NBA Playoffs: Conference Finals Recap

And then there were 2.

It’s a rematch of the 2012-13 NBA Finals, with the only difference being the team holding home-court resides in the West.

Before I breakdown what I see happening, let’s look back to what went down in the Conference Finals.

Eastern Conference Finals

(2) Miami Heat vs (1) Indiana Pacers

  • For a team that worked very hard to get home-court advantage, the Pacers looked like they forgot the goal is to WIN in the playoffs.  After making things tough on themselves in the 1st two rounds, Indiana was out of this before it started.  Sure they forced it to 6 games, but even in wins they didn’t look impressive.  Lance Stephenson became a distraction unable to back up his words.  Roy Hibbert finished the playoffs with 4 games where he didn’t score.  The defense wasn’t up to their normal standards and turnovers continued to plague them.  Oh and the Miami Heat have LeBron James. And Dwyane Wade.  And Chris Bosh.  And they know how to win, at home AND on the road.  It’s pretty simple.

Western Conference Finals

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (1) San Antonio Spurs

  • This was the story of holding home-court. Blowouts for the home teams is how the first 5 games went.  You can argue Serge Ibaka going down for games 1 and 2 turned the series in San Antonio’s favor, and it sure helped, but he did return to get it back to a place where OKC had home-court again, and a chance to advance tied 2-2.  But the Thunder defense was not good, Kevin Durant was exposed and they didn’t get help off the bench.  The Spurs bench can hurt you in so many ways, and they proved it in the clincher when Tony Parker went down and a guy like Boris Diaw helped close out Oklahoma City in overtime. Oh and Tim Duncan thinks he’s 30 again.  That helps.

NBA Finals

(2) Miami Heat vs (1) San Antonio Spurs

  • Here we are.  A rematch of last seasons NBA Finals.  The Spurs looked to have the championship in the bag late in game 6.  Then everything went right for the Heat, including a game winning Ray Allen 3.  A game 7 win sealed Miami’s 2nd straight championship.  And now it’s the question of dynasty or revenge: which will be the ultimate headline? On the one hand, with how easy it was for the Heat to get out of a very down Eastern Conference, you’d think it’s got to be then.  And on the other, you’ve got the Spurs who finished with the best record in the league, making their way out of a stacked West.  They’ve proven themselves against the top teams this year, while Miami has bested the West’s best the past two years.  So which do I think comes to pass?  Revenge is a dish best served on the games biggest stage.  Give me the Spurs.  I said all along that the Thunder would win it all, but if OKC didn’t make it to the finals, that I’d take the West representative. San Antonio has been consistently great for nearly 2 decades.  Yes, Tony Parker is questionable with an ankle injury (boy do ankles HATE point guards huh?), but knowing him and the Spurs way, if he can put any kind of pressure on it, he’s on that court.  That heart, plus the depth of San Antonio vs the Heat depth, is the advantage I give the Spurs.  I know, I know. LeBron James is the best basketball on the planet.  I’m still going with the Spurs in 7. Final answer.

Now tell me if you agree with the team I think is hanging another banner!

7 games again.  We deserve it as fans.  Stretches of this season were dull and after a great 1st round of the playoffs, the best game was Spurs/Thunder game 6.  This fairly predictable finals match-up dictates high drama every game.  We want, and I believe we will get, at least 6 hotly contested games.  No more of this home team blowout non-sense.  Big 3s, defense and two of the best to ever play the game (James and Tim Duncan), trying to add another ring to their legacies.  These are two fantastic organizations, and I cannot wait til Thursday in San Antonio, the site of game 1.

Enjoy it NBA fans. Enjoy it sports fans.  Just enjoy.

NBA Playoffs: Round 2 Recap

After a fun first two rounds of the playoffs and here are, down to 4 teams.  Out West you’ve for last years runner-up San Antonio Spurs, and MVP Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder.  And of course in the East you have a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals.  The top-seeded Indiana Pacers, and the 2-time reigning World Champion Miami heat.  After a 5 1st round series going 7, the top 2 seeds in each conference have advanced, show just how hard it is for low seeds to make it through all 3 rounds of the playoffs leading up til the finals.

So here’s what I see happening we march one step closer to determining this years champion.

Eastern Conference Finals

(2) Miami Heat vs (1) Indiana Pacers

  • It’s the match-up we all predicted back when they were the only two East teams over .500.  It’s the rematch the Pacers worked so hard to ensure would happen with home-court advantage after losing game 7 in Miami a year ago.  Despite a bad 2nd half to the season, and a strange post-season, Indiana is here.  Miami had a fairly easy road here in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and you know they don’t care if they have to go into Indy and win.  They did show some stretches that could be concerning in their match-up against the Brooklyn Nets, but showed they still know how to execute late game situations better than most teams. So what happens?  The Pacers biggest advantage comes in the front-court, if and only if, Roy Hibbert plays closer to his 28 point performance, and not his 0 point playoff performance. But LeBron James is the biggest advantage of them all, and to that how well Ray Allen has looked, and how healthy Dwyane Wade has looked, I’m not sure home-court comes into play here. So give me the Heat in 6.

