Most Dangerous Teams Headed into Second Round of NBA Playoffs
Eight teams will be heading into the second round of the 2013 NBA playoffs, but some, like the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, are fare more dangerous than others.
"Dangerous," though, is something of a flimsy term. So for our purposes, we'll narrow the definition to mean "most capable of winning an NBA title." Don't worry, though; there are still plenty of different ways for teams to meet that criterion.
The Indiana Pacers do it with defense, while the Oklahoma City Thunder are going to have to rely almost exclusively on the offensive talents of the suddenly solo Kevin Durant.
There are also some emerging threats, like the Memphis Grizzlies, who look like they're ready to take the next step toward real contention.
Some of the remaining clubs, like the New York Knicks, showed a few too many flaws in Round 1 to be considered among the truly elite, most dangerous contenders in the field. The Golden State Warriors, rife with young talent but lacking much playoff experience, are also just a hair short of a "serious threat" designation.
Approach with caution; these are the most dangerous teams headed into the second round.
5. Indiana Pacers
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What's not to like about the Pacers?
Other than having to play against them, of course. Nobody likes that.
Seriously, though, this is a team built to win playoff games. With the best defense in the league, a formidable duo in the paint and a rising star in Paul George, Indiana has the ingredients to do damage against the Knicks in Round 2.
But being dangerous is about more than just winning a couple of playoff series. So for the Pacers to climb up these rankings, they'll have to shore up a serious weakness that plagued them during their first-round matchup with the Atlanta Hawks: They stunk on the road.
Indiana won just one of its three playoff contests away from home and posted a 19-21 road mark during the regular season. In theory, great defense should travel well.
But in practice, that sure hasn't been the case.
Because the Knicks have home-court advantage, this is something of a risky ranking. But if the Pacers play up to their capabilities, they'll not only get past New York, but they might also give the Heat a real run in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
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It says a lot about Durant that the Thunder could still rank as the fourth-most dangerous team after a very shaky series against the eighth-seeded Houston Rockets. But as long as No. 35 is around, OKC is still capable of beating just about anyone.
Oklahoma City's defense pretty much fell apart against the Rockets in the first round, but to some degree, that was to have been expected. Russell Westbrook's athleticism counted for more than people thought on D, and the Rockets spent a season making almost every team's defense look porous.
If OKC can avoid the curious defensive breakdowns it displayed in its first-round series, its offense will give it a chance to compete.
Speaking of offense, in the games after Westbrook went down with a torn meniscus, KD averaged 35.5 points per game. He showed flashes of the kind of killer instinct everyone's been demanding of him, but in order to give the Grizzlies a run in Round 2, he's going to have to play with an edge for the entire series.
The Thunder will go as far as Durant takes them, and because we still aren't sure whether we've seen his very best yet, there's still a chance for OKC to survive as a team with a single star.
3. Memphis Grizzlies
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This ranking really could have been 2(a), so close are the Grizzlies to the team just one spot ahead of them. In fact, I may even come back and bump Memphis up a notch if the mood strikes me.
(Hey, these are my rankings and I'll do what I want with them. So, there.)
Anyhow, the Grizzlies mauled the Clippers in four consecutive games after falling behind 2-0 to open the series, finding their defensive groove and getting enough scoring from the bench combo of Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter to post some pretty comfortable victories.
Looking ahead, the Grizzlies' combination of size and uncompromising defensive excellence makes them a threat to gum up the works against any offense they'll encounter. Marc Gasol controls the lane, rotating perfectly and making help-and-recover moves look far too easy.
And on the perimeter, it's hard to find a more tenacious pair than Mike Conley and Tony Allen.
Memphis can stop just about anyone, and if you're ready to be terrified, consider this: The Grizzlies posted an offensive rating of 108.5 in their series against the Clippers, a team that ranked in the league's top 10 in defensive efficiency during the regular season. That 108.5 figure would have been good enough to rank fourth in the NBA this year.
Clearly, Memphis has figured a few things out.
With an offense that has gone from being a hindrance to a weapon and one of the most dominant defenses in the league, the Grizzlies are extremely dangerous. Teams facing them are advised to play dead.
2. San Antonio Spurs
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Ah, those Spurs—predictable, workmanlike, ridiculously efficient. It was immensely tempting to rate the Grizzlies as the No. 2 team here, but it's just too hard to get past how thoroughly San Antonio dismantled the Lakers.
Granted, L.A. was ready to fall apart on its own when it ran up against the Spurs, but some of the things we saw in that brief first-round series contribute to the theory that San Antonio is the most dangerous team in the West.
Tony Parker remains an uncontainable ball-handler, capable of getting to any spot on the floor he wants against even the most physical defenders. His ability to dart into the lane is what makes the Spurs go.
But what keeps them going is an almost unfathomably efficient offense that passes up good shots to create great ones. Once the defense starts scrambling as a result of Parker's penetration, that vaunted Spurs ball movement kicks in. Corner threes from Danny Green, Gary Neal, Manu Ginobili and even Kawhi Leonard are always on the menu, complemented by a healthy serving of pick-and-roll options.
During the regular season, the Spurs limited the minutes of their veteran leaders, coasted for days at a time and endured more than their share of key injuries. Yet, through all that, they still ranked third in the NBA in defensive efficiency and seventh in offensive efficiency.
Those numbers are fantastic, but the health of Ginobili and Parker—plus the development of Green and Leonard—means that the Spurs still have another gear they're capable of shifting into.
That sounds pretty dangerous to me.
1. Miami Heat
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It's understandable if you've forgotten that LeBron James and the Miami Heat are involved in the postseason. After crushing the overmatched Milwaukee Bucks, they've been laying low, content to let the rest of the Eastern Conference battle it out for the right to suffer a sure beating at the hands of the league's most dangerous team.
At their best, the Heat employ a combination of athleticism, unselfishness and attention to detail that allows them to coast before flipping into beast mode. No other team has the luxury of playing at a relaxed pace for all but a few minutes of any game.
Their long periods of relaxation and short bursts of fearsome aggression conjure up the image of a lion in the Serengeti, dozing groggily in the shade for hours at a time, waking for a few minutes to messily devour a gazelle and then returning to its nap.
That's the Heat. They're a friggin' sleepy lion.
And it's almost feeding time.