Which 2nd-Round NBA Playoffs Series Is Most Likely to Spring an Upset?
If you were pumped for the first round of the NBA playoffs, Round 2 should have you Harlem shaking in excitement.
We're in for some appetizing matchups along with a phenomenal cast of characters.
Some of the remaining teams are considered underdogs by label, but the seedings shouldn't pull much weight here. The Memphis Grizzlies, Indiana Pacers and Golden State Warriors all have a shot at escaping the second round if they execute to their abilities.
Within each series are a few themes that I've used to help break down what's in store and pick the underdog most likely to spring the upset.
Momentum is that invisible wave some teams are lucky enough to catch. It's not a quantitative measurement or statistic, but it exists and is extremely useful to underdogs who lack the talent of their opponents.
The Memphis Grizzlies recently caught this wave. It carried them right over the Los Angeles Clippers and straight into a series with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Zach Randolph and company have to be considered one of the most feared teams in the league right now. Forget the No. 5 seed that's attached to their name. This is a disciplined group of players that just made a pretty good team look inferior in every way.
On the other side of the table, the Thunder's wave is fading. They managed to knock off the Houston Rockets in six, but it didn't look pretty without Russell Westbrook riding shotgun. There's no doubt about it, Kevin Durant is going to have to carry weight that no man should have to carry. But if there's anyone talented enough to shoulder the load, it's Durant.
The Grizzlies clearly have the momentum here, which they'll have to use to their advantage if they want to knock off the No. 1 seed.
It's tough to gain much momentum when you have to sit out a week in between games. But for the San Antonio Spurs, they'd probably take rest over momentum.
The fact that the core is healthy, fresh and on top of their game is all the momentum they need.
However, the Golden State Warriors are now playing with house money. After treating the ball like a hot potato and nearly blowing a fourth-quarter lead to Denver, Stephen Curry's crew squeaked by in Game 6, taking the series from the Nuggets.
That win called for a huge sigh of relief. Now, the Warriors are feeling loose. Coach Mark Jackson also hinted that some minutes would be in store for David Lee, who, if healthy, would give Golden State some much-needed help against the Spurs on the interior.
Both teams are coming in with very different forms of momentum. It will be interesting to see how each team uses its own brand to its advantage.
There are some 10-year-olds out there who haven't seen the New York Knicks in the second round of the NBA playoffs. And regardless of how poorly the Knicks closed out the series against Boston, they closed it out—and did so on the road.
The Indiana Pacers are in a similar spot. At times during their series with Atlanta, you weren't sure they'd make it out alive. But they managed to seal the deal and ultimately live to fight another round.
Hopefully for the Knicks, the strong play and long-range touch from Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni will carry into Round 2. But overall, these two teams are pretty much even on the momentum front.
Chicago has some momentum after its Game 7 win over Brooklyn. Joakim Noah played like a man possessed, and he is one of the few players in the league capable of getting under Miami's skin. Still, the Bulls will need a healthy Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich to give them a fighting chance in a seven-game series.
There is a lot of contrast in some of these second-round matchups.
The Golden State Warriors are the new school, with a fresh bunch of athletes, a fiery young coach and an emerging NBA superstar.
The old-school San Antonio Spurs are back with the same damn nucleus they compete with year after year.
This one is a battle of experienced veterans against talented newcomers. The Spurs and Warriors split the season series, but we all know the playoffs are a different animal.
The defensive-oriented Pacers will try and lock down the Knicks' high-volume perimeter scorers. Paul George versus Carmelo Anthony should be a treat to watch, with one of them having something to learn and the other something to prove.
Rebounding will be a key in this series. Indiana was ranked No. 1 in the NBA on the glass this season, while the Knicks were 26th. Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler are going to have to stay out of foul trouble and provide an active presence in the paint to help neutralize Indiana's Roy Hibbert and David West in the frontcourt.
They split the season series at two apiece, and it wouldn't be surprising to see this one go the distance.
We should be in for a physical frontcourt matchup between Memphis' Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol versus Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka of the Thunder. This is where Memphis' strength lies, as its big boys down low are capable of bullying the opposition.
