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.

 

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NBA Playoffs: Round 1 Recap

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You get a game 7! And you get a game 7! Everyone gets a game 7. (And apparently 4-point plays are a common thing now.)

I’ve never enjoyed the first round of the playoffs before.  They say any team can beat any other team on any given night.  And in the NBA Playoffs, that was true.  The only series that ended quickly was the World Champion Miami Heat knocking out the Charlotte Bobcats in a 4-game sweep.  But even 3 of those 4 games could have gone either way.

Let’s start in the West, where all season the competition was at a high level, and man-oh-man, was every series fun and hotly contested! You’re going to really earn representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals this year.

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs (8) Dallas Mavericks

  • Vince Carter’s game winning 3 gave them a 2-1 series lead, but San Antonio answered to make it 3-2.  The Mavs would not go quietly, forcing a decisive game 7.  But the Spurs said enough was enough, and easily eliminated Dallas at home.  Manu Ginobili resurfaced in the clincher, while Tony Park continues to do what he does best, help his team win.  The troubling part of the Spurs showing in this series was their defense, though that turned itself back on in game 7 as well.

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (7) Memphis Grizzlies

  • Memphis was maybe the best number 7 seed in the history of basketball.  After digging themselves in a hole early when Marc Gasol went down, they got hot in the second half, and earned the last spot in the playoffs.  The Thunder had to compete with a top defense and they had their issues. It was an even series throughout, with the Grizzlies unable to close some games out late, leading to a rare 4-straight overtime games.  But they were able to close out enough to put OKC on the brink of elimination in big part because of the defense played on MVP-favorite Kevin Durant.  But in game 6, Durant woke up big time, and stayed awake to lead them to into the 2nd round. And don’t forget his sidekick Russell Westbrook, who finished with two triple-doubles in the series.

(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs (6) Golden State Warriors

  • Both teams blew the other out at home.  But after LA owner Donald Sterling said some things (you know what things), and was subsequently banned for life, the Clippers played with renewed vigor and took care of GSW on the road.  They were pushed to a game 7 (who wasn’t?) and in a thoroughly enjoyable, they pulled it out, thanks in big part to the play of DeAndre Jordan and clutch free-throw shooting. Doc Rivers after said he’d remember this game 7 because of everything that happened and how his team responded.  The Warriors played well, despite losing their best post presence before the series started, but it wasn’t enough as the Clips nearly doubled them up in the paint.

(4) Houston Rockets vs (5) Portland Trailblazers

  • So much offense!  Not a lot of defense.  I picked the Rockets to win this one because they were playing better heading in and have a better bench.  But the Blazers reverted back to the team they were early in the year, and stole two on the road to open up, and won the series 4-2. A big reason for the advancement? The outstanding play of LaMarcus Aldridge the entire series, as well as the cold-blooded clutchness (that’s a word right) of one Damian Lillard.

Now let’s break down the Eastern Conference.

(1) Indiana Pacers vs (8) Atlanta Hawks

  • The Pacers were so focused on getting the number 1 overall seed all season, in case they faced the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals again, that they forgot they need to make it that far in the playoffs first.  They won’t. Atlanta grabbed home court in game 1, and again in game 5.  Roy Hibbert, who many thought coming into this season was the best big man in the NBA, didn’t play like it.  Rebounding and offense was an issue for the All-Star.  But don’t worry, we found Roy, at least kind of, in game 7.  But the reason they won the game, and the series, Paul George stepped up big time.  And they’ll need more of that on both ends of court going forward.

(2) Miami Heat vs (7) Charlotte Bobcats

  • No one really saw Charlotte getting into the playoffs, but in what was a weak Eastern Conference for much of the year, they did. Their defense carried them, while Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker did the rest on offense.  They played well, with the exception of a blowout in game 3.  But the reigning champs were just too much for them.  Charlotte goes back to being the Hornets, so the Bobcats finish their tenure with this lone playoff appearance, and no wins on their resume.  But look for this team to be back and even better next year.  They head into the next round the most rested, and most experience team left.

(3) Toronto Raptors vs (6) Brooklyn Nets

  • Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were brought in for the playoffs.  Yet they sat the entire 4th quarter of game 5 as the Nets made a furious comeback from down 26 to tie late.  Brooklyn lost.  I said before the series that the play of the back-court would be the difference, and it sure was.  Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan outplayed Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston in every facet of the game.  Fast-forward to the waning seconds of game 7.  A reoccurring issue between these two teams was the Nets inability to get a ball in late.  The Ratpors were all over their in-bounds plays, and stole one with 6.2 to go.  So the season came down to defense, and who made the final play?  Paul Pierce blocked a Lowry drive, after KG and Williams swarmed.  But it was Joe Johnson, the Nets best player all season, that put this team on his back and played the most consistent ball of them all in black and white.  So now, the lowest seed left, and only team to win on the road during game 7, the Nets move on to face the reigning world champs, and a team they beat 4 times in the regular season.

