After a first round that brought some thrilling games and others that weren’t so thrilling, it’s time for another round of excitement and potential upsets.
The Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies moved on in the West, while the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers moved on in the East. Two lower-seeded teams moved on in the West, and one lower-seeded team advanced in the East. Those teams are hungry for more upsets, and an upset is definitely possible.
Can the Warriors or Grizzlies get in the way of a Western Conference Finals rematch? Which team will have a chance to dethrone the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, if the Heat do move on to the third round? Here are predictions for the second round.
Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs
The Denver Nuggets were thought of as a NBA Finals dark horse, so it surprised many when the Warriors won four of the last five games against Denver to take the exciting series in six games.
Now, the inexperienced Warriors will take on the experienced, rested Spurs. Durability concerns have been brought up often about the aging Spurs, but it’s not going to matter much in this series. San Antonio finished off the Lakers on Sunday, April 28, and they will be extremely well-rested.
Golden State looked extremely sloppy at the end of crucial games, especially Game 6. The Warriors turned the ball over a ridiculous 10 times in the fourth quarter of Game 6, and it almost cost them the game. Golden State was up 18 with about nine minutes left, so the fact that Denver cut the lead to two points with 10 seconds left was bad enough for the Warriors.
In addition, the Warriors let the Nuggets get some good 3-point looks. Andre Iguodala hit some clutch 3s to keep the Nuggets in the game, but Denver also missed a lot of big shots that could have propelled them to victory. The Spurs finished second in field goal percentage (.481) and fourth in 3-point percentage during the regular season, meaning they will capitalize on open looks.
And that’s going to hurt the Warriors.
In addition, Tim Duncan will give the Warriors trouble, as he can definitely score and rebound down low. If the Spurs can tire Andrew Bogut, they can create an edge down low, which is key. The young Kenneth Faried absolutely dominated the glass at times against the Warriors, and if the Spurs can out-hustle Bogut, they can create a rebounding edge even with Bogut in the game.
Rebounding well is key, but getting open looks is the biggest key. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker will play big roles in that for the Spurs. If Parker can create open looks for Ginobili, a whole world of scoring opportunities will come into play.
Ginobili can shoot (.372 career 3-point percentage) or create scoring opportunities for Danny Green, who shot 42.9 percent from 3-point range. Matt Bonner is a career 41.7 percent 3-point shooter, and he can come in and knock down a clutch shot in a big situation. As long as the Spurs have open looks and hit their 3s, they can win this series without much problem.
Golden State has lost 29 straight in San Antonio, and a Duncan-led team has never lost to the Warriors at home. I find it hard to believe that the Warriors will find a way to knock off the Spurs on the road, even if they did unseat a Denver team that went 38-3 at home during the regular season.
Stephen Curry, who broke a record for 3-pointers in a season, will have to make a lot of his shots. The Spurs, who are led by a smart, experienced coach in Gregg Popovich, will likely throw lots of different looks at him, and Kawhi Leonard will likely guard Curry most often. Curry has been a bit inconsistent during the playoffs, however, as he has performed poorly in three quarters and dominated one.
In other words, he is a star, but he can be contained.
Even though Curry is a star and even though the Warriors have talent, they will make lots of mistakes. San Antonio can and will make the Warriors pay for rookie mistakes, and judging by the first round, the Warriors will make lots of them. San Antonio has crucial home-court advantage and experience, and that’s going to propel them back to the Western Conference Finals.
Prediction: Spurs in 5
Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder may be missing Russell Westbrook, but they aren’t missing Kevin Durant.
Oklahoma City lost two consecutive games against Houston, but they won the series and advanced to face the Grizzlies. Memphis dominated the last four games of the series, winning all four and the series. The Grizzlies, a stellar defensive team, showed that trading away their best player (Rudy Gay) wouldn’t lead to their downfall.
Houston, the eighth seed, gave the Thunder some trouble. The Rockets didn’t score as much as usual, though, and they gave up more points per game (PPG) as well. The Rockets averaged 106 PPG during the regular season and 100 during the first round, so the Thunder were able to shut down a potent offensive attack.
The Thunder averaged 105.8 PPG against Houston and averaged 105.7 PPG during the regular season because of Durant. Durant gained full control of the offense when Westbrook, who has been known to fail to share the ball at times despite solid assist totals, went down, and he was able to step up.
