Brandon Curry and Corey Elliot ISR Pacers Beat Writer and Senior Writer
Finally, Playoff basketball is here! We’re roughly two months away from crowning an NBA champion and the road starts today with four first-round games.
To get you started, here’s Brandon’s take on the Eastern Conference, followed by Corey’s analysis of the Western Conference.
Indiana Pacers (1) vs. Atlanta Hawks (8)
Matchups, matchups, matchups. Don’t be surprised if the eighth-seeded Hawks take the Pacers to, say, six games. Atlanta’s bigs can stretch the floor, so much so that they’ll play 5-out basketball at times. That type of offense has given the Pacers some trouble this season (think Phoenix Suns) and they’re not exactly hitting on all cylinders right now. Nevertheless, talent usually wins out over the course of seven games and the Pacers simply have more of it.
Pacers in six
Chicago Bulls (4) vs. Washington Wizards (5)
John Wall’s first trip to the playoffs will be a date with Joakim Noah, Tom Thibodeau, and a Bulls’ defense designed to take away what he does best. Wall’s penetration through pick-and-rolls is Washington’s offensive engine and no one was better this season at finding shooters in the corners. Chicago will look to suffocate both of those actions and despite the injuries and money-saving moves, the Bulls should walk away victorious.
Bulls in six
Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Brooklyn Nets (6)
Brooklyn went on an impressive last week tank to set themselves up to play the Raptors and might’ve run into Kyle Lowry’s coming out party in the process. The All-Star snub has a chance to be the best player on the floor in this series – combine that with a bigger Raptors squad and they should have the slight upper-hand over the Nets. There’s a good chance this series sees a seventh game.
Raptors in seven
Miami Heat (2) vs. Charlotte Bobcats (7)
Al Jefferson will be the focal point of Miami’s swarming and trapping defense and Charlotte could very well steal a game if he’s able to exploit their back line. However, the Heat will aggressively attack the Bobcats’ guards and could make it difficult to consistently get the ball to Big Al. This one should be over quick and Miami’s late season struggles could prove to be a mirage.
Heat in four
Most Likely Conference Finals Matchup: Indiana Pacers (1) vs. Miami Heat (2)
Sure, it’s a chalky pick, but these two teams have been far and away the best teams in the conference for much of the season. This would still be a lock in most people’s minds if it wasn’t for late season droughts by both sides. These two squaring off for a chance to play in the Finals has been the wish of many and it will likely come true.
Least Likely Conference Finals Matchup: Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Chicago Bulls (4)
This isn’t a knock on Chicago, as they could very well get by the Pacers in the second round, but the Raptors topping Miami after a what would likely be a lengthy series with Brooklyn would be surprising, to say the least. Nevertheless, both of the top teams in the East have shown flaws of late, and Toronto and Chicago are no pushovers.
Mavericks (8) vs. Spurs (1)
So you want parity? The Spurs are scoring 105.4 PPG and allowing 97.6 PPG—both rank second in the Southwest Division—while the Mavs are scoring 104.8 PPG and allowing 102.4 PPG; yes, you guessed it, third in the Southwest Division in each category right behind the Spurs. San Antonio won all four meetings this season and unless Dirk goes off for 35-plus points every game I don’t see a different outcome. Unless Dallas steals one on their home-court, I like the Spurs in four.
Spurs in four
Trailblazers (5) vs. Rockets (4)
This one feels like it could be a conference finals matchup. A battle on the block between All Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Dwight Howard and a crap shoot from beyond the arc as the Rockets will try to keep pace with Portland, the ninth best three point shooting percentage team in the NBA at 37 percent. Portland, much like Indiana, saw a hot start fade into a cold decline before settling into the five-spot. While Damian Lillard is often clutch, aggressive with the ball and a problem for most, I’ll take the NBA’s fifth best scorer, James Harden at 25.4 PPG , and Howard, who has the third highest field goal percentage in the league at .591 percent, in six. Rockets took three of four in the regular season, while two of those three cam on the back end of a Blazers slump, I still like Houston.
