With the second round of the 2013 NBA playoffs set, there are only eight teams remaining. While most seem to believe that the Miami Heat are destined to repeat as champions, the games are played for a reason.
Every second-round matchup is intriguing and could potentially go either way.
Role players will be of great importance, but superstars will ultimately rule the day as they so often do in the playoffs. All of the remaining teams have at least one player who they lean on more heavily than others and they will have to step up. While great play from star players doesn't guarantee victory, it definitely makes things much easier.
The New York Knicks battled a multitude of injuries all season long, but they still managed to nab the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference quite easily. A huge reason for that was the play of star forward Carmelo Anthony. While Melo has been criticized for much of his career, he proved his worth this season. Anthony is clearly the featured player for the Knicks, but he has played great team ball and shown himself to be a leader. That absolutely must continue in the second round of the playoffs.
Anthony won the NBA scoring title during the regular season and continued his torrid pace in the first round of the playoffs against the Boston Celtics. Anthony averaged over 29 points per game in the conference quarterfinals and will need to put up similar production against the Indiana Pacers. There is some concern about whether or not Anthony will be effective as he felt his shoulder pop during Game 6, but he will be good to go for Game 1, according to Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com.
The Pacers are a deep team that plays spectacular defense, so there will be plenty of bodies committed to stopping Anthony. Melo has been double-teamed all year, though, and it hasn't phased him. As long as he keeps playing the way he has, the Knicks should make it to the next round unscathed.
Most NBA players are winding down and transitioning into a supporting role when they reach the age of 37, but that isn't the case with San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan. "The Big Fundamental" has had a resurgent season and is playing at an incredibly high level right now. He averaged 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest in the Spurs' four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. His performance was particularly impressive because he did it against the likes of Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard.
The Golden State Warriors are upstart underdogs with a lot of offensive punch, but they'll be hard pressed to stop Duncan. Warriors power forward David Lee surprisingly returned from a significant hip injury, but it remains to be seen how effective he can be. Also, center Andrew Bogut may not be great fit to guard Duncan as TD generally likes to stretch the floor. Like Melo, however, Duncan is ailing a bit, according to Don Harris of WOAI News 4 in San Antonio.
Duncan is as tough as they come, so he'll play in Game 1 as long as he can walk, but he could be compromised. With that said, Duncan plays a very simple game and he doesn't necessarily have to be explosive to be effective. Duncan knows this could be one of his last chances to win a title, so he'll show a sense of urgency and lead the Spurs past the Warriors.
With Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook going down due to injury, many observers believed that the Los Angeles Clippers had a great chance to make the NBA Finals. The Memphis Grizzlies had other ideas as they stunned the Clippers by winning four straight games after dropping the first two of the series. A big reason for Memphis' comeback was the play of hard-nosed power forward Zach Randolph.
Z-Bo was dominant after a sub-par start to the series. He scored at least 23 points in each of the Grizzlies' wins against the Clippers and averaged eight rebounds per game for the entire series. Randolph's main adversary in the series was Blake Griffin, who suffered an ankle injury. Randolph wasn't sympathetic, according to FOX Sports, and he proved it by going right after Griffin.
With that in mind, it is unlikely that Randolph will feel bad for the Thunder, who are without Westbrook. While OKC was able to eliminate the Houston Rockets in six games, it clearly struggled with Westbrook on the shelf. The Grizzlies rely heavily on their interior offense and Randolph is a huge part of that. He will put a lot of pressure on the likes of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, and the Grizz should advance provided Randolph continues his hot play.
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