, Dallas would be leading this series 2-1 and if they win out at home, will knock out the best regular season team in the NBA. Vince’s double-pump 3 from the corner to win it yesterday was awesome and reminded me once again why he was one of my favorite players growing up. Dallas is playing how I expected them to but the real kicker is the Spurs. I expected close games until the 4th quarter when San Antonio would defensively kick it into another gear and offensively be very efficient and pull away. That is not happening. The Spurs are playing down to Dallas’ level and are paying the price. To win this series, the Spurs just need to play Spurs basketball which is total team contribution and making plays down the stretch. This series will likely go the distance and the Spurs should come out on top. That being said, Game 4 tonight is a must-win for San Antonio and I reserve the right to change my mind should they lose.
Memphis and Oklahoma City look eerily similar to last year’s Western Conference Semi-finals. Granted, OKC did not have Westbrook but the Grizzlies are proving that it just doesn’t matter. They match up extremely well with Oklahoma City with their grind it out, hard-nosed attitude. They have very capable players, one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA in Tony Allen and just play solid defense. Does Memphis have a go-to scorer? Not really. The upside of being extremely good defensively and playing true team ball is if you can contain Westbrook and Durant, OKC doesn’t really have a third option scorer either. If we get down to the total team depth of Memphis versus OKC, I think Memphis holds that advantage. The longer this series goes, the more dangerous it becomes for the Thunder. They need to end this as soon as possible and not put themselves against a determined opponent in a 1 game situation. If Durant goes cold, they could get sent home by Memphis again.
Portland and Houston have been everything I thought it would be and more. In my preview, I wrote that this series was going 7 games and Portland would win simply because these two teams are so similar but I felt the Blazers were slightly better. That’s exactly how this series is playing out. We have had 3 OT games and Aldridge has been utterly dominant. While Dwight Howard is a mismatch for the Blazers, he just doesn’t have the balanced offensive repertoire of LaMarcus Aldridge. If Houston plays Terrance Jones, Aldridge can play back to the basket. If they play Asik, Aldridge can shoot mid-range jumpers and drive all night long. It’s too bad this matchup happened in the first round because it’s been so much fun. Since both teams have shown a propensity to win on the road and now that the Rockets will play desperate, this series could still go 7 but I think the better Portland team will win.
The last matchup out West has been the weird LA Clippers vs Golden State Warriors series. Every series the Clippers will play in from now on will be overshadowed by the comments of their owner, Donald Sterling. If you saw the game yesterday, the Clippers just looked completely disengaged but who can blame them? Give credit Golden State for staying focused and taking care of business in game 4 but good luck trying to predict this series. The Clippers have long had the stigma as a snake-bitten franchise that built themselves into a title contender this season. Due to their owner comments, this could all unravel if they lose Game 5 because even though they are the better team, I don’t think they can go back to Oracle Arena and win again.
I hope you have enjoyed our week in review! Enjoy this second week of first round matchups and look for my Conference Semifinal preview when those are all set.