NBA Playoffs: Taking a Look into the Second Round of the NBA Playoffs
The opening round of the NBA Playoffs was filled with excitement, last-second finishes and one of the biggest upsets in playoff history.
The second round of the playoffs is shaping up to be just as exciting with plenty of intriguing matchups.
In the Western Conference, we have the Los Angeles Lakers facing off against the Dallas Mavericks. Two of the league's best players in Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki will be going head-to-head for a chance to play in the Western Conference Finals.
Next up in the West is the Oklahoma City Thunder, coming off an impressive series against the Denver Nuggets, against the Memphis Grizzlies who knocked off the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs.
Moving to the Eastern Conference, the NBA's top-seeded Chicago Bulls will take on the Atlanta Hawks.
Lastly, in the East, we have the matchup basketball fans have been praying for. The Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics will face-off in one of the most anticipated matchups in recent memory.
Western Conference: Los Angeles Lakers (No. 2) V. Dallas Mavericks (No. 3)
The Los Angeles Lakers finally woke up after their leader, Kobe Bryant, threw down a ferocious dunk on New Orleans Hornets' center Emeka Okafor. The Lakers stumbled out of the gate, but were able to close out the series, winning four of the last five games.
The Dallas Mavericks were able to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers in six games, but it was not easy. They were able to steal a game on the road in game six, avoiding a home game to close out the series. After a total collapse in game four, the Mavericks were able to regroup and finish the series.
The Lakers won the season series against the Mavericks 2-1. Matt Barnes made comments over Twitter referring to the Mavericks as being soft and that you need to punk them.
The Lakers were able to hold the Mavericks to only 32.4 percent shooting beyond the arc and kept them off the free throw line. The Mavericks had five less attempts against the Lakers than their season average of 22.6 per game.
The Mavericks might have trouble dealing with the size of Los Angeles, just like most teams. An interesting matchup to watch will be Lamar Odom and Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki is a versatile threat on the offensive even, but Odom has the athleticism and size to keep up with him.
Prediction: The Mavericks are a good team, but not good enough to defeat the Lakers in a seven game series. I'm looking for the Lakers to stay on track after two straight victories against New Orleans and for the Lakers to be physical in the paint.
The Mavericks will have a shot if they can contain the Lakers size. If Tyson Chandler can stay out of foul trouble and bother Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, it will seriously help the Mavericks' chances.
Western Conference: Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 4) V. Memphis Grizzlies (No. 8)
Kevin Durant was flat-out incredible in the Oklahoma City Thunder's opening series against the Denver Nuggets. Russell Westbrook also had a good series, but tended to get jumpshot-happy towards the end of the series, including a game four performance where he attempted 30 field goals.
The Memphis Grizzlies so far have been the story of the playoffs. After knocking off the San Antonio Spurs, they are showing no signs of slowing down. Zach Randolph has proven to be a great leader and closer for this basketball team.
Randolph, along with Marc Gasol down low, can cause problems against the Thunder. Kendrick Perkins is a big body who is not afraid of forcing his way into the post for rebounds, but he needs to stay out of foul trouble.
Serge Ibaka can play a huge role in this series. Ibaka will often be matched-up on Randolph and he has to use his size and athleticism to his advantage. Randolph is not the most athletic forward in the NBA, but he knows how to use his body to get good shots at the rim.
Kevin Durant will see a lot of different faces on defense. Tony Allen, Shane Battier and Sam Young will all have their shots to defend Durant, but let's face it, Durant is the back-to-back scoring champion, and is a long 6'9" with unlimited shooting range. It will take much more than one-on-one defense to stop him.
Do not be quick to count out the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies were 3-1 against the Thunder this season because they were able to get to the line often. The Grizzlies averaged 23.9 free throw attempts per game this season, but averaged 30.5 against the Thunder.
Prediction: The Thunder seem to be in a groove right now that Memphis will have a hard time stopping. Oklahoma City is more athletics than the Spurs so they should be able to keep up with the Grizzlies constant pressure.