Western Conference Finals

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (1) San Antonio Spurs

  • In a super talented, hotly contested West, the top 2 seeds found a way to get it done and advance again.  OKC’s defense has been spotty at times this postseason, but they’ve come up big when needed.  The same can be said for San Antonio, though I think the Spurs look like the best team of the 4 left standing after shutting down the up-and-coming Portland Trailblazers squad.   I’m most looking forward to the point-guard match-up in this one.  Tony Parker has carried this team throughout the playoffs, and Russell Westbrook has been dominant offensively.  It’ll be interesting to see which bench provides the most consistent spark.  I picked the Thunder to win it all before the playoffs began, and I think OKC wins it in 7.

So that it, I think we’ve got a 2012 NBA Finals rematch on top, pitting the two best players on the planet and their deep teams against each other.

 

Hello Playoffs Part II – Preview & Predictions

Center Court - Game 1 2013 Playoffs vs Bulls

Center Court – Game 1 2013 Playoffs vs Bulls

Remember when the Brooklyn Nets were 10-21 and coming off an ugly blowout to the San Antonio Spurs on the final day of 2013? Remember when they opened up 2014 with a Joe Johnson game-winner over the Oklahoma City Thunder the next day?

Sound familiar?  It should. Except for a slightly better record to start things out last year, it’s the same thing that happened last season during the Nets inaugural season in Brooklyn.  Two years in a row this team has turned things around after a blowout loss and a big win over the top teams in the Western Conference.
Last year Brooklyn  finished the regular season at 49-33.  They were never 11 games under last season, and yet only finished with 5 more losses than this year. Two different teams in may ways? Sure.  But they do share similar regular season story-lines.
However, that is where the similarities end.  Because what we thought would be a rematch of the Bulls-Nets series of a year ago, has turned into a 3-6 match-up between division foes.  A rough end to the season for Brooklyn dropped them to the 6th seat and into a 1st round bout with the Toronto Raptors.
The two teams split the season series 2-2, and boy was their final match-up of the regular season exciting.  Yours truly was there in person, and when I say it’s one of the best basketball games I’ve ever seen, I’m not exaggerating.  Runs, big shot after big shot by both clubs ending in a Nets 101-9 win at Barclays Center.
Toronto wasn’t supposed to be here.  Going into the season, thoughts were they’d tank the season and hope to get a top 3 pick in this years loaded draft, and maybe land Canadian star Andrew Wiggins.  That was made, what we thought more evident when the Raptors traded away Rudy Gay early in the season.  Yet here we are, getting ready to watch them host a first round match-up as Atlantic Division Champs.  Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan pu this team on their athletic backs and drove them into the postseason.
Athletic. Young. And hungry.  That’s the Toronto Raptors in a nutshell.  And the Nets should be afraid.  What couldve been a defensive battle has turned into an offensive slug-fest.  Both teams have been crazy good in 2014, but as the Nets limp into the playoffs, the Raptors have continued their hot play.  Inexperience up and down the lineup has to do battle with the veteran laden Nets squad.
For Brooklyn to have success, they have to limit turnovers.  Toronto’s speed can turn those into easy buckets in transition.  Not to mention Mason Plumlee, Kevin Garnett and (if he gets minutes), Andray Blatche have to do work down low.  Without Brook Lopez, they’ve been limited as far as having a rim defender, and though he’s not a great rebounding big man, Lopez makes you work for 2nd chance opportunities.  The Raptors front court of Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Terrence Ross are quick, strong and not afraid to attack the paint.
But for me, the biggest match-up comes in the back court.  Lowry and DeRozan are one of the better scoring back-courts in the league.  Deron Williams has issues defending smaller, quicker guards, though Shaun Livingston’s presence will help.
So are the Nets better off in the 6th or would they have been better suited for that rematch with the Chicago Bulls?  Only time will tell, but I think if both teams play to the high levels seen since January, you can bet it’s going to be a fun and intense series.

So what will be some of the keys heading into this series if the Nets want to avoid being knocked out by the Bulls in two consecutive seasons?

  • Kevin Garnett must be healthy. You don’t need 30 minutes from him with Mason Plumlee playing well, but KG’s still a great defensive player, and their only real rim defender. He also has a fire that burns even brighter in the playoffs. This is why he was brought over in the off-season. Since returning from the back spasms, he’s looked very good.  Maybe the time off his legs will mean big performances coming up.
  • Deron Williams needs to be on every game.  Remember when he carried this team to the playoffs last season? He’s shown flashes of that player this season, but needs to show it more than once or twice a week. Shaun Livingston has been remarkable this season, but Brooklyn only goes as far as D-Will and his max contract can take them.
  • Mirza Teletovic and/or Marcus Thornton need to be consistent sparks off the bench. The Bulls can defend with the best of them, but when these players get hot, it doesn’t matter who is on them.  If they can come in, especially if the starters get off to a slow start, and hit a couple of 3s quickly, this team can possibly rattle a young Raptors squad.
  • Plumlee and Livingston need to limit the bad early fouls.  They’re too important to be on the bench too quickly.  The rookie is the energy of this front court, while Shaun is the same in the back.  Starting alongside Williams means you’ve got your two best ball handlers on the court for a majority of the game, and while Alan Anderson and Joe Johnson can handle the rock, that’s not what you want too often.   And as for Plumlee, this team isn’t deep at center, especially if you have to limit KG’s minutes.
  • Paul Pierce. Like KG, his postseason pedigree is a huge reason why he was traded for, and he’s shown he can still carry a team on his back.  If he gets established early, look  out.
  • And the biggest one? Rebounding. They’re a terrible rebounding team, but they still find ways to win.  Brooklyn has to try to limit Noah and Boozer from killing them too badly on the boards.  The Nets ability to force  turnovers will have to help counter act this.