(4) Chicago Bulls vs (5) Washington Wizards

  • Losing Derrick Rose for the entire season, again, and trading away such a big piece in Luol Deng could have left the Bulls with a good excuse to fall in the East.  But did this team fights for 48 minutes, and were lifted by Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah to home-court.  And it took awhile for the Wizards to find themselves this season, but when they did… boy oh boy they find a good team. John Wall and Bradley Beal have quickly established themselves as one of the best back-courts in the league.  Washington enters well-rested, which could be important for a young squad.

Here are the second round match-ups and what I see happening:

Eastern Conference

(1) Indiana Pacers vs (5) Washington Wizards

  • Can the Pacers build off their game 7 performance?  Or can the Wizards continue their run?  It’s going to come down to the play of the front-court.  NeNe outplayed the Defensive Player of the Year in Noah, while former DOY Roy Hibbert looked terrible on both sides of the ball.  Not to mention the Wizards biggest advantage is Wall over George Hill at point guard. It’s going to be a tougher series than Washington had in round 1, but honestly, give me the Wizards in 6. (Had Bulls beating them in 7)

(2) Miami Heat vs (6) Brooklyn Nets

  1. I’m sticking with my original pick of Heat in 6 of Brooklyn in round 2.  I wanted to pick the Nets, and if they’d had an easier time with the inexperienced Raptors, maybe I’d give them more of a chance.  Miami will find a way to make the plays they didn’t in the regular season down the stretch, especially with a healthy and rested Wade on the floor.   The best chance Brooklyn has lies on the glass, in the hands of Joe Johnson, and whoever is tasked with defending LeBron James. That will probably be a team effort led by Shaun Livingston and Alan Anderson.  The King will get his, but if they make it hard on him, that will be huge.

Western Conference

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (3) Los Angeles Clippers

  • The Thunder played very good defense against Memphis, while the Clippers thrived on offense against the Warriors. Neither had the series was crisp, but here they are.  I picked OKC before the playoffs in six, and I’ll stick with that.  It’s going to be a close, hard-fought series, and while I think the scores will be high, in crunch time, I think the Thunder will dig deeper and get the stops needed.

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs (5) Portland Trailblazers

  • (Originally I had Spurs in 6 over Houston), but here are the Blazers after they won in 6.  I’m still taking the Spurs in 6 because of experience and if they an defend the way they did in-game 7, they should be okay.  But man did Portland show us something.  Or rather remind us of something . The Blazers were so hot to start the season, and they got back to doing those things that got them off to the quick start.  Aldridge was the best player on the court, and Lillard showed in just year two he’s not afraid to take the biggest shot. Let’s just say, I wouldn’t be surprised if the regular season’s best team falls to the upstart team from the north-west.

So there you go, that’s what I saw from the magical 1st round, and how I think round 2 goes. Here’s to another fun and nail-biting round of the NBA Playoffs.

NBA: Injuries, Losses and Confusion… Oh Nets

1465220_10152115043000555_1656789514_nNever thought I’d say it, but this team is missing their 1-2 records from weeks 1-3 of the season.  0-4 this week, a 3-10 record for a team many thought wouldn’t lose more than 20-25 all season, and a fight for last place in the Atlantic with the Knicks. Or just like we all saw this season going for New York area teams.

Game 10: vs Portland

Kevin Garnett thought he was 27 again, hitting his first 5 shots in the 1st quarter for 10 quick points after Saturday night off.  The entire offense shined in the first 12 minutes, scoring a season high 40 points in the frame.  But unfortunately for Brooklyn, the defense never showed up, and their hot start came to a halt just as quickly as it came.  Without Brook Lopez down low, Portland quickly learned to defend from 12-feet out, because there was no paint attack for the Nets last night.

Brooklyn couldn’t defend the 3, allowing Wesley Matthews to go 4-4 in the 1st quarter.  The Trailblazers as a team to shoot 44% from 3, and an obscene 54% overall.  Brooklyn did a good job limiting turnovers and getting to the free throw line, but they only finished at 37% from the field and a poor 23% from 3.  The Nets were held to just 35 points in the 2nd half.

If all those numbers weren’t troubling enough, this team lacked any kind of leadership in the 2nd half.  Timeouts were taken at strange times, there didn’t seem to be any talking on defense and Jason Kidd continues to just sit on the sidelines doing nothing.

