(1) Miami Heat
vs. (5) Chicago Bulls
Miami comes into this series after a long rest following Round 1. They swept the Milwaukee Bucks convincingly and earned a week-long rest before Round 2. Unfortunately for the Heat, they are matched up against the Chicago Bulls after they upset the 4th seeded Brooklyn Nets. The Bulls are a bad matchup for Miami, as they play incredibly tough defense. Luol Deng will make life difficult for league MVP LeBron James, and Jimmy Butler will likely be matched up with Dwyane Wade for the majority of the series. Chris Bosh may be the key to the series. If he can dominate in his matchup against a hobbled Joakim Noah, the Heat will make quick work of the Bulls, but if Noah can play consistently well, Chicago could make things interesting, even without Derrick Rose. As a side note, the Bulls ended Miami’s 27 game winning streak earlier this season.
Prediction: Heat in 5
The Miami Heat were the only team in the East to sweep during the first round, and this proof of their domination in the East. The Chicago Bulls, who ended Miami’s 27-game win streak near the end of the regular season, will be a tough challenge each game, but LeBron James and Dwyane Wade should have no trouble closing out in the fourth quarter. Bulls forwards Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer may perform well in the paint, but the Heat can torch from the outside with perimeter shooting from their guards.
Prediction: Heat in 4
(2) New York Knicks
vs. (3) Indiana Pacers
The Pacers showed some flaws in their series against the Hawks. They looked great in the first two games, and it showed on the scoreboard. They dominated Atlanta early in the series, but once they went on the road, they began to fall apart. It will be a key for them to take one of the first two games of the series on the road against New York, so they can get some momentum early. The Knicks didn’t look particularly stellar against the Celtics, either. They started the series strong, much like Indiana did, but allowed the Celtics to win two in a row, and they almost blew a 27-point lead in the 4th quarter. That does not bode well for this Round 2 series, as the Pacers have more firepower than the Celtics. The problem with the Knicks is that they rely on two largely inconsistent players, Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith. When they are playing well, they are two of the best pure scorers in the league, but when they’re off, they completely destroy any chance New York has of winning, as they simply continue to shoot. I expect the Pacers to pull out a win in this evenly-matched series.
Prediction: Pacers in 7
The New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers are both teams that can pass, find the open man, and shoot the ball well. The games in this series will be close, and the clutch factor will come into play. In the fourth quarter, the Knicks will probably go to Carmelo Anthony, who will be difficult to defend for any Indiana Pacer. If they resort to a double team, look for Anthony to kick the ball out to one of his three-point shooting teammates. Pacers star Paul George will get his share of points, but this will not be enough to beat the Knicks in a seven-game series.
Prediction: Knicks in 6
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies
As soon as Russell Westbrook went down with a knee injury in Round 1, Oklahoma City’s chances of winning the championship went to zero. They might still get to the Western Conference Finals, and they even might win there, but they have absolutely no chance of beating Miami without Westbrook. In fact, I don’t think that they have much chance to beat the Grizzlies in this series. Memphis has a huge advantage in the post with the tandem of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and the Thunder need to find an answer for them. They will probably have to play Kendrick Perkins much more than they have in the past, which will require them to change their offensive gameplan. Serge Ibaka could also have a rough series trying to score, especially now that he has been thrust into the role of being the Thunder’s 2nd best player. Kevin Martin must also have a big series, so that some of the burden of scoring can be lifted off of Kevin Durant. The only way OKC will move on to the next round is if Durant can get somewhere around 40 points every game, Martin can add another 20 or so, and they need to play tough defense on Gasol and Randolph. I just don’t think all three of those things will happen however, and the Thunder will have to wait until next year to compete for the title.
Prediction: Grizzlies in 7
No Westbrook! This will make this series extremely difficult for the Oklahoma City Thunder as they face the Memphis Grizzlies, who are coming off four straight wins against the Los Angeles Clippers. Thunder point guard Reggie Jackson and Kevin Martin will have to step up in the backcourt to provide a scoring lift for the Thunder as superstar Kevin Durant will attempt to lead the team to another series victory. Grizzlies forward Marc Gasol, who was a threat in the first round series, should not be a huge factor if Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka manage to shut him down defensively.
Prediction: Thunder in 6
(2) San Antonio Spurs
vs. (6) Golden State Warriors
The Spurs run like a well-oiled machine. Arguably, they looked the most dominant in the first round, sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in convincing fashion. LA really never had a chance, and although you could argue that they were missing Kobe Bryant, they still had Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, two of the best big men in the league. Tim Duncan has found the fountain of youth and is playing like he is 25 again, which is great news for the Spurs. If Duncan maintains his level of play, they are the easy favorite in the West, especially after the Russell Westbrook injury. Tony Parker has really evolved into one of the premier point guards in the league over the past two years and Manu Ginobili provides the same spark off the bench that he always has. The Warriors come into the series off a surprising win over the Denver Nuggets. Stephen Curry suddenly became a potential NBA superstar due to that series, as he singlehandedly took over three games. He is definitively one of the best pure shooters of all time, and the Spurs are definitely going to be focusing all of their efforts on guarding him. David Lee may return for the Warriors in the series, which will be huge for them. Klay Thompson is another great shooter that could cause problems for San Antonio, but knowing the Spurs, they will figure out how to slow down Golden State’s explosive attack on offense. San Antonio moves on.
Prediction: Spurs in 5
The Golden State Warriors’ offense clicked during the series against the higher-seeded Denver Nuggets, but it is difficult to see its continued success against a disciplined San Antonio Spurs defense. Spurs point guard Tony Parker will be difficult to stop as he attempts to penetrate into the paint, and the aging but productive Tim Duncan will be tough to handle down low, especially with a hobbled David Lee. However, Warriors sharp-shooter Stephen Curry could emerge as a star during this series with his stellar shooting off the dribble. With Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack to boost their scoring, Golden State may be able to pull this series out in seven.
Prediction: Warriors in 7