May 05, 2014

The Basketball Society's 2013-14 NBA Playoff Picks: Round 2

After an exciting first round, there's no time off for basketball fans as Round 2 of the NBA Playoffs started as soon as Round 1 ended. The eight teams left, now one step closer to playoff glory, have to be careful to make the right moves in order to advance to the NBA's Final Four. Once again, The Basketball Society has gathered our panel of writers to make some playoff predictions:

John Lava (Twitter: @JGBHoops)
BJ Boyer (Twitter: @wcboyer24)
Alex Fischbein (Twitter: @Sixers_RunWitUs)
Cyril Mpacko (Twitter: @Cee_Armel)
Martin Soaries (Twitter: @marley_mcfly)


Indiana Pacers (1) vs. Washington Wizards (5)

Lava: Wizards in 6

The Analysis: The Pacers are in major trouble. Yes, they did manage to avoid a catastrophic first round upset. But it's hard for me to take the glass half full approach when the Pacers just got taken to a seventh game by a team that finished six games under .500. Meanwhile, the Wiz just took down the East's second-best defense (and best mascot) behind two emerging stars in John Wall and Bradley Beal. Washington is rising, while Indiana is reeling. To me, it's as simple as that.

The X-Factor: Luis Scola. The Pacers' former All-Star starting center Roy Hibbert is no longer capable of playing offense for some mysterious reason, and at this point I consider him a lost cause. Scola has been forced to pick up the slack not just for the limited offense Hibbert had provided, but also for the more extensive interior defense Hibbert gave the team. If Scola can perform at his peak level, the Pacers can fight off the pesky Wizards and move on to a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference Finals. If Scola isn't much better than Hibbert, the 2013-14 Pacers will be done and, fair or not, Frank Vogel and Lance Stephenson might be too.

Boyer: Pacers in 6

The AnalysisAlthough both teams wield some youthful perimeter firepower, in Beal, Wall, George and Stephenson, the battle I'm most excited about takes place in the paint. Nene and Gortat vs West and Hibbert is extremely intriguing, especially after Hibbert having his best game of the playoffs (13 points, 6-10 FG, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks.) If Hibbert can maintain some level of confidence and swagger, Indiana becomes even more dangerous. Only problem is, having that pep in his step has been a huge issue for Hibbert for an extended period of time. He must be ready to step up and focus, as it's no longer the three point shooting tactics of Pero Antic and Paul Millsap, but now it's the athletic ability, quickness and explosiveness of John Wall that will bombarding his way into the paint. Washington has a lot of weapons, and much more importantly belief, after watching Indiana stumble, their belief has most likely skyrocketed. Will Indiana battle them with razor sharp confidence, and Paul George at the helm playing like a superstar? Or will Washington frustrate them, continuing the unexpected downslide they have been on?

The X-FactorRoy Hibbert. Predictable? Yes, but the Pacers truly need the former Georgetown Hoya in his finest form in this series. He may find this matchup a little more favorable, as Nene and Gortat won't be venturing out to three point line, but they do possess a lot of skill and toughness in the interior which Hibbert must be ready to rival with intensity and commitment of his own. If Indiana wants to prevail in this series, Hibbert has to improve on his laughable 4.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 30% FG output that he had against the Hawks. More time on the floor will give him an opportunity to do so, but he must produce during his stints on the floor. He partially gets an excuse for his poor play in the first round, as Atlanta's offensive scheme forced Vogel's hand, pushing him to park Roy on the bench. But if fans and the media are calling for Hibbert to be benched during this series, Indiana may find themselves in major trouble.

Fischbein: Wizards in 7

The Analysis: The Pacers have drawn the short end of the stick here. That's right, the Pacers are the one who drew a bad matchup. Indiana struggled mightily in their series with Atlanta and the Wizards won't be any easier. If the Pacers had trouble with Teague and Millsap, they'll have even more trouble with Wall and Nene. The Wizards have a better three point percentage than the Hawks and they only give up an average of 90.0 points per game during these playoffs as well. The Wizards are carrying momentum, confidence, and are well rested for this series so the Pacers will have their hands full.

