NBA PLAYOFF PREVIEW 2013
Only the strong will survive. Who will come out on top?
By Tommy Rothman
The NBA playoffs are upon us, with some familiar faces at the top of the bracket, with some surprises mixed into the lower half. Most of these teams were expected to be here, albeit in different seeds than those in which they wound up. The 16 remaining teams will each be seeking the 16 wins necessary to capture the NBA crown. While squad will emerge victorious in 2013?
(Higher seed has home-court advantage)
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
#1 Miami Heat vs. #8 Milwaukee Bucks (Miami won season series 3-1)
Could you imagine what it would be like if the 8-seeded Bucks stunned the top-seeded Heat in a thrilling 7 game first-round series, shocking the world and sending the best player of his generation home 2 months early? No? Neither can I. Heat in 4.
#2 New York Knicks vs. #7 Boston Celtics (NY won SS 3-1)
This series will be hard fought. Boston will be a motivated team, but without Rajon Rondo, they are not a very good team. I expect Boston to steal a couple games, but I don’t think Boston has any particular strength with which they can exploit the Knicks’ defense. Knicks in 6.
#3 Indiana Pacers vs. #6 Atlanta Hawks (SS tied 2-2)
Indiana lost one of their best players early in the season, but they have thrived without Danny Granger thanks to a stifling defense and the emergence of Paul George. On the other side of the matchup, Atlanta has played well after trading star player Joe Johnson in July, but they now lack the go-to scorer they will need in the playoffs. I don’t think Atlanta can solve Indiana’s defense— at least not 4 times. Pacers in 6.
#4 Brooklyn Nets vs. #5 Chicago Bulls (CHI won SS 3-1)
Chicago is scary for a 5 seed, but Rose will not return this season, and Joakim Noah has been battling a foot injury. Because of this, the Bulls are not as dangerous as they have been in years past. But they have still found a way to win, and I think that continues in this series. The Nets are a good team, with a big 3 of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez. But I think the Bulls win this series, although it could go either way. Bulls in 7.
Western Conference Quarterfinals
#1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #8 Houston Rockets (OKC won SS 2-1)
Houston has been a fun team to watch, and the Harden-Thunder matchup will be exciting, but Houston isn’t good enough to beat OKC. Linsanity is not making it out of the first round. Thunder in 5.
#2 San Antonio Spurs vs. #7 Los Angeles Lakers (SAS won SS 2-1)
If Kobe had not gotten hurt, I would be picking LA here. San Antonio has been beatable lately with Ginobili out and Parker slumping a bit. But without Kobe (and possibly Nash), the Lakers can’t win a playoff series. Spurs in 6.
#3 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Golden State Warriors (DEN won SS 3-1)
The Nuggets were the team nobody wanted to face— and then the injuries came. Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL, and Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried are banged up. The Warriors were a great surprise this season, as Stephen Curry’s rise to stardom propelled them into the playoffs. This will be the most entertaining series of the first round. I think Denver’s quickness will give them the edge in transition, and in the series. Denver in 6.
#4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #5 Memphis Grizzlies (LAC won SS 3-1)
Both of these teams cooled off after very hot starts to the season. Griffin-Randoplh will be a matchup to watch. But I think Memphis threw away their season when they traded Rudy Gay— this is not a team that is sending Chris Paul home early. Clippers in 5.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
#1 Miami Heat vs. #5 Chicago Bulls (SS tied 2-2)
Miami will face the team that ended their 27 game win streak, with the knowledge that this is not a Bulls team that can be underestimated. If Noah is healthy, the Bulls can win. But without Rose, I think LeBron prevails. Heat in 6
#2 New York Knicks vs. #3 Indiana Pacers (SS tied 2-2)
The Pacers are a physical team, giving them a chance against the Knicks. But their performance in the season series (one of their wins came with Melo out, and the Knicks beat them in April without Tyson Chandler) suggests that the Knicks have a bit of an edge. The Pacers lack the quickness at the guard position to exploit the Knicks, and Melo should give them fits on the other end. Knicks in 5.
Western Conference Semifinals
#1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #4 Los Angeles Clippers (OKC won SS 3-0)
These are probably the 2 best teams in the West right now, meaning this series will have higher stakes than your average Conference Semifinal. The point guard matchup will be a must-watch, and the deep benches on both sides will provide for a very close series. The Clippers’ leading scorer is Blake Griffin. OKC’s leading scorer is Kevin Durant. I think that makes the difference in a very close matchup.
Thunder in 6.
#2 San Antonio Spurs vs. #3 Denver Nuggets (SS tied 2-2)
I like the youth, athleticism, and depth of Denver in this matchup. The Spurs have home-field advantage and could get Ginobili back, but I think Denver has a matchup edge in this series. Denver in 5.
Eastern Conference Finals
#1 Miami Heat vs. #2 New York Knicks (NYK won SS 3-1)
The Knicks won the season series and match up very well with the Heat. If the Knicks hit their threes, this is definitely a series they can win. The Knicks can definitely beat the Heat. But the operative word in each of my last two sentences is “can”. I think this series is going 7 games, and game 7 is in Miami. I think that LeBron, like he did last year, will take over in an elimination game. This could go either way, but I’m taking the Heat. Heat in 7.
