By Chris Lehman
For the most part, the first round was pretty straight-forward and went according to plan. The only real surprise was the 76ers coming up big to beat the Bulls and considering the injuries to Rose, Noah and Deng, there’s no way anyone could have honestly expected that (other than the Philly-faithful). For me, the marquee matchup in the first round was the Clippers vs. Grizzlies. This was the only series that I felt could have gone either way. All things considered, here’s what we’re looking at for the 2nd round of the playoffs:
#5 Los Angeles Clippers @ #1 San Antonio Spurs – Had the Grizzlies won, I think they would have handled the Spurs just because of matchups. This didn’t happen though. On paper, this looks like a no-brainer win for the Spurs. They’re fresh because they are coming off an easy sweep, while the Clippers just won a 7-game battle. The Spurs matchup very well against the Clippers. Tony Parker has been around for a long time and might have the answer to slow down a hot Chris Paul. Kawhi Leonard is a stud on defense and will be able to lock down whichever of the Clippers scorers (Nick Young, Maurice Williams or Caron Butler) decides to catch fire. Between the size of Duncan, Blair and Splitter, the paint will be crowded and very difficult for Blake Griffin to have his way down there. Even with all this, my gut is telling me to pick the Clippers. Usually that’s enough for me, but not this time. The Spurs are too good and should win this series. I give them 6 games.
#3 Los Angeles Lakers @ #2 Oklahoma City Thunder – This is my favorite matchup of the 2nd round. Unfotunately, this could end up being very much like the Miami / New York series from round one. I would love to see this series go to 7 games but I honestly see it ending in 5…or maybe less. And the crazy thing is that it could happen in 5 games or less going either way. Everything comes down to pace. We saw the Nuggets able to control games against the Lakers, forcing them to play 7 games. If Los Angeles is able to keep the game slowed down, they will advance. I don’t see that happening though. The Thunder look unstoppable and last time I checked, they just swept the defending NBA champions. They like playing at a fast pace and are very good at forcing their style on other teams. Kendrick Perkins also seems to always play way too physical for both Gasol and Bynum. Kobe Bryant wanting this more than anyone won’t be enough to stop the offensive onslaught of the Thunder. OKC wins in 5 or less.
#8 Philadelphia 76ers @ #4 Boston Celtics – Game 1 has already been played in this series, but it really doesn’t impact my prediction in any way. The 76ers are just out of place. They would have been run over and through by the Bulls had they been healthy. Unless the 76ers put their curse on Rondo, Pierce and Garnett then this one won’t be too hard. Rajon Rondo is THE BEST point guard in the NBA and with the weapons put around him, you can practically see him deciding who to give his 15th assist of the game to. I’m going to say his 15th assist goes to Ray Allen for either a corner 3 or a “back-pass” fast break 3-pointer in game 2. The Celtics win convincingly in 5 games.
#3 Indiana Pacers @ #2 Miami Heat – Game 1 is in progress as I am writing this. There’s no doubt in my mind that Miami will win this series. LeBron James is playing out of his mind and deservedly won the MVP (did I just say that?). In whichever order, they have two of the best three players in the game and for this round, that will be enough. The Pacers look great also. They are extremely young but don’t play like it. They’re not quite ready though. Next year I expect the Pacers to really make some noise come playoff time and to go really deep, potentially to the eastern finals – just not this year…not having to play Miami. Miami will win, but Indiana will not go down without a fight. I expect the Pacers to win at least 2 games, making this a 6 game series.
1. Rajon Rondo will get another triple-double this series – passing Oscar Robertson for career playoff triple-doubles.
2. The duo of Durant and Westbrook will outscore James and Wade this series (on average – taking account for # of games played)
3. Ron Artest (I refuse to call him Metta World Peace) will NOT get ejected this series!