2011 NBA Playoff Predictions: 2nd-Round Predictions and X-Factors
This is where the NBA playoffs get more interesting as all four matchups will be must-see TV. Picking the winners gets harder but the series get easier to analyze after watching the first round. Here's hoping that hoops fans get their wish and all of these series go six games or more according to one humble writer's predictions.
Chicago vs. Atlanta
Here is your winner for the series that will be closer than it looks. And you have the Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic to thank for that.
The Pacers pushed Chicago in every first-round game and made folks second-guess the Bulls’ status as a dominant team in the postseason. The Magic made Atlanta look like a more lethal, yet inconsistent version of the 2008 squad that took the eventual champion Boston Celtics to seven games.
So here we are with a series that should’ve been one-sided but is going to be a physical battle. Chicago’s team defense vs. Atlanta’s inside/outside balance. Derrick Rose’s ankle will be a story to watch but a bigger injury concern is Kirk Hinrich’s hamstring for Atlanta as he was the No. 1 perimeter weapon against Rose.
X-Factor: Joe Johnson (Atlanta)
Last year’s conference semifinals did the biggest job in exposing him as a superstar fraud that came up small in the postseason. Atlanta needs him to reverse that trend and average at least 20 points per game to make this series close. If he disappears again, this series could be over quick.
Chicago relies heavily on Rose but expect their perimeter players Luol Deng and Keith Bogans to do more than contribute occasionally to offset the Hawks’ perimeter weapons of Johnson and Jamal Crawford. Josh Smith will be a matchup nightmare in the Hawks frontcourt, but too many weapons and superior coaching will have the Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals.
Prediction: Chicago in six
Los Angeles vs. Dallas
So nice of Dallas to finally make the second round for the second time since its NBA Finals appearance in 2006. The Mavs' reward is the two-time defending champions who blew them out by nearly 30 in their last meeting, which was more memorable for five players being ejected and a crazy fan that nearly approached the Mavericks bench.
Sideshows aside, this will actually be a great series. There is size aplenty between the Lakers (Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom) and Mavericks (Tyson Chandler, Brendan Haywood and Dirk Nowitzki). You have Hall of Fame guards facing off for maybe the last time in the postseason in Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd. Both teams also survived harder-than-expected first-round duels and need to prove they are worthy contenders in the West.
The big question is which team brings its closeout mentality from its last two games? Will the Lakers (and mainly Pau Gasol) stay focused against a better opponent? Or will Dallas remember how it shook its first-round demons and surprise the champs?
X-Factor: Lamar Odom vs. Jason Terry
Chandler has added an extra dimension of toughness to the Mavericks and should cancel Bynum, whose resurgent play sparked the Lakers in their first-round series. But this series will be about which top reserve steps up and both Odom and Terry have shown no fear in rising up this postseason when their teams needed buckets.
The Lakers won the last two meetings handily so picking them to win the series seems easy, but this isn’t your typical soft Dallas team and this isn’t the typically dominant Lakers. Don’t be surprised if this series goes seven games, but somehow Los Angeles will find a way back to its fourth consecutive conference finals.
Prediction: Lakers in six
Miami vs. Boston
The series that everyone has anticipated since the NBA season tipped off. A lot has changed since the Celtics embarrassed the Heat in their first two meetings—mainly no more Kendrick Perkins patrolling the middle for Boston and Miami playing inspired basketball over the past month.
Before the trade deadline, Boston would’ve been the overwhelming favorite, as Miami was no match for its team defense and chemistry. Now? Miami knows it can beat a significantly altered Celtics team that is still praying for Shaquille O’Neal to return after missing the entire first round.
You want more story lines? Try LeBron James vs. the team that paved the way for his exit from Cleveland last season. Dwyane Wade vs. Ray Allen. And as strong as both teams are, who can consistently step up on either bench besides Glen Davis?
X-Factor: Chris Bosh (Miami)
When he plays well, the Heat are a dominant team. When he falters, the Heat have to rely too much on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. This is his chance to step up against an aging front line the same way that Amar’e Stoudemire did in the first round before his injury.
Boston is still deeper than Miami and proved it could still defensively overpower a team when needed. But without Kendrick Perkins, that may not be enough to defeat a team many want to see humbled. This series could go either way, but in a Game 7, I defer to the team with home-court advantage, as opposed to the team who couldn't win Game 7 on the road last year in the NBA Finals without Kendrick Perkins.
Prediction: Miami in seven
Oklahoma City vs. Memphis
This could either be a fun series or the shortest of the four. In one corner, we have the Grizzlies riding the wave of that city’s best sports moment in years. In another, there’s the team everyone expects to rule the West for the next decade.
The Grizzlies will realize right away that the Thunder are everything the Spurs weren’t: young, balanced and hungry enough to not be rattled by being in the second round. Even though they won the season series 3-1, the Thunder’s biggest enemy will be themselves if Russell Westbrook forgets to defer to Kevin Durant in the clutch.
The Thunder will realize why Memphis was a tough matchup as Zach Randolph’s resurgence will test the defensive prowess of Kendrick Perkins and Shane Battier’s defense will make Durant work for his points. Still, the Thunder get the edge because Westbrook and Durant will remember they work well together when not competing for shots.
X-Factor: Marc Gasol (Memphis)
The younger Gasol came alive against the Spurs, but what will he do against shot-blocking whiz Serge Ibaka? If he finds a way to average close to a double-double with at least 14-16 points, this will be a closer-than-expected series. For Oklahoma City, all eyes will be on James Harden to see if he can emerge as a consistent third scoring option.
Of the four No. 8 seeds to reach the second round since the first round expanded in 1984, only one has advanced past the second round. Memphis’ great run will end here too but the Grizzlies deserve all the credit for making it here. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City will take one more step in its coronation as the West’s next great power.
Prediction: Oklahoma City in six