2014 NBA Playoffs Preview
No. 1 Pacers vs. No. 8 Hawks
I’ve been chattering about this series quite a bit on Twitter, as I’m taking the Hawks in seven games. The Pacers have been a mess for two months, and just because the playoffs are here doesn’t mean they’re going to flip a switch and suddenly be a great team again. Yes, it’s possible that Jeff Van Gundy might be right, but I just don’t see the Pacers pulling it all together in time.
Jeff Teague vs. George Hill is no contest in Teague’s favor. Pero Antic is going to confuse Roy Hibbert and keep him out of the paint. I’m not sure it’s possible for Hibbert to play any worse than he has for the last few weeks, but I don’t see things getting any easier for him against a non-traditional center who can hit threes. Paul Millsap vs. David West is a good one, but Millsap is the more dynamic talent in my eyes. Paul George is going to have his hands full being guarded by DeMarre Carroll, and Kyle Korver should hit a ton of threes against Lance Stephenson. In fact, the Hawks perimeter shooting should end up being the difference in this one, as the Pacers just won’t have many shooters on floor. Lou Williams will serve as a secret weapon off the Hawks bench.
Frank Vogel was in line to win Coach of the Year in the first half of the season and probably won’t tally a single vote after what’s happened since. And while Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer is a rookie, the Hawks have more playoff experience than you might think, as this is their seventh straight trip to the playoffs.
And before you go accusing me of being a homer, because we’ve lived in Georgia for 10 years, realize that I grew up in Indianapolis and went to almost every Pacer home game from 1981 to 1987. A big part of me hopes I’m wrong, but after seeing Hibbert’s 1-of-7 shooting performance against the Magic on Wednesday, you have to think he still has issues. The only reason he even played in that game was in order to try to figure some things out and gain some confidence. Something tells me that hitting 1-of-7 shots in a game where the other starters took the night off didn’t do a lot for Hibbert’s mental game. I’m either going to look like a genius or idiot when this one’s over, and I’m OK with that.
Prediction: Hawks in 7
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No. 2 Heat vs. No. 7 Bobcats
No one is giving the Bobcats a chance against the Heat, while no one seems to be nearly as worried about the Heat as the Pacers, even though Miami has basically played just as poorly as Indy over the last month. I will say this. The Heat are going to struggle with Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, unless Greg Oden got some new knees in the last few weeks. But as dominant as Jefferson may be on the offensive end, he’s just not a great defensive player and the Bobcats are going to have a lot of trouble finding a way to stop LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The bottom line is that the playoffs are here, and unlike the Pacers, I believe the Heat can flip a switch and put it into postseason mode.
The most interesting aspect of this series, to me, is whether the Heat are comfortable enough after a game or two to give Wade a game off in hopes of resting him for later in the postseason. I have a hunch Wade will sit out one game of this series, even if it goes just four games.
Prediction: Heat in 5
No. 3 Raptors vs. No. 6 Nets
Jason Kidd and the Nets did some pretty intentional tanking to fall to No. 6 and get the Raptors, while they’ll also get the Heat in Round 2. The Raptors are probably licking their chops, while the Heat probably aren’t as worried as you might think about being 0-4 against the Nets this season. I’m thinking Karma doesn’t love the Nets right now, while the Heat lay in wait and look to make them pay for the free fall and a second-round match up. But the Nets are going to have to get by the disrespected Raptors in order for that to happen, and the Raps hold the homecourt advantage in Round 1.
Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas are not pushovers and I expect this to be a war. And given that the Nets are counting on guys nearly as old as me, they better pray they stay healthy. Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett don’t inspire as much fear as they did five years ago, and Mason Plumlee is still Mason Plumlee. If Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas outplay Deron, Joe and Plumlee like I expect them to, the Nets will be lucky to get out of Round 1. And with Karma on my side, I’m taking the "underdogs" in this one, too.
Prediction: Raptors in 7
No. 4 Bulls vs. No. 5 Wizards
The Bulls look like a real playoff team and if I were the Nets, I wouldn’t have wanted to play them either. The Wizards will need perfection from John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza and Nene every night if they hope to win this one, but that’s an unreal expectation.
I look for Jimmy Butler to have a great series on both ends of the court, and also expect Joakim Noah to keep up him amazing play, while Taj Gibson should also have a big series. This one shouldn’t be too tough for the Bulls, and I’ve got them ending it in five games – even without Derrick Rose, and with Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin manning the point.