Even though the Grizzlies had success against the Thunder in the playoffs, I think the Thunder will still take this series. However, it will not be as easy as some people may think. Look for this series to be filled with close, exciting games.
Eastern Conference: Chicago Bulls (No. 1) V. Atlanta Hawks
The Chicago Bulls had a tough series against the Indiana Pacers despite winning the series in five games. Derrick Rose has shown why he is one of the premier players in the league. Winning the series in five games will be great for the Bulls since their superstar is recovering from a tweaked ankle.
The Atlanta Hawks were able to knock of the Orlando Magic. The Magic did not look like the Magic of recent memory and the Hawks took advantage of that. Jamal Crawford gave them a great series off the bench providing the scoring they needed to put away the Magic.
The Bulls took the season series from the Hawks 2-1. The Hawks, who averaged 94.8 points per game during the regular season, only averaged 80 against the Bulls. The Bulls also had the edge in rebounding.
The Hawks have improved as the years have gone on, but not as much as the Bulls. Derrick Rose has emerged as a true star in this league and even though Kirk Heinrich is an upgrade defensively over Mike Bibby, he still will not be able to keep up with Rose consistently.
Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer will need to play big in the middle to keep Al Horford and Josh Smith off of the boards.
Prediction: I don't see the Hawks finding much success this series. They ran into an underachieving Orlando team and now face the NBA's top seed. Derrick Rose will be too much to handle one-on-one and Boozer and Noah will prove to be too much inside.
The Hawks will not get a ton of open looks, so when they do, they need to knock down their shots. They need to crash the boards, especially on the offensive end to create second-chance opportunities.
Eastern Conference: Miami Heat (No. 2) V. Boston Celtics (No. 3)
The Miami Heat ran into a pesky Philadelphia Sixers team that gave them a better series than they expected. That series most likely helped the Heat prepare for the next round, because they had to step up their game early than expected.
The Boston Celtics ran through a battered New York Knicks squad. The Knicks were just not ready for the Celtics—and the Celtics exposed their weaknesses. With Boston's biggest weakness at center, the Knicks were the perfect first-round match for them. Ronny Turiaf is serviceable, but he is not a premier center.
The Knicks dealt with injuries all series, including Chauncey Billups and Amar'e Stoudemire. With those two healthy, this series could have been much different.
Miami lost their first three matchups against the Celtics, but towards the end of the season they were able to grab the last game of the series. That last game was also the first time Miami faced the Celtics after the Kendrick Perkins trade.
Without Perkins, the Celtics have not been them same team. They do not have the same inside presence on defense. If Shaquille O'Neal can come back for the series, he can really help Boston in the middle.
Another player possibly returning for the series is Heat forward Udonis Haslem. If Haslem comes back during the series, he can help the Heat in rebounding and defending Kevin Garnett.
Overall, this should be one of the best series of this year's playoffs. The keys for the Heat have to be keeping Rajon Rondo out of the paint where he can score or distribute and keep Ray Allen from getting open looks from downtown.
The keys for the Celtics should be keeping Dwyane Wade from getting scoring opportunities in the paint. Once Wade is in the paint, he is hard to stop.
LeBron James scores better against the Celtics than any team in the league, so the Celtics need to keep him from having an impact everywhere else including distributing the basketball.
Lastly, both teams need to keep each other from getting easy buckets in transition. Wade and James on the break are the best combination in the league and Rondo can find an open man on the break just as well as anyone in the league.
Prediction: Even though the Heat lost the season series against Boston, I liked the way they played that fourth game after Boston had traded away Perkins. In that game, they chased players off the three-point line and crashed the boards better than they had in the previous matchups.
This season could easily go seven games, and since Miami was able to edge out Boston for the home-court advantage, it could play a huge role in the series. Miami was also tied for the most road wins in the league this season, so don't be surprised if they steal on in Boston.