2011 NBA Playoffs: Do Teams Have What It Takes to Beat the First Round?
We've heard it all before.
The Thunder are young and poised to dethrone the Spurs.
The Mavericks are always a disappointment, count them out.
The Miami Heat have LeBron, Wade, and Bosh—clearly they're taking the trophy, right?
The Lakers were born winners, they're automatically into the Finals.
Lets take a detailed look into these matchups and find out the truth.
WEST: First Round, No. 1 San Antonio Spurs vs No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies
The San Antonio Spurs have always counted on Manu Ginobili as their closer. Without Rudy Gay, this Memphis team has no standout scorer and needs someone to step up—people like Zach Randolph and Mike Conley. Marc Gasol has always been a rebounding machine and is playing not great, but good enough defense. After being stunned by the Grizzlies in Game 1, the Spurs have to step it up if they want to get out of this series alive.
PG- Mike Conley vs Tony Parker
Parker and Conley average identical assists and rebounds per game, but Parker takes the 17.7-13.8 advantage on Conley. These four points can really make a difference in the outcome of a game, especially close ones, like the Spurs are accustomed to playing in.
SG- Tony Allen vs Manu Ginobili
Without looking it up, someone can pretty much assume at this point why Manu is better than Tony in this matchup. Manu has definitely been a top-5 shooting guard this year with numerous buzzer beaters.
SF- Sam Young vs Richard Jefferson
Richard Jefferson is averaging a career best 44 percent from three-point land, and he's quickly becoming one of the best offensive weapons on the Spurs. With Duncan having as bad as a season as he's having (compared to the last few season), the Spurs needed someone to step up, and Jefferson has done it. Sam Young is still a young developing player, who's going to become a great asset for this Grizzlies team in years to come.
PF- Zach Randolph vs Tim Duncan
Zach Randolph has been a beast unleashed this season, averaging a double-double, 20 points and 11 rebounds. Duncan has been in a funk this season—he's averaged five less points than last season, two less boards and half an assist lower. Although Duncan has been somewhat of a solid player, Randolph has clearly outplayed him this season.
C- Marc Gasol vs DeJuan Blair
On paper, Marc Gasol murdered DeJuan Blair. Gasol has been a monster on the defensive end, averaging around two blocks, a steal and eight boards a game. Blair, on the other hand, has been on and off recently, averaging eight points and seven rebounds. With Gasol guarding him, his numbers are bound to drop even more.
The Spurs have one of the deepest benches in the league, which includes sharpshooter Gary Neal, Antonio McDyess, and Tiago Splitter.
The experience and leadership from the Spurs trio will prove too much for the inexperienced Grizzlies, who haven't won a playoff game in a long time—but maybe they can squeeze one or two out.
Spurs in 6
WEST: No. 2 Los Angeles Lakers vs No. 7 New Orleans Hornets
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The Los Angeles Lakers are slumping big-time at the worst time possible. After losing to the New Orleans Hornets in Game 1, at home, this team is just demoralized. Kobe Bryant did pour in 34 points in the losing effort, but Chris Paul just demolished the Lakers with 34 points and 14 assists. This Hornets team is peaking at the right time, although I do see their chances of winning another game as very slim.
PG: Derek Fisher vs Chris Paul
Chris Paul undoubtedly has the advantage here. Even though Fisher has tremendous playoff experience and has hit a few well-timed three pointers in his day, Paul himself has a few years of post season games under his belt. Paul is emerging as one of the most elite point guards along with Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams.
SG: Kobe Bryant vs Marco Belinelli/Willie Green
He's the Black Mamba. What else can you do?
SF: Ron Artest vs Trevor Ariza
Ron Artest has been the defensive force along with Andrew Bynum that propels the Lakers. Unfortunately, in the end, its the points and assists and rebounds that win the game. Artest has his share of three pointers every now and then, averaging a measly eight points and three rebounds. Trevor is doing his share for the Hornets averaging 11 points and has the ability to energize the crowd with his ferocious dunks every now and then. Sorry Ron-Ron, but Ariza takes this one.