The X-Factor: Trevor Ariza. A lot of people will be looking at the battle in the paint to decide the outcome to this series but I look to the matchup between Ariza and Paul George. Ariza has been a big part to this Wizards offense and he has also been a key cog in the defense too. He has the ability to create chaos in the passing lanes with his length and he can block some shots and grab rebounds as well. If he can force Paul George into bad shots and deny him the ball, the Pacers will be a very sorry team on offense.
Mpacko: Wizards in 6

The Analysis: Trouble in paradise? Indiana avoided what may have been seen as the biggest meltdown in NBA Playoff history by finishing off the overachieving Atlanta Hawks in 7. Now they will have their hands full against a Washington Wizards team that is full of confidence. The young gunners (Wall & Beal) grew up before our eyes against Chicago. Nene and Gortat dominated Noah and his supporting cast. I will look for them to do the same against Hibbert and company. The opportunities that Atlanta missed in games 2, 4, 6 & 7 Washington surely will not. The Wizards proved they are up to any challenge the Eastern Conference has to offer outside of Miami. If Paul George does not receive help from Lance and the rest of the Pacers, this one could get ugly fairly quickly. Washington has had much time to address the matchups, while the Pacers have only had about a day to do their own game planning.

The X-Factor: Nene must keep a cool head and be there for his team. Hibbert’s confidence is shaken and I look for Nene to capitalize on this phenomenon. Constant production out of Nene could force the Pacers to spell Hibbert and try their hand at playing Nene with David West or Ian Mahinmi. Nene’s ability to knock down 17 footers consistently could be the difference.

Soaries: Pacers in 7

The Analysis: This one is such a toss up. I love that the Wizards are here, and their best chance lies in making the Pacers have to play an offensive game. We saw how much Indiana struggles with that pace in the first round, and Washington can challenge Indiana with the weapons they have in both the backcourt and frontcourt. I think the Pacers match up much better with Washington’s two-bigs look rather than the three-point happy Hawks, and I think Indiana will prove a little more offensively capable than the Wizards’ first round opponent.
The X-Factor: Trevor Ariza and Lance Stephenson – Ariza will be tasked with neutralizing Paul George, which will need to be done at some level for Washington to advance, and Stephenson must provide steady and reliable two-way basketball for Indiana to effectively start hitting their stride.

Miami Heat (2) vs. Brooklyn Nets (6)

Lava: Heat in 5

The Analysis: Brooklyn is going to give the Heat a fight, you can be sure of that. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett aren't afraid of Miami and Joe Johnson and Marcus Thornton have been on fire all playoffs. But it's becoming more and more clear that Miami is by far the East's finest. The Nets may trip them up some, but Miami should be able to dispose of them relatively quickly.

The X-Factor: Deron Williams. He's been the most unreliable player on either team. Some days he's good, sometimes he's not so good, but either way he never lives up to the expectations put on him. If the Nets want a chance at the biggest upset of this decade, the former Illini needs to play like the number one option he hasn't been since his Jazz days. If he underperforms, Brooklyn will be disposed of quickly.

Boyer: Heat in 5

The AnalysisAfter a hard fought series with Toronto, Brooklyn must march into South Beach, and look to prove to the basketball world that they are truly a force to be reckoned with. Many are branding this as the last hurrah for veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, as the lengthening of their legacy depends on how they fare against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. If the regular season is any indicator, they will hold their own against this ultra talented and confident Miami Heat bunch. Sadly for Brooklyn, the regular season means next to nothing when it comes to playoff basketball. If one thing can be taken away from the Nets and Heat regular season meetings, it's that Brooklyn firmly believes they can play with the defending champs, after beating them four times during the regular season campaign. But honestly, how much stock do those regular season triumphs hold? A team with Pierce and Garnett already possesses heart, passion and belief, and an abundance of it. Something about playing Miami brings the most competitive nature out of KG and Pierce, and even though they are dawning Brooklyn black and white's, this may be the series that indicate they still bleed green as they go against their archrival Miami Heat.