There’s no reason this version of the Brooklyn Nets shouldn’t make it out of the first round.    The biggest problem last season was toughness.  Chicago manhandled every person that took the court for Brooklyn.  While this team is perceived as “old,” they’ve shown they’re not afraid of anyone.   They’ve looked better overall this season in that department, and should get past their division foes.  Falling back to 6 also means advancing on would mean a possible 2nd round date with the Miami Heat, who they were 4-0 against, as opposed to seeing Indiana, who they dropped all 4 against in the regular season.

So how far do you think the Nets go? Let your voice be heard and vote on the poll below.

With all that being said, here’s how I see the playoffs going from start to finish.

Eastern Conference Round 1                         Western Conference Round 1            

(1) Indiana  vs (8) Atlanta – Pacers in 5                      (1) San Antonio vs (8) Dallas – Spurs in 5

(2) Miami vs (7) Charlotte  – Heat in 5                           (2) Oklahoma City vs (7) Memphis – Thunder in 6

(3) Toronto vs (6) Brooklyn – Nets in 6                           (3) LA vs (6) Golden State – Clips in 6

(4) Chicago vs (5) Washington – Bulls in 6                (4) Houston vs (5) Portland – Rockets in 6

  • Toronto wasn’t supposed to be here, they were thought to be rebuilding.  Yet here they are, the 3 seed and Atlantic Division champs.  And Washington hadn’t been over .500 since 2009-2010, and started off the season just as bad as Brooklyn did. And out west, the Clippers and Warriors hate each other. Both can run, both have deadly shooters who can get hot quickly.  And don’t get me started on their point guards. But for second straight season, Golden State will be without their best post defender in Andrew Bogut, and I see the size of DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Glen Perkins just being too much for the Warriors to overcome.  Memphis is hot coming in, but the Spurs aren’t going down in round one, and neither with OKC.  Houston plays little defense, and Portland isn’t any better.  Give me Dwight Howard, Chandler Parson and James Harden any day over LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews.  Indy has been struggling, but the Hawks tried with all their might not to make it to the postseason, and I think the Pacers will make it look easy.  Charlotte might give Miami issues, but I don’t see much more than 1 win and a bunch of close losses.

Eastern Conference Round 2                        Western Conference Round 2

(1) Indiana vs (3) Chicago – Chicago in 7                  (1) San Antonio vs (4) Houston – Spurs in 6

(2) Miami vs (5) Brooklyn – Heat in 6                          (2) OKC vs (4) Clippers – Thunder in 6

  • I wanted to pick the Nets, and if they’d closed out on a higher note, I would have. But I they get past the 1st round and no more.  Miami will find a way to make the plays they didn’t down the stretch, especially with a healthy Wade on the floor.  The Pacers can’t score, but neither can the Bulls.  But Chicago’s defense is just better, and I think they find a way.  Out west it should be a lot of fun, but the Spurs are better defensively and I just think it’s the Thunder’s time.  LA and Chris Paul need a 2nd round appearance, but I think next year is a better year for the Clips to make it any further.

Eastern Conference Finals                    Western Conference Finals

(1) Miami vs (3) Chicago – Heat in 6                 (1) San Antonio vs (2) Oklahoma City – Thunder in 6

  • Chicago’s good luck runs out.  I can’t pick against Miami at home.  OKC match-ups up better than any of the other 28 teams in the league with San Antonio, and despite not holding home court, I see a rematch of the 2012 Finals.

NBA Finals  

(1) Oklahoma City vs (2) Miami – THUNDER WIN in 7

  •  I think it’s time for my 2013-14 MVP, Kevin Durant, to win his first ring, and I think he gets it.  The Heat might make a 4th straight finals, but they’re going to be tired.  The Westbrook injury was a blessing in disguise for OKC.  It means fresh legs, the bench will be ready to pick up the slack and the sidekick Durant was missing last season.  And if it should be Spurs in the finals, I say revenge for last season.  The West has been miles ahead of the East all year, and I think it means a championship for whatever team gets out.

So that’s it. Nothing left to do but sit back and watch a whole lot of really good basketball for the next month and a half. Oh the horror!

And here’s a not so shameless plug on my personal blog – stick with Sirius XM NBA Radio Channel 217 and on the Sirius XM App before and after games for great analysis and guests throughout the postseason and beyond.

Enjoy the run towards a ring everyone. May the best team win!