Ranking NBA Second-Round Playoff Series Likeliest to Go 7 Games
For the first time since 1968, when the NBA's conference semifinals series were shifted to a best-of-seven format, all four series in the Association's version of the Elite Eight stand at 1-1 after two games.
It's a remarkable tidbit of historical trivia, to say the least. You'd think we'd have seen "Snake Eyes" across the board in the second round by now, considering how evenly matched teams tend to be at this point in the postseason.
But there's a first time for everything, and what better time than the spring of 2013 for the NBA to feed our basketball frenzy with a quartet of lengthy, testy series between the best of the best?
Each of the four remaining matchups has plenty of potential to go the distance—and engender the sorts of blood feuds and bitter rivalries that tend be born of such frequent and familiar competition. But which series is most likely to require an all-important Game 7? And which ones would be fortunate to forge on past Game 5?
Let's have a look into our "crystal ball" for a better idea, shall we?
4. Miami Heat vs. Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls did well to steal Game 1 from the Miami Heat, especially with Kirk Hinrich watching in street clothes and Luol Deng laid up in a hospital bed after undergoing a painful spinal tap.
And, with Tom Thibodeau at the helm and a raucous home-court crowd at the United Center in tow, the Bulls may well snag another from the defending champions before this series is through.
Chances are, though, that Miami's lackluster performance in the opener was more fluke than foreshadowing. The Heat had spent more than a week away from live NBA action after a four-game sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks that, truth be told, did little to engage any sense of postseason desperation.
Not that Miami's 37-point beatdown of the Bulls in Game 2 is all that more indicative of what the Heat will do in the days to come. Rather, it's a window into that of which the Heat are capable (and then some) when the NBA's sleeping giant has been awakened by a plucky underdog.
You may recall the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, when a much stronger Chicago squad took a 1-0 lead on a Heat team that was still searching desperately for its identity. Miami went on to win four in a row to secure a spot in the subsequent NBA Finals.
Don't be surprised, then, if history repeats itself this year in the form of a five-game finish, now that Miami has fashioned for itself a transcendent identity—built around the peculiar talents of LeBron James—and Chicago is running on fumes.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Memphis Grizzlies
The ongoing absence of Russell Westbrook shifted the balance of power in this series from the get-go. Kevin Durant has done his darndest to keep the Oklahoma City Thunder afloat, including a remarkable run of clutch shots to pull out a Game 1 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
But, try as he might, Durant can't do it all by himself, and the bigger the burden he has to bear, the greater the danger grows of him wearing down.
The Thunder can ill-afford that, especially if the Grizz intend to sick Tony Allen on Kevin Martin for the remainder of this matchup. Martin went off for 25 points in Game 1, but was reduced to just six points on 2-of-11 shooting with Allen shadowing him in Game 2.
OKC has the defense to subdue a Memphis offense that, despite the talents of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph up front and Mike Conley on the perimeter, is hardly a juggernaut in itself.
The question for the Thunder is, where else are their points going to come from? Can KevMart provide consistent production off the bench? Can Reggie Jackson be something more than a destitute man's Westbrook? Can the Thunder win with Derek Fisher as the team's second-leading scorer, as he was in Game 2?
And, on the whole, what will OKC's identity be?
The Grizzlies have no such queries to consider. They're an inside-out, grit-and-grind outfit that butters its bread on the defensive end. They're as healthy as any team left in the playoffs and as familiar with OKC as any team in the NBA, after meeting in the second round two years ago.
Moreover, Memphis has home court on its side (the Grizzlies went 32-9 at FedEx Forum during the regular season), along with the full confidence of knowing that it should probably be up 2-0 right about now.
The Thunder will be anything but an easy out, thanks in no small part to Kevin Durant, who still stands as, far and away, the best player in this series. But the Grizzlies employ players Nos. 2 through 4 in the hierarchy between these two teams and know full well how to leverage that advantage into a five- to six-game series victory.
2. San Antonio Spurs vs. Golden State Warriors
As with the Grizzlies, all signs currently point to the Golden State Warriors taking care of business against the San Antonio Spurs—as strange a thought as that may have seemed not two weeks ago.
The Warriors have clearly outplayed the Spurs to this point. If not for one poor four-minute stretch (and an egregious defensive error at the end of a second overtime), Golden State would've broken its draught of wins in San Antonio with back-to-back victories in the shadow of the Alamo.
Instead, the Dubs will have to settle for a road split as they head back to Oracle Arena to play in front of arguably the most raucous home crowd in the NBA. Golden State beat San Antonio twice in Oakland this season and clearly has no fear of the fading superpower.
They have even less fear now that the Spurs would appear to have no answer for the new and improved Stephen Curry, who, as Grantland's Zach Lowe recently noted, has morphed into an even more lethal on-ball threat since David Lee went down.
Klay Thompson's 34-point explosion in Game 2 only affirmed the Warriors' startling advantage from beyond the arc.
All of this being said, it's still far too early to count out the Spurs. They've been there and done that against far tougher opponents in years past. Manu Ginobili may have lost a step (or five), but he can be plenty lethal at times, and Kawhi Leonard has done well to quietly slide in alongside Tim Duncan and Tony Parker as the third leg of San Antonio's tripod.
San Antonio also showed that it can disrupt Golden State's frail ball-handling, as was the case toward the end of Game 1. The Warriors' reliance on a pair of streaky shooters could prove problematic if Curry and Thompson were to go cold together.
And let's not forget about Gregg Popovich, who just so happens to be the best coach in the game today and won't go down without making the necessary adjustments to his rotation first.
It may seem crazy to think of the Warriors as favorites now, but you'd have to be downright looney to think the Spurs won't push this series to six or seven games.
1. New York Knicks vs. Indiana Pacers
What makes this series between the New York Knicks and the Indiana Pacers the strongest bet to go the distance isn't that the teams involved are, on the whole, evenly matched, though they are.
Rather, the seven-game potential for Knicks-Pacers emanates from the sheer lack of predictability at play.
Both have the potential to look like powerhouse squads on any given night—New York, with its ball movement, barrage of three-point shooters, deadly individual talents (Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith) and occasionally energetic defense; Indiana, with its consistently stout defense and a starting five that ranked among the most dominant in the NBA during the regular season.
But the Knicks have shown themselves all too willing to devolve into pure, unadulterated "Hero Ball" at times, which not only stunts the lethality of their offense but also leaves the team's role players to disengage on defense.
New York's historic reliance on three-point shooting can also be to its detriment if/when those long-range attempts don't drop with regularity.
As for the Pacers, their lack of any noteworthy depth means that they lean heavily (perhaps too heavily) on those five starters, with nary a consistently productive superstar among them. Paul George is the closest thing to that on Indy's roster, but he's yet to show that he can explode offensively from night to night.
And asking him to do so while checking Carmelo on the other end isn't exactly fair, even if it means turning to the likes of Roy Hibbert, George Hill and David West—solid-if-unspectacular players all—for answers.
Indy has fared remarkably well at home this season, even with some of the worst attendance numbers in the league. So, too, have the Knicks, whose 36-4 run in the second half of Game 2 was fueled, in part, by the energy of the folks at Madison Square Garden.
With 'Melo on their side, look for the Knicks to steal one at Bankers Life Fieldhouse before forcing an all-important Game 7.
One that will be decided by whichever team shows up Jekyll and which winds up Hyde.
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