Durant averaged 32.5 PPG in the series, and he averaged 35.5 PPG in the four games following Westbrook’s injury. The three-time scoring champion became the third member of 40-50-90 club by shooting 41.6 percent on 3s, 51 percent on field goals and 90.5 percent on free throws, and he’s going to give the league’s best defense fits.
Memphis has the 26th best offense in the league (based on PPG), and the Thunder were able to contain an explosive Houston offense. Even though Memphis went 2-1 against the Thunder, Oklahoma City averaged 98.3 PPG in those games and outscored the Grizzlies, which is always a good formula.
The Thunder have home-court advantage and the ability to score frequently on Memphis’ defense, thanks to Durant. Durant is the key, and he knows how to deliver in this situation. Memphis will have a hard time scoring on a top 10 defense and a hard time stopping a top three offense, and that will contribute to the Grizzlies’ downfall.
Prediction: Thunder in 6
Indiana Pacers at New York Knicks
Both the Knicks and the Pacers had some trouble in the first round, but both survived.
Indiana dominated at home and struggled on the road against the Atlanta Hawks, but they stole Game 6 and the series. New York won the first three games against an experienced Celtics team, but they had trouble putting Boston away. Both teams are here, though, and both teams are going to put up a fight.
And that will lead to a great series.
The two teams split the season series, with the Knicks winning the first and last game and the Pacers winning the games in between. The home team won each game, which isn’t a good sign for a Pacer team that went 19-21 on the road and doesn’t have home-court advantage. New York went 31-10 at home, and they’re going to be hard to beat for the Pacers.
Indiana is similar to Memphis, because both are great defensive teams but bad offensive teams. New York was seventh in opponent points with 95.7 PPG allowed, so they should be able to contain Indiana’s offense. The Pacers dropped 125 points on the Knicks in February, but they were 23rd in PPG and won’t score a ton.
On the other hand, New York has the scoring champion in Carmelo Anthony and can score. New York was 11th in the league with 100 PPG, and Anthony can inflate New York’s offensive totals by single-handedly taking over a game. Anthony averaged 28.7 PPG during the regular season, and he had a tremendous span of seven consecutive games in April in which he made 12 shots or more.
The Knicks will benefit from Anthony’s offensive presence, and if Anthony can get good looks and score, it’s going to give the Pacers a disadvantage on defense. The Pacers almost always have the edge on defense, but they’re going to have trouble against the Knicks’ offense. Anthony will take over the series, and that will allow the Knicks to ride their home-court advantage into the Eastern Conference Finals.
Prediction: Knicks in 5
Chicago Bulls at Miami Heat
It’s safe to say the Bulls beat the odds in Game 7 of the first round. The Heat, on the other hand, had an easier path.
Miami coasted into the second round with a four-game sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks, while the injury-plagued Bulls somehow flipped the momentum switch and beat the Brooklyn Nets on the road in Game 7. Chicago was missing Luol Deng, Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich, but it managed to win the game.
The Bulls will have more trouble against the defending champions, though. In 2011, even with Rose, the Bulls lost in five games to the Heat. Rose could play in the second round, but it’s going to be hard nonetheless. A team led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will always present a challenge, and the Bulls will definitely be challenged.
Chicago won two games against Miami this year, but both of those were tight wins. Miami had its way with Chicago in 12-point and 19-point wins, winning by 19 on the road. Chicago stole a game from the Heat in Miami, but they’re going to have to win at least one in Miami against a team that is 39-4 at home this year (including the playoffs).
Miami has a lot of star power, and the banged-up Bulls don’t. Joakim Noah is a great rebounder, and he’s going to give the Bulls the edge down low. Miami, however, will have the edge on the perimeter. James can penetrate and shoot, as he shot 56.5 percent from the field. Miami shot 49.6 percent overall in 2012-13, and they will make open shots if given the chance.
Rose would make an impact, but he isn’t as valuable as James. James has always been higher in advanced and simple stats, as his player efficiency rating (PER) was 31.67 in 2012-13. The league average is 15, so his PER is absolutely remarkable. Rose was nice in his last season, but his PER was 23.10, which placed him behind eight other players.
In other words, Rose won’t come in and save the day.
Chicago still has a great defense, but James and the Heat can tear them apart. James can take over on offense and get the ball to Wade and Bosh for high-percentage shots, and that can allow the Heat to dissect Chicago’s defense. The Heat have home-court and have had success against the Bulls, and that’s always a formula for success.
Prediction: Heat in 5