April 18, 2014

The Basketball Society's 2013-14 NBA Playoff Picks: Round 1

NBA Playoffs

Finally, thankfully, after we waited for what seems like forever, the NBA Playoffs have returned. No more coasting, no more tanking, just pure fun basketball for 2 months. Here at The Basketball Society, we gathered a panel of our writers to make first round playoff picks in preparation for the big month+ ahead. Panel members were:

John Lava (twitter @JGBHoops)

BJ Boyer (twitter @wcboyer24)
Alex Fischbein (twitter @Sixers_RunWitUs)
Cyril Mpacko (twitter @Cee_Armel)
Martin Soaries (twitter @marley_mcfly)

PLUS - the NBA 2K14 (Xbox 360) video game's simulation of these playoffs for comparison.


Indiana Pacers (1) vs Atlanta Hawks (8)

Lava: Indiana in 4
Lava's Summary: This pick has nothing to do with what I think of the Pacers but everything to do with what I think of Atlanta. If Indy drops even one game to this team they clearly aren't very good. 

Boyer: Indiana in 6
Boyer's X-Factor: Roy Hibbert. This may be slightly predictable, but in the four regular season contests against the Hawks this season, Hibbert is averaging 5.0 PPG, 3.8 RPG on 28% FG. If Indiana wants to make quick work of Atlanta, Hibbert must be ready to dominate inside.

Fischbein: Indiana in 5
Fischbein's Analysis: If the Pacers were still playing the way they played in the beginning of the year I would say they'd win with a sweep, but they've had some pretty bad games at the end of this year.  The X-factor for the Pacers in this series is their defense.  Their defense is one of the best in the league and the Hawks won't be able to handle it.

Mpacko: Indiana in 7
Mpacko's Rundown: The Pacers got what they’ve wanted since last June, Homecourt advantage throughout the conference playoffs. What they do with it will ultimately be another story. On the surface the Pacers lucked out by avoiding the Charlotte Bobcats in first round and being paired with the Injury riddled Atlanta Hawks, who themselves have miraculously made the playoffs amidst a boatload of injuries and a late season push by the looming New York Knicks. I predict this series goes the distance. Why? The Pacers are a shell of their early season selves and the Hawks are playing with house money. Their GM even went out and stated that they didn’t want to be in the playoffs and they ended up in the playoffs. The Hawks have nothing to lose. All the pressure is on the Pacers this year. This series' X Factor is Roy Hibbert. Hibbert must rid himself of whatever funk he’s been in as of late for the Pacers to make a run similar to the one they made last year. His attention to detail must be at an all-time high for the Pacers to get out of this round unscathed.

Soaries: Indiana in 6
Soaries's Preview: The Pacers’ shaky play towards the end of the regular season might have some taking this series to a seventh game, which I may have concurred if Al Horford were healthy. Credit the Hawks, the only playoff team to finish under .500, for scrapping their way into the no. 8 seed that they wanted no parts of, but the pace and girth of the playoffs favors Indiana. X-factor: Kyle Korver – The Hawks hit 10.3 three-pointers per game in their four meetings, the second-highest average against the Pacers’ fourth-ranked three-point defense. Korver initiating momentum and putting pressure on Indiana from three might be their only chance to win some games.

NBA 2K14: Indiana in 5

Miami Heat (2) vs Charlotte Bobcats (7)

Lava: Miami in 4
Lava's Summary: Even though Charlotte is much better than Atlanta, they still don't have what it takes to match up with the Heat. Miami could sit Wade the whole series and still win (and with how much rest Wade has needed, maybe they should).

Boyer: Miami in 5
Boyer's X-Factor: Kemba Walker. If Charlotte has any hope of extending this series, the former UConn Huskie must assert himself. He may find it difficult to handle Miami's blitzing defensive scheme, but Walker has to find a way to combat this. In their four regular season meetings, Walker averaged 15 PPG on 38% from the field and 26.3% from downtown. He must be ready to help out Al Jefferson, especially if Big Al is bothered by his knee.

Fischbein: Miami in 5
Fischbein's Analysis: I'm going to give one game to Charlotte because I don't think anyone on the Miami roster can contain Al Jefferson.  Then, once you double team him the guards start to get open.  That being said, I still think the Heat are just too much for the Bobcats.  LeBron won't be losing in the first round.