PF: Pau Gasol vs Carl Landry
Carl who? Just kidding, but clearly Pau Gasol is the better overall player here.
C: Andrew Bynum vs Emeka Okafor
Yes, Emeka has been a decent center for the Hornets—both defensively and offensively—averaging 10 points and 10 boards a game (that's a double-double!!). Andrew Bynum though, has been the force that revived the Lakers starting from the first game after the All Star break. Bynum is also averaging a double-double, but he is up there in defensive presence with two blocks a game. This one goes to Bynum.
BENCH: Los Angeles Lakers vs New Orleans Hornets
The Lakers have who will most likely be the Sixth Man of The Year (Naturally, I wanted Jason Terry to win). Lamar Odom has been a force off the bench, along with Shannon Brown and Steve Blake.
The Hornets can take two if they get lucky, three if Pau and Kobe both break their arms in a freak accident and win if the Lakers don't show up to the game.
Lakers in 6
WEST: No. 3 Dallas Mavericks vs No. 6 Portland Trailblazers
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First things first. I'm a die hard Mavs game, and I write for the Mavs. But any Mavs fan knows that Portland is the last team any team wants to play in the first round. Emerging star LaMarcus Aldridge is putting the team on his back and carrying them to the playoffs (although, having Gerald Wallace and Brandon Roy helps too).
Roy is slowly but surely regaining his form as one of the top scorers on the Blazers, like he did a few seasons ago before injuries tore up his knee. Then, there comes the man. The Diggler. The Big German. Swish 41. Dirty Dirk. He's having a career season, but unfortunately, he won't win MVP. The Mavs are coming off their best defensive season in a long, long time—thats what happens when you have Shawn Bradley. Don't look now, but the Mavs hope to move past in the first round in the form of Caron Butler. He might be coming back late this round or early second round.
PG: Jason Kidd vs Andre Miller
He's a flat-out wizard with the ball. The great advantage here is that Dallas doesn't have to play speedy Chris Paul and Mike Conley. Miller is around the same age as Kidd. Kidd has perfected his three-point shooting, while I haven't seen Andre doing much work to improve at all.
SG: Jason Terry vs Brandon Roy
Trust me, it pains me to give this to Roy. Given the funk that Jet has been in recently, and given how fast Roy is regaining his All-Star caliber form.... I gotta give this one to Roy.
SF: Shawn Marion vs Gerald Wallace
This guy is worthy of being called "The Matrix" again. Dirk played terribly the first half vs Houston, and Mr. Matrix stepped in and dropped 21 on the Rockets. After months of endless misses, he's finally perfected that jump hook. "Crash" on the other hand, I feel, is still getting used to the Trailblazer rotations and sets, but he WILL be a force on the court no doubt. His tenacity for getting boards and his determination is what sets him apart.
PF: Dirk Nowitzki vs Nic Batum
Yes, he destroyed the Spurs with that alley oop with .9 seconds left, but the Big German is too much. Even though Dirk is averaging one of the lowest PPG vs the Trailblazers than any other team he plays, he still makes buckets.
C: Tyson Chandler vs LaMarcus Aldridge
No one has even mentioned Tyson Chandler for Defensive Player of the Year and it pisses me off, even though we all know Dwight will take it. Chandler has a been a force and presence that the Mavs are vulnerable without. On the other hand, LA is seriously in the conversation for Most Improved Player.
BENCH: Dallas Mavericks vs Portland Trailblazers
The Dallas Mavericks have the highest scoring bench in the NBA as of right now. JJ Barea and Jason Terry are great stars coming off of the bench.
The Trailblazers have a great great team, and we're looking at one of the better teams going into the 2011-2012 season. I am sick of people (especially at NBA.com) writing off the Mavs because of their history. I'll be watching to see if all of the frustration for the Mavs wins them this series.
Mavs in 6
WEST: No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs No. 5 Denver Nuggets
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
The Thunder and Nuggets are two of the hottest teams coming into the playoffs. Expect a crazy, fun and exciting atmosphere at both arenas, notorious for their bustling and savage fans (although Utah's fans are the worst by far). Westbrook is being a great second man to Kevin Durant, and Denver's balanced attack—with no clear superstar post-Melo—is on fire.
