10 Bold Predictions for Every 2nd-Round NBA Playoff Matchup
It's official: We've moved on to the second round of the 2012 NBA playoffs.
From the Chicago Bulls being knocked out to the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder sweeping their opponents, the first round was full of surprises.
It's time to look forward to what the second round has in store. Will all the top seeds advance to the Western and Eastern Conference finals, or will things be shaken up?
Read on for 10 bold predictions regarding the second round of the 2012 playoffs.
10. LeBron Will Record First Triple-Double of His MVP Season
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
LeBron James had an impressively productive first-round series against the New York Knicks, with averages of 27.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game.
While that kind of production certainly helped the Heat knock out the Knicks, if the Heat are going to dominate the Pacers, they will need LeBron to play at an even higher level of production, as Indiana is well balanced and a much better team than the Knicks.
League MVP LeBron will rise to the occasion against the Pacers and help the Heat move on to the Eastern Conference finals. And he'll do so by accounting for his first triple-double of the season in this series.
LeBron's triple-double will come in Game 4 or 5 when the Heat will be looking to close out Frank Vogel's Pacers, and it will look something like this: 28 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
This postseason is going to be dominated by LeBron James, and that's going to include him grabbing a triple-double against the Pacers. He almost got it done in Game 1, with 32 points, 15 rebounds and five assists.
No. 9: All Four Top Seeds Will Move on to Conference Finals
Steve Dykes/Getty Images
The top seeds moving on to the second round of the playoffs are the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat and Boston Celtics.
Those teams will also be the teams moving onto their conference finals, some quicker than others, as all of the top seeds will win their semifinal matchups.
This year, more than others, the top seeds in the Western and Eastern Conferences are clearly more superior to the lower seeds they are going up against. While teams like the Lakers and 76ers have the talent, they need to take their series with the Thunder and the Celtics to the limit. The higher seeds, however, will move on, as home-court advantage will be too much to overcome.
The point is that the top seeds this season will all make it out of the semifinals and into the conference finals simply because they are just that good. The Heat and the Spurs could even end up sweeping their competition in these second-round series.
No. 8: Two out of Four Series Will Go Full Seven Games
Chris Chambers/Getty Images
As I noted in the last slide that all top seeds will be moving on, some of those won't be as easy as others.
The two matchups that have the potential to go a full seven games are the Thunder vs. Lakers and the Celtics vs. 76ers.
The Lakers have the veteran talent to hang with the Thunder, and the 76ers have enough depth coming off their bench to stay competitive with the Celtics for an entire seven-game series.
In the Sixers' regular-season series with the C's, the home team won every matchup, which bodes well for this semifinal series following suit and not being decided until Game 7, which will be played at the TD Garden in Boston.
The Lakers and Thunder are both talented teams with the playoff experience it will take to make their series go a full seven, so don't be shocked when the Lakers find themselves in their second Game 7 of the 2012 playoffs.
No. 7: Spurs Will Only Need Five Games to Advance
Steve Dykes/Getty Images
A lot of people doubted the San Antonio Spurs' title potential heading into the postseason, mainly because of their first-round dud last year against the Memphis Grizzlies. But Gregg Popovich's squad is quickly proving those doubters wrong.
In Round 1 against the Utah Jazz, the Spurs absolutely dominated every aspect of every game, which is exactly what they will be able to do against the Los Angeles Clippers in their upcoming series.
While the Spurs won't necessarily be able to sweep Chris Paul and LA, they will still be able to dominate them, much like they did during the regular season. The Spurs beat the Clippers in two out of their three meetings, and they did so by getting out in the transition and overwhelming a youthful and inexperienced Clippers team on the defensive side of the ball.
Watching the Spurs play is like watching an instructional DVD in offensive efficiency and discipline, and that's exactly what will be at the foundation of knocking the Clippers out of the playoffs in five games.
No. 6: Miami Heat Will Sweep the Indiana Pacers
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
I know this might seem outlandish, as the Heat dropped one of four games to the Pacers during the regular season, but it will be a different story in the playoffs, as the Heat will sweep the Pacers.
The Pacers looked good in their opening-round series against the Orlando Magic, but in all honesty, without Dwight Howard, the Magic weren't that difficult of a challenge.
The Heat match up especially well with Indiana, aside from the advantage the Pacers have at the center position with the 7'2" Roy Hibbert. On the perimeter, the Heat have the advantage, as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers will have an easy time locking down the Pacers backcourt of Danny Granger, Darren Collison and Paul George.