The X-FactorDeron Williams. Does anyone remember the days when D-Will's name was immediately spewed out when a conversation about the top point guard's in the league arose? He may never make a climb back to that dazzling form, but he must resemble a player that has superstar talent dancing all through his veins. Williams has been in a fierce battle with injuries and lack of self confidence for the past few years, but he cannot let doubt cripple him any longer. If Brooklyn has any hope of stealing this series away from LeBron James and company, Williams' play must match that of backcourt mate Joe Johnson, who fans saw average 21.9 PPG on 52% FG and 39% from behind the arc against the Raptors, including a major takeover in the fourth quarter of game seven. If Williams can maintain a respectable level of health, and improve on his 17.5 PPG on 41% FG, 30% 3PT FG and 5.8 APG average from the first round, Brooklyn's chances of victory greatly increases.

Fischbein: Heat in 4

The Analysis: Miami hasn't played a game since April 28, and on top of that they never really had to sweat any of their games to the very end. Brooklyn, on the other hand, went to game seven and they had to fight for each game as well. Miami is fresh and waiting for another to victim to pick apart. LeBron and company are on a mission and it seems like the old age of Brooklyn won't stand in their way. The Nets can't play the "more experience" card this time and they're going up against the reigning champs. At times, Brooklyn was having a lot of trouble with Derozan and Lowry, but now they have to put up with LeBron, Wade, and Bosh. I see the Heat coming out and taking this series into their own hands and crushing the Nets. Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Paul Pierce will really have to step up if they want to win this series.

The X-Factor: The player that needs to show up for this series is Deron Williams. So far, he has been having his worst post season of his career. He's averaging 17.4 points per game and 5.7 assists per game while shooting 42.4% from the floor and 30.3% from three point.  D-Will needs to find a way to become more efficient this series and he needs to control the offense more than he has as well. He's not setting up his teammates like he usually does, and they're going to need him to do just that against the Heat. If Williams can come out and play like his younger self, the Nets have a shot at winning this series.

Mpacko: Heat in 5

The Analysis: The last hurrah? It has become more evident that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett might be on their last NBA legs. This is troubling for Brooklyn as the Heat got exactly what they needed the most out of their first round matchup; REST. A 7 game series might've been the worst-case scenario for Brooklyn, although they put away a Raptors team that just kept on coming. LeBron has been LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh will contribute and the Heat's bench just continues to get production from sources you would never expect. I'll give the Nets a game in this series merely out of pride. However, the Heat will be too much to handle on the road and at home. This is the time of the year that Miami shifts into 5th gear and takes off. Regular season victories out of the way, outside of Joe Johnson the Nets just don't have enough viable options to weather the storm that most certainly comes with the Heat. 

The X-Factor: Dwyane Wade will show the basketball world why he still is the best #2 option in the game. This is his time of year, and with LeBron carrying the brunt of the load, expect D-Wade to be the smooth assassin that he is known to be.

Soaries: Heat in 6

The Analysis: In my preview for this NBA season I ranked the Brooklyn Nets #1 on my list of best offseason moves. I also contended prematurely that they instantly became the only true competition to the Miami Heat from match ups and personnel standpoints. I still hold that to be true, because I Brooklyn simply has the best shot of any other Eastern Conference team to put up points with the Heat. Still, I see the Miami defense wearing down the Nets, who will have a hard time endurance-wise as the series progresses.

The X-Factor: Deron Williams/Joe Johnson and Chris Bosh – Williams has a chance to dominate the point guard match up and Johnson will have the challenge of at least cancelling out production with Dwayne Wade. The Brooklyn backcourt needs to be consistent for the Nets to compete. If Bosh is able to dominate the frontcourt battle it may take less time for the Heat to wrap this one up.