Expect Kevin Durant to see a lot of Tayshaun Prince, who's got the size and length to irritate defensively.
Reggie Jackson is going to have to be on his A-game on both sides of the ball. Mike Conley is a tough cover thanks to his ball-on-a-string handle and three-point stroke, but Kevin Martin will ultimately be the X-factor in this one. If he's able to consistently score, he'd give the Thunder the No. 2 scoring option they lost when Westbrook went down.
The Grizzlies took two of out three from Oklahoma City during the regular season, so expect the confidence in Memphis' locker room to be sky high heading in.
At about half strength, the Bulls just don't have enough offensive firepower to keep up with Miami. The Heat are fresh and likely salivating at the opportunity to get back out on the court. Depending on the health of Deng and Hinrich, this one could be quick.
There's a superstar in every series capable of taking things into his own hands. Sometimes that one guy can offset the difference in talent between both teams.
Stephen Curry has emerged as one of those guys for the Warriors. He went for 30, 29 and 31 points in Games 2, 3 and 4 against Denver, respectively, and with unlimited range, Curry doesn't appear to be guardable once he's locked in.
Hopefully for the Warriors there's a little more magic left in Curry's hat for Round 2.
Carmelo Anthony is another superstar, though we didn't really see it against Boston. No worries. Anthony has that ability to shoot 8-of-24 one night and go off for 40 the next. If he finds that same zone he found toward the end of the regular season, it won't matter how well the Pacers play.
And while the Knicks have 'Melo, the Pacers have Paul George, who looks to be in the process of breaking out as a star. He'll certainly have the stage to do so in Round 2.
The second round is also an opportunity for Kevin Durant to show what he's capable of. If there was ever a time for Durant to create one of those defining moments in his young career, now would be it. Even without Westbrook, Durant has that star power and the ability to take over and win a game for the Thunder.
And, of course, we know what LeBron James can do. James could dominate Round 2 with an eye patch and one hand tied behind his back.
Though not as shiny as some of the other stars in this year's playoffs, Tony Parker, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Tim Duncan will also look to prove that their regular-season accolades were just the tip of the iceberg.
Each series has an X-factor who could help determine the outcome.
Kevin Martin is the X-factor in the Oklahoma City-Memphis series. If he's off, the Thunder will be in trouble, considering the 23 points per game they lost when Westbrook went down. If Martin is consistently on, he'd give the Thunder that second scoring option capable of sinking a defense.
J.R. Smith is that same dude in the New York-Indiana series. The Knicks can't afford for Smith to shoot them out of games. If the jumper isn't working, he'll have to adjust and get to the rack. Without Smith's offense, the Knicks have to dig deep for the next guy in line.
While there probably isn't one X-factor who will determine the series, the Warriors will live and die with Stephen Curry. He's got to be the man for Golden State to have a chance. We've seen him be that guy before, but not at this level and not under this microscope.
Three out of four of these underdogs have a realistic shot at pulling the upset. But there's one that sticks out like a sore thumb.
The Memphis Grizzlies are going to knock off the undermanned Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round. I consider Russell Westbrook a top-10 player in this league, and I'm not sure any team could afford to lose that type of production over an extended period of time.
The Thunder just don't have much room for error here. Without Westbrook, they'll need Kevin Martin to not only provide instant offense but consistent offense. Others who haven't been asked to score before are going to have to step up and do so against one of the top defensive teams in the league.
With Westbrook out, the Grizzlies smell blood in the water. This is a confident group that makes teams work on both ends of the floor.
Zach Randolph has been waiting for an opportunity like this for a long time, and he looks as focused as ever.
The Grizzlies are riding the momentum while the Thunder are searching for a wave to ride. Memphis has taken the season series and are now in good position to take another one in the postseason.
It wasn't too long ago they knocked off the Spurs as a No. 8 seed. This is a team that thrives as an underdog in a spoiler role.
I like the Knicks over the Pacers, the Spurs over the Warriors, the Heat over Chicago and the Grizzlies in six over the Thunder.
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