Mpacko: Miami in 4
Mpacko's Rundown: In the Big 3 era, Miami is 15-0 against the Bobcats. The Bobcats who are in just their second postseason have honestly overachieved immensely this year. However the buck stops here. Miami is on a mission and will dispose of the Bobcats rather quickly. I predict a sweep. Charlotte must make more strides in the off-season to surround Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker with veteran guys and talent. All in all Mr. Jordan may be on to something in Charlotte. Greg Oden will be the key player for this series. The time has come to see how successful and realistic the Oden experiment will be/has been. He’s made it further than most would have predicted with only back spasms derailing his otherwise successful first season in what seems like a decade. He showed glimpses this season of why he was a former #1 pick. Now the Heat will count on him to contribute if they are to win it all.

Soaries: Miami in 4
Soaries's Preview: 
I thought about giving the Bobcats a game in this series, but ultimately I don’t think they can maintain their ideal pace and beat Miami with inside-out play for 48 minutes. At some point, the Heat will impose their will and put it out of reach, and when they don’t, they’re talent wins out in any potentially close scenarios. I foresee turnovers, big runs, and faint resistance. X-factor: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – Competing with Miami requires formidable wing play on both ends. Kidd-Gilchrist will likely have the constant challenge of defending LeBron James, and offensively the Bobcats need him to be presentable and active when Al Jefferson inevitably faces double teams.

NBA 2K14: Miami in 6

Toronto Raptors (3) vs Brooklyn Nets (6)

Lava: Brooklyn in 6
Lava's Summary: The Nets are a hot upset pick, and with good reason as they have been one of the league's strongest teams in the past few months. Plus, we all want to see Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce match up with their hated Miami rivals one more time in round 2. If that happens, although Miami would probably win, it'll certainly be close.

Boyer: Brooklyn in 6
Boyer's X-Factor: Mirza Teletovic. Mirza is somewhat of an unheralded player, but his production could be huge for Brooklyn. His sharpshooting ability is what's most important, but he also spaces the floor allowing for more fluency in those isolations that Pierce, Johnson and Williams like to execute. If the Nets want to end this series quickly, they will need Mirza to knock down more than 23% of his threes, which is what he shot in four regular season meetings against the Raptors.

Fischbein: Brooklyn in 7
Fischbein's Analysis: This is another first round series that I'm looking forward to. The Nets have been playing a whole lot better after the all-star break and it looks like they could put it all together and make a little run.  The X-Factor for this series will be Paul Pierce.  He always raises his game in the post season and this year won't be any different.  The veteran experience on the Nets will outweigh the young legs of Toronto.

Mpacko: Brooklyn in 7
Mpacko's Rundown: This poses the trickiest matchup in the East. Both Toronto and Brooklyn are playing some great basketball as of late. Toronto has been consistent all year while Brooklyn overrode an early rough patch and at one point was the hottest team in the Association. They “purposely” avoided a first round tilt with the always overachieving Bulls. Terrence Ross may have added fuel to the fire with recent comments proclaiming that he wouldn’t mind playing Brooklyn in the first round so that he could work on his pick and roll offense. That hasn’t sat well with the Nets and a budding division rivalry may come out of this series. The series' X Factor is Mason Plumlee. I’ve been high on my man Mason pretty much all year. His insertion into the starting rotation coincided with the Nets meteoric rise in 2014. The kid gets after it on both ends (ask Lebron) and seems to finish anything you give him around the basket. The Nets will rely on him heavily to grow up in these next few weeks.

Soaries: Brooklyn in 7
Soaries's Preview: 
This series is up in the air for me, but I’m going with Brooklyn on depth, experience, and more trust in them winning on the road. I think they can win one of the first two in Toronto and take it from there. The Nets have shown they can beat anyone, and three out of their four meetings with the Raptors being decided by 4 points or less suggests these teams are evenly matched. I think Brooklyn has more to work with and more to depend on with their roster than the emerged Raptors. X-factors: Kyle Lowry, Kevin Garnett – The former because Brooklyn struggles defending guards in the pick and roll, and the latter because Brooklyn will need all of his energy and leadership.

NBA 2K14: Toronto in 7

Chicago Bulls (4) vs Washington Wizards (5)

Lava: Chicago in 6
Lava's Summary: Washington will be a tougher out than most people would think. John Wall and company will at least make this a tough matchup for the Bulls. But Chicago has the best coach and best player in the series, and ultimately that will win out.

