The first round of the NBA playoffs has come and gone.
All things considered, there weren't really any surprises heading into round two. Of course, the Bulls falling to the Sixers would appear to be a major surprise. Considering the Bulls played the majority of the series without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, it's not exactly shocking that they fell to a healthy Philadelphia team.
The other series pretty much went as expected. San Antonio and Oklahoma City both swept their ways past Utah and Dallas, respectively. Miami should have swept the lifeless Knicks, if not for one no-show game.
Both Los Angeles teams got locked in series' that went seven games, with each being able to pull out wins at the last moment. Boston and Indiana took care of their series' and found themselves one step closer to their ultimate goal.
The results of the first round have set up some intriguing matchups in round two. Oklahoma City faces off against the Lakers, while the Clippers get San Antonio. Both teams from Los Angeles will have to play fantastic series' if they want to make the Western Conference Finals a series that never leaves the Staples Center.
Eighth-seeded Philadelphia gets the low-scoring, defensively stout Boston Celtics, and the Pacers, who already blew through one Florida team, draws the Miami Heat.
The following slides will examine each matchup and predict who will move on to the Conference Finals.
The Los Angeles Clippers, that's right, those Los Angeles Clippers, find themselves in the second round of the playoffs after years and years of futility. Their reward? The West's No. 1 seed, the San Antonio Spurs.
The Clippers just wrapped up a grueling and physical series against the Memphis Grizzlies, while the Spurs have been waiting for their opponent for a while now, after sweeping the Utah Jazz.
The Clippers head into the game with the advantage at youth and athleticism. With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin running the court, the Clippers will look to earn their "Lob City" moniker by constantly pushing the ball and seeing if they can get the aging Spurs fatigued.
On the other hand, the big-three for the Spurs (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) have looked all season like they've returned to their form of years past. Add that to such a strong supporting cast, and you get the Spurs, who were one of the league's best teams again under coach Gregg Popovich.
The Spurs will try to play the total opposite style of the Clippers. They will try to slow the game down and play solid, wear-them-down defense to limit the chances for the high-flying Clippers.
In the end, this series will come down to which team will be able to implement their game plans more quickly and effectively.
With all of their talent, and playoff experience, the Spurs should be able to get that system in place and take care of the Clippers, sending them to yet another Western Conference Finals.
Prediction: Spurs win series 4-2
Like their brethren from the City of Angels, the Los Angeles Lakers are coming off of a surprisingly grueling series in which they disposed of the Denver Nuggets in seven games.
After the first couple games of their opening series, the Lakers looked like they could be a force to be reckoned with in these playoffs. Then, the wheels started to come off for coach Mike Brown and his team.
On the court, the Lakers were flat out not performing. Off the court, coaches and players continued a public discourse that always seemed to have one team member slamming another.
Still, the Lakers managed to win the series despite the issues.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, on the other hand, had zero problems with the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks. After two close games to start the series, the Thunder put their feet on the pedal and slammed the door on any hopes the Mavs had to repeat.
Heading into the series with the Lakers, the Thunder are playing some of their best basketball. Their stars are performing like stars, and their backups are constantly making solid contributions. The Thunder finally seem to have bonded as a team, and that should help them make that playoff push.
The Lakers are not playing their finest basketball. Kobe Bryant and coach Mike Brown have both publicly scolded Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, causing tension in La-La Land.
In the end, the Lakers just don't have the skill and talent to keep up with the Thunder.
Prediction: Thunder win 4-1
The good news for the Heat is that they might not need him to compete with anyone in these Eastern Conference playoffs. Once Derrick Rose went down with the injury, and having the Bulls promptly lose to the Sixers, the path for the Heat to make their second consecutive NBA FInals appearance seemed to get much easier.
The Indiana Pacers' path to the finals got much tougher once they disposed of the joke of a team that is the Orlando Magic. Now, the Pacers, a young, up-and-coming team, is looking at taking on one of the most talented teams in recent memory in the NBA. They don't have to worry about one superstar, they have to worry about two. It would be three if not for the loss of Bosh.
The key for Indiana will be slowing down the high flying Heat and seeing if they can out-muscle them in the paint. The one area that the Pacers have a distinct advantage is on the inside, where David West and Roy Hibbert roam. The big men for the Heat have no chance against these two. The Pacers need to have their bigs involved in every aspect of the game, offensively and defensively, if they want to have any chance.
In the end, the Heat will prove to be way too much for the Pacers to handle, with or without Chris Bosh. LeBron and Wade will both have their way with the weak perimeter players of Indiana, and that will leave Indiana to constantly play catchup. They won't be able to do so.
Prediction: Heat win 4-0
And that leaves us with truly the most intriguing matchup of the second round, the Boston Celtics vs. the Philadelphia 76ers.
Before the playoffs began, most people expected this to be the Celtics and the Bulls, with the Celtics standing little chance against Derrick Rose and crew.
Now, with the Bulls out of the way, it has opened the door for an unlikely team to make the Eastern Conference Finals, and has given hope to teams that probably doubted whether or not they could get there.
The Boston Celtics had to feel good about their first round matchup with the Atlanta Hawks going into the playoffs. They were playing some good ball, and the Hawks are consistently bad when games mean the most.
The Celtics came out strong in round one, especially for a team that is supposedly old and decrepit. They handled the Hawks in six games and awaited the results of the odd series between Philadelphia and Chicago.
Odd it certainly was.
Call it timing, or luck, or whatever you want, but the Philadelphia 76ers managed to pull off an upset that absolutely nobody saw coming in week one of the playoffs.
Then, Derrick Rose did something to his knee and collapsed to the floor in game one.
Without Derrick Rose, and an injured Joakim Noah, the Bulls still managed a decent fight out of their opening matchup. In the end, the Sixers were healthy and playing well. Seemingly led by someone new each night (J'Rue Holliday, Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner, Andre Iguodala), the Sixers were able to get enough production to roll Boston to start round two.
This matchup will be yet another battle of different styles. The Sixers need to be successful on the run if they intend on making it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
In the end, I think they can do it. I think Boston will cool off and really have trouble with the size and speed of Philadelphia, much more so than the Sixers having issues with Boston's physicality. Look for Turner, Iguodala and Brand to step up and have big games while being able to really bother their opponents with other tasks.
Prediction: Sixers win 4-3.