PG: Russell Westbrook vs Raymond Felton
Raymond's impact and deathly three-point shooting put him really close to edging out Westbrook, but Russell has been everything for this Thunder team behind Kevin Durant. He can get to the rim, has almost perfected his mid-range jumper, and is proceeding to blossom into a perennial All-Star.
SG: Thabo Sefolosha vs JR Smith
SF: Kevin Durant vs Wilson Chandler
Yeah, Wilson Chandler has been doing great—one of the best sleeper draft picks in a long, long time. But hey, Kevin Durant; what else can you do?
PF: Serge Ibaka vs Kenyon Martin
Serge Ibaka was clearly cheated in that Dunk Contest. If you're telling me that clearly outjumping Dr. J gives you a 40 or whatever he got, you're crazy. I see lots of NBA videos that say "free throw dunk" but no one's foot is actually behind the line like Serge's was. Back to the topic, though. Kenyon Martin is a defensive specialist and not like Serge was producing in the first place, but Kenyon can shut hm down while scoring on the offensive end too.
C: Kendrick Perkins vs Nene Hilario
Nene's a great player, the leading player in field goal percentage. But what's really hilario(us) is that a great team like the Celtics, one that most people said would go to the championship year in and year out, is struggling with the loss of their defensive force in Perkins and their energizer off the bench, Nate Robinson.
BENCH: Oklahoma City Thunder vs Denver Nuggets
In a close one, the Thunder edged out the Nuggets. The Thunder have quality players like Nate Robinson, James Harden and Nick Collison on their bench.
In the end, the combination of Durant and Westbrook is going to be too much for this Nuggets defense to handle.
Thunder in 6
EAST: No. 1 Chicago Bulls vs No. 8 Indiana Pacers
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The Chicago Bulls are becoming the powerhouse of the Eastern Conference, led by Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Honestly, the terror that is Carlos Boozer's play has been overshadowed by Rose's greatness. At 62-20, the Bulls lead the Eastern Conference standings, thanks to Boston's recent struggles and Miami's bipolar qualities.
The Pacers, on the other hand, are the bottom feeders in the East's playoff field. Success for the Pacers is defined as winning one game. Danny Granger didn't have the kind of year he had last year, but he has found Tyler Hansborough following him and carrying some of the load for Indiana. I was stunned to see that the Pacers almost got the upset in Game 1, although they gave up a 10-point lead in three minutes.
PG: Derrick Rose vs Darren Collison
Outstanding, quick, clever and a freaking magician. Who else can drop floaters in from behind the backboard with ease? Darren Collison is having a good year; not great, but good for the Pacers. MVP! MVP! They've even got me chanting it now.
SG: Keith Bogans vs Mike Dunleavy
Whoa, I feel for Mike Dunleavy here. Nine years of no playoffs until this glorious day. Seriously though, anyone is better than Keith Bogans at this point. I'm still scratching my head at how the Bulls don't have a more solid shooting guard than Bogans. Dunleavy hasn't been doing so great for the Pacers but has contributed solidly.
SF: Luol Deng vs Danny Granger
It's easy to forget that Mr. Granger was an All-Star in 2008. He's been the undoubted leader for this Pacers team, leading them in scoring with 20.5 points a game. Deng has also been a great contributor, occasionally knocking down three pointers at the right time during games, and he also has a great ability in taking it to the rack.
PF: Carlos Boozer vs Josh McRoberts
As I stated in the intro, Carlos Boozer hasn't been that great this season. However, he's better than McBob, who's only job in Indiana is to fill up the highlight reel. I do have to applaud his efforts, some pretty nasty dunks he's been making in Indy.
C: Joakim Noah vs Roy Hibbert
Roy Hibbert is a blossoming young player. In a few years, he's going to be the star center for this Pacers team, providing a defensive presence in the paint. But for now, we have to keep those hopes grounded because Joakim Noah, aside from his face which looks like something out of the Freddy Krueger movie, has been playing great offensively and defensively. He is a very underrated passer in this league, and hopefully he will be able to display that ability in this series.
