NBA Playoffs 2011: Power Ranking All Four Second-Round Matchups
It's down to eight teams. We spend 82 regular season games and anywhere from four to seven first-round playoff matches to get to this point.
The competition is tougher, the defense is tighter and the talent more even. The second round is never to be confused with the Conference Finals or the NBA Finals themselves, but it certainly is the weeding out of the pretenders and the pass to the next level for the truly elite.
There are four matchups in this second round containing those eight remaining teams. Some have been here before while others have not.
And, clearly, some series will be far more interesting then others. It's not much of a power ranking when you only examine four items, but this year's second round delivers enough varied drama to separate the edge of your seat goings-on from the going-through-the-motions mediocrity.
No. 4: The Undercard; Bulls vs. Hawks
Regular Season Meetings: Bulls won two games, Hawks won one. The first meeting was a tight one, determined by three points in the Hawks' favor. The next two games were Bulls blowouts.
Previous Playoff History: The two teams have met in the playoffs four times:
1967 Western Division Semis (Hawks 3-0)
1970 Western Division Semis (Hawks 4-1)
1993 East First Round (Bulls 3-0)
1997 East Semis (Bulls 4-1)
Drama Level: D+; the Hawks' revenge job on the Magic was the height of their drama for the postseason as all signs point to a humbling second round (again), though the Hawks are surely not going to repeat last year's second-round embarrassment and will be relatively involved in the series.
The Hawks, at the least, have momentum and the knowledge that they got the Orlando monkey off their back. They should have confidence.
That said, the Bulls have confidence too. They went through injury woes and a shocking lack of consistency against a very good Pacers squad that made the Bulls work for their second first-round pass in 13 years.
I'll always take the No. 1 seed who was pushed to the limits over a squad running off of adrenaline; however, saying history is not on the Hawks' side would be admitting it isn't on the Bulls' side either as the Bulls squad as it is has very little playoff experience, if any, past the first round.
So that leaves matchups. Derrick Rose is always fun to watch but both of these units are more team outfits rather then star-laden, so they don't pack a punch in the personality department. Nor does any one matchup seem entirely intriguing as one team will have an clear advantage over the other at each position (Atlanta has SG and PF while Bulls have PG, SF and C).
So, no disrespect towards either team, but I expect the series to not only be short, in favor of the Bulls, but lacking any of the bright lights of other series currently going on.
No. 3: Fight or Flight; Lakers vs. Mavericks
Regular Season Meetings: The Lakers won two meetings, while the Mavericks got one victory. The Mavericks won comfortably early in the regular season with a nine-point win while the Lakers, in the next two meetings, had a close one and a blowout in their favor.
Previous Playoff History: The two teams have met in the playoffs three times:
1984 Western Semis (Lakers 4-1)
1986 Western Semis (Lakers 4-2)
1988 Western Conference Finals (Lakers 4-3)
Previous Series: Lakers beat the seven seed Hornets in six; the Mavericks beat the six seed Blazers in six.
Drama Level: C+/B-; my fear is that this will either be a close, edge-of-your seat slugfest all the way to a Game 7, or Dallas will melt into their playoff habits and get annihilated.
The teams certainly do share strong talent levels, especially at center. The 7-footer collision should be immense with Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood clashing.
But though the Lakers lack a load of depth, they are two deep in four of the five positions and while they don't have a true center as a great backup on the depth chart, they do have two players who can switch positions to cover the center position if Bynum gets in foul trouble.
Plus, Caron Butler is (currently) out, leaving the Mavericks without a firm x-factor off the bench.
The Mavericks could squeak by a talented Blazers squad, but to get by the Lakers they'll need fate on their side. They are talented enough to push it, but the two franchises' histories go in different directions, with the advantage going to the Lakers.
No. 2: Youth in Revolt; Grizzlies vs. Thunder
Matchup: No. 4 Thunder vs. No. 8 Grizzlies
Regular Season Meetings: Competitive was the name of the game, though the Grizzlies hold the regular season edge 3-1. The Grizzlies won the first, third and fourth meetings by five, four and six points respectively. The Thunder won their early season matchup by nine.
Previous Playoff History: These teams have never met in the playoffs (in any incarnation).
Drama Level: A; the only reason why this series is not ranked as No. 1 is because of the lack of history between and of the teams involved. But what isn't there to root for?
You've got the upstart Grizzlies, who became just the second team to ever beat a No. 1 seed in a seven-game series as a No. 8. They've got stars ready to burst out and have nothing to lose while something to prove.
And on OKC's side, you've got the already heralded youth of Durant, Westbrook and Harden ready to make their dent on the Western Conference in 2011 and in years to come.
Both likable (and troubled) franchises with likable (and non-troublesome) stars who have only prestige and respect to earn with a series win.
The fact that the regular season series was so close could be an indication that this upcoming series might be one for the history books (and ESPN classic).
No. 1: Clash of the Titans; Celtics vs. Heat
Regular Season Meetings: The Celtics won the first three meetings while the Heat salvaged a win toward the end of the season. The Celtics three victories were decided by eight, five and three points respectively, while the Heat handled the Celtics easily in the fourth game.
Previous Playoff History: These two teams have met in the playoffs one time:
2010 East First Round (Celtics 4-1)
Drama Level: A+; What can you say that hasn't been said already? This is the type of series that not only has loads of history but has legacies at stake...and we're talkin' the second round!
The most dominant issue is, of course, LeBron James. Will he EVER get past the Celtics? Will his infamous "Decision" actually be tactically sound in that it got him through his most detestable enemy? And what of the pressure situations? Will he quit again? Will he simply dominant?
The questions surrounding LeBron James and his status as the "King" and the "Chosen One" rest on this series before any other. Yes, he still has to lead his team to a ring by winning two other rounds after this one, but a fantasy writer couldn't have given you richer material for a book then the constantly beaten superstar going up against the powerful "villains."
But legacy questions remain for Boston as well. Having a title and two Finals berths is nothing to feel shameful about, but if the Celtics can only deliver one championship in four years, with the aged "Big Three" nearly done, where would they stand in history? The Celtics' current legacy is at stake and LeBron's Heat, who really want to win, I'd imagine stand in the way.
But stories abound! How will Bosh do in his first second-round series—and against Garnett no less? Who will take the last shot for the Heat? Will Shaq return and provide a spark for Boston? Can anyone step up for the Heat besides their own "Big Three?" Will Garnett get suspended for an elbow? Will LeBron punch Delonte West? Will the Eastern domination of Boston end this year in this round?
What will happen?? It is the unpredictability and the endless questions (and excitement) that make this series the cream of the crop in this second round.