  • Shaun Williams led the way with 23 points in place of the injured Deron Williams, Joe Johnson led with just 3 assists and Reggie Evans pulled down the most boards at 9.

L Trailblazers 108 – Nets 98

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 Game 11: @ Charlotte

Big shocker, they played poorly in the 3rd quarter and Deron Williams re-injured his ankle.  Down just 3 at the half, Brooklyn was outscored by 10 in the 3rd quarter where they allowed one of their 2 30 point quarters on the night.  They lost their point guard again, when Williams landed awkwardly on the foot of Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker after a late 2nd quarter jump shot. Williams took and made a pair of free throws, but was then immediately removed from the game and didn’t return.

The defense had no answer for Walker, who went for 31 including 2 clutch free throws to ice the game in the final seconds.  Neither team was great from the charity stripe, with the Nets leaving 7 points to the Cats 13 on the line.

  • Andray Blatche came off the bench to led the way with 25 points, Kevin Garnett pulled down 8 boards in 22 minutes, and Shaun Livingston assisted on 5 buckets.

L Nets 91 – Bobcats 95

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Game 12: @ Minnesota

For the amount of effort Brooklyn showed on Friday, they should’ve stayed home. No Lopez, Williams, Terry or Kirilenko again, and it showed quickly. By the end of the 1st quarter, the Timberwolves had a double-digit lead at 30-14.  Minnesota’s lead grew to 20 by half, and by the final buzzer, the Nets fell by their biggest margin of the year, 30 points.

All five of the Wolves starters finished in double figure scoring, including a double-double for Kevin Love, who had his way down low without Brook Lopez on the floor.  Brooklyn managed to get 4 in double figures as well, but had 20 turnovers to their 31 made field-goals.  Shaun Livingston had his worst game of the year in place of Deron Williams, tallying no assists and just 1 point.  The play of Mirza Teletovic was probably the only positive.  The second year forward pulled down 7 boards and score 7 points in 15 minutes of action.

  • Andray Blatche led the way for the 2nd straight day off the bench, scoring 16 points.  Reggie Evans and Kevin Garnett both grabbed 8 boards while Joe Johnson had a team high 4 assists.

L Nets 81 – Timberwolves 111

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Game 13: vs Detroit

Down 4 after 1 quarter, Brooklyn had one of their best offensive quarters in the 2nd, putting up 32 points.  Now stop me if this sounds familiar.  The Nets held a lead at the half, and then squandered it in the 3rd quarter.  A third straight day without Lopez, Williams, Terry and Kirilenko meant using their entire bench again.  And without their all-star big man, the defense in the paint continues to suffer, with the Pistons outscoring them 20-0 in the paint in the 3rd quarter alone.

Their lone healthy and not limited starter, Joe Johnson, did his best to save the Nets from their 4th straight loss. The shooting guard was on the floor by far the most, scoring almost at will, scoring a season high on 12-of-18 shooting, while dishing out 4 assists to no turnovers.  Greg Monroe and Brandon Jennings both tallied double-doubles for Detroit, who out-rebounded Brooklyn, as well as forced nearly twice the amount of turnovers than they committed.

  • Joe Johnson’s 34 was the most by a Net all season, Kevin Garnett continues to lead in rebounding with another 9 boards and Shaun Livingston dished out 7 assists.

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There continues to be little rhyme or reason to the distribution of minutes, and I never know when certain guys are going to come off the bench.  Some of this has to do with the recent rash of injuries to their starters, but a lot goes back to age and a lack of playing time together.  What I take away from this teams first 12 games is they need to play better pick-and-roll defense, as well as help defense, and they need Lopez back. He is the key to this team’s success.  Sure there’s depth body wise in the front court, but not enough scoring wise.  They need their lone all-star from a year ago to be healthy, and they need KG to be more consistent on the offensive end. If they can at least get one of those two things to go with an effective Blatche and Plumlee coming off the bench, they can survive (for now) without Williams.

Now the Nets look to be thankful for some much-needed wins this holiday week.  4 games and it all starts up north Tuesday in Toronto, then a Wednesday date back home with the Lakers.  The weekend caps off with a match-up with Dwight Howard in Houston on Friday and wraps up in Memphis on Saturday night.

NBA: Saying It’s Early is Getting Old for the 2013 Nets

Another week, another 1-2 record.  This team isn’t playing with consistent energy, and that’s the biggest problem.  That is until the end of the week when the injury bug struck.

