The 2013 NBA playoffs continue on Sunday, May 5, as the 2013 Eastern and Western Conference semifinals commence.
Even without Russell Westbrook, the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder were widely seen as the favorites to emerge from the stacked Western Conference. As we saw against James Harden's Rockets, though, their first-round series turned into a six-game struggle with Kevin Durant as the lone star.
After dropping Games 1 and 2 to the Los Angeles Clippers, the trio of Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol took over, eventually resulting in a six-game serving of revenge for the Grizzlies.
In the East, the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks seemed destined to meet in the second round. Both teams ended up winning in six, taking down tougher-than-expected foes (Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, respectively).
No. 5 Memphis Grizzlies at No. 1 Oklahoma City Thunder
Time: Sunday, May 5, at 1 p.m. ET
Prediction: 93-89, Oklahoma City Thunder
After taking the first three games of their first-round series with Houston, the Thunder looked vulnerable the rest of the way. The three-game cushion they had proved to be enough, but it was far from a cake walk against the inexperienced Rockets.
Although guys like Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley are solid complementary players, they looked like stars at times against OKC. That is troubling for the Thunder's postseason prospects the rest of the way.
When compared to the Grizzlies' four-game run of dominance against L.A., momentum looks to be on the side of the visitors. Against the NBA's third-ranked team in point differential, Memphis won all four of its games by double digits.
However, even with the momentum, I'm banking on a huge game from Kevin Durant at home in Game 1. OKC went 34-7 at home during the regular season, and Memphis did drop the first two games of its series in Los Angeles.
No. 3 Indiana Pacers at No. 2 New York Knicks
Time: Sunday, May 5, at 3:30 p.m. ET
Prediction: 98-89, New York Knicks
After taking down Josh Smith, Al Horford and the rest of a very game Hawks team, Roy Hibbert, Paul George and David West will look to lead the way against the trio of Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Tyson Chandler.
Both first-round series were defensive-oriented battles.
Like OKC, New York stormed out to a commanding 3-0 series lead. But Boston's veteran-laden group refused to go down without a fight, taking the series to six games. Had Boston won at home in Game 6, anything could have happened in Game 7 at New York.
This is such a scintillating matchup for NBA fans because it will feature the Knicks' three-point heavy, loaded offense against the Pacers' stingy defense.
Arguably the Pacers' most important player, Paul George, had a forgettable series as the lead man against Atlanta, shooting just 41.8 percent from the field and 28 percent from three.
At home in Game 1, I like the Knicks in a relatively low-scoring affair.