Breaking Down Every Second-Round NBA Playoff Series
It took five Game 7s to get to this point, but we're finally ready for the conference semifinals. If they're half as good as that first round, we're in store for a treat. The second round officially starts this Monday, kicking off with the Indiana Pacers hosting the Washington Wizards.
This second round will be headlined by plenty of superstars, including LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin. It also boasts some super-ensemble efforts such as the San Antonio Spurs and Brooklyn Nets.
The Indiana Pacers overcame a late-season implosion to survive their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks and will look to continue their title push against the young Washington Wizards. The winner of that series will face whoever emerges from the Heat-Nets matchup.
Miami flipped a switch in the first round against the Charlotte Bobcats, sweeping Steve Clifford's team and not looking back, while the Nets survived a tightly contested Game 7 against Toronto, finally outlasting the upstart Raptors in a Game 7 that was decided by a point.
In the West, the phenomenally close series should continue. Don't be surprised to see a couple of more Game 7s before it's all said and done.
Meanwhile, both Western Conference semifinal series could well go seven games. The Spurs will have their hands full with the high-scoring Portland Trail Blazers, and the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers may be as closely matched as any teams in this series.
Here's a rundown of what each series has in store.
Eastern Conference: Indiana Pacers (1) vs. Washington Wizards (5)
Viewing Information: Game 1; Monday, May 5, at 7 p.m. ET on TNT
Regular-Season Series: Pacers won, 2-1
X-Factor: Pacers' heads
The All-Star center went scoreless in Games 5 and 6 against Atlanta, reaching a new low after making a negligible impact through the first four games. But then something happened. Hibbert woke up for Game 7, posting 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks.
The Pacers need more of that.
They'll also need Hibbert to be fully invested on the defensive end. Nene Hilario and Marcin Gortat can score inside and from the high post. Hibbert will have to do a better job on them than Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah did in the first round. That's a tall task.
Additionally, Indiana will need Lance Stephenson to do a little bit of everything. Along with George, he's been the team's closest thing to a constant, averaging 15.4 points and 8.9 rebounds in the first round.
But the Pacers aren't far removed from their rough March and April. The team seemed to collectively mourn the loss of Danny Granger (traded to the Philadelphia 76ers) by having a nervous breakdown in the middle of the season.
The effects may not have worn off entirely. Though the Pacers once again looked like a dominant team in Game 7 against the Atlanta Hawks, it was surprising to see a Game 7 in the first place.
The real test of Indiana's mental fortitude will be on the defensive end. Frank Vogel team held the Hawks to just 80 points in Game 7. It will need to do better than the Chicago Bulls did against the young Wizards. Otherwise, we're looking at another long series.
You'd like the believe the Pacers could take some solace holding homecourt advantage, but the Wizards are a dangerous road team according to The Washington Post's Michael Lee: "The Wizards can also continue their success away from Verizon Center. They finished tied with the best road record in the East in the regular season and swept all three away games in their first-round series against Chicago."
Pacers in six
Eastern Conference: Miami Heat (2) vs. Brooklyn Nets (6)
Viewing Information: Game 1; Tuesday, May 6, at 7 p.m. ET on TNT
Regular-Season Series: Brooklyn swept, 4-0
X-Factor: The veterans
We pretty much know what we're going to get out of the Miami Heat. They've flipped a switch, they're healthy and they're in their primes. They just swept the Charlotte Bobcats relatively easily.
This isn't going to be easy for the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets did win their four regular-season games against the Heat, but Dwyane Wade was missing for two of those games. Three of them were decided by just a point. It's hard to put too much stock in those games, least of all because they were in the regular season.
But the Nets will have some confidence and not just because of those four wins. They have battle-tested veterans in Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett. These are guys who've made their careers winning playoff games.
Curiously, Pierce and Garnett sat out during the fourth quarter of Game 5 when Brooklyn mounted its epic almost-comeback. Though head coach Jason Kidd went with what was working at the time, the question is why a lineup including Pierce and Garnett wasn't working.
Pierce scored 10 points in the decisive Game 7, and Garnett contributed 12 points and 11 boards in 25 minutes. The Nets need a big series from Garnett on both ends of the floor. He's their best option to match up with Chris Bosh and has to turn back the time machine.
Joe Johnson was a rock in the first-round series, averaging 21.2 points and scoring a team-high 26 in Game 7. He and Pierce will have their hands full with Wade and James on the wing. Crafty as Brooklyn's veterans are, Miami has the advantage here.