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Game 7: @ Sacramento

This team had 3 days to get ready for this road trip, but they showed up looking tired.  In truth it was a lack of energy, something you can’t do any time, let alone early in the season.

Down 12 at the half, a poor start to the 3rd quarter meant that an early run in the 4th was little more than window dressing.  Because that run turned into a Kings run which led to the Nets 2nd blow out loss of the year.  Sacramento led by as many as 23 before this one was over. 

5 Nets finished if double-figures, but it’s hard to win when you shoot below 38%. There was way more ball movement for the Kings, who nearly doubled up the Nets assist total. Of course the poor shooting didn’t help that number. Brooklyn did a good job on the boards, but they had 15 turnovers to the Kings 6.  It was just a bad night all around to get the road trip started.

  • Brook Lopez led the way with 16 points, 9 boards tied with Paul Pierce and Deron Williams had 7 assists.

L Nets 86 – Kings 107

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Game 8: @ Phoenix

From the opening tip, there was much better energy for the Nets.  That was until Deron Williams crumpled to the ground just minutes in.  The oft-injured point guard came down hard on his left ankle, and stayed down for some time.  He hopped off to the locker room with some help, and the Suns took advantage.  You could see why Phoenix led the league in fast-break points.  Their guards have quick hands, force turnovers and they get back in transition quick.

But unlike the last few games, the Nets responded in the 2nd quarter to close a double-digit deficit to just 4 at the half.  Then, something unprecedented happened.  A 16-0 Brooklyn run to start the 3rd quarter.  Sure, following a timeout the Suns outscored them 17-10 the rest of the way, but that’s the type of energy and smart offense this team needs out of the break.  And it started and ended with Brook Lopez, who scored 10 of those 16 points.  Lopez had a bad 1st half, but rebounded in the 2nd half, and when the Nets big man is going well, this team usually excels.

It was a poor offensive 4th quarter capped off by a late Joe Johnson jumper that sent the game going to overtime.  Big shots are nothing new for the 2nd year Net, but the biggest came in overtime.  Tied 98-98, Johnson rebounded a Channing Frye miss, and took it in for a buzzer beating lay-up.

Williams never returned to the game, but luckily the MRI on his left ankle was negative. He’s day-to-day.

  • Brook Lopez was the leading scorer once again, putting up 27 points, while Kevin Garnett was a force on the glass, pulling down 14 rebounds.  Shaun Livingston came off the bench for Williams to dish out 6 assists to go with 18 points.

W Nets 100 – Suns 98 (OT)

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Game 9: @ Los Angeles

If there’s such a thing as a moral victory, this Saturday night 110-103 loss to the Clippers was that for the Nets. Brooklyn was without 80% of their starting lineup for their final stop on a 3-game west coast swing.  Brook Lopez and Deron Williams sat with ankle injuries.  Paul Pierce was out with a groin issue and Kevin Garnett was given the back-end of the back-to-back off.  So Joe Johnson, after 45 minutes in an OT win Friday, was the only healthy starter with the bench against a healthy LA team.  It started out well, but in the end, the Clippers playmakers did just that, they made plays.

Up 1 at the half, the Nets came out firing in the 3rd quarter for the 2nd straight night.  A 10-0 run out of the locker room led to a Clipper timeout.  And did that timeout work.  LA answered the Nets run with a 16-0 streak of their own, and Brooklyn could never really recover. 

But they kept it close until the end, and with just 1 starter, and with different guys playing big minutes, it was an impressive showing.  Shots that were falling early didn’t fall late, and they left points at the free throw line.  Many of those were left by lone rookie Mason Plumlee, who despite the misses, was a huge reason Brooklyn remained in it as long as they did.  The back-up big man wasn’t afraid to attack Blake Griffin down low.  It took a 30 point night from Griffin, and a 26 point effort from JJ Redick to beat the Nets bench, something that needs to be remembered. 

It was another loss, and you can’t be happy with a 3-6 start, but the energy, defense and ball movement from this one needs to transfer to practice and the starters need to feed off it when they return.  Again, a loss is a loss, but it might be a turning point loss.

  • Andray Blatche and Mason Plumlee tied for team high honors with 19 points, a career high for the rookie.  Reggie Evans led the way with 11 boards in his first start of the season and Joe Johnson dished out a team high 6 assists.

 L Nets 103 – Clippers 110

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Week 4 of the season starts with Portland at home on Monday before two more on the road. Charlotte on Wednesday and Minnesota on Friday. The week wraps up back home on Sunday against Detroit.

Injuries or not, this team is being paid too much money, and has too much depth to be 3-6.  It is early, but that’s not a good excuse for a team with Championship aspirations.