Prediction: Bulls in 5
No. 1 Spurs vs. No. 8 Mavericks
When I was trying to figure out who was going to represent the West in the Finals, I was really torn between the Spurs, Clippers and Thunder. I’ve made a decision (Clippers), but don’t feel all that great about it. I do think the Spurs are going to take out the Mavericks and it doesn’t hurt that they have won their last nine meetings with Dallas.
Tim Duncan is rested and healthy, and while Tony Parker may not be at 100 percent, he should be close enough to guide his team into Round 2. Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis will have to carry the Mavericks, but the Spurs are just too good and too deep for Dallas. I think we’ll see a much better version of Danny Green in the postseason and Kawhi Leonard should join Duncan in leading the way for the Spurs. Maybe Dallas will give them a better fight than everyone is expecting, but it would be very surprising to see the Spurs taken down in the first round.
Prediction: Spurs in 6
No. 2 Thunder vs. No. 7 Grizzlies
No one in the West wants to play the Grizzlies, but now that Russell Westbrook is at full strength and Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka are hot, I don’t see the strong defense of Memphis being able to take these guys down. I’m also worried about Memphis finding enough offense to hang with the Thunder and I’m guessing they would have rather faced any other Western Conference team in Round 1.
Mike Miller will probably get hot and take over a game, and I see the Grizzlies winning at least one. Zach Randolph will have to turn back the clock, while Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are going to have to produce some big games for Memphis, but I just don’t see how the Thunder are going to lose to the Grizzlies in a seven-game series.
Prediction: Thunder in 5
No. 3 Clippers vs. No. 6 Warriors
In a recent playoff fantasy draft I stacked my team with Clippers and Spurs, hoping that one of them will get to the Finals. I would have liked to have drafted some Thunder, but Durant went No. 1 and Westbrook was taken at No. 2. So much for that idea. The Clippers are healthy and deep, and will depend on Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford, Darren Collison and J.J. Redick throughout the playoffs. And that’s a tough group of guys.
The Warriors are one of the most entertaining teams in the league to watch, but the loss of Andrew Bogut (broken rib) is really going to hurt them against a talented center like Jordan. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are going to rack up big numbers for fantasy playoff owners, but the Warriors shouldn’t have enough firepower to get by the Clippers. My guess is the Clips won’t worry too much about Curry and Thompson, and will focus on shutting the rest of the Warriors down, and that shouldn’t be that tough of a goal to accomplish. I also suspect that Griffin’s newfound love of shooting free throws will help the Clippers throughout the postseason.
Prediction: Clippers in 6
No. 4 Rockets vs. No. 5 Trail Blazers
This is setting up to be one of the better first-round battles we’ll see. Homecourt is huge for the Rockets, and I expect James Harden, Dwight Howard, Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones, Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley to be a very tough out throughout the playoffs. Beverley’s ability to shut down opposing point guards can’t be overlooked and Damian Lillard will be sick of him by halftime of Game 1. The Rockets may not get through this one easily, but should advance.
The Blazers would have a better shot if they had a bench, but they use Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez almost exclusively, while Mo Williams will help spell Lillard when he’s on the bench, confounded by the defense of Beverley. If I had to pick a sleeper to win it all this year, I'd take the Rockets.
Prediction: Rockets in 7
Round 2 Predictions
East: Bulls over Hawks in 6
East: Heat over Raptors in 6
West: Spurs over Rockets in 7
West: Clippers over Thunder in 7
Round 3 Predictions
East: Heat over Bulls in 6
West: Clippers over Spurs in 7
Heat over Clippers 7
The Clippers will likely have to knock off the Spurs to get to the Finals and that’s going to be a very, very tough task. I’m not even sure how they’ll do it, but if it happens, you can bet that CP3 played very efficiently, Barnes got into Durant’s head a little, Griffin hit some key free throws, and Jordan dominated Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka in the paint.
As long as the Heat and Wade stay healthy, I’m not betting against the champs until they lose. And while many fantasy owners were crushed over the last couple days of the season when LeBron was taking a break, that rest will go a long way in helping them win the title in June.
The NBA Playoffs are a blast to watch and the first-round matchups should make for a fun ride. Sites like Fantrax.com and Fantasypostseason.com run playoff leagues and I suggest you get your buddies together and get a league going. Drafts take less than an hour and postseason leagues are a good way to stay interested in the playoffs once your favorite team is eliminated.
The playoffs start on Saturday and here’s the weekend schedule.
Nets @ Raptors 12:30
Warriors @ Clippers 3:30
Hawks @ Pacers 7:00
Grizzlies @ Thunder 9:30
Mavericks @ Spurs 1:00
Bobcats @ Heat 3:30
Wizards @ Bulls 7:00
Blazers @ Rockets 9:30