And then there were eight.
Following our not-all-that-bad first round picks, we’re back for more.
Boston vs. Miami
Brian Robb: The trade of Kendrick Perkins for two unreliable reserves has turned this series into a toss up. The departure of Perk combined with the lack of a competent backup three (Jeff Green prove me wrong) puts even more of the onus in this series on the Big Four. Luckily, all four of those guys proved they are up to the task against the Knicks, barring some offensive ineptitude in the first two games. As they have preached all week, this series will come down to inside play, rebounding and turnovers. If Boston takes care of business in those categories, they should be okay. I have faith they will do it, steal one in Miami and take care of business at home. I must admit, however, I have a lot less faith they’ll do it than I did three months ago. Celtics in 6.
Hayes Davenport: To clarify what I said in the 5-on-5 about the Heat being a better team than the Celtics (which everyone flipped out about even though I picked the Celtics to win the series): it comes down to odds. I think the Heat have better odds than the Celtics do of beating the Bulls, Lakers, or Thunder. The Celtics can still beat all three of these teams: I just think they cede a few percentage points of likelihood to the Heat. I would never have said that before Marquis Daniels got hurt and inadvertently sent Perkins to Oklahoma, but I think the trade makes the C’s more vulnerable to A) the Bulls defense, because they have less spacing without Perk’s picks, and B) the oppressive size of the Lakers and, now, the Thunder. I don’t, however, think the loss of Perkins affects Boston’s unique ability to shut down the Heat. I predict the C’s steal one in Miami, drop one in Boston, then take the deciding game and advance to face the Hawks in the next round (a dream is a wish your heart makes). Celtics in 7.
Brendan Jackson: I can see the Heat beating the Celtics. I can see the Celtics beating the Heat. I can’t, however, see how the Heat should be the overwhelming favorites to win the series. The Heat have the star power advantage and home court, both of which are overrated. When it comes to the Heat’s home court, the white-shirts have proven more detrimental to Dwyane Wade’s ability to get out of bed than actually bothering the Heat’s opponents. Plus, Miami has to have least intimidating fans in the league. It’s damn near impossible to be imposing when you show up late to games in white pants and sandals.
And now for the star power. What makes the Heat great is that they have three of the top 20 players in the NBA. What makes the Heat beatable are their glaring weaknesses at the center and point guard positions. That and the fact that James and Wade’s greatest skill-set is somewhat neutralized by just being in the playoffs. Both of these guys are premier slashers and are used to getting calls after even the slightest contact. In the playoffs, those calls don’t happen nearly as much as they do in the regular season and no one told Miami. James and Wade spent the greater part of the Sixers series complaining about non-calls, something that bodes well for a physical Celtics team.
None of this is meant to say that the Celtics will dominate the Heat, but I just have a hard time seeing how an elite defensive team cannot be favored against a three-headed monster with no answer to Rajon Rondo. Celtics in 6.
Ryan DeGama: The Celtics can beat themselves primarily through lack of offensive aggression (failing to push the ball after stops, settling for jumpshots rather than working the ball into the post, taking forever to trigger the halfcourt offense). The Celtics are also more vulnerable on the interior than they were a few months back. With or without Shaquille O’Neal (prediction: without), the C’s remaining bigs have to play physical and the guards and wings need to get up into the Miami bodies. If Boston fails on either side of the ball, it’d be unsurprising to see the Heat take them down because the margin of error is thinner than ever. But the last two games of the New York series portend good things. Celtics in 7.
After the jump, we prognosticate on the remaining second round tilts.
Atlanta vs. Chicago
BR: This series was going to be a rout, and that’s before Kirk Hinrich was declared doubtful for the series with a strained hamstring. Long two-pointers won’t get it done against an defensive powerhouse like the Bulls and without Hinrich in play, Derrick Rose should run wild. I also look forward to Luol Deng’s dismantling of Joe Johnson. Bulls in 5.
HD: Atlanta’s reclamation project has been a blast. We’re suddenly reminded of how bright their future seemed to be in 2008, before they resigned Johnson and torpedoed their franchise two years later. If they keep up their jumper percentages from the first round, this series could run very long and catapult these NBA semifinals to “greatest ever” territory. But while Orlando’s interior D is as unforgiving as they come, their perimeter counterpart is not great. The Bulls will finally put some pressure on the Hawks’ gunners, and that’s probably going to be enough to make this a short one. Bulls in 5.
BJ: Sometimes, the basketball gods just aren’t fair. It was amazing to see the Hawks come out of nowhere to beat the Magic. I couldn’t wait to see Rose actually have to face a point guard who plays defense instead of a rookie who is just really long. My apologies to Paul George, who did an unbelievable job stymieing Rose, but he is still just a rookie. Hinrich, on the other hand, is a seasoned vet that knows how to defend Rose. Outside of him, the Hawks next best perimeter defender is Al Horford, who will be expending plenty of energy besting his former Floridian battery mate Joakim Noah down low. Indiana was a young, athletic team that could score. So is Atlanta. This series will go six games, but just like the Pacers, you’ll never really get the impression that the Hawks had a chance. Bulls in 6.
RD: I had Atlanta beating Orlando in round one because I’ve been completely turned off of the Magic since they rolled the dice on an aging, expensive, ineffective set of castoff wings from Washington and Phoenix. Which is to say that I give Atlanta little real credit for beating Orlando, in terms of “are they really a team to be reckoned with” and “can they give the Bulls a tough fight”? They aren’t and they won’t. Bulls in 5.
Memphis vs. Oklahoma City
BR: This will be a bigger test for the Thunder than many will think. Although