NBA Playoffs Round 2 preview
Of all the matchups, Miami Heat v Boston Celtics is the one to watch. After eliminating Dwyane Wade and Lebron James’s team in consecutive series last season, now the Celtics must take on both at the same time.
Question marks remain over the Heat. Their lack of interior toughness is a concern but, without a healthy Shaq, the Celtics are mostly a jump shooting team anyway, and may not be able to take advantage.
Then there is the concern that Lebron and Wade still ‘take turns’ on offense rather than working together and moving effectively off the ball. Against the stellar defense of the Celtics, their admittedly great one-on-one play may still not to be enough to get it done.
The key for the Heat is Chris Bosh. Expect him to have a tough time of it against one of the premier defenders in Kevin Garnett but if he can show anything inside and spread the floor for his drivers with his deadly jumper then the Celtics may be in for a tough series.
For the Celtics, the key is Rondo. This is the apparent mismatch in the series that needs to be exploited. With defenders sagging off him into the paint, he needs to take advantage of the space and go into attack mode on offense.
While the Celtics were clearly the superior team in the first three contests against the Heat this season, after the Perkins trade however they haven’t looked the same. The addition of Jeff Green was not enough to address their lack of depth on the perimeter and one wonders whether they have enough in the tank to hold off Lebron and Wade one more time.
Miami’s motivation in this series is surely at an all-time high and they have the players to pull out the series. The Celtics likewise should sense that this is close to their last chance and will not go down without plenty of fight.
My pick: Miami in 7
Chicago Bulls v Atlanta Hawks
I don’t rate Chicago nearly as highly as their record suggests. Chicago played in fifth gear all season to capture the no.1 record in the league, led by the terrific defense installed by head coach Tom Thibadou, and now it’s the playoffs I’m not sure that they have another gear to go to.
While some may be tempted to write off their struggles against Indiana as a case of early nerves, I think there are real concerns about their offense when Derrick Rose isn’t at his best. Without a reliable second option, the scoring could dry up very quickly for the Bulls.
But are Atlanta the team to take advantage? There’s no doubting the Hawks’ talent but their indiscipline on the court often costs them. While the ill-advised shots and defensive breakdowns appeared less often in the Orlando series, under the heat of the swarming Bulls defense, one wonders whether this will remain the case.
After their success shutting down Dwight Howard and Orlando’s three point shooters, the Hawks need to produce another intense defensive effort to contain Derrick Rose. Then it comes down to a question of whether the shots of Joe Johnson and Jamaal Crawford are falling. The hamstring injury to Kirk Hinrich throws even more doubt on whether the Hawks will have enough to beat this Bulls team though.
My pick: Chicago in 5
Los Angeles Lakers v Dallas Mavericks
In the entire Dirk and Kobe era never have their two teams crossed each other in the playoffs. A remarkable coincidence for these two perennial playoff teams, with their first playoff battle sure to be a feisty battle.
After being tipped by many to fall to the athletic Portland team, Dallas surprised its critics (myself included) with a strong showing. Jason Kidd rediscovered his shooting touch that had deserted him during the regular season and showed he isn’t afraid of the big moments. Dirk, as usual, stepped up his scoring for the playoffs. While Terry and Peja made important shots and Marion and Chandler provided hustle and rebounding.
Will it be enough to beat the Lakers though? Not likely, if the Lakers are at their best.
While the Mavs do have the interior presence to match the Lakers huge frontline, they don’t have a strong defender to matchup on Kobe. Kobe showed signs during the season that he may finally be slipping, but a couple of rim-rattling dunks against the Hornets showed he still has a little in the tank. The Mavs have been a team he has toyed with in the past, including one memorable 50 point outing in three quarters, and this could be the series for him to shine.
My pick: Los Angeles in 6
Oklahoma City Thunder v Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis produced a ‘historic’ upset as the fourth No. 8 seed to win through the first round but the result was perhaps not all that stunning. Memphis were in great form at the end of the regular season. With the indomitable inside force of Zach Randolph, and the added defensive toughness of former Celtic Tony Allen and trade-deadline addition Shane Battier, they were the team that you didn’t want to play in the first round and the Spurs drew the short straw.
Duncan and McDyess simply couldn’t contain Z-Bo and Marc Gasol inside, while the Grizzlies perimeter defence was terrific in limiting the Spurs, one of the top 3 point shooting teams in the league during the regular season, to below 30% from outside the arc in the series.
Oklahoma City, however, are a different kettle and are looking more like a championship team with every game they play. They have, perhaps, the player you want most on your side in the playoffs in Kevin Durant. They have a ruthless interior defensive duo in Ibaka and Perkins and a solid bench, particularly with Harden’s scoring punch. And they have Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook is the unknown quantity here. Is he the Pippen to Durant’s Jordan? Or is he a shooting guard playing point guard who is too turnover-prone and too poor an outside shooter? Westbrook’s talent and effort can’t be questioned but his 30-shot game 4, and his 3-for-15 game 5, raised more questions about whether he will be the guy to push this team over the edge or off a cliff.
In this series, regardless, the Thunder should have enough to overcome this scrappy Memphis team.
My pick: Oklahoma City in 5
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