Sunday, May 1, 2011

Playoff Predictions 2011, Round 2

*Check out the top 10 plays of the first round

Eastern Conference
(1) Chicago Bulls - CHI wins in 6 games
(5) Atlanta Hawks
The main question surrounding this series is the health of Kirk Hinrich? Hinrich is no X-Factor, and started the season as a third-string point guard for the Wizards, so people coming out and saying his injury is going to hurt the Hawks' chances seems like people making excuses for why the Bulls are going to win this series. Nobody can guard Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich would have been eaten alive by the size, strength and speed of the league's would-be MVP. The Bulls frontcourt is strong and long with Noah and Boozer over the Hawks' Collins and Horford. Though the Hawks surprised a sloppy, uncoordinated Magic team in the first round, the Bulls are solid enough to avoid this upset.
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Breaking NEWS Coach of the Year Award to Bulls' Tom Thibodeau

(2) Miami Heat
(3) Boston Celtics - BOS wins in 7 games
Though I pine for a LeBron/Wade vs Kobe finals, I feel like the Heat are meeting their match in Boston. The Heat have home-court advantage making this series interesting, but the Celtics are playoff tested, unified under ubuntu, and flourish when the pressure is highest; something we have yet to see from the Heat. In close, late-game situations the Heat have struggled to find their clutch, most recently against the Sixers ending in a block by Elton Brand. Isolation plays for each of Miami's big three; Bosh, Bron and Wade cannot work against a cohesive, active Boston defense with Rondo as it's agitator. When Rondo played well, the Celtics won 3 of the 4 games against the Heat this year notching 17, 16, and 10 assists consecutively including a triple-double, but struggled in the last meeting of the year when the Heat won. LeBron and Wade want to exorcise their playoff demons against Beantown, but might not have the poise to win thi season. If Shaq is able to return, and provide quality minutes, there's nothing he'd like to do more than spoil his former teammates' run and win one more chip before the uncertainty of next season.
SLAMonline preview
NBA TV video preview

Western Conference
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder - OKC wins in 5 games
(8) Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies surprised the Spurs with their energetic play and tough defense in the first round and knocked off the number one seed for only the fourth time in NBA history. They won't be so lucky against the Thunder. The frontcourt of Gasol and Randolph was able to muscle a retiring Antonio McDyess and an overmatched Tim Duncan, but Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are young, tenacious and hungry. The Thunder guards are quick and big. Russell Westbrook will be able to run circles around Mike Conley and has an unmatched level of athleticism in a 6-5 point-guard frame as long as he cuts down his number of turnovers. Tony Allen and Shane Battier are two of the most grizzled, defensive-minded, playoff savvy, underrated small forwards but will have their work cut out for them against 6-10 back-to-back NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant, who can legitimize his legend with tough play in this series coming off 41 points to eliminate the Nuggets in the first round. Thunder-Lakers next round could be the best series of the playoffs, should it happen (it better happen!)
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(2) Los Angeles Lakers - LA wins in 6 games
(3) Dallas Mavericks
The Lakers frontcourt always seems to be unquestioned as the "better bigs" no matter who the Lakers come up against, with their two 7+footers Bynum and Gasol and 6-10 6th man of the year Lamar Odom off the bench. The Lakers defense is anchored by their post players who force teams to shoot from outside and play a perimeter game where the defense of Artest and Kobe is virtually unrivaled. A friend asked me earlier this year "who was better in the height of their prime T-Mac or Kobe?" Come on, T-Mac could score, but Kobe has shown us points and more. A ten-time all-defensive player, and one of the most driven, clutch closers in NBA history, T-Mac and all other players pale in comparison to Kobe come playoff time. If a team can rattle Dirk early, and frustrate him, the Mavs will suffer. I'm excited to see if the Lakers will match Artest up with Dirk at all. Fisher and Kidd are veterans and will control the game, if unspectacularly. Dallas' collapse in game 4 of the first round, where Portland came back from a 23-point deficit is indicative of their mentality. The Lakers will lock it down, and roll into the final four.
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