30 April 2012
First round matchups were set finally.
Since I'm still a Boston fan, I'll start with the East. (update: I initially jotted all this down pre-Rose ACL tear. I've had to amend my predictions accordingly. It might be a little confused as a result. I didn't check everywhere).
Philadelphia is an interesting 8 seed here. I don't think there's a danger of an upset. I do think there's a danger of a game or two being decided in the low 70s. These are two very good defensive teams (#2 and #3 overall) with minimal offensive skills (outside of Rose). Holiday in particular doesn't impress me on Philly (and played very poorly in game 1, unsurprisingly). Both teams are deep as well, which matters for injury recoveries and rest for later rounds. Neither team played a hard schedule. But. Chicago managed to win 50 games with their best player out for almost 30 versus a Philadelphia team that started hot and struggled late.
Chicago in 6 I'd say.
I know people get really excited when the Knicks are in the playoffs, but last year they were a no show. I don't expect that a team that is demonstrably worse than last year's team is going to make a better showing against a better team (Miami) than they drew in first round play last year (Boston). The relevant weaknesses of Miami I don't foresee showing up in this series. New York has a void at point, so Chalmers can lock down whoever gets thrown out there allowing LeBron to focus on Carmelo. Stoudemire and Bosh is a wash of ineffective power forwards who don't defend well. Their weak bench won't matter as the Knicks' bench is even worse, and really the only wild card is Chandler. It's possible he could control a game enough defensively to give Melo a shot at the end of a game.
Still. Miami in 4.
Howard is out for Orlando. Since he went out they have lost every meaningful game they've played (except for a win over Philly at home). Orlando is yet another team that isn't very deep in skilled players. They rely heavily on bombing threes, and that's a strategy that can work if you have a skilled rebounder/defender to help keep the score down and control possessions. Which they no longer have. Indiana is 8 or 9 deep, and their one weakness is the lack of a go-to-guy. Which shouldn't show up very much in a series where Orlando also lacks such a player. I'm not sure how that holds up over an entire series. It's possible the SVG factor matters for coaching more now with Howard out, but Orlando just doesn't look anywhere near as talented as Indiana ultimately.
Indiana in 6
This would be an interesting first round series if Al Horford were healthy, even his backup Pachulia is out. So it isn't very interesting because the Hawks cannot exploit the size disadvantages for Boston. Atlanta has struggled all year against decent to good teams. Neither team looks very deep (Boston is really weak outside of their top 6). Josh Smith should have a very good series. So should Rondo.
Boston in 6.
Second round, Chicago over Boston in 7. Miami over Indiana in 5. Boston could win a non-Rose series but lost two games this season against the Bulls without Rose playing. They will need everyone playing well to do it in other words.
Miami over Chicago in 6. I'm not convinced that Chicago has definitely figured out their weakness versus Miami from last year (LeBron/Chalmers shutting down Rose), but they have figured out how to win games without Rose around. I think this matters. I think also the lack of skilled players other than LeBron and Wade matters (Bosh will do almost nothing against Chicago). With Rose now out, I don't think Chicago can pull it out though.
Spurs in 4. I don't see this causing weird matchup problems like the Grizz did last year. Memphis was a very good 8 seed to boot. Utah is a pretty weak 8. This is also an odd Spurs team. It's not among the top 10 defenses. It is the top offense. I'm not sure how that works for them as they advance, but I don't think it will cause problems against a Utah team with one of the worst defenses in the playoffs (them, Denver, and the Clippers are the only below average defensive teams in the playoffs). Spurs are still the best rebounding team on defense and don't foul (or at least don't get fouls called on them). I think this may mean that their defense is underrated for a variety of reasons.
Oklahoma in 5. I don't think Dallas is as deep as last year. They play 8 or 9, but Barea or Chandler aren't there and Vince Carter or Haywood aren't all that good. Maybe they can stretch it to 6. Durant versus Dirk is a nice matchup for both teams and for the NBA, but it doesn't help Dallas much. Marion can maybe slow him down, but then there's the Westbrook problem. I do see weak points in OKC where they aren't making jumpers and Westbrook does turn the ball over a lot. They do get to the line a lot though. And if they're smart (or better coached than Brooks has been), they'd attack the basket. Especially late in games. Dallas really doesn't have a defensive anchor with Chandler gone from last year. Jitters aside in game 1, I'm comfortable with this one.
Lakers-Nuggets. This is the most interesting first round matchup to me.
LA effectively has three (very good) players, and a possible fourth solid player is out with a suspension. That's it. Denver goes 8 deep and runs like crazy. They are the fastest team in the playoffs and if they can push the pace they can get a ton of easy baskets (they had at least one game with over 80 points in the paint this season, which is insane). I don't know that this is a formula that can upset over a 7 game series. It will however make for interesting and possibly exciting games. I'd say Lakers in 6.
Grizzlies are a dangerous team. Clippers would be if Billups hadn't gotten hurt. This is the closest matchup between teams. I'd say Memphis in 7. The size matchups are nullified. Both teams are big or can go big. It might matter who wins rebound or blocks battles each game. One curious element will be whether the Clippers continue not to turn over the ball very much against the most turnover forcing team in the league. I suspect if Paul can play at 80%, that will be true. I just don't know if he will be enough to win a series here. (Clippers' execution, especially down the stretch, in game one suggests that he might be, nevertheless I'll stick to the Grizz in 7).
Spurs over Grizzlies in 7. Grizzlies don't impress me defensively that much to slow down San Antonio enough to win the series, and they are a poor shooting team to boot, but it will be a difficult series because of matchup problems.
Oklahoma over Lakers in 6. A lot of teams out West are built to deal with the Lakers size advantage and I don't see it hurting OKC that they're one of them. They've also been seasoned on last year's playoff hunt enough to counter the "Kobe wants to win" element in my estimation.
Spurs over Oklahoma in 5. They haven't been seasoned enough to counter a team that is better coached and just as skilled as they are.
Spurs over Miami in 6. I'm leery of this pick because of the Spurs' apparent weakness on defense but all of the good defensive teams have big problems. Chicago is out their best player. Boston really struggles to score and Allen is hurt. Philly is playing the Bulls in round 1. Orlando is out their best player and defender. Atlanta will start missing having a decent center. Miami looks flawed to me. Memphis is really the only other dark horse contender out West that can guard anyone and they'd have to make it through the Clippers, Spurs, and Thunder/Lakers to get there. Which I regard as unlikely. I might have to simply say that I regard the Spurs' more pedestrian defensive performance during the regular season as an aberration caused by the weird schedule and resting of their core players often and that they can turn it up defensively if needs be where their offense is already reliably flourishing.