Upset Meter for Every 2nd-Round NBA Playoff Series
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We're not going to see any sweeps in Round 2 of the NBA playoffs. That's already clear. Upsets, though...that's a different story.
It's hard to remember a second round more compelling than this. Every underdog has stolen a game on the road, and we've seen far more nail-biters than we have blowouts.
It's not an overstatement to say that no higher seed is truly safe right now. Obviously, some teams have a far greater chance of pulling off a series upset than others. But everyone has a shot. So how much should the favorites be sweating it out right now? Let's take a look.
Note: For the purposes of this article, an upset is defined as a lower seed beating a higher seed in the series.
Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat
Nate Robinson has been incredible, but he'll have to be even better if the Bulls are to beat the Heat.
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Tom Thibodeau and the Chicago Bulls are incredible.
No coach and no team gets more out of less. The fact that they're playing the Miami Heat this close with basically just defense and willpower is amazing. But they don't have the offensive weapons to beat the Heat.
Miami has a net rating of 15.6 against the Bulls (per NBA.com). That's bolstered by its historic Game 2 blowout of the Bulls, but it still proves an important point. Chicago has to scratch and claw for everything, whereas Miami can put up points with ease.
Chicago collapses on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade every time they try to drive. That does limit Wade and James' scoring, but it also leads to an alarming number of open threes for Miami, most of which the team is actually missing.
Outside of Norris Cole, Miami's role players are all shooting 33 percent or worse from deep, something that's unlikely to continue as the series progresses. In a way, the Bulls are actually lucky to only be down 2-1.
Not only do the Bulls lack a player who can get those kinds of easy shots, but they sometimes struggle to even get into offensive sets.
With Kirk Hinrich still banged up, the only ball-handlers remaining on the roster are Nate Robinson and Marquis Teague, both of whom have at times seemed overwhelmed by the Heat's ball pressure.
As it is, the Bulls get buckets through their superb passing, second-chance opportunities and the occasional Robinson scoring binges. That's enough to steal a game or two from the Heat, but three of the next four? That's pretty hard to imagine.
Upset Meter: 1.5 of 10
Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs
Danny Green's done a great job defending Stephen Curry.
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This is the most hotly contested series of the four.
First off, throw home-court advantage out the window. It's proved to mean squat in this series. We're looking at a best-of-three series from here on out with no clear-cut favorite.
This series has become a chess match revolving around each team's guards: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson vs. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Who's going to figure out how to stop who first?
In Games 1 and 2, the Golden State Warriors were able to bottle up Parker and Ginobili by dropping their bigs back on every pick-and-roll and forcing the San Antonio Spurs to take jumpers. It worked then because Parker in particular was uncharacteristically cold from mid-range.
However, Parker emphatically shrugged that cold spell off in Game 3, going 6-of-11 from 15 to 19 feet (per NBA.com). As long as he's hitting from mid-range, the Warriors simply don't have an answer defensively.
On the flip side, Curry and Thompson killed the Spurs in Games 1 and 2 because San Antonio had no idea what to do about Curry's off-the-dribble threes in pick-and-rolls. Danny Green has since had success against Curry, but putting Green on Curry means that Parker or Ginobili has to chase Klay Thompson through endless screens, which isn't at all ideal.
Kawhi Leonard could take that assignment, but that would leave either Matt Bonner or Tiago Splitter on Harrison Barnes when the Warriors go small. And Barnes has emerged as a real factor for Golden State—someone who can take advantage of bigger, slower defenders out on the perimeter.
It really is a chess match. Golden State might have the most dangerous player in the series, but San Antonio has far more experience.
Gregg Popovich doesn't often lose coaching matches, but he also doesn't have the small-ball options that Mark Jackson does. It's an even split, and it's going to continue to be an awesome series.
Upset Meter: 5 of 10
Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
OKC doesn't have a chance if Scott Brooks won't go small more often.
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Each game between the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder has come down to the wire. If just three or four plays had gone differently, either team could be up 3-0 at this point.
The series is going to come down to the adjustments that Thunder head coach Scott Brooks makes. Memphis has smothered OKC's predictable offense, limiting it to just 93.6 points per 100 possessions. That mark would have been by far the worst in the league this year (per NBA.com).
OKC's starting lineup has been absolutely slaughtered by Memphis, and it is sporting an offensive rating of 63.4 (really bad). On the other hand, the Thunder have smoked Memphis with their small-ball lineups and, surprisingly, have survived on the boards as well.
Like anything in the playoffs, it's a small sample size, but it's something Brooks should switch to...immediately.
Durant may be averaging a ridiculous 32 points, 12.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists in the series, but Memphis has countered by trapping him hard and forcing other players to take shots. That's a dangerous strategy when the ball swings to shooters like Kevin Martin and Derek Fisher. Not so much when it goes to Kendrick Perkins.
Maybe Durant can hit yet another gear, but this series is more than likely going to be decided by coaching adjustments.
And considering how stubborn Brooks is concerning Perkins' minutes, you've got to give Memphis a great chance to pull off the upset. A chance that would be even higher if Durant wasn't so otherworldly right now.
Upset Meter: 7 of 10
Indiana Pacers vs. New York Knicks
Missing in action.
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The New York Knicks have their backs against the wall.
The Knicks proved in Game 2 that they're capable of putting up points on a terrific Indiana Pacers defense. They're not out of this, but they've spent most of the series playing a completely different style of basketball than they did during the regular season.
The Knicks offense this season was based around running pick-and-rolls and putting up an ungodly number of three-point attempts. They've run plenty of pick-and-rolls this series, but for whatever reason, they've completely shied away from their three-point offense.
In New York's one win this series (a blowout), it hoisted up 30 three-pointers. In its two losses, it put up a combined 30 threes (including just 11 in Game 3), compared to 56 threes from the Pacers.
The three-pointer was how the Knicks spread the floor for their pick-and-roll attack. It also helped them get solid one-on-one opportunities for Carmelo Anthony, who has a significant size/speed advantage over every Indiana forward not named Paul George.
By not taking outside shots, New York is allowing Indiana to pack the paint and funnel every pick-and-roll toward Roy Hibbert. Hibbert, in turn, is eating the Knicks guards for breakfast. New York is shooting just 52 percent around the rim and sub-50 percent in Games 1 and 3 (per NBA.com).
Indiana hasn't been incredible on the offensive end by any means, but it's been solid enough, and it thrives on grind-it-out games anyway.
Plus, thanks to Tyson Chandler's total disappearing act (he has 12 total rebounds for the series), the Pacers crushed the Knicks on the glass, grabbing offensive rebounds on nearly a third of their missed shots.
New York's going to have to steal one in Indiana, where the Pacers are tough to beat. The Knicks can do it, but with Chandler playing at seemingly 20 percent and their offense as out of sorts as it is, things appear pretty grim.
Upset Meter: 7.5 of 10