What to Expect from Every NBA Playoff Second-Round Series
What more can fans ask of the NBA playoffs?
The highly competitive first round featured eight contests that went into overtime and culminated in five Game 7 showdowns. Again, that was just the first round.
Now each second-round matchup is set. Regardless of which teams move on to the Western and Eastern Conference Finals, at least we know that the eventual champion will have no doubt earned the Larry O’Brien trophy.
The parity and competitiveness in this year’s postseason has been a marvel to behold. For evidence of that, look no further than first-round matchups between No. 1 and No. 8 seeds.
The Dallas Mavericks forced the San Antonio Spurs—the team with the league’s best regular-season record—to play a seventh game. The Atlanta Hawks pushed the floundering Indiana Pacers to the brink of elimination as well before falling in back-to-back series-deciding games.
Now the Spurs will have to dispatch LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and the white-hot Portland Trail Blazers. Indy, meanwhile, will battle against John Wall, Bradley Beal and the upstart Washington Wizards.
But are those the most intriguing matchups to keep an eye on?
Each second-round meeting has its own collection of compelling storylines. In a best-of-seven series, anything can happen.
Miami Heat vs. Brooklyn Nets
Seeds: Miami Heat No. 2; Brooklyn Nets No. 6
Season Series: Nets swept Heat 4-0
“They’re a different team in the playoffs.”
That’s what Brooklyn Nets veteran forward Paul Pierce had to say about the Miami Heat in his postgame interview with Lisa Salters, per the Associated Press’ Tim Reynolds. For Nets fans, that’s truly an important note to understand.
Brooklyn managed to sweep the season series from Miami. Some pundits may think that gives the Nets an advantage because they could have a mental edge from the outset.
However, fans have already seen that regular-season marks don’t hold much weight in a playoff setting.
The Mavs, for instance, were swept 4-0 by San Antonio during the season. That moved their loss total against the Spurs to nine straight games overall. Despite the poor track record, they took three games from Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Co. in the first round before getting blown out in Game 7.
Beating the Heat repeatedly during the regular season should add a hint of swagger to the Nets’ locker room. As Pierce says, though, Miami is a different team this time of year.
The matchup between Pierce and four-time MVP LeBron James is an exciting one to look out for. “The Truth” already called it “the ultimate challenge,” per a tweet from Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick.
A key X-factor in the series will be Nets guard Joe Johnson. He averaged 19.5 points per game against the Heat during 2013-14. First-year head coach Jason Kidd will need more of that production if his team has any hope of pulling an upset.
Miami hasn’t played since April 28, so expect the two-time defending champs to be well rested.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Seeds: Oklahoma City Thunder No. 2; Los Angeles Clippers No. 3
Season Series: Teams split 2-2
Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin—all of these superstars were pushed to the verge of elimination by the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors. Because those four guys stepped up when it mattered most, they’re the ones still competing for a title.
Fatigue is sure to be a factor after each high-stress series—one that was certainly more taxing for the Clippers, for obvious reasons. KD is fresh off a battle with Tony Allen—one of the best perimeter defenders in the game. CP3 is fighting through a hamstring injury and has yet to win a game beyond the first round since arriving in LA.
Both teams have excuses, but don’t expect either to use them.
OKC and LAC tied their season series against each other, winning two games apiece. How the Clips will match up defensively against the Thunder, however, is an interesting question.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said that multiple players will guard Westbrook throughout the series as a means of giving him different looks, because Paul can’t guard him “for 48 minutes,” per a tweet from Yahoo! Sports’ Marc J. Spears. Containing the wily point guard will only be half the battle.
Durant averaged 32.5 points per game against Los Angeles during the regular season, which included a 42-point outburst on Feb. 23. Frankly, the Clippers don’t have the personnel necessary to contain him. Matt Barnes is a solid defender when he’s engaged, but he’s a likely candidate to pick up Westbrook as a means of spelling Paul’s workload.
KD and Westbrook are going to get their points. For the Clippers to pull this series out, they’ll have to stifle the supporting cast around those two superstars.
Indiana Pacers vs. Washington Wizards
Seeds: Indiana Pacers No. 1; Washington Wizards No. 5
Season Series: Indiana won 2-1
What exactly should fans make of the Indiana Pacers at this juncture? They managed to dispatch the undermanned, eighth-seeded Hawks in Round 1, but it took them seven games to get the job done.
Roy Hibbert notched 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in Game 7, which looked like an MVP performance compared to how poorly he played previously in the series. Head coach Frank Vogel will live with that, though, because he desperately needed his big man to gain some confidence before a faceoff with the talented Washington Wizards.
Balance has been the key for D.C. thus far, as every player in the starting five is averaging double-digit points:
Bradley Beal: 19.8
John Wall: 18.8
Trevor Ariza: 15.6
Marcin Gortat: 10.8
The Wizards aren’t getting much scoring production off the bench, but that certainly didn’t matter in the first round against the Chicago Bulls. Washington won handily, silencing critics in the process.
Wall, Beal and Co. are peaking at precisely the correct time, while the Pacers have been sputtering for the better part of two months.
Will facing a “normal” opponent—unlike the spread-five, three-point shooting barrage of Atlanta—favor Indy? Or will the Wizards keep on rolling by dispatching a team that has looked far from deserving of a second-round berth?
San Antonio Spurs vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Seeds: San Antonio Spurs No. 1; Portland Trail Blazers No. 5
Season Series: Teams split 2-2
The Trail Blazers avoided a Game 7 against Dwight Howard, James Harden and the Houston Rockets thanks to the heroics of their sophomore floor general. Their reward for upsetting the higher seed nets them a second-round showdown with the Spurs.
Traditionally, trying to win four games against San Antonio would be an uphill battle on par with climbing Mt. Everest. Surprisingly, however, the Spurs actually looked beatable when facing Dallas.
They may be in for a bit of a shock if they don’t reach Round 2 prepared, because the Trail Blazers have been on fire of late.
In addition to knocking Houston out of the playoffs in six games, Portland finished the regular season by going 9-1 over its last 10.
Lillard is playing with confidence and poise well beyond his years. Terry Stotts is showing why he should have received more consideration for the league’s Coach of the Year award. Even Wesley Matthews gained a reputation as a lockdown defender for his tremendous performance against Harden in Round 1 (the bearded 2-guard shot a woeful 37.6 percent).
Key matchups for this series include Duncan vs. Aldridge, Parker vs. Lillard and Kawhi Leonard vs. Nicolas Batum.
The Trail Blazers' offense clearly has the firepower to compete with the Spurs. The question now is whether or not their defense will stack up.
During the regular season, Portland finished 16th in defensive efficiency by surrendering 104.7 points per 100 possessions, per ESPN.com. San Antonio, meanwhile, wound up fourth with a defensive rating of 100.1.
Stotts’ crew only managed to hold the Rockets under 100 points once in six postseason games. That weakness could become a huge problem if they don’t score enough against the disciplined Spurs.