Usually the NBA postseason starts out slow, because so many teams get in it leads to a lot of mismatches in the first round and builds to a crescendo in the finals. This year, the second round has a lot of work to do based on what has come before it.
Five of the eight series went to seven games, and another one ended in six games on a buzzer-beating three-pointer. Now, with matchups between teams more evenly matched on paper, things figure to get more intense.
Despite the number of series that went the distance, there weren't many upsets to speak of. Indiana, San Antonio and Oklahoma City did what they had to do. Brooklyn, as the No. 6 in the East, is the lowest seed left.
Don't expect that trend to continue in the NBA's version of the Elite Eight. It's why we watch on the edge of our seats every night. We have a full look at the second-round bracket and teams that should be scared about their immediate futures.
The second round is set: EAST Pacers-Wizards Heat-Nets WEST Spurs-Trail Blazers Thunder-Clippers pic.twitter.com/rN48DjcSJL— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) May 4, 2014
Teams on Upset Alert
Indiana Pacers (vs. Washington Wizards)
The good news is Indiana was able to avoid one of the great all-time disasters by beating the sub-.500 Atlanta Hawks in seven games. The bad news is all the questions the Pacers faced before aren't exactly solved.
Roy Hibbert finally showed up to play in the clinching game, scoring 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting and grabbing seven rebounds, but he's still not the imposing force you want from a 7'2" player.
Paul George led the way with 30 points, but he shot just 1-of-8 from three-point range in Game 7 and 2-of-14 in the last two games.
The Hawks buried themselves in the final game by not even trying to drive the lane, settling for jump shots and shooting 44 three-point field goals.
Washington, meanwhile, has been biding its time after defeating the undermanned Bulls in five games. Not only that, but the Wizards have moved up in the odds, according to Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com.
Since the NBA went to a best-of-seven first round in 2003, teams that swept their first-round series won their second-round series 76 percent of the time. Teams that needed five games to beat their first-round opponent won the next series 60 percent of the time. But those teams that needed six games to win the first round won the second round only 34 percent of the time, and those that took the full seven games did just 36 percent of the time.
Circumstantial as that may be, keep in mind that the Bulls finished the season with 10 more wins than the Hawks. Washington played the superior opponent and needed two fewer games to win the series.
Which higher seed won't make it past the second round?
The Pacers struggle at the point guard position. George Hill has shot just 37.7 percent from the field and averaged just 4.4 assists in his last five games.
The Wizards have John Wall, who did struggle with his shot against Chicago (36.4 percent) but averaged 6.8 assists and 4.6 rebounds. Bradley Beal is on fire from three-point range (45.5 percent vs. Chicago), while Nene often looked like a superstar with 17.8 points per game.
One series win does not put the Pacers back on track. The Wizards may not have as much raw talent, but they're playing better basketball and have two budding superstars in Wall and Beal.
The end of Indiana's season won't come at the hands of Miami, because it won't even make it that far.
Prediction: Wizards in six
Oklahoma City Thunder (vs. Los Angeles Clippers)
One reason the Thunder desperately wanted the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference was to avoid a matchup with Memphis, a team that has always given Oklahoma City fits dating back to the 2011 conference semifinals that went to seven games.
The Thunder's prize for surviving Memphis this time around is a date with the league's highest-scoring team. Chris Paul has been a game-changing presence in Los Angeles, as ESPN's J.A. Adande noted how the star point guard's game has adapted to the talent around him.
The Clippers play better when they're faster, and they have steadily increased their pace to make them top 10 in that category and the leading scoring-team in the NBA this season. Paul had to learn his teammates' tendencies too. For instance, he threw lobs right at the rim to Tyson Chandler in New Orleans. Griffin likes the ball farther away so he can take it to the hoop himself.
Kevin Durant is probably going to be named MVP of the league, but he's struggled in these playoffs to the point where The Oklahoman called him "Mr. Unreliable."
The Oklahoman sports editor apologizes for Kevin Durant 'Mr. Unreliable' headline saying newspaper "failed". pic.twitter.com/dMsUu6Ef3O— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 1, 2014
Durant responded to the criticism in the best possible way with 69 points on 23-of-41 shooting in the last two games against Memphis. But the Clippers aren't going to fade away offensively like the Grizzlies did in Game 6, nor can you just expect the Thunder to outscore Los Angeles in a run-and-gun style matchup.
Russell Westbrook still shoots the ball too much (165 times against Memphis), forgetting that his best attribute is the ability to facilitate and then taking shots when the situation calls for it.
The Clippers have the best distributor in the game (Paul), two dominant inside presences (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) and outstanding outside shooters (J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford).
There's no doubt this is going to be one of the most exciting postseason series in recent memory, but the Clippers shouldn't be seen as just another obstacle before the inevitable Oklahoma City-San Antonio Western Conference Final.
Prediction: Clippers in seven
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