NBA Playoffs 2012: San Antonio Spurs and the Week Ahead
This year's Spurs team is playing on a different level from every other team. When critics floated out this may be the best Spurs team in the Tim Duncan era, you knew there was something special about this squad. San Antonio doesn't appear to have a weakness. It never beats itself, and the only team left in postseason that looks as if it can give the Spurs a series is the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In the other Western Conference Round 2 series, the Thunder are pushing around the old Los Angeles Lakers as if they were Pete Campbell pushing around Roger Sterling on Mad Men. The times of the Lakers dominating with this current roster appear to be over and they show no signs of coming back. When it's over, you just know.
The two Eastern Conference playoff series will likely be decided by the results of Game 5. The winner of Game 5 usually wins the series.
Here is a glimpse into this week of NBA postseason basketball.
Philadelphia 76ers (No. 8) vs. Boston Celtics (No. 4)
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Following the 107-91 loss to the Celtics in Game 3, the 76ers looked dead in the water. Sure, they won Game 2 in impressive fashion, but that was just one game and these are the veteran Celtics—a team that has been playing together for longer than Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner have even been in the league.
However, then Game 4 happened and the 76ers threw a wrench in everyone's Eastern Conference Finals plans. Throw "The winner of the Pacers/Heat series will play the Celtics" saying out of your vocabulary. Game 2 was not a fluke and these 76ers can legitimately ball.
Similar to the Pacers, on the outside it's hard to take these 76ers seriously. With no star power, how can the 76ers beat a team with three surefire Hall of Famers and a top-five point guard? As the Heat have shown, basketball is not fantasy football. And unlike college football, the NBA does not hand out the championship to the team that looks the part.
Game 5, the most important game in a seven-game series, is Monday in Boston. Game 6 is on Wednesday.
Kevin Garnett struggled in the Celtics' Game 4 loss. He is the key to the Celtics' success. With Paul Pierce, Avery Bradley and Ray Allen playing injured, the Celtics cannot afford another bad game from Garnett. He's their anchor. When Garnett plays bad, the 76ers odds of winning aren't only improved—they're probable.
In order for the 76ers to win, they need to keep attacking the basket. At times the 76ers become too much of a jump shot offense. The issue: They are not a good shooting team. As long as they take it to Boston and play tough defense, they have a shot to upset the Celtics.
Game 5 Prediction: Celtics (-5.5) over 76ers
Indiana Pacers (No. 3) vs. Miami Heat (No. 2)
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The Heat contradict everything we have ever learned about the game of basketball. Basketball is a team sport. Individual styles can lead to good regular-season records, but ultimately the best team always wins the NBA championship. It's the law of basketball.
Forget about what you like or don't like about the Heat. In Game 4 against the Pacers, the Heat did the impossible: They beat a good playoff team with just two guys. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James combined for 70 of the Heat's 101 points. There was no "Robin" in this game. Wade and James were the Avengers, with Wade playing the part of Thor and James playing the part of the Hulk.
James and Wade were so good in Game 4 that the Heat beat a deep Pacers team with a giant center, two athletic wings and a veteran power forward. The two outscored the Pacers' starting lineup by 11 points.
And, by the way, they did this without their only other good teammate, Chris Bosh, who is out for the series with an abdominal injury.
The series is tied 2-2 with Game 5 on Tuesday in Miami. It will be an intense game because both the Pacers and Heat know the winner of Game 5 will likely take the series.
The winner of Game 5 will depend on how Wade plays. If Wade plays like he did in Game 4, the Heat will win. However, if Wade plays like he did in Game 3, the Heat will be in for a long night. Game 5 is one of the most important games of Wade's career. If he truly is the team leader of the Heat, he will dominate the Pacers. He will punish them for their "tough guy" act they've been playing this whole series.
Wade, by himself, can confute the law of basketball.
Game 5 Prediction: Pacers (+7) over Heat
Los Angeles Lakers (No. 3) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 2)
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The Thunder seem to be getting all the fortunate bumps and breaks that it takes to win the NBA championship. Kevin Durant's shots always seem to get that lucky bounce that make the ball go in. More importantly in this series, the Lakers always seem to make the most bonehead moves in the most inopportune times. The Lakers could, and should, be leading this series 3-1.
In Game 2, Kobe Bryant shot the Lakers out of the victory. In Game 4, the Thunder outscored the Lakers 32-20 in the fourth quarter. Pau Gasol has become Bryant's scapegoat. Bryant can blame Gasol if he wants, but the Lakers did not lose Game 4 because of Gasol. They lost because the Thunder ended the game on a 22-8 run. Where was the defense or the offensive execution?
According to ESPN.com, Gasol and Bynum combined to score just two points on 1-of-2 shooting in the fourth quarter. Isn't the main advantage of having talented big men are to feed them the ball late in close games? Why not try to wear down the Thunder with your two seven-footers? Nope. It once again became the "Kobe Show." Bryant played well for the most part, scoring 38 points, but he struggled in the fourth quarter where he shot 2-of-8 in the final six minutes. His performance was very "LeBronish."
Game 5 is Monday in Oklahoma City and it might as well be a death sentence for the Lakers. The Lakers had to win Game 2 in Oklahoma City and they choked their chance away. Now they are left in an impossible situation against a team that would love to embarrass them once again on national television.
The Thunder are hungry. You can see it when they consistently pull off these late-game heroics. That hunger the Lakers used to have is gone. It's been gone for two years now and shows no signs of coming back with this current roster. The Thunder will beat the Lakers in Game 5 because they know how to take care of business. It's become routine for them.
Game 5 Prediction: Lakers (+8) over Thunder
San Antonio Spurs
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Is it possible that we are watching one of the best basketball teams of all time? The Spurs do not only beat teams—they embarrass them.
In Round 2, the Clippers did not play bad. They showed up every night to play the Spurs. The Spurs were just a significantly better team. The Clippers starting lineup could hang with the Spurs, but once those guys got tired, the Spurs' incredible depth shined through. For example, the Spurs' eighth man is Stephen Jackson, a player that has averaged 15.9 points per game in his career. Jackson would start for most NBA teams and he's just a luxury for the Spurs.
The Spurs have a strong lineup no matter whom they have on the court. They have too many three-point shooters to count and too many guys who "have been there before." If/when the Spurs play the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, they will be able to handle those crazy runs that Kevin Durant and company go on because they will never stop playing relentlessly.
Eventually Durant and Russell Westbrook will need a break. When they do, the Spurs will keep executing, keep playing defense and keeping forcing the Thunder's hand. How do you beat a team when it has 10 guys who can score more than 10 points on any given night?
This is a special Spurs team. If they make it all the way, hopefully they will be remembered for being the best Spurs team of the Duncan era and not for flying under the radar all year.