Western Conference Finals
#1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #3 Denver Nuggets (Denver won SS 3-1)
If the Nuggets were healthy, I might actually go with Denver in this one. But with some players out and other players banged up, the Nuggets’ depth is not as scary. I don’t think they have the defense necessary to stop Durant and Westbrook, and OKC’s home field advantage is a huge edge when you consider how rabid their fans are. Thunder in 6.
#1 Miami Heat vs. #1 Oklahoma City Thunder (Miami won SS 2-0)
This rematch of last year’s finals should be closer, as the young duo of Thunder stars has had another year to develop. Miami wins the small forward matchup, the guard matchup goes to OKC, and I think the 2 power forwards are about even. But one thing worries me: I don’t think Westbrook has shown he can handle the stage he will be on. I think that brings Wade and Westbrook even, and I think LeBron will take over when it gets close near the end. Heat in 7.
I have Miami winning the title, but I could also see them losing as early a round 3, or even round 2. This postseason will be exciting and unpredictable. Let’s see what happens.
Knicks clinch 2 seed, matchup with Boston
Road to the Title: Breaking down the Knicks Playoff Scenarios
By Tommy Rothman
With the playoffs approaching and the #2 seed in the east virtually locked up (The Knicks can clinch the 2 seed with a win over the Bobcats), it is time to take a look at the Knicks’ road to the championship.
With 3 games to go in the season, a look at the standings shows that it would be almost impossible for the Knicks to not end up facing off against their division rivals in the first round.
The Knicks match up well with the Celtics. Rajon Rondo’s ACL tear means the Knicks wont have to worry about being torn apart by another point guard (yet), and Boston’s other weapons, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, are not what they once were. The Knicks won the season series 3-1, and will be the favorite in round 1.
Second Round (hypothetical)
Opponent: Winner of Indiana vs. Atlanta/Chicago
Matchup #1: Atlanta
The Knicks have taken the first 2 games of the season series with the Hawks, who lack a go-to scorer, a playmaking point guard, and any momentum of which to speak. The Hawks are a tough team who will put up a fight, but I really don’t see them threatening the Knicks.
Matchup #2: Chicago
This will be a very hard fought series. The Bulls won all 4 games of the season series, and will most likely have Joakim Noah back. The possible return of Derrick Rose does not worry me (as we saw with Iman Shumpert, it takes a while to get used to the NBA pace after returning from an ACL tear), but the Bulls are a very formidable team nonetheless. Home field advantage may give the Knicks a slight edge, but the Knicks will have a very tough time advancing if they meet Chicago in round 2. I would consider the Knicks the favorite, but elimination at the hands of the Bulls would not surprise me at all.
Matchup #3: Indiana
The Pacers do not worry me as much as the Bulls. The Pacers lead the season series 2-1, but one of those Knicks losses came during a bad stretch for New York, and the other game without Carmelo Anthony in the lineup. Moreover, the Pacers have slowed down, and the Knicks have picked it back up. The Knicks are the better team on paper, and they have more momentum. I think the Knicks would win this series.
Third Round (hypothetical)
Opponent: Miami or Chicago
The teams Miami will potentially face before round 3 are the Bulls, Nets, Bucks, and Hawks. I think the only team with a reasonable shot to beat Miami in a 7 game series is Chicago. We have already talked about Chicago, so let’s focus on Miami.
Miami is the best team in the league. They have the best player in the league. They have one of the best supporting casts in the league. And they will have home court advantage. Beating them will be a very tough task. However, it can certainly be done. The Knicks won the season series 3-1 and they matchup well with the Heat—in fact, much of the roster was constructed specifically to counter Miami’s roster. The Knicks will have the edge behind the arc and at the center position (if Tyson Chandler is healthy). The Knicks will be the underdog, as will every team Miami plays in the playoffs, but they certainly have the tools to beat the Heat.
NBA Finals (hypothetical)
Opponent: Oklahoma City, Los Angeles (Clippers), San Antonio
I think the Thunder are the second best team in the NBA. However, I think the Knicks matchup quite well with them. New York beat OKC on the road and lost by 1 at MSG without Carmelo Anthony. Carmelo and Kevin Durant effectively cancel each other out, but Russell Westbrook is a better second option than J.R Smith, which gives OKC the edge. The Knicks would be an underdog here, but I think they could pull it off if they hit their threes.
The Knicks are unlikely to run into the Clippers if they reach the finals, but if the Clippers do make it out of the West, the Knicks will have a very tough time beating them. The Clippers are very quick in transition, extremely deep, and extremely resilient. A team prone to giving up big runs like the Knicks is very vulnerable against a team like the Clippers. The Knicks can win this series if their shots are going in, but LA would be the favorite here.
The Knicks swept the season series against the Spurs, and their great ball control will serve them well against a smart team like San Antonio. The Spurs don’t have a dominating scorer, and with Manu Ginobili hurt, I would expect the Knicks to beat the Spurs in a 7 game series.
Best-case scenario: Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, San Antonio
Worst-case scenario: Boston, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles.
So there you have it. The Knicks will have to take care of business in the early rounds and pull off some upsets in the later rounds if they want to win their first championship in 40 years. They have the firepower to do it; from here on out it becomes a matter of execution.
9 days until the real games begin.