BENCH: Chicago Bulls vs Indiana Pacers
The game just finished up a few minutes ago and I have to give it up to the Bulls bench. The only three pointer that Kyle Korver makes is the one that wins the game. I, personally, hate Kyle Korver, but he does come up big.
After the Pacers gave the Bulls a run for their money today, I can MAYBE see them taking at most one game from the Bulls this series.
Bulls in 5
EAST: No. 2 Miami Heat vs No. 7 Philadelphia 76ers
Marc Serota/Getty Images
The Miami Heat have spent the majority of the season trying to silence critics, especially those like Larry Bird who said that LeBron ran away from the challenge of bringing a title to Cleveland. The 76ers have discovered a new found strength and have been rallying as of late, being led by Coach of the Year candidate Doug Collins and star Andre Iguodala, along with the blossoming young star, Jrue Holiday.
PG: Mike Bibby vs Jrue Holiday
Mike Bibby was good back in the hey days with the Sacramento Kings, a real three-point threat. These days, he's been quite the traveling man—bouncing from Sacramento to Atlanta to Washington to Miami. Jrue Holiday is becoming a leader for this young 76er team who have rallied not behind talent, but behind togetherness.
SG: Dwyane Wade vs Andre Iguodala
He's been in Miami since the (rigged) NBA Finals in 2006, which leaves LeBron and Bosh as the two of the Big Three without a title. Averaging 26 points for this Miami team, he's really showed up. Andre Iguodala has had a stellar year, although his electrifying dunks make it seem like he's averaging more than 14 points a game.
SF: LeBron James vs Andres Nocioni
Queen James wins automatically. You all know about his dominance.
PF: Chris Bosh vs Elton Brand
Before he joined the Heat, Chris Bosh was a perennial All Star with the Toronto Raptors. After dropping 25 on the Heat in Game 1, he's been revived of his basketball talents. He was considered the third wheel on the Heat before showing up. Elton Brand is having a solid year this year, but nothing too big.
C: Zydrunas Ilgauskas vs Spencer Hawes
Wow. What a star studded matchup. Hawes is averaging four points a game to Ilgauskas' eight. So reluctantly, I give Ilgauskas the advantage here.
BENCH: Miami Heat vs Philadelphia 76ers
Mario Chalmers is a good young backup PG, Mike Miller, Eddie House and Erick Dampier are great contributors off the bench.
In the end, the Miami Heat's three-point shooting capabilities through Mike Miller, Eddie House and Daquan Cook, plus the post up power of James and Bosh will prove too much for this very young but growing 76ers team.
Heat in 5
EAST: No. 3 Boston Celtics vs No. 6 New York Knicks
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Danny Ainge, what were you thinking? The Celtics are now 15-12 since the Kendrick Perkins/Nate Robinson for Jeff Green/Nenad Krstic deadline deal. Ainge says it was for the best, but this honestly was the one obstacle that prevented the Celtics from getting the top seed in the East. Maybe they wouldn't have gotten a team like the Knicks—with Amare and Carmelo—if this trade hadn't happened, they would've got the Pacers in a 1/8 matchup. The Knicks are still getting used to Melo and Melo is still getting used to the Knicks. He hit his first game winner a week ago, and is really starting to find his role along with star forward Amare Stoudemire. This matchup is sure to be one of the best (behind Oklahoma City/Denver) in the entire playoff field.
PG: Rajon Rondo vs Chauncey Billups
This one was quite the toughy, but not only does Rondo have the ability to pass the ball rather than shoot, during clutch moments like Billups, he outplays Billups using crazy ball handling skills, great court vision and a knack for finding teammates open.
SG: Ray Allen vs Landry Fields
Even though Fields has the backing of Spike Lee, who adores him, he's not going to get the best of Ray Allen. Allen just recently, as we all know, is the all-time leader in 3-point field goals, defeating Reggie Miller. Even though Allen can be deadly from outside, he can take it to the rack too.
SF: Paul Pierce vs Carmelo Anthony
Two big reasons I took Pierce here. One, Doc Rivers made a smart play and rested Pierce for a week. Now, if you watched the Blazers Mavs game (go mavs!), you saw the miracle that is Jason Kidd, and his legs were fresh, allowing him to go 6-10 from behind the arc. If Pierce can imitate this, because he got even more rest than Kidd, good-bye New York.
