So I hate to be a gloater and rub accurate predictions in the faces of readers who love to question my stances in the comment section of my columns, but yes, to the chagrin of the long-time Duncan fans who read my articles, I purposely never talked about the Spurs as true competitors throughout the season because I knew SA didn’t hold one advantageous matchup against any of the elite teams in the west.
However, I’m still shocked that they lost to the Grizzlies, a team with a starting 1-2-3 of Mike Conley, Sam Young, and Tony Allen.
Now I’m left pondering the same simple questions that the rest of us are carrying after realizing the lack of talent in the Grizzlies’ backcourt: When did Zach Randolph attain the skills of a big-man superstar and the audacity to play at a high level in the most critical moments of his young playoff career? More importantly, why does Marc Gasol look like a Bro from Georgia when he grew up in the same house as the world-famous Spanish ballerina, Pau Gasol?
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I can offer some analysis towards the matchups in the Conference Semifinals:
The Grizzlies were able to dominate San Antonio because of the Spurs’ lack of defensive intensity and depth in the paint. Traditionally, the Spurs have been able to cope with any interior offensive threat through Duncan and a continually swarming team defense. However, age and Matt Bonner ended their chances against Randolph and Gasol.
Contrarily, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins of OKC will afford very few open looks to Randolph and Gasol. Against OKC, Randolph has to rely considerably on his jumper, which surprisingly has been very pretty thus far in the playoffs. Yet, I don’t know if he will be as comfortable taking those shots while being physically pounded by Perkins and swatted by Ibaka in the lane. Gasol will still score successfully because his shots are so ugly and unconventional that no one really knows how to guard them anyway.
I think Battier/Allen will do a great job on Durant. Both have historically been excellent defenders on jump-shooters in the playoffs. Unfortunately, Conley will be destroyed by Westbrook, which I think will be the difference-maker in this series barring any crazy, emotional road wins by the Grizzlies. For this reason, I’m picking the Thunder in 6.
As great as Derrick Rose looked in the fourth quarters of the Pacers-Bulls series, the Pacers were still able to expose Chicago’s fatal flaw: double and triple-team Rose defensively and their offense will melt. I understand that Chicago was still successful against the Pacers, but remember, the Pacers’ best players are Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Granger.
Even though they lack in legitimate skills, Jason Collins and Zaza Pachulia will effectively help Al Horford with Boozer and Noah on the boards. In my opinion, out-rebounding the Bulls should be Atlanta’s biggest focus in the series next to forcing Rose to take tough shots.
Speaking of which, Rose will have his way against the Hawks especially now that Kirk Hinrich isn’t expected to play. I personally do think Hinrich will play, but I just don’t know in which game. Against Jamal Crawford, I expect Rose to have a few games with 35+ points and 8+ assists. Additionally, I don’t think Atlanta’s offense will be as balanced without Hinrich’s patient set-ups.
For these reasons, I believe the Bulls will in 6 games. But if Hinrich joins the mix by game 2, I think this series will go 7 with Chicago’s home crowd pushing the Bulls past the finish line.
Personally, I find this series to have the most intriguing matchups of any of the conference semifinals. Both teams have playoff-ready players from positions 1-5 in their starting lineups (with the exception of Dallas starter Deshawn Stevenson, but he plays rarely compared to Terry/Peja off the bench). Both have improved their depth in the offseason or during the season. Lastly, both teams have aging superstars.
Ironically, though both teams have been exceptional in the past 12 years, they have never played each other in the Kobe-Dirk era. Dirk traditionally has exceptional statistical performances against the Lakers in the regular season, but I think Phil Jackson will do a great job mixing Odom, Artest, and Gasol in defending him.
Likewise, traditionally, the Mavericks’ biggest problem against the Lakers is their inability to stop Kobe. Therefore, Caron Butler’s injury status (he may return for this round) could play a significant role as Butler can potentially act as a decent Kobe-stopper.
I do believe Gasol will wake up in this series; Dirk is just not a physical defender and Gasol will bounce out of his funk by playing a fellow European. The Lakers now balance their main offensive touches among Kobe, Odom, Gasol, and Bynum, and with two legitimate low-post players scoring well, the Lakers should prevail. I’m taking the Lakers in 6 with a heartbreaking, close Mavs’ loss in Dallas that will leave everyone including Laker fans even more sympathetic towards Dirk Nowitzki.
This will be the NBA’s bread-and-butter financially in the conference semifinals with seven all-stars in one series.
I spent last weekend discussing how Rondo will make life difficult for Miami’s defenders, but because each round in the NBA playoffs takes 3+ weeks to complete, I have to offer some matchup analysis again. Therefore, I’ll spend this one discussing the role Lebron and Wade will play.
I really believe Danny Ainge traded for Jeff Green to guard Lebron and Kobe even though Green is listed as PF at times. I still doubt that Ainge traded away Perkins to save money. He would have sacrificed a few extra million dollars in paying Perkins and luxury taxes at the expense of a championship as another title would bring that and more in merchandise and increased franchise value. Instead, I think Ainge truly didn’t think he could beat Miami or LA without someone to guard their superstars after losing Tony Allen to Free Agency.
Thus, I expect Rivers to use a combination of Pierce and Green to try to shut down Lebron. And yes, I do think they’ll be somewhat successful. Lebron will be relegated more to a facilitating role. However, Ray Allen will have no shot at defending the speedy Wade, particularly with no secondary help as the double teams will be sent Lebron’s way. Wade will have monster stats for these reasons.
In addition to Wade’s mismatches, I still believe Boston lost this series when they were blown out in early April by Miami and sacrificed home advantage. Miami in seven.