NBA Playoffs 2013: Predicting Winners for Friday's Round 2 Games
We had to wait a whole day without the NBA playoffs, and it was torture. Thank goodness they're back.
Both the Golden State Warriors-San Antonio Spurs series and the Chicago Bulls-Miami Heat series are tied up at one game apiece, and players and coaches are looking to gain an edge in what's shaping up to be some really fun playoff basketball.
Will we see the Heat and Spurs reclaim their places as the favorites, or will the Warriors and Bulls continue thrilling fans as the underdogs?
San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors
This has to be the most surprising series of the playoffs to date.
Aside from a four-minute meltdown at the end of the fourth quarter of Game 1, Golden State has completely bullied the older, more experienced Spurs. The Warriors have barely flinched against the team many experts predicted to represent the West in the NBA Finals, whereas the Spurs have often looked tentative and unsure of themselves.
For the Warriors, the game plan is pretty simple: Just keep on shooting. The Spurs have yet to find an answer to the long-range assault with which the Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson backcourt has hit them. Every time San Antonio does seem to make an adjustment, something new comes back to hurt them.
In Game 1, it was all about Curry, who dropped 44 points (including 22 in the third quarter) on over 50 percent shooting. The Spurs seemed hesitant to blitz Curry on high screens, and he made them pay with his patented pull-up jumpers.
And even when the Spurs did start attacking Curry off of screens, he was often able to hurt them with some sick passes for layups or easy jumpers.
In Game 2, Thompson was the one dropping daggers, racking up 34 points on an absurd 8-of-9 from downtown. Though the Spurs effectively bottled up the Curry high screens, Thompson took advantage of the extra attention on Curry to get free off of his own screens and find open spaces in the defense for easy scoring opportunities.
Only a few of Thompson's attempts were really tough looks; the rest were just the Warriors exploiting what the defense was giving them. That's a good sign for the Warriors and a very bad one for the Spurs.
Some might say that the Warriors' hot shooting is unsustainable, but the team shot 40 percent from behind the arc this season, just a shade under the 42 percent they're hitting for the series. They can keep up this pace.
On the other side of the ball, excepting the late run in Game 1, San Antonio hasn't been able to get its high-powered offense off the ground. The Spurs offense is based around getting to the rim and finding shooters through smart ball movement and a lot of pick-and-rolls with Tony Parker.
The Spurs have moved the ball well, but Golden State has completely shut down what was the sixth-best pick-and-roll attack in the league (per Synergy Sports Technology). The Warriors are dropping their big man back by the free-throw line (or even further) after every screen, daring the Spurs to take pull-up threes and mid-range jumpers. And so far, the strategy has worked.
San Antonio is hitting just 37 percent from 15-19 feet, with Parker shooting just 33 percent from there (per NBA.com). They haven't fared well at the rim either, hitting just 52 percent on shots less than five feet from the basket (per NBA.com).
Credit Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green, who have done a fabulous job corralling Parker and Manu Ginobili and making them work for everything at the rim.
Gregg Popovich is also one of the league's best coaches when it comes to making adjustments. You can expect some wrinkles that will lead to spot-up opportunities (which basically won Game 1 for the Spurs) as well as increased touches for Tim Duncan, who's been his usual solid self.
It comes down to adjustments for San Antonio and the continued brilliance of the Curry-Thompson-Green-Bogut quartet for Golden State. You have to imagine that the Spurs will eventually look like themselves in this series. But predicting it to happen on the road, against one of the NBA's most incredible playoff crowds, seems like a little too much.
Prediction: Warriors 104, Spurs 98
Miami Heat at Chicago Bulls
We saw a close Chicago Bulls win in Game 1 and a not-so-close Miami Heat win in Game 2. And by "not so close," I mean the Heat took it 115-78, the most lopsided playoff win/loss in each franchise's respective history.
So what provides the most accurate look into the future? Probably a mixture of both games.
There's no doubt that Miami is a more talented team than Chicago, but fatigue clearly played a factor in the Game 2 blowout.
In Game 1, four of Chicago's biggest contributors played 39-plus minutes, with Jimmy Butler playing the full 48. The Bulls rely on their defensive intensity and manic energy and hustle to win games in the playoffs, and they seemed to have neither available in Game 2.
Butler and Joakim Noah combined for nine rebounds after pulling down 25 in Game 1, Daequan Cook played a whopping 23 minutes...it was not at all a typical Chicago game.
But at the same time, you have to say that rust really hurt the Heat in Game 1, as they came in cold following a long layoff after sweeping the Milwaukee Bucks. The Heat are a very good shooting team that missed a lot of open looks in the first game, and you can't expect that to happen much more in the series.
Chicago loads up on the strong side and collapses any time Wade or James drives. It worked wonders in Game 1, when the Heat went 7-of-24 from three (including a combined 3-of-13 from Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen), but not so well when they hit 9-of-18 from downtown in Game 2.
That strategy is one Tom Thibodeau likely sticks with, and it's probably the Bulls' best chance at pulling off more upsets. So long as they can cut down on their turnovers (their 17 giveaways led to 20 transition points in Game 2, via NBA.com), they'll be alright defensively. The biggest weakness for the Bulls is the other side of the ball.
Chicago just doesn't have any way to score. It's been that way for most of the season, but it's an even more glaring weakness against the Heat. Miami loves to blitz ball-handlers, and with Kirk Hinrich likely to be out again (via ESPN.com), Chicago only has two left—Nate Robinson and Marquis Teague.
Neither are the ideal point guards to run against the Heat, and the shot clock is often at 10 before Chicago even sets up its offense.
In Game 1, great interior passing (particularly from Joakim Noah, who's tied with Marc Gasol as the league's best passing center) and a Nate Robinson scoring explosion generated enough offense for the Bulls to grind past the Heat.
But in Game 2, the Heat tightened up and gave the Bulls...nothing.
The Bulls were able to hit a few threes, but Miami cut their attempts at the rim nearly in half. And it's hard to see any adjustments changing that.
The Bulls are going to have to depend on offensive rebounds to break down the Heat defense, because unless Nate Robinson goes supernova again, they don't have a player on the floor who can do it off the dribble. As great a passer as Noah is, he's not going to win many games offensively.
The Bulls have already proved that they have the defense, rebounding and general hustle to beat the Heat, and they'll be coming out with some fire in Game 3. But Miami looked as if it had Chicago figured out in Game 2, and unless Nate Robinson has another stretch where he can't miss, the Bulls just don't have the offense.
Prediction: Heat 96, Bulls 88
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