NBA Playoffs 2013: Predicting Winners of Friday's Elimination Games

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NBA Playoffs 2013: Predicting Winners of Friday's Elimination Games
Al Bello/Getty Images

It's been a wild first round of the 2012-13 NBA playoffs.

Three teams—the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors—have advanced. Ten teams are still battling for the final five spots in the conference semifinals.

We have, count 'em, four elimination games on Friday. Whether it's the historic rivalry of the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, or a No. 8 seed trying to knock off a No. 1 seed, there is plenty of NBA action to feast your eyes upon.

Here's a look at how I see Friday's playoff clashes going down.

 

New York Knicks (3) at Boston Celtics (2)

After winning the first three games of the series, the Knicks have lost the last two contests, including a 92-86 clunker at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

In both losses, the Knicks have shot under 40 percent from the field, including a horrendous 12-of-52 from beyond the arc.

The most troubling thing for New York has been the curious disappearance of Carmelo Anthony. Anthony has shot a combined 18-of-59 from the floor (31 percent) in the last two games. That includes going 0-of-12 from downtown.

This is one of the most unpredictable games of the playoffs. Despite Anthony's struggles, he was the NBA scoring champion this season. You can't rule out the possibility of him roaring back at some point in this series. 

But the reality is, this team's success ultimately lies in Anthony's hands. If he fails, so does the team. 

Sean Deveney of Sporting News had a nice piece on what has happened to the Knicks' offense lately. While Anthony rotated the ball around more during the regular season (leading to better offensive efficiency), he hasn't done that in the playoffs. In fact, 44.7 percent of New York's possessions during the playoffs have been isolation plays, according to Synergy Sports, via the Sporting News report. So, when Anthony struggles, it seriously cripples the team.

You add the fact that J.R. Smith shot 3-for-14 on Wednesday and Steve Novak is questionable for Game 6 with back spasms and you have yourself a mess.

I don't like the Knicks' offense lately, and I don't like them at TD Garden. The Celtics force Game 7.

 

Indiana Pacers (3) at Atlanta Hawks (2)

The home team has won every game in this series. Based on that, I wouldn't be surprised if the Hawks came off a dismal 106-83 loss in Indiana and won Game 6.

But the Pacers' big victory in Game 5 was more than a display of home-court advantage in my mind. It was the sign of a team rising, while the other fell.

The Hawks didn't just lose Game 5: they imploded. Josh Smith and Jeff Teague picked up two inexcusable technical fouls in the third quarter. Atlanta was also whistled twice for defensive three seconds.

On the other end, Indiana played its best game—and its best defense—of the series. The Pacers once again resembled the team that allowed the second-fewest points in the league during the regular season, holding the Hawks to 33 percent shooting.

Atlanta has been the Hawks' happy place this series. That will end in Game 6. The Hawks aren't mentally sound enough.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder (3) at Houston Rockets (2)

The Thunder have gone 1-2 since the injury to Russell Westbrook. It is what it is.

Another thing: Oklahoma City faces the Rockets in Houston in Game 6.

This, after the Rockets put in a spirited effort that resulted in a 107-100 victory for the club in Game 5.

In that victory, the Rockets shot 47 percent from the floor, exhibiting the offensive dominance they displayed during the regular season. That included former Thunder player James Harden, who scored 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting (including 7-of-9 from downtown).

Believe it or not, the Thunder may have to outshoot Houston to win Game 6. It's hard to believe, given the Thunder rank fourth in defensive efficiency this season, but the defense was not there in Game 5. It resulted in coach Scott Brooks calling for the Thunder to intentionally foul Omer Asik down the stretch. It didn't work, as Asik made 8-of-12 free throws before Oklahoma City abandoned that strategy.

If Oklahoma City is forced to outscore Houston, don't be surprised if Houston captures Game 6. The Rockets dared anyone but Kevin Durant to beat them in Game 5 and it worked. 

The key here may be the performance of Kevin Martin (you know, the guy in the James Harden trade). Martin went 1-of-10 in Game 5 and he's shooting 30 percent for the series (including 33 percent from beyond the arc). His offense is needed more than ever with Westbrook out.

One thing to keep in mind: this is only Martin's second playoff appearance of his career. He last made the playoffs with the Sacramento Kings in 2006, going on to shoot 40 percent from the field in six postseason games.

In that respect, I don't like Martin right now—particularly going back to Houston—and I see the Thunder falling in Game 6.

 

Los Angeles Clippers (2) at Memphis Grizzlies (3)

Will the Grizzlies knock the Clippers out of the playoffs in Game 6?

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What a collapse lately for the Clippers (fueling criticism of coach Vinny Del Negro). After winning the first two games of the series in Los Angeles, they've lost the last three games of the series, including a 103-93 loss to the Grizzlies on Tuesday in L.A.

Now, Blake Griffin is questionable with a sprained ankle and Chris Paul has a bruised left thumb.

Excuse me if I don't have much confidence in the Clippers headed into Memphis.

The Grizzlies have held the Clippers to 87.7 points per game in the last four games. It's not a fluke, either. They have center Marc Gasol—the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year—as well as some fine perimeter defenders in Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince.

There's also the fact that the Grizzlies hold an advantage on the glass. They rank third in the NBA in total rebounding rate and they've out-rebounded the Clippers in every game since Game 2. The fact that Griffin is hobbling makes that deficit even more glaring in Game 6.

Expect the Grizzlies to close out the series in Game 6 and avenge their first-round exit last year.

 

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