NBA Playoffs 2013: Predicting Winners for Sunday's Round 1 Games
Three NBA teams are facing elimination as we prepare to watch a slew of Game 4 action on Sunday.
The New York Knicks are looking to sweep the Boston Celtics in Beantown after pummeling them in Game 3, the Miami Heat will hope to make quick work of the Milwaukee Bucks and the San Antonio Spurs have put the depleted Los Angeles Lakers in a seemingly no-win situation.
Then there's the Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors, two high-powered factions who have reached a turning point in their series.
Golden State will attempt to hold its home court for a second straight game while Denver looks to avoid heading back home down 3-1.
Of the three squads poised to hand out a first-round sweep, which will finish the day out by advancing to the second round? And which outfit will emerge from Oracle Arena with a victory?
The playoff field is about to thin out, but the postseason craziness has only just begun.
New York Knicks at Boston Celtics
Had you told anyone at the beginning of the season that the oldest team in NBA history (the Knicks) would have the opportunity to become the first convocation in the Association to end their first-round bout, they would have looked at you in amazement. And probably with pity, too.
Yet, the Knicks find themselves in a position to do just this. Before the Heat have an opportunity to cruise past the Bucks and before the Spurs have a chance to add further insult to the Lakers' overwhelming number of injuries, the Knicks have a chance to move on.
But will they?
The Knicks have played exceptional defense all series. Boston has yet to eclipse 80 points in a game and New York has found ways to remove Kevin Garnett from the Celtics' offense and limit the impact Paul Pierce has had. Now down 3-0, the Celtics don't have much to play for and are in a position where they can roll over and just get their exit over with.
There is something about Boston that makes you believe it won't just step aside, though. The Celtics are playing at home, the Knicks will be without J.R. Smith and in need of finding scoring elsewhere, and dating back to the regular season, they've now lost six straight to New York and seem due for a win.
J.R. Smith has been suspended for Sunday's Game 4 of Knicks-Celtics.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) April 28, 2013
Their offense is also overdue for a display that can't be categorized as unsightly. Long overdue, in fact.
They're shooting under 40 percent from the floor for the series, and while they've managed to hold the Knicks to under 100 points in three consecutive games, their defense has often failed them in the second half.
Which team will win Game 4?
Will Boston be able to use its series-long shortcomings as motivation to steal one at home and send this matchup back to the Big Apple for a Game 5?
Nothing we have seen from the Celtics suggests they will, even if the Knicks will be down their second-leading scorer. If the Game 1 version of Boston shows up, then maybe. But we've been saying that for the past two games.
Prediction: Knicks 96, Celtics 87
Miami Heat at Milwaukee Bucks
Dwyane Wade or no Dwyane Wade, you get the feeling that Miami is on the verge of sweeping Milwaukee.
The Bucks have had spurts in each of the first three games that fooled us into believing they could steal a game. But each time, those bursts acted as facades.
All three of the Heat's victories have come by double-digits. Their average margin of victory stands at 16 points and they've completely removed the three-pointer from the Bucks' offensive arsenal (25.7 percent).
Which team will win Game 4?
For Milwaukee (or any other team) to realistically derail Miami's championship aspirations in any way, a successful three-point barrage is a necessity. South Beach's offense cannot be stopped or even contained, unless the Heat do it to themselves. To remain in the game and ultimately win, it's going to take an excess of big men to keep LeBron James and crew away from the rim, or an unconscious showing from beyond the arc.
Save for Larry Sanders, the Bucks don't have the size to take Miami's dribble drives out of the equation. The Heat are averaging more than 50 points in the paint through the first three games. That, coupled with Milwaukee's subpar efforts from behind the rainbow put Miami in the driver's seat.
And there's no reason to predict that the Heat will take their foot off the gas now.
Prediction: Heat 107, Bucks 91
San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Lakers
No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit. If there was ever a team that could do it, well, it's not the Lakers.
Los Angeles is wounded beyond comprehension. Steve Blake, Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace are all out for Game 4, so the Lakers will have a difficult time even fielding a healthy team, let alone snagging a win.
To make matters worse, the Lakers have lost the first three games by an average of 18 points and are 0-7 all-time when trailing 3-0. Which means it doesn't look good. Or even bad. It's bleak.
The Lakers are 0-7 all-time in Game 4 when trailing 3-0 in a best-of-seven series.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 27, 2013
Could the Lakers perhaps catch a rolling Spurs team off guard? They're playing at home, Tiago Splitter is out indefinitely and neither Tony Parker nor Tim Duncan have shot exceptionally well from the field all series. Perhaps they'll manage to steal one. It's not impossible.
It's also unlikely. With Los Angeles' defense failing them in Games 2 and 3, offensive production is crucial. In the Lakers' case, it's also nonexistent.
They're averaging just over 86 points a game, a regrettable total. During the regular season, they were 1-6 when tallying fewer than 87 points.
With the Spurs' offense having posted at least 102 points in the last two games, the Lakers must find a way to put some serious points on the board if they wish to prolong their postseason. And to do that, they need to hit their threes, which thus far, they haven't.
Which team will win Game 4?
Los Angeles is shooting 26.3 percent from deep for the series, and when you rely on an inside out attack, where success is predicated on knocking down the open treys Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol create, that's crippling.
The Lakers have gotten worse as this series has progressed. Their defense is failing them, their offense is stagnant and their health dwindling.
Going up against a deep Spurs team that has done a little bit of everything, you have to believe the Lakers will be the third team sent home winless in the postseason.
Prediction: Spurs 111, Lakers 96
Denver Nuggets at Golden State Warriors
Three games in, it has become abundantly clear that this series is going to be a dogfight.
Games 1 and 3 were decided by just two points each as both the Warriors and Nuggets have looked to out-shoot the other.
Golden State has won two consecutive games and will be playing in front of an incredibly loud and loyal crowd at home. The chance to blow this series open and head back to the Pepsi Center up 3-1 seems surreal, but it's plausible.
The Nuggets are hoping to wash away the stench of two straight defeats and return home with the series notched up at two games apiece. Facing a confident Warriors offense, that won't be an easy task.
One of the major differences in this series has been three-point shooting. Golden State is knocking down nearly 45 percent of its deep balls because that's what Golden State does—make you pay from the perimeter.
Denver has countered with a paltry 31.7 percent clip of its own and has been outscored by 33 combined points from three thus far.
Though not a dominant three-point shooting team (34.3 percent during the regular season), the Nuggets must find a way to knock down their shots from downtown. Either that, or they must figure out how to prohibit the Warriors from torching them from distance.
Which team will win Game 4?
Neither unit has had issues putting points on the board, though. Game 1 saw more defense being played than anyone expected, but this series has been dominated by potent offensive displays.
Down 2-1, the Nuggets know what's at stake. Returning to Denver in a 3-1 hole would be a morale killer, even if the Nuggets are one of the most dominant home teams in the league.
Expect them to tighten up their defense and attack the rim harder than ever. And then expect them to win.
Prediction: Nuggets 106, Warriors 101
*All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
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