Rockets in six
Warriors (6) vs. Clippers (3)
So, maybe we could just give the Thunder and Spurs first-round-byes and just watch the Portland/Houston and Golden State/Los Angeles matchups? No? Any younger siblings out there that waited a long time to surpass the reputation and accomplishments of your older sibling, you should love this matchup. In one corner, we have the Clippers, the basement doormat to the Los Angeles Lakers since their time in L.A. and in the other corner, theWarriors, whose only claim to playoff fame was being the first eight seed to beat a one. Bad news, though. That may not change for Golden State. With Andrew Bogut out due to injury, the Warriors are going to have trouble stopping DeAndre Jordan with Jermaine O’neal—not to mention the other guy you need to stop in the paint, Blake Griffin. Jordan leads the league in field goal percentage, .676 percent, and rebounds, 13.5 per game, while sitting third in the league with roughly 2.5 blocks per game. Chris Paul taketh and he giveth away. Paul leads the league in steals per game, 2.48, and assists at 10.7. Not to mention, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has been here before with less talent, in my opinion—without Bogut; Clippers in seven.
Clippers in seven
Grizzlies (7) vs. Thunder (2)
Kevin Durant. Also, in case you didn’t understand, Kevin Durant. The scoring champion and likely MVP of the league is out to hurt feelings this postseason. 32 PPG, one of the most athletic, dynamic point guards in Russell Westbrook and a supporting cast still intact from OKC’s Finals run two years ago screams mismatch for Memphis. By-the-way, the Thunder may not be a bulletin board material type team, but they certainly remember last season’s second-round exit at the hands of Memphis. Who will the Grizzlies have to emerge as the counter attack to Durant? Nobody is going to score point for point with KD and Memphis can’t shoot the three-ball, something the Thunder have struggled defending this year. OKC won all four meetings in the regular season, but I’ll let Memphis steal one at home and take the Thunder in five.
Thunder in five
Most Likely Conference Finals Matchup: Thunder vs. Spurs
For those of you who like structure in your life, you know, the five-year-plan type of guy, this outcome probably excited you because it’s what we have been heading towards all season. San Antonio plays basketball out West like they reinvented the game—part of me is convinced ‘Pop is actually John Wooden reincarnated. The Spurs have used 36 different line ups this season and no player averaged more than 25 minutes a game. That’s how an aging team (for the most part) stays young against the youthful Thunder, who has their 2012 look back to them. The Thunder are the only team that can beat the Wiley ‘Ole Spurs at their game, it seems. Thunder in seven (4-3) to head to the NBA Finals.
Least Likely Conference Finals Matchup: Rockets vs. Thunder
I really don’t want to discount the Clippers. With that said, I’m going to discount the Clippers. I know they have Doc, I know CP3 is probably the best point guard in the game—even when Rondo is healthy, happy and gives a damn. The problem is, the Clippers are going to expend a lot of energy, effort and other pieces to their current cohesiveness in a seven game series vs. Golden State. My dark horse, the prize pony of the show, the Houston Rockets, are going to go into San Antonio in the semi-finals and take one of the first two home games and finally end the Spurs 15-year run of success in the West. Rockets stay hot after they top San Antonio and the fifth leading scorer in the NBA, Harden, sends his former buddies from Oklahoma City back across the Red River defeated. Rockets beat the Thunder in seven (4-3) to head to their first NBA Finals since 1995.
Conference Finals and Finals Predictions
Brandon: Heat over Pacers
Spurs over Clippers
Spurs over Heat
Thunder over Spurs
Heat over Bulls
Thunder over Heat
Corey Elliot is a Senior Writer at the Indy Sports Report and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.Brandon Curry is the Pacers beat writer for Indy Sports Report. Both are recognized as accredited members of the media by the Pacers and has full media access. Follow Corey, Brandon ,and the ISRon Twitter
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