While the Pacers have the advantage in the paint with Hibbert, his average playoff production of just 11 points and 10.8 rebounds per game won't be enough to truly make a difference in the series.
Miami will be the only team in the second round to sweep their opponent, which will go to show just how dominant of a team the Heat are this postseason.
No. 5: James Harden's Defense on Kobe Will Be Difference Maker Against Lakers
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
The Oklahoma City Thunder have one of the best trios in the game with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
While any of those players have the capability of taking over games at will, the player who will carry the Thunder past the Lakers and into the Western Conference finals won't solely be based on his offensive production.
While the initial focus of the Thunder-Lakers series will be on Harden facing off against Metta World Peace in the "post-elbow era," the real impact of Harden's play will be felt on the defensive side of the ball, as he will be tasked with putting Kobe Bryant on lockdown.
Against Harden in two matchups, Kobe averaged a solid 23.5 points per game, but he did so on just 28.6 percent shooting from the field. Kobe's inefficient offensive production was in large part due to Harden's defensive focus, and that will be the same when they face off in the Western Conference semifinals.
Harden, the near-unanimous Sixth Man of the Year, will be the most important player on the Scott Brooks' roster, and it won't be because of the offensive numbers he puts up. It will be because of the offensive numbers he keeps Kobe from putting on the board.
No. 4: Rajon Rondo Will Average a Triple-Double Against the 76ers
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
If you missed Game 1 between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers, then you missed Rajon Rondo's impressive triple-double of 13 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds.
Rondo's Game 1 triple-double was his ninth of the year, and it certainly won't be his last, as he matches up extremely well against the guards on the Sixers roster.
There's no doubt that Rondo is capable of pumping out a triple-double every time he steps foot on the court. The only thing holding Rondo back from doing just that is himself.
When Rondo decides to step up his game, he can be the best player on the court for his team, and that's who the Celtics need him to be against Philly.
Rajon Rondo will accomplish a feat that few players before him have done, and that is to average a triple-double throughout a playoff series.
Rondo will put up averages of around 14 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds against the 76ers. You can count on that.
No. 3: Spurs and Thunder Will Both Lose Game 1 of Semifinals
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder have both been off for a little over a week after sweeping their first-round series against the Utah Jazz and the Dallas Mavericks respectively.
While that rest is certainly a positive, as rest is hard to come by in the playoffs, it can be a detriment to success, as rest sometimes can develop into rust when teams get back out onto the court.
The Thunder will face off against the Lakers in Game 1 of their series on Monday night, which means the Thunder have been off for a total of nine days. The Lakers will be carrying a lot of momentum into their matchup against OKC, and that momentum will overwhelm a rusty Thunder squad.
The Spurs have the possibility of falling into the same trap, as a week of rest will quickly become an obstacle to coming out of Game 1 victorious against the Clippers.
While it might be hard to believe, both the Spurs and Thunder will lose their Game 1s. Fortunately for both teams, that loss won't mean much, as they will both still move on to meet up in the 2012 Western Conference finals.
No. 2: Playoff-Shaping Injuries Will Creep into the Second Round
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
While the first round is officially behind us, the injuries that shaped the opening round will unfortunately find their way into Round 2.
The rigor of this year's playoff schedule, which includes games in consecutive nights for some teams, is going to continue taking its toll on the players.
I'm not wishing injury on anyone, but there's no escaping the reality that this year's lockout-shortened season and the condensed playoff schedule will result in players suffering from afflictions they might not have otherwise suffered.
While it is my hope that no one will have to go through what Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert experienced, as the injuries of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have demonstrated, strained muscles and tweaked ankles will be more common throughout this year's playoffs. And it will undoubtedly have an impact on which teams will be able to make it to the NBA Finals.
No. 1: LeBron Will Sink a Game-Winner Against the Pacers
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Again, the Miami Heat will sweep the Indiana Pacers, but it won't necessarily be all that easy.
The Pacers are an athletic and competent team that will challenge the Heat every minute of every game, which will result in games that come down to the wire.
The Heat have the advantage when it comes to close games and clutch-time moments, as they have one of the best closers in the game in Dwyane Wade.
This series, however, Wade won't be the player to save the Heat. That player will be none other than LeBron James.
Remember back in 2009 when King James hit a game-winning three against the Orlando Magic? That's the kind of moment that LeBron is going to have against the Pacers.
LeBron has had one of the most complete seasons in NBA history, and the one thing he's missing—a game-winning shot—will be exactly what he gets in this second-round series. Sometimes, all the stars align at just the right time, and it seems like that will happen for the 2012 NBA MVP in this Eastern Conference semifinals series.