Happy May NBA fans! Time for our conference semi-finals predictions.
HAWKS VS. BULLS
We really wish we could extend a genuine congratulatory hand in the direction of Larry Drew and his Atlanta Hawks team for their surprising upset of the Magic in round one…but we just can’t do it! Every game of the series was like re-watching the UConn-Butler game. Nobody appreciates great defense more than BangInThePost, (we miss those old Heat/Knicks battles. Riley vs. Van Gundy…over/under 166 1/2…give us the under!) but round one of Hawks/Magic was simply offensive impodence for six games by both squads. The Hawks stole game one and then held serve at home throughout…yippee!
The Bulls struggled themselves against a feisty Pacer team. They seemed to finally click in game 5 where they were able to win convincingly. The Hawks eliminating the Magic should make for an easier round two for the Bulls, especially if Kirk Hinrich is out for the series. Hinrich is the team’s only true point guard and he seemingly has regained his shooting touch against the Magic (we had not seen Kirk knock down jumpers consistently since he was a Jayhawk). Hinrich’s perimeter defense is solid and his familiarity with Derrick Rose’s game would have been helpful. But even when Hinrich ran the Hawks show offensively they lacked ball movement and continually launched poor shots. Hinrich’s absence means one less game played in the series. BULLS IN FIVE.
CELTICS VS. HEAT
All the hoopla and here we finally are, although it’s a round earlier than most predicted. We have chronicled both of these teams flaws in previous posts (CRY, CRY, CRY and BEANTOWN BLUNDER). Some reports out there claimed Ainge made the very controversial Kendrick Perkins trade to get more athletic to compete with the Heat. Well Danny Boy, this is your chance to prove us wrong! The Celtics, the worst rebounding team in the NBA, will now face their second straight playoff team where the opponents’ rebounding is almost as inept. More good news for Boston is Jermaine O’Neil looked five years younger in round one against the Knicks. There are murmurs as well that Shaq is ready to return early in the series. If by some miracle they can get 25/30 good minutes collectively between the O’Neil twins then the Heat and every other team should be afraid…very afraid. Not likely says BangInThePost.
The Heat have their own problems. The big three were productive as usual against the Sixers, but with the exception of Joel Anthony they are still getting little help elsewhere. Spoelstra still seems to be tinkering with his lineup even changing starters again in their last game. Mario Chalmers and Anthony should be getting more minutes this series. Chalmers is particularly critical because Mike Bibby on Rondo is just begging for quadruple doubles by the Celts point guard. The bottom line is Wade and James are terrific defenders when motivated and they will be able to contain Pierce and Allen. Two great defensive teams will lead to some ugly offensive play on both sides (hello under!), in the end the Heat prevail. HEAT IN SIX.
MAVERICKS VS. LAKERS
Both the Mavs and Lakers were challenged more than we expected in round one. Chris Paul pretty much single handedly beat the Lakers twice while Brandon Roy’s heroics in game four led to one of the greatest comebacks in playoff history. But when all was said in done, the two better teams advanced in six games. The Mavs have won 50 or more games an amazing eleven years in a row and of course the Lakers have been the most dominant team the last decade (the Lakers have played in the finals 7 times since 2000). Somehow, someway these two franchises have never met in the playoffs in the last eleven years. We expect a great series here with both teams upping their play from round one.
The Mavericks should not be bothered offensively by the size of the Lakers as much as most teams because their scorers often rely on jumpshots. Barrea is the only scorer in the Mavs rotation that tries to finish at the rim on his drives (odd, huh, in that he is all of 5’9″). Defensively for the Mavs to win, Tyson Chandler must be a monster and stay out of foul trouble. There is too big of a drop off offensively for the Mavs if backup center Brendan Haywood has to play significant minutes. The biggest key though for the Mavs to pull the upset is Jason Kidd. Yes, we know he is old (38 to be exact) but he has become way too passive offensively. Kidd needs to do more than shoot wide open three pointers. Dallas often is playing 4 on 5 with teams daring him to shoot or drive the open lanes. When Kidd does take the open lane EVERYONE knows he is only looking to pass. Somewhere in those old tired legs Kidd’s gotta find different ways to get his own points and push the ball every opportunity to get his team points before the Lakers half court D gets set.
The best news for Lakers fans is that not only did Andrew Bynum’s knee look strong in round one, he was the team’s best player in the series. The Lakers won the title last year with Bynum essentially playing on one leg. If Bynum keeps up his solid play they will wear down the Mavs and Chandler on the offensive boards. The Mavs are a good road team and we expect them to steal one in LA. But then we expect the Lakers to return the favor in Dallas and home court is the difference in game seven. LAKERS IN SEVEN.
GRIZZLIES VS. THUNDER
Is the Lionel Hollins blunder at the end of game five still haunting the Grizz? Perhaps. With the Grizz up three and only 2.2 seconds to play Hollins failed to instruct his team to intentionally foul the Spurs, allowing George Neal a gaming tying three pointer (wide open) to force overtime. The Spurs went on to win, forcing a game six. As we know the Grizz then took care of business at home. However with the Lebron/Celts tilt being the network’s preference for the afternoon game Sunday, the Grizz are forced to open their series in Oklahoma 36 hours after the final buzzer against the Spurs. The Thunder are a completely different animal and those two extra days of preparation would really have been helpful.
Speaking of different animals, Kevin Durant meet Tony Allen. Kevin if you thought Artest gave you headaches last spring, you have a quicker, hungrier version of him guarding you now. Most of the Thunder faithful probably are happy to be facing the Grizz with home court as opposed to the Spurs. Be careful what ya wish fer Oklahomians. The Grizz are the exact opposite of the Denver Nuggets in most every way. Serge Ibaka will have his hands full with Zach Randolph and won’t be able to fly around blocking every shot in the paint like he did against the Nuggets. Perkins will need to stay out of foul trouble as they will need him on the court to wrestle with Marc Gasol.
Durant always gets his points, but it is how he does so that makes the Thunder great or just good. We expect Durant needing a lot more attempts (like 30!) if he is to score over 30 points with Allen and Shane Battier tag teaming him. The games will be close, so execution by these two young teams at the end of games will be the difference. In round one the Grizz were the more composed team against the Spurs than what we saw of the Thunder late against the Nuggets. That being said, the great teams improve as the playoffs progress and we expect more from the Thunder in this round. In the end Russell Westbrook is the difference maker. The Thunder in seven.