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One of the most exciting NBA playoff first rounds in recent memory finally came to an end last night. The NBA had its own March Madness, as there were five consecutive win or go home games over the weekend. Despite all the craziness surrounding the first round, there were only three series where the lower seed upset the favorite. The two true upsets were the fifth-seeded Washington Wizards defeating the #4 Chicago Bulls in five games and the #5 Portland Trail Blazers eliminating the #4 seed Houston Rockets in six.
The other upset, at least by seeding, was the #6 Brooklyn Nets over the third-ranked Toronto Raptors in seven games. In the eyes of the experts from Las Vegas, the Nets were favored to win the series when it first started. The question now is how will the second round shake out? Well, in the first round I picked the correct winner in six out of the eight series. Here are my predictions for round two.
The Pacers needed seven games to escape the clutches of the only playoff team that finished the regular season with a record below .500 in the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks. The Pacers avoided embarrassment in round one, but will they in round two? Indiana had the best home record in the regular season in the entire NBA at 35-6, but was beaten twice on its home floor by the Hawks. The Pacers appeared to finally awaken in game seven, as Roy Hibbert stepped up and Indiana produced its best game of the series.
The Wizards were the polar opposite of the Pacers in their first round performance. Other than the Miami Heat, the Wizards were the most dominant team of the first round. The Wizards showed off their young talented guards in John Wall and Bradley Beal, and also veteran big man Nenê got the better of Bulls center Joakim Noah. Despite how poorly the Pacers looked compared to the Wizards in the first round, I believe the Pacers are no longer a sleeping giant. Paul George and David West played fantastic all series long against the Hawks and the reemergence of Hibbert will be on display against Washington. The Pacers will be victorious, taking the series 4-2.
The Heat took care of business with a sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats in the first round. Miami received great play from, who else, LeBron James, who averaged 30 points, 6 assists and 8 rebounds per game while shooting 55.7% from the field. James was more than enough to dismiss the Bobcats quickly. The Nets, for their part, needed a road win in game seven to advance to the second round. Brooklyn leaned on the brilliance of Joe Johnson, who averaged a team high 21.6 ppg.
The Nets had some great fortune against the Heat in the regular season, as they compiled a 4-0 record this year against the defending NBA champions. The Nets are a veteran team, and will not be intimidated by what the Heat can throw at them mentally and physically. I believe the long layoff may even hurt the Heat, and possibly cause them to drop game one. With all of that said, the Nets will not have enough in the tank to compete with a younger, more rested, and more talented Heat team in this series. Miami will take the series 4-3.
The Trail Blazers were one of the surprises of the first round, sending the Rockets packing in six games. It was a very entertaining series, as three of the six games ended in overtime. The Blazers benefited from a magnificent shot by point guard Damian Lillard in game six to create a series against the 2013 Western Conference champion Spurs. Portland was led by All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who averaged 29.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game and shot 47.9 percent from the field. Aldridge was the best player on the floor in the first round, but will that be true in the second? The answer to that question is no.
The Spurs’ answer for Aldridge will be their future Hall of Fame power forward Tim Duncan. Duncan will cause all sorts of problems for Aldridge on the defensive end, and when he is not on the floor, center Tiago Splitter will be up to the task. The Spurs had a very competitive first round series against the Dallas Mavericks, but they showed off their class in game seven. The Spurs will do so again in all six games they will play against the Trail Blazers. San Antonio will take the series 4-2.
The Clippers will once again be part of the most entertaining series in the playoffs, this time in the second round. The Clips needed seven games to barely pull away from the young Golden State Warriors. The Thunder also needed seven, but easily defeated the rugged Memphis Grizzlies in the deciding game. These two teams are quite possibly the most athletic in the entire NBA. The Clippers relied on the brilliance of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin like always, but also on center DeAndre Jordan. Jordan was the biggest reason why they got past the Warriors in the first round, dominating the paint on defense and the boards on both sides of the floor. In the first round, Jordan averaged 15.1 rebounds per game (four of them offensive), and an even 4 blocks, leading the playoffs in both categories.
Jordan will not have as big of an impact against the Thunder as he did against the Warriors, the two reasons being size and athleticism. The Thunder is a much bigger and athletic team than the Warriors. Jordan will not block many shots away from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who are too explosive in the paint and will draw fouls instead of blocked shots. Not only will Jordan be in foul trouble for a lot of the series, but his rebounds will go down dramatically because of the size of Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Steven Adams. Those three big guys are going to cause Jordan to work a lot harder than he had to in the first round, and will be the reason why the Thunder will make it back to the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder will take this series 4-2.