NBA Playoffs 2013: Predicting Winners for Wednesday's Round 1 Games

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2013

Apr 21, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) drives to the basket while guarded by San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (right) during game one of the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA playoffs are still in the early stages of development, but the thing about the postseason is that every game is huge.

Thus far, we've been treated to a host of thrilling contests, and Wednesday's action doesn't figure to be any different, as three different first-round series will continue to unfold.

Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder will look to throttle the Houston Rockets once again, while James Harden and crew will try to steal one on the road to avoid falling behind 2-0. 

Paul George will attempt to lead the Indiana Pacers past the Atlanta Hawks for a second straight contest, but Josh Smith and Al Horford might have something to say about that.

The Dwight Howard-led Los Angles Lakers will seek to rebound from a Game 1 loss against a San Antonio Spurs team that wants to hold its home court and travel to Tinseltown with the series well in hand. 

Which playoff squads are destined to fall into a two-game hole, and which have a legitimate opportunity to knot their series up at one game apiece?

Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder

Poor Harden. 

Alright, he's not poor—that $80 million contract he signed over the summer made sure of that—but you get the idea.

Oklahoma City torched the youngest team in the league the first time around 120-91. If you are a Houston fan, it wasn't pretty.

Not only did the Thunder hold a Rockets team that averaged 106 points per game during the regular season to 91, but Houston shot just 36.3 percent from the field. Harden himself was off as well, converting only six of 19 shots. 

Playoff jitters are not to be discounted for a young and impressionable team like the Rockets. Most on the roster don't have the extensive postseason experience Harden does.

One would think that as one of the most potent scoring teams in the NBA, Houston's shots would start falling. And they probably will. What worries me is the Rockets' inability to stop the Thunder's shots from doing the same.

Houston is not a good defensive team. Game 1 marked the third time in four contests this year the Rockets allowed the Thunder to drop 120 points on them. In the one game Houston managed to hold Oklahoma City below that threshold, Harden and crew barely edged out a 122-119 victory.

The Rockets just don't matchup well against the Thunder defensively. Defending Durant is a nightmare for anyone, but the Rockets don't have the luxury of an elite perimeter defender who can hassle Russell Westbrook either. He and Durant combined for 43 points in Game 1 on 14-of-30 shooting from the floor.

Although Houston can keep pace offensively with any team in the league, Oklahoma City included, relying on a one-dimensional attack is crippling against squads that don't.

The Thunder can score—that's what they do—but they can also defend. They ranked fourth in defensive efficiency during the regular season.

Oklahoma City is also allowed to key in on Harden, the lone superstar in Houston's lineup. Without a second star-caliber scorer to draw in the defense, he is going to have a difficult time finding his rhythm on offense.

And while I hate to play this card, a Game 1 win improved the Thunder's record at home to 35-7 on the year. I firmly believe the Rockets will find more ways to score in Game 2, but I don't foresee them being able to counteract that kind of momentum.

Prediction: Thunder 122, Rockets 101

Atlanta Hawks at Indiana Pacers

The Pacers manhandled the Hawks 107-90 in Game 1 without even playing their best basketball.

George posted a triple-double, but shot just 3-of-13 from the floor. Indiana as a team hit on 44.9 percent of its shots. Still, the Pacers—a team not known for their offense—were able to drop 107 points on an identity-less Atlanta squad. 

The Hawks are going to need more illustrious performances from their two stars in Game 2 if they wish to keep it close. Neither Smith nor Horford managed to score more than 15 points on Sunday. It would really help if Kyle Korver hit more than 25 percent of his threes (1-of-4) as well.

What Atlanta does have going for it is Jeff Teague. The Pacers struggled to keep him out of the paint and couldn't defend him in transition. Had the point guard's teammates been hitting more of their shots, he would have finished with more than the seven assists he had to go along with his 21 points.

Any adjustments the Pacers are forced to make to mitigate his dribble penetration (and believe me, they'll make plenty) should open up things even more for this teammates.

What truly concerns me about the Hawks is their face-less system. Not in the sense that they don't have a go-to scorer or proverbial rock to lean on, but rather, nothing about their game defines them. 

Atlanta ranked in the top 10 of defensive efficiency during the regular season, but it didn't finish better than 14th in either points scored (98) or points allowed (97.5). Against a Pacers team that ranked first in defensive efficiency and has shown the ability to explode on offense, that is going to prove costly.

George is able to impact the game even when he's not shooting well (a la his triple-double in Game 1) and George Hill has improved a great deal on the offensive end. Not even the defensively sound Teague was able to prevent him from dropping 18 points on Sunday. 

And don't get me started on David West. His footwork in the post is so precise, and he's extremely nimble for someone who can finish as strong as he does.

Part of me sees this one being another blowout, but hopefully Larry Drew learned his lesson about sitting Horford when he's hot, even if the big man's in a bit of foul trouble. 

Prediction: Pacers 99, Hawks 91

Los Angeles Lakers at San Antonio Spurs

Game 1 should have been much closer than the 91-79 score would lead most to believe.

Had the Lakers been able to knock down a greater percentage of their threes (3-of-15) and protected the ball a bit better (18 turnovers), Sunday's game wouldn't have fallen out of reach in the fourth.

Los Angeles defended San Antonio well, particularly Howard and Pau Gasol on Tim Duncan, who shot just 6-of-15. The Lakers handled Tony Parker nicely, too. The Spurs' point man hit on just 8-of-21 attempts from the floor.

The problem? San Antonio still managed to win by 12.

Manu Ginobili was deadly from deep (3-of-5) and finished with 18 points, and the Spurs got a nice performance from Matt Bonner (10 points). Their depth was an absolute killer.

And that depth isn't going away. Even if the Lakers manage to score more—which they will—they still have to account for San Antonio's bench. That the Spurs were able to pull away in the fourth without Duncan and Parker playing their best games attests to just how difficult a team they are to beat.

Expect the Lakers to continue to run the ball inside out. This strategy was effective in Game 1, but Los Angeles' shooters were not.

The hope for Hollywood needs to be that Jodie Meeks, Steve Nash, Metta World Peace and Antawn Jamison find their touch from deep. Seeing more Steve Blake corner threes go down is a must as well.

This is one of the playoff matchups I thought would be closely contested, and my stance hasn't changed. I still say the Lakers get two games in this series.

Will they be able to pull out a victory in San Antonio, though? That's where I have my doubts. Following the Spurs' Game 1 victory, they improved to 36-6 at home on the year. The Lakers are now 16-26 on the road. 

I see this one being close throughout (and won't rule out an upset), but better shooting from the Lakers will be matched with a better game from Duncan or Parker—or both.

Spurs 97, Lakers 93


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