Still, Johnson and Williams are Brooklyn's sure things. The bigger question is: How much do Pierce and Garnett have left in the tank? Pierce has had some big games against James, but he's a little past his prime. He'll need to have a series for the ages for Brooklyn to have a chance.
Heat in six
Western Conference: San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (5)
Viewing Information: Game 1; Tuesday, May 6, at 9:30 p.m. ET, on TNT
Regular-Season Series: Split, 2-2
Both of these teams have a number of long-range threats. San Antonio ranked first during the regular season in three-point efficiency at 39.7 percent. Portland was tied at second league-wide for three-pointers made per game at 9.4 per contest.
Of course, both of these teams can score in general. Their abilities to play inside-outside make their three-point games all the more effective. LaMarcus Aldridge was historically good in the first round against the Houston Rockets, and he'll pose similar problems for the Spurs with his length and ability to shoot from virtually anywhere inside the arc.
Both teams also like to use their point guards (Tony Parker and Damian Lillard) to get the ball in the paint. From there, both floor generals can either score on their own or set up teammates on the perimeter.
These are two very successful offensive systems. Both head coaches Gregg Popovich and Terry Stotts will preach defense. The Spurs ranked sixth during the regular season in points allowed. Portland ranked 11th in opponent field-goal percentage.
Nevertheless, this series may be decided simply by who has the better offense. When all the big names cancel each other out, that offensive production will come down to whose three-balls are falling.
Guys such as Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills will be pivotal for San Antonio, taking pressure off the Big Three and spacing the floor to enable penetration.
On the other side, look for Wesley Matthews and Nic Batum to have a big series. They were key to beating the Rockets in six games.
Though the Spurs might have a slight edge in the series, don't even begin to count Portland out. Popovich knows better, per The Oregonian's Mike Tokito:
It’s obviously one heck of a team. We’ve had trouble with them all year long. They’ve got guys on that team that we haven’t guarded yet. They’re very talented, they’re young and energetic, Terry (Stotts) does a great job. They know what they want to do, and they’re playing great basketball. It’ll be a big challenge, obviously.
A challenge the Spurs should be up to, even if it takes a few games to get the job done.
Spurs in seven
Western Conference: Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (3)
Viewing Information: Game 1: Monday, May 5, at 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT
Regular-Season Series: Split, 2-2
X-Factor: Clippers' Depth
Though Chris Paul has been troubled by a strained hamstring, he came up big in Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors, tallying 22 points, 14 assists and four steals. We shouldn't underestimate Serge Ibaka's defensive prowess, but you can expect Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to more or less have their way against Oklahoma City's front line.
With Paul and Griffin's contributions a given, the question is: Who steps up among the supporting cast? That's the Clippers' real advantage over the Thunder. Oklahoma City has two of the best scorers in the league, but Los Angeles led the league in scoring as a team during the regular season.
The Clippers' depth had a lot to do with it. Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford is coming off a strong series against the Warriors. He averaged 16.7 points per game on 44.2 percent shooting.
J.J. Redick also emerged as reliable shooter during the series. His 20 points in Game 7 were instrumental in outscoring the Warriors, who had 121 points on Saturday night.
Even if the Clippers don't get much out of veterans such as Glen Davis and Danny Granger, they still have more options than the Thunder. Don't forget about Darren Collison, either. He only played 20.3 minutes per game during the first round, but he still put up 9.6 points per contest.
The Thunder likewise need big performances from supporting pieces such as Ibaka, Caron Butler and Reggie Jackson. They combined for 43 points in Game 7 against the Memphis Grizzlies, helping point guard Russell Westbrook to 16 assists on the night.
Much as this series' superstars can do, these should be some high-scoring games. The difference may well be made by some of the lesser names rounding out these rotations.
Whoever contributes for the Clippers, rest assured they'll be focused on the game, even with Donald Sterling-related distractions lurking in the background. That's the message Chris Paul conveyed after Game 7 according to the Associated Press (via CBSSports.com):
For us, it’s basketball. Had we lost this game, it wasn’t like they were going to let us go to the next round because of what we’ve been through. I think it just showed our will, our fight, and more so than getting through all that, it was getting through tonight.
Los Angeles will need that fight from all corners of its rotation going forward. It won't hurt that Paul is leading the way.
Clippers in seven