Two, Carmelo is still getting used to the Knicks, if this was Boston and Denver, it would have been a harder decision, considering Melo did better there.
PF: Kevin Garnett vs Amare Stoudemire
Garnett is getting old. Period. He's great at those behind the head mid range jumpers, but is slowly starting to lose the offensive post presence that made him great in the first place. Amare is flourishing under Marc D'Antoni's run and gun offense (if you recall, same coach/same player combo in Phoenix a few years back).
C: Glen Davis/Nenad Krstic vs Ronny Turiaf
With the loss of Kendrick Perkins (sigh).... the Celtics lost the defensive post presence they had, but at least they got Nenad Krstic, not that he's a great defender, but at least he plays. Glen Davis is the undoubted emotional leader of this team, and his presence on the floor is greatly felt by the team and its fans. Ronny Turiaf is decent, but nothing too big, don't get your hopes up on this man.
BENCH: Boston Celtics vs New York Knicks
The Boston Celtics have the clear advantage here, with playoff experienced players like Delonte West and Sasha Pavlovic, and newer, younger, more talented players like Jeff Green.
The Celtics are going to prove too much for this inexperienced and young Knicks team.
Celtics in 6
EAST: No. 4 Orlando Magic vs No. 5 Atlanta Hawks
J. Meric/Getty Images
I couldn't imagine a 4/5 matchup with two teams that are struggling more than this. The Atlanta Hawks stumbled into the playoffs after a decent start in a terrible Eastern Conference (The Indiana Pacers made the playoffs even with a losing record). The Orlando Magic are 6-4 in their last 10, and the Hawks 4-6. Dwight Howard is a leading candidate, behind Derrick Rose, for the MVP Award.
PG: Jameer Nelson vs Jeff Teague/Kirk Hinrich
Jameer Nelson has playoff experience and knows how to feed the ball to his superstar center when he needs to. Jeff Teague is relatively fresh from playing in the playoffs, and Kirk Hinrich was the point guard for a despicable and shameful Washington team, before he got traded to the Hawks. This shows why God favors men from Kansas University (I'm a KU fan too, by the way).
SG: Jason Richardson vs Joe Johnson
Jason Richardson is a very very streaky shooter, he goes hot and he goes cold, which is the main reason is didn't take him over Joe Johnson, he's really unreliable. Joe Johnson is averaging 18 for this Hawks team and is its star player, he also makes clutch plays at the right moments.
SF: Hedo Turkoglu vs Marvin Williams
This is kind of harsh, but Atlanta, what a waste of a Second Overall Pick! Williams is averaging 10 points for the Hawks, which is good for a contributor but terrible for a draft pick that high. It's possible to argue that Hedo Turkoglu is also averaging 10 points, but you see, he was an 18th pick.
PF: Ryan Anderson vs Josh Smith
J SMOOVE! Ryan Anderson is a great shooter from deep, but this is the perfect scenario for Josh Smith. He creams offensive superstars like Dwight and Kevin Garnett with his blocks, and now he's playing a kid who's too (not using the s-o-f-_ word) shy to take it inside? Perfect matchup for J-Smoove. And did I mention? Not only does he play defense (first part of video), he also plays offense (second part of video).
C: Dwight Howard vs Al Horford
46 Points is freaking disgusting, plus 19 rebounds—this dude's a monster. Horford, on the other hand, is averaging 15 points, nine rebounds and a block per game. Not bad at all, but not so good compared to Dwight's 23 points, 14 rebounds and two-and-a-half blocks per game.
BENCH: Orlando Magic vs Atlanta Hawks
Anytime you have Gilbert Arenas, Brandon Bass and J.J. Redick, you're good to go against a team with Jamal Crawford, Magnum Rolle (???) and Damien Wilkins (???).
In the end, the Magic are going to get pushed to the extreme edge but I am going with the upset and taking Atlanta, not because they are good, but because of how bad the Magic played in Game 1.
Hawks in 7