NBA Playoffs 2014: 10 Bold Predictions for 2nd Round
With the close of the first round of NBA playoff games, we said goodbye to an incredibly entertaining couple of weeks.
Though the ending was mostly chalk, there were some fantastic storylines that developed in the first round. With the second round starting up right away, it will be great to see how the storylines continue to play out as matchups change and the grind begins taking its toll.
The two No. 1 seeds needed seven games in the first round to knock out each conference's No. 8 seed. Could the San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers be in for trouble when their opponents are higher seeds?
At the outset of round two of the 2014 NBA playoffs, this is where we get bold. Right, Bill Walton?
There Will Be a Major Injury to a Big Name
Unfortunately, this has to be one of our bold predictions. Nobody wants to see it, but the grind is real and these guys are playing a lot of games at a high stress level.
Last year in particular, the Oklahoma City Thunder lost Russell Westbrook to an overzealous Patrick Beverley. Teams like the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Thunder have played an incredible amount of games since the start of 2012-13. Guys who took part in the 2012 London Olympics have been going for even longer.
All that mileage is taking its toll. High-strung players are fighting for any and every edge they can find. Huge bodies are hammering into each other, while all sorts of muscles, tendons and joints are pushed to the edge of what they can take.
It isn't nice or something anyone wants to see, but the chances are good we get at least one more playoff-altering injury in line with Westbrook of last year.
Kevin Durant Will Average at Least 35 Points Per Game
Tony Allen garnered a lot of hype for his work defending Kevin Durant—and all of it was deserved—the Oklahoma City Thunder star still averaged 29.9 points and 9.6 rebounds in the seven-game series.
Allen made Durant work for those numbers, though. He shot just 32.1 percent from three and 44 percent overall. Even from the free-throw line there was noticeable change. Durant went from 87.3 during the regular season to just 76.7 percent in that series.
However, in the second round, Durant's Thunder will square off against the Los Angeles Clippers. On top of going from facing a team that allowed just 94.6 points per game in the regular season (Memphis Grizzlies) to a team that allowed 101 points on average, the Clippers don't have a one-on-one defender of Allen's caliber.
Los Angeles is going to present some other difficulties for Oklahoma City as a whole, but if Durant is putting up 23.7 shots per game, like he was against Memphis, there is little reason to think he won't average north of 35 points per game.
Even crazier, that wouldn't even land him on this list of the NBA's highest playoff-series scorers.
Miami Heat Have Little Trouble with Brooklyn Nets
The Miami Heat have yet to beat this incarnation of the Brooklyn Nets. Brooklyn topped them four times during the regular season and many may think they simply have the Heat's number.
However, Miami won't have nearly as much trouble sending the Nets packing as some think.
For one, the Heat last played on April 28, when they dispatched the Charlotte Bobcats in four games. This second-round series opens on Tuesday, May 6. That is a full seven days of rest and preparation for Miami.
Brooklyn, on the other hand, will get just one day off before jumping head first into a series with the defending champions. Just one day after beating back a young and athletic Toronto Raptors team, in Toronto in Game 7, in front of a frenzied fanbase.
There won't be any downtime for 36-year-old Paul Pierce or 37-year-old Kevin Garnett. Both were instrumental in the final, game-saving play that sent Brooklyn to the second round. The Nets shouldn't have been in that situation, though. They had the game put away.
This team is stocked with experience everywhere but where the decisions get made. For all the veterans on the floor, Jason Kidd is a rookie trying to steer this ship. The Heat are good and smart enough to locate a team's weakness and exploit it. For the Nets, that hole may be on the sideline making calls.
One No. 1 Seed Will Fall
The first round of these NBA playoffs was certainly not a dominating performance by the league's top seeds.
The teams that won more games than anyone in their respective conference were taken to seven games by inferior No. 8 seeds. In the second round, the Indiana Pacers will have to face the Washington Wizards, while the San Antonio Spurs get the Portland Trail Blazers.
Both opponents are flying high off big series wins and are excited to be bringing basketball back to their respective cities after lengthy droughts of success. One of those fanbases, in either Washington, D.C. or Portland, will be celebrating a conference finals berth in a couple weeks.
Indiana was in a bit of a free fall both emotionally and physically. That they beat the 38-44 Atlanta Hawks in four out of seven games does little to assure you they have stabilized. The Wizards are coming in hot after knocking off the Chicago Bulls in five games. John Wall should be able to give the Pacers the same fits Jeff Teague did last series.
The Spurs faced a 49-33 Dallas Mavericks team that still had Dirk Nowitzki, so there is a lot less to be ashamed off. Still, the No. 1 seed didn't make much of a statement until blowing the doors off Dallas in Game 7.
In the second round, San Antonio will face a Trail Blazers team high off a buzzer-beating series win. They will have matchup nightmares across the board with Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and a host of outside bombers.
One No. 1 will fall before the conference finals get underway. Which will it be?
Two More Suspensions Will Be Handed Down
Both Nene Hilario and Randolph were involved in altercations that earned each a one-game suspension last round.
In round two, there is still plenty of gun powder ready to go off. Kevin Garnett is still kicking on the Brooklyn Nets, as is Matt Barnes with the Los Angeles Clippers. Nene advanced with the Washington Wizards and will spend some time getting personal with the Indiana Pacers' David West. Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul will be at each other's throats for a shot at the Western Conference Finals.
There is a lot of fire remaining in the eight teams we have left. The stakes are higher now than they were before and a fair amount of that fire will be exuded in a way that should earn some whistles and sanctions.
There Will Be No Series Sweeps
Over the last five years of NBA playoffs, there have been six second-round sweeps.