San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (5)

Lava: Spurs in 6

The Analysis: To me, this is the most exciting series of Round 2. There's so many different ways this series could go, so many different narratives it could follow, and it features two of the most fun offenses left in the playoffs. The series could become the story of the changing of the guard, the Big 3's last stand, experience defeating youth, a new title contender, or Portland being "a year away", but to me the deciding factor of this series will be defense. Portland had the league's 16th-best defensive efficiency, placing them below such defensive juggernauts as Minnesota and Atlanta, and making the Blazers' D the second-worst remaining in the playoffs (only Brooklyn is lower). Meanwhile, the Spurs had the NBA's fourth-best defense, and if Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan can hold down the inside, the Spurs have a good shot at a hard-fought victory. 

The X-Factor: Danny Green. The Spurs defense of rising star Damian Lillard may start and end with Green, as Lillard's positional matchup, Tony Parker, is one of the team's worse defenders. The Spurs may depend on Green to defend Lillard while also using him as a key offensive tool from the three-point line as best seen in last year's NBA Finals. While the Mavs successfuly stopped the Spurs' three-point attack for most of the last series, they had to give up easy inside looks to do so, and Portland may not want to make that same tradeoff. 

Boyer: Spurs in 6

The Analysis: What a fantastic series this is going to be. Overnight sensation Damian Lillard pitted against savvy and smooth veteran Tony Parker. The methodical Tim Duncan trying to prevent Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge from connecting on his flurry of midrange jumpers, and athletic and skilled wings Kawhi Leonard and Nicholas Batum duking it out to give their team a much needed edge. Portland can't let the high that Damian Lillard's ridiculous series clinching three pointer provided them with linger any longer. This is a veteran Spurs team eager to make a triumphant return to the stage that have made them the legends they are: the NBA Finals. The Blazers have to be ready to play, and show the world that they mean serious business. Meanwhile, the Spurs must gear their defense up to contain an elite Portland offense, that's averaging the most points per game amongst teams still playing in this years postseason. Although these numbers may be slightly skewed due to the Blazers feasting on the defensively challenged Rockets in the first round, San Antonio still must be ready to bring Portland's skilled attack to a halt. 

The X-Factor: Manu Ginobili. The struggles of the Blazers bench are well documented, as they usually receive little to nothing out of their reserves in terms of production. The Spurs bench, and more specifically Manu Ginobili must perform well, to make Portland's weakness even more glaring. If Ginobili plays smart, effective and efficient basketball, Portland's chances of prevailing to their first western conference finals since 2000 are very grim. Manu has to keep the recklessness to a minimum, and the dominance to a maximum. If Manu is the reliable scoring and playmaking option that everyone has come to recognize him as, Portland is truly toast.

Fischbein: Trail Blazers in 6

The Analysis: This will be series to remember. There are so many matchups to watch in this one. For one, you have the explosive and exciting Damian Lillard against the wily vet Tony Parker. Then, there is the power forward battle of LaMarcus Aldridge versus Tim Duncan. These two match ups are like new school versus old school and it will definitely be exciting. Plus, you can't forget about Batum against Leonard. These two are the close to blue prints of each other, they both are very capable players that can do everything on both sides of the ball. The Blazers are riding high after the series winning buzzer beater by Lillard and they are also fueled by a great fan base. They have momentum and a little bit more rest than the Spurs. One thing that comes into play is the athleticism of Portland. Portland needs to use the speed and youth they have as an advantage against the aging Spurs. Lillard could very well run wild against this Spurs team.

The X-Factor: The x-factor of this series is not only one player, it is the entire bench of the Spurs.  The Blazers have had the worst bench in terms of production all year long and the Spurs rely heavily on their bench. If the Spurs' bench squad can consistently produce and out play the Blazers' bench, then the Spurs have a great chance of taking this series. With guys like Manu Ginobli and Patty Mills coming off the bench, the Blazers will have their hands full. Mo Williams is the top producer coming off the bench for Portland and he is averaging 8.2 ppg and 1.8 apg right now,while Manu Ginobli is averaging 17.3 ppg and 4.5 apg. Look for the Spurs' bench to have some big games.

