The Playoff Train Has No Brakes: Round 2 PredictionsPosted on by Robert Seitzinger (rseitzinger)
URL for sharing: http://thisorth.at/50xa
Remember this year's NCAA Tournament? It was a time when March Madness lived up to the moniker as face-painted fans packed arenas and hit decibel levels usually reserved for Iron Maiden concerts. This year, it was also a time of predictions gone horribly wrong, with upsets and surprises all over the bracket.
The 2011 NBA Playoffs have recalled that same air of unpredictability. History was made on multiple accounts--most impressive among them being Dwight Howard's franchise-record 31 points in a playoff half, the Portland Trail Blazers' 24-point comeback victory (the second-largest rally in playoff history), and the Memphis Grizzlies becoming just the second No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in a best-of-seven series. Those individual and team feats made the first round a perfect way to start the postseason of what was the biggest NBA regular season ever (and after seeing all those Biggest Season Ever commercials make that claim, it's clearly a fact and not opinion).
It's come down to eight remaining squads, and as none of the first-round series made it to seven games, it's safe to say the survivors all proved they belong in the second round. In fact, only four of the eight series went to six games, and each of the victors closed out their opponents in convincing fashion. Dallas and Los Angeles notched their advances on the road, while Memphis and Atlanta put the pressure on their foes early in the series before upsetting the higher seeds they faced.
Let's get down to brass tacks. Here are my predictions for the second round, and I hope they go better than my first-round predictions. Be sure to vote on the individual series, and a comment on why you agree or disagree is always appreciated.
No. 1 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 5 Atlanta Hawks
Winner: Bulls in six games
Click to vote on the series
Chicago should have fared much better in the first round, which is a politely vague way of saying that someone other than Derrick Rose needed to perform like a playoff athlete. I'm mostly looking at Carlos Boozer, who slopped along for four games and then "came down with turf toe" in Game 5 (injury of shame, methinks). Frankly, Kyle Korver has been the better addition from Utah, during both the regular season and playoffs...Boozer certainly didn't earn the $10M more he was paid over Korver this year.
I give Atlanta six games less out of respect for their competitive presence or skill, and more out of concern that the Bulls may still look shaky. The Hawks can probably squeeze a pair of home wins from the Bulls if they don't find a better rhythm than they showed against Indiana. Among the Hawks, Joe Johnson played better than expected (though still not well enough to justify his $120M contract), Josh Smith stepped up, and Al Horford is a defensive behemoth. The loss of Kirk Hinrich will be immediately felt, however, as Rose, Korver, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng make Atlanta work for every inch in this series. If the Bulls play as well as they should have last round, this one could be a sweep. If not, they'll still grind out a series victory with their brilliant defense and teamwork.
No. 2 Miami Heat vs. No. 3 Boston Celtics
Winner: Celtics in seven games
Click to vote on the series
As a sports fan, I love this series. As a sports writer trying to predict it, I hate this series. This has the potential to be the most contested second-round series or the most lopsided sweep (seven all-stars are involved, and any injuries to them would result in a huge power shift). These two teams have a lot at stake: Miami needs to validate itself after becoming a vilified Super Friends team, and Boston's label as a powerhouse came under a lot of fire this season. Whichever team goes home after this series will be subject to much scrutiny and face an unhappy owner already trying to cut into player salaries and threatening a lockout. It'll be like coming home to find your father after he's lost his job on the same day you were fired, and he's drank a fifth of bourbon and is in a yelling sort of mood.
Rajon Rondo will be the centerpiece here. If he gets Boston going offensively, the Celts will thrive. If not, they will need to rely on defense which, while solid, will start to crack after a few games as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade find the best way to pick and roll, perimeter shoot, and dribble drive through that green wall. Ultimately, Boston has the deeper bench and chemistry that will end the Heat's first season with their new Big Three unit. Wade and James need to be on the floor simultaneously to maintain leads on the Cs, but it's unrealistic to expect 48 minutes apiece from those two. (Oh, I didn't mention the third guy, and it's because even if he did well late in the season, he's still not nearly the superstar he's made out to be...he was just a very good player who was saddled with crappy teammates in Toronto for seven years. He looked like a star by comparison, not merit.)
No. 2 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 3 Dallas Mavericks
Winner: Lakers in six games
Click to vote on the series
Let me preface something for readers who don't already know I'm a huge Blazers fan: I wish failure on both of these teams. Rooting for the Lakers feels like I'm violating nature worse than sheep cloning, but I so want to see Dirk Nowitski and the Mavs crushed like cigarette butts under John Wayne's combat boots. That said, I'll set aside my emotional Blazers fan voice and listen to my rational, objective voice to draw my prediction.
Dallas got stellar play from Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler, and Jason Terry in round one, but that's unlikely to go on. LA sleepwalked through four games, barely pulling out two wins and getting walloped by a fiery Chris Paul. Then the worm turned in Game 5: Kobe Bryant got pissed about getting called for an iffy foul, then promptly posterized Emeka Okafor and later flagrantly fouled him.
Before the call that drew Kobe's ire, New Orleans was up six; within five minutes, they were down eight. Moral of the story? A pissed-off Kobe in the playoffs is still the most dangerous weapon in the league. (Writing that sentence induced nausea.) The Lakers carried that momentum through a Game 6 manhandling of the Hornets on their own turf, and they know that half-assing it won't work in round two. Dallas will get some stellar play from Dirk, especially at home, but I don't see this one going past six...especially since LA has re-energized and rediscovered their thirst for blood that is quenched with road wins.
No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies
Winner: Thunder in five games
Click to vote on the series
Yes, Memphis achieved some phenomenal success in the first round by dismantling the Tim Duncan-era Spurs that won several championships and regularly appeared as a top-four seed in the playoffs. Sure, Zach Randolph shamed every member of the media who should have voted him onto the Western All-Stars in the place of, say, Duncan. However, for as well as the Grizzlies played against the Spurs, there is no denying that it was a battle of old timers against the new blood. There are a lot of young guys comprising the Grizz rotation right now, which let them run and gun against creaky fellows at the tail end of a glorious decade in San Antonio.
Now they face a young, hungry beast in the Thunder. The Grizz will bring most of the games in this series down to the wire, but OK City is better equipped to earn wins down the stretch than the Spurs were. There's a lot of fire behind the eyes of Thunder coach Scott Brooks, and that same intensity seeps from every pore of his players as well. Their showdown against the Lakers next round will be remembered as a savage clash of titans where I fully expect blood to spill onto the hardwood and between 12 and 75 tech fouls to be whistled. Remember, Thunder center Kendrick Perkins missed the end of the 2010 Finals against the Lakers when he was a Celtic, and it's plain to see that he wants to avenge the loss and throttle the life out of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in the post. Add Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to zip around the floor and put the aging Lakers through a breakneck pace, and this writer is more excited than a toddler in 1996 with a Tickle Me Elmo.