Only once in those five years was there no four-game series in round two. Nobody earned a sweep during the 2013 second round, but the San Antonio Spurs did get their Western Conference Finals brooms out to dispose of the Memphis Grizzlies.
In 2014, it is tough to see any series sweeps coming up. The Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder appear to be fairly evenly matched. The Indiana Pacers are still immensely talented but needed seven games to beat the lowly Atlanta Hawks. The Wizards have a solid chance of winning that series.
The Miami Heat appear to be a dominant force once again with their first-round sweep. However, the Brooklyn Nets went 4-0 against them in the regular season. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have a fair amount of history with Miami and won't go down without winning a game.
The Spurs have been featured in quite a few sweeps over the last handful of years. However, as their core has gotten older, it has gotten tougher to oust a team without at least one dud. The Trail Blazers are young, hungry and incredibly athletic. They should give the West's No. 1 seed plenty of trouble.
These series are going to be fascinating to watch and should give us the peak of competition with nobody getting outmatched four straight times.
Most Star-Studded Series Could Be Ugliest
If you're looking for established star power, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers series features some mammoth NBA names.
However, as far as being aesthetically pleasing to watch, there may be plenty left to be desired.
Thanks to the NBA's SportVu technology, we are learning more about playoff matchups than ever. In the preview of this second-round series, there are some ghastly numbers to be aware of.
While Kevin Durant will obviously have an easier time with Jared Dudley and Matt Barnes than Tony Allen, elsewhere on the court there are some things to watch, or try to avoid.
The big one-on-one duel will be played by Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. Both are great players, and and have caused problems for one another defensively this season. Paul spent over 29 minutes guarding his OKC counterpart this season, holding Westbrook to just 6-of-23 shooting, or 26 percent.
At the other end, Paul went just 2-of-6 in 26 minutes with Westbrook marking him.
The other item to be aware of is how much Blake Griffin struggles against that physical front line of Oklahoma City. He spent the majority of four games being guarded by Serge Ibaka, with some other time being taken by Nick Collison, Kevin Durant and Steven Adams. Combined, Griffin shot just 38 percent on 56 field-goal attempts in those battles.
San Antonio Is Able to 'Dirk' LaMarcus Aldridge
The San Antonio Spurs did a pretty masterful job of negating Dirk Nowitzki's effect on their first-round series.
It is impossible to stop a player like Nowitzki from getting his numbers, but how you force him to get them is what can be the difference in a series. The Spurs were physical in bodying up with the Dallas Mavericks star, forcing him to shoot just 42.9 percent in the series. That included a 1-of-12 performance from beyond the arc and an 8-of-21 night in their blowout finale.
In the second round, San Antonio will see LaMarcus Aldridge, a younger and more athletic power forward but with similar abilities as the man they just sent packing.
Aldridge put in 47.9 percent of his shots against the Houston Rockets en route to averaging 29.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. That was an incredible performance after setting a mind-blowing tone for the series in Games 1 and 2.
Gregg Popovich and the Spurs surely took notice and will have to tweak their defense a little bit. However, much of what gave Nowitzki fits will also cause problems for Aldridge. In the end, the Trail Blazers star's numbers should look a bit more like Nowitzki's by series' end.
Roy Hibbert Will Play 30 Minutes a Game
The Indiana Pacers played a bit tentatively in that first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks. From the players to the head coach, they were acutely aware of how losing it would look.
That led to things like Roy Hibbert essentially getting benched and putting up a pair of zeros in the scoring column. Overall, after averaging 29.7 minutes per game in the regular season, he saw just 21.9 minutes over the seven games against Atlanta.
With the series on the line in Game 7, though, Hibbert returned to the lineup in a big way. In 31 minutes, the Pacers big man had 13 points (6-of-10 shooting), seven rebounds and five blocks.
In round one, the Washington Wizards rode the play of Nene Hilario and Marcin Gortat to victory over the Chicago Bulls. When Nene was on, the Bulls didn't have the interior depth to stop him.
If Indiana does have what it takes to slow the Washington star, it will likely come with Hibbert on the floor. Hopefully all the jitters and fear of embarrassment are out. The Pacers survived one series and won't be the laughing stock of the NBA if they are knocked out in round two. That should alleviate pressure and allow guys like Hibbert to play like themselves.
No matter what, the Pacers will need Hibbert on the floor and being productive to survive another round.
Final Bold Picks
Miami over Brooklyn in five games
The Heat are getting too much rest in this situation, while the older Nets get no break at all. The playoffs are a different game than the regular season, and the Toronto Raptors don't have LeBron James. For all Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett know about beating this team, James and Co. know a fair amount about how to beat them as well.
Los Angeles over Oklahoma City in seven games
One thing we've learned through this first round is that home-court advantage may not mean a ton this year. The Clippers can steal Game 7 on the road in Oklahoma City. After spending the first round being forced to play a specific style of basketball, the Thunder are in for a little shock by playing the Clippers. Whether that shock shows in guys shooting too much or not being prepared enough defensively, it is good news for Los Angeles.
Washington over Indiana in six games
The Atlanta Hawks had a lot of success becoming a three-point shooting team against Indiana. The Wizards shot the third-best long-range percentage in the league this year. If they can find a happy medium with how many threes to take and who is taking them, they can really dent the Pacers. If Nene is able to stay on the court, he can become the story of these playoffs and help Washington oust two of the top defensive teams in the NBA.
San Antonio over Portland in seven games
Another seven-game series isn't going to be a good thing for the Spurs moving forward, but they will be able to overcome another young team that isn't quite ready yet for the spotlight. San Antonio has made an art of sending home this type of team. Usually it is in four or five games, but the Trail Blazers are incredibly athletic and the Spurs are another year older. That should lead to two or three letdowns, plus one wacky game-winner.