Mpacko: Trail Blazers in 6

The Analysis: The upstarts versus the old veterans. TD vs LA. TP vs. Dame, Kawhi vs. Batum, Manu vs. Mo Williams, and then the 3 point specialists in Danny Green and Wes Matthews. This matchup poses the threat of being a very tough and exciting one on all fronts. The Spurs had their hands full with the Mavericks in a thrilling 7 game series. The Blazers put the Rockets away in a seemingly convincing fashion. Experience vs. youth. If the Blazers can come out aggressively on the road they can really turn this series on its head. We might be in for a real treat in this one.

The X-Factor: Wes Matthews and Nic Batum will need to put forth a herculean type effort in this one to swing the series in Portland’s favor. The 3 ball must fall at an efficient rate. If both can do their best to limit the production from Manu Ginobili and force Kawhi Leonard into some early foul trouble situations, while helping out on TP and Timmy from time to time, the Blazers might have a chance.

Soaries: Spurs in 7

The Analysis: An opportunity is here for the Trail Blazers to make their official ascension into the upper Western Conference echelon, if they haven’t done so already. Damian Lillard is now known as the postseason’s biggest shot maker and he’ll have his hands full battling with Tony Parker. The Trail Blazers are the younger, faster, more athletic team at every position, but where Portland can hurt themselves is their aggressive reliance on the three-point shot and not staying disciplined defensively. I think their individual defense helped them last against Houston, but their discipline as a team defense will be challenged against San Antonio.

The X-Factor: Bench scoring – The Spurs thrive and rely on the most productive bench in the league while the Trail Blazers are hardly formidable outside of their starting five; if I’m to pick out a potential series-deciding factor, that has to be it.

Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (3)

Lava: Thunder in 6

The Analysis: The Thunder were, and still are, my pick to lose in the NBA Finals. They hit a roadblock in a really strong Memphis team, but caught a break with the Grizzlies being unable to close out Game 6 and losing Zach Randolph for Game 7. Now that the infamous "Mr. Unreliable" headline has attached some new motivation to KD's quest for a ring, this is his chance to stepit up and show that he's in LeBron's class. As for the Clippers, the team was nicely able to overcome the Sterling controversy and defeat a Bogut-less Warriors squad, but can they stand up to the lethal combination that is Durant and Westbrook on offense? I think the answer is no.

The X-Factor: Russell Westbrook. Russ is turning into 2006 Rex Grossman: the narrative is that there's Good Russell, a top-5 NBA player and elevates OK City to another level, and Bad Russell, a "ballhog" who inspires fans to call for a trade. I think the difference is exaggerated by the media on some level, but it is based in truth as Westbrook is a streaky player. When Westbrook is on a hot streak, the Thunder are pretty much unstoppable. If he can continue the run he started in Game 7 against Memphis, OKC advances easily.

Boyer: Thunder in 6

The AnalysisThe long, grueling and exhausting war waged against Tony Allen and the incredibly gifted Memphis defense finally concluded for Kevin Durant. The Thunder escaped from Memphis' rugged clenches, as Durant and Westbrook finally strung together strong performances down the stretch of the series, temporarily putting their horrific start on the back burner. The biggest issue for the Clippers in this series is they don't have a perimeter defensive player that come close to mimicking Tony Allen's ability on that side of the ball. Not many teams in the league have a player with Allen's defensive prowess, but the Clippers don't have any intimidating perimeter defenders to combat the offensively deadly KD. Pair this with the fact that Durant had 36 points (11-23 FG,) and 33 points (12-18 FG, 5-5 3PT FG,) and it's easy to see why those struggles he endured at the beginning of the series won't be reoccurring in this one with Allen absent. He may hit a groove, and that is not only a frightening thought for Los Angeles, but the remainder of the teams in the playoffs as well.