Boyer: Chicago in 5
Boyer's X-Factor: Trevor Ariza. If Washington plans to steer this series in their favor, Ariza has to be ready to play stellar basketball. He's been sneaky good all season long, but hasn't been able to produce against the defensive minded Chicago Bulls. In 3 regular season meetings, Ariza averaged 7.3 PPG on 33.3% shooting. He shot a horrific 27.3% from downtown. He must be ready to produce, or Washington's taste of the postseason will be very bitter.

Fischbein: Chicago in 6
Fischbein's Analysis: This series should be a good one.  The Wizards have a pretty good team, but the Bulls solid defense won't allow the Wizards to do much.  The X-Factor will no doubt be Joakim Noah.  He's been doing it all this year and he's been the defensive leader as well.  The Wizards won't be getting any easy wins if Noah has a say in it.

Mpacko: Chicago in 6
Mpacko's Rundown: John Wall finally accomplished what we’ve asked of him his entire 4 year career. Lead a team to the playoffs. With a stable supporting cast of wily veterans as well as a quickly emerging 2 guard in the form of Bradley Beal, Wall and the Wizards will be a team on the rise for years to come. Wall’s first playoff appearance will be a tough one as he faces off against a team who has no reason to be there but always is; Tom Thibideau’s Chicago Bulls. Joakim Noah and the gang have once again shocked the basketball world will stellar play devoid of Derrick Rose. The Bulls will ultimately expose Washington’s inexperience and finish this series off in 6 games. The X Factor will be DJ Augustin. Augustin has picked up where Nate Robinson before left off. The diminutive lead guard has been everything that the Bulls have lacked in years past. Consistent offense off of the bench and then some. The shot he couldn’t get in Indiana, he’s run with in Chicago and with it has poised the Bulls to be the thorn in the side for the East’s other title contenders.

Soaries: Chicago in 6
Soaries's Preview: 
On paper I think this series actually favors the Wizards, but this pick came down to the discipline factor. I struggled because I think the Wizards’ offensive dynamism of John Wall and Bradley Beal plus strong front line of Nene and Marcin Gortat make for a reasonable challenge, but the Bulls are safer, better defensively, more trustworthy and experienced, and just might have the best playmaker on the floor in Joakim Noah. X-factor: John Wall – The Wizards have a chance to win this series if Wall is the best playmaker on the floor. He’s easily the most dangerous, but he’ll have to mature quickly as a decision maker to create steady offense for himself and others against the most disciplined defensive team in the NBA.

NBA 2K14: Chicago in 4


San Antonio Spurs (1) vs Dallas Mavericks (8)

Lava: San Antonio in 5
Lava's Summary: One of my favorite NBA teams to watch should be able to advance to round 2 here. The Spurs would like nothing better than to avenge their loss to the Heat in last year's Finals, in one of the most hotly contested championship series in NBA history. The Mavs would just like to win this one series, but I just don't see it happening. While I think Dirk will win his team a game with an outstanding, vintage performance, this series will be more important for all the Dirk vs. Duncan nostalgia involved than for the actual basketball. The Spurs may have problems with a team from the south central United States in these playoffs, but it won't be the Mavs.

Boyer: San Antonio in 5
Boyer's X-Factor: Jose Calderone. If Dallas wants to cling onto to the hope of an upset, Jose has to step up on both sides of the ball. In the four regular season match ups between the teams, Calderone averaged 10 points and 3 assists all while shooting 36% from the field. His infamously horrific defense was in it's finest form, as he allowed Tony Parker to average 23.3 PPG on 54% from the floor along with 5.7 APG. Jose has to be able to contain Parker in some fashion, and if he struggles to do so on the defensive end, he must at least challenge Parker with strong and aggressive offensive play.

Fischbein: San Antonio in 5
Fischbein's Analysis: The basketball machine that is the Spurs will take this matchup.  Pop won't let his team lose in the first round.  My X-Factor for this series will be Patty Mills.  Mills is an underrated point guard, and he will be able to step up in an important situations.  He's got a shot that no one talks about and he's going to hit some big shots.

Mpacko: San Antonio in 5
Mpacko's Rundown: San Antonio is still fuming over game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. No team would want to be their first victim in the ’14 playoffs, in particular not the Dallas Mavericks who haven’t beaten the Spurs in almost 2 years. Dallas’s return to the playoffs is a good one however there will be no repeat of the run they made in 2011. The key player of this series will be Marco Belinelli. Marco must do what he was brought in to do. Shoot the 3 ball with efficiency. The reigning 3 Point Shootout champion will be another in a long line of spurs who contribute seemingly out of left field. His shooting will be key if the Spurs dream of returning to the Finals to finish the job they didn’t quite finish last season.

Soaries: San Antonio in 5
Soaries's Preview: 
This Mavericks team has an underrated stench about them, much thanks to what I felt was a proper acquisition in Monta Ellis, but I’m not sure I see the depth to induce a run similar to 2011. I think there’s a reason San Antonio won all four meetings this year, in which Dallas never even gained a lead in the first quarter: the Spurs are the better team. Mavericks get one game at home, probably Game 3. X-factors: Devin Harris, Vince Carter

NBA 2K14: San Antonio in 4

Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (7)

Lava: Oklahoma City in 7
Lava's Summary: This is gonna be one of those 7 game series where there's clearly a better team that ends up blowing out the other one in Game 7 but the other team steals a couple road wins early on. Memphis is very good, and they've seen a lot of buzz as the potential sleeper of this year's playoffs. They've just ran into the brick wall that is Kevin Durant. Tony Allen is a great defender, but whether he can guard this MVP version of Durant remains to be seen.

Boyer: Oklahoma City in 6
Boyer's X-Factor: Tayshuan Prince (and Memphis' defense.) If the Grizzlies have any hope of taking down the soon to be MVP and his cohorts, Tayshuan Prince has to play at a respectable level. That has been a tough task for the veteran this season, but a sniff of the postseason may aid him in snapping out of his lull. In the four regular season meetings between these two, Prince logged nearly 30 minutes per game, but only averaged 5.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG and 3.0 APG. He shot an abysmal 34.5% from the floor as well. In addition to Prince, Memphis defense needs to be solid because they have to guard... Well you know. 

Fischbein: Oklahoma City in 4
Fischbein's Analysis: Durant and the Thunder will be taking out the Grizzlies with a clean sweep.  This will be the only sweep of the first round.  KD will show the world why he deserves the MVP and he will go on a tear.  The X-Factor, however, will be Reggie Jackson.  The Sixth Man of the Year candidate will show why he's in the race for said award and come out with a fierce style of play.  He'll be the one to lead the bench scoring for the Thunder.  

Mpacko: Memphis in 6
Mpacko's Rundown: OKC’s dream season will once again come to an end at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis has been the one team in the west who seem to solve the Kevin Durant puzzle when it comes to the playoffs. Westbrook’s return will give the Thunder and Durant the much needed extra punched that was missed in last season’s second round battle. But the Thunder do not have an answer for neither Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol. The series X Factor is Tony Allen. Championship experience… Tony Allen is asked to do the impossible on a nightly basis. And he usually delivers. Allen will be given the task of bothering both Durant and Westbrook at various points and he will. As he has in the past with Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and others, Allen will do his best to limit the offensive production of OKC’s stars and help Memphis move on.

Soaries: Oklahoma City in 5
Soaries's Preview: 
Last year I picked Memphis to advance past a Westbrook-less Oklahoma City, which obviously happened, but Russell Westbrook is back, along with their glue guy Thabo Sefolosha, which puts the Thunder at full strength and simply too much offense for the Grizzlies to withstand. In his assumed first MVP season I expect to see Kevin Durant take this particular first round match up extremely seriously. X-factor: Russell Westbrook – Isn’t he always?

NBA 2K14: Oklahoma City in 5

Los Angeles Clippers (3) vs Golden State Warriors (6)

Lava: Golden State in 7
Lava's Summary: In my opinion this will be the closest series of the first round, with each game going down to the wire, much like the Grizzlies-Clippers battle from two years ago. Like that famed first round war, this series could feature the possibility of some minor fighting. The difference here will be that that was a defensive struggle, while this will be a showdown of two of the most exciting offenses in the league. Lob City vs. the Splash Brothers will be one of those series that gets even the most casual basketball fans excited with the all-offense style of play of these two teams. I say the Warriors sneak this one out in the end with fans from the Bay Area driving down the coast in massive numbers to negate the Clips' Game 7 home court advantage.

Boyer: Los Angeles in 7
Boyer's X-Factor: DEFENSE. In the four regular season games these teams played, they put up some remarkable numbers. Golden State averaged 107 PPG, shooting 46.8% from the field and 41.4% from three. The Clips averaged 108 PPG, and shot 47% from the field and 33% from beyond the arc. Whichever team can cripple their opposition with a string of strong defensive plays will emerge victorious in this series. Also, the Clippers have to improve on their three point accuracy. They attempted 22 three pointers in the four meetings, only connecting on 7. 

Fischbein: Los Angeles in 6
Fischbein's Analysis: Clippers will take this one in exciting fashion over 6 games.  Both teams play an uptempo style and it will make for quite an exciting series.  Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will, no doubt, hook up for numerous alley oops.  The X-Factor for this series will be Jamal Crawford, another great Sixth man.  He's going to lead the bench squad for LA and pick apart the Warriors.

Mpacko: Los Angeles in 6
Mpacko's Rundown: This serves to be the most exciting series of the first round from an offensive point of view. Both teams are better than they were last year, with the Clippers playing more efficiently under Doc Rivers than they ever did under Vinnie Del Negro; and the Warriors adding Andre Iguodala to shore up any perimeter defensive deficiencies they’ve had in years past. Andrew Bogut’s absence will be crucial for the Warriors. There is no love lost between these two teams as was shown in a few chippy games they had early on in the season. The Clippers are on too much of a mission to overlook the sharp shooting Warriors. If the Clippers do win, DeAndre Jordan will be a big reason why. Athletic freak and defensive presence, Jordan has made some solid offensive adjustments this season. The Clippers will need him to protect the paint and finish inside. If he can give them 10-15 points on a nightly basis, the Clippers will finish this series rather quickly.

Soaries: Los Angeles in 7
Soaries's Preview: 
Probably the most exciting and difficult first round match up of the playoffs is heightened by the fresh rivalry between these teams, meeting for the first time in the postseason. Golden State isn’t as tough internally without Andrew Bogut who loved to scuffle with the Clippers during the season. Like last year we’ll probably see Mark Jackson go small, which could be the difference maker, but I give Doc Rivers’ club the edge because I think they are a little more concerted defensively. X-factors: Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green – The Warriors going small means it will be these guys creating mismatches for Mark Jackson, and if they can put pressure on the Clippers to guard on the perimeter, watch out.

NBA 2K14: Clippers in 5

Houston Rockets (4) vs Portland Trail Blazers (5)

Lava: Houston in 5
Lava's Summary: This series will give the Blazers a chance to prove that their late-season slump doesn't define them and that they truly are the team that started the season 24-5. The Rockets will be able to bring Dwight Howard back to round 2 of the playoffs and set up a match with in-state rivals San Antonio, a team they've been able to match up with pretty well in the past. I don't trust this Blazers team  to win four times against Houston, even as good as Portland has played in the past.

Boyer: Houston in 6
Boyer's X-Factor: Mo Williams. In the four regular season contests this season, Mo Williams was the only non starter to play more than 20 MPG for Portland. The Trailblazers don't have the strongest of second units, so Williams production is truly needed. His experience is also key, as this is Damian Lillard's first whiff of the postseason. Williams needs to step up his 10 PPG on 38.3% FG and 20% 3PT FG if Portland plans on knocking off Houston. 

Fischbein: Portland in 6
Fischbein's Analysis: While Harden and Howard will be quite the duo in this series it just won't be enough.  The X-Factor in this series will be Nicolas Batum.  Lillard and Aldridge will both be huge parts in their win, but Batum can do everything well.  Batum will be able to play efficient basketball and be the outlet when Lillard and Aldridge start to be keyed on.

Mpacko: Houston in 6
Mpacko's Rundown: Damian Lillard vs. Patrick Beverley. The point guard battle will be a good one. Beverley has been a nuisance for many opposing guards since his ascension. Lillard the soft-spoken but lethal lead guard will be tested, as will his team. The rockets have too much on the plate for the Blazers to ultimately chew. The series X Factor will be Dwight Howard. Howard must dominate his matchup with Robin Lopez/LaMarcus Aldridge. Dwight must tap into his Orlando roots for Houston to make a run this post season. If Dwight can give Harden and the Rockets 25 and 14 a night Houston could be a scary out for everyone in the West.

Soaries: Houston in 7
Soaries's Preview: 
This has potential to be a shoot out of a first round series being that the average score of their four regular season games was 116-110, but it seems like the Rockets have earned their edge against the young upcoming Trail Blazers. James Harden averaged 30 points/7 rebounds/5 assists and Dwight Howard’s numbers are 25 points/13 rebounds against Portland this season. X-factors: Patrick Beverly, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews – Beverly will be tasked with defending Damian Lillard, while Matthews and Batum will be looking to slow down James Harden. Whoever is more successful in their efforts is likely to be on the winning team.

NBA 2K14: Portland in 6

Bonus: Full 2K14 simulation:

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