The X-FactorRussell Westbrook. When poised, Westbrook is easily the league's second best point guard. The problem is, poise isn't always promised with Russell Westbrook. Now, as he goes against Chris Paul, composure is imperative for Westbrook to win this matchup. He can't get caught up in the hoopla, trying to single-handily dominate to fend off any CP3 hype. He must believe in himself and his teammates, and refrain from taking poor jump shots and turning over the ball. Giving arguably the league's most dynamic open court attack in the Clippers and the league's best point guard in Chris Paul a plethora of extra opportunities will truly come back to sting. When Westbrook is wheeling and dealing, OKC hit's a stride that has many considering them true title contenders. How smoothly they hit this stride, is very dependent on Westbrook's play.

Fischbein: Thunder in 7

The Analysis: Two teams with two players that are out to prove their worth. Either way, the legacies of Chris Paul and Kevin Durant will be questioned if they don't at least make the finals this year. Both of these guys have been in the league for a while and they both have very high expectations. However, most of the pressure falls on Chris Paul since he has in been in the league for nine years and has no rings to prove his greatness. These two athletic teams will be fun to watch. There will definitely be highlight reel plays and huge moments in this series. The Thunder seem to have put the pieces together in game seven against Memphis and that could be very bad news for Los Angeles. Chris Paul was shaky against the Warriors and now he has to take on Westbrook. Plus, the Clippers don't have a defensive threat like Tony Allen to contain KD. Durant could very well get back to his lethal scoring ways with no lock down defender on him.

The X-Factor: The X-Factor of this series is actually the match up between Jamal Crawford and Reggie Jackson. This is a battle of the sixth man. Who ever can lead their bench to more production will take the reins of this series. Jamal Crawford has been playing well for the Clips, but Reggie Jackson has also proved that he can provide a great deal of scoring in his 32 point game against Memphis. Crawford has averages of 16.7 ppg and 1.9 apg while shooting 44.2% from the floor compared to Jackson's averages of 12.1 ppg, 2.1 apg, and a shooting percentage of 47.4%. The scoring outputs are a little different, but the rest of their stats so far in the post season are quite similar. So, watch this match up closely and see if it contributes to the winner and loser of this series.

Mpacko: Clippers in 5

The Analysis: The matchup we’ve all been waiting for. The Thunder survived a historic 7 game matchup with the Grizzlies in which their backs were against the wall several times. The Clippers on the other hand managed to play through adversity and ultimately put away a troubling Warriors team in 7 as well. The MVP to be against the deepest team in the association. Has Westbrook turned the corner in his decision making? Will Reggie Jackson show up on a consistent basis? Has DeAndre Jordan figured it out? Will Blake dominate? On paper this series favors the Clippers solely based on their depth. And boy are they deep. I was troubled by what I saw from the Thunder and this series poses a much bigger threat than the last mainly because the Clippers can score. The Grizzlies ran out of offense. The Clippers will not.

The X-Factor: DeAndre Jordan must dominate his low post matchups on both ends of the floor. Close down the paint with his shot blocking, and finish every opportunity he gets on the offensive end. Force OKC into being a jump shooting team.

Soaries: Thunder in 7

The Analysis: Here’s another toss up and probably the most anticipated series of the conference semifinals. These are two offensive-powered teams that want to get up and down and score points, which means that whoever gains the advantage defensively will have the advantage in this series. DeAndre Jordan showed his ability to dominate for the Clippers defense in the first round, but LA’s perimeter defense is the real test in this series. There is no Tony Allen on the Clippers to individually frustrate the MVP Kevin Durant, who should have a field day. I think Oklahoma City has the girth and the depth in the frontcourt to make life difficult for Blake Griffin, who the Clippers need to play through to be successful.

The X-Factor: Russell Westbrook (obvious reasons)/Reggie Jackson and Matt Barnes/Danny Granger – Jackson will need to be aggressive for the Thunder bench offensively and win his match up with Darren Collison on the other side. Barnes and Granger are the only potential Durant match ups for Doc Rivers. I look forward to seeing if Granger’s minutes increase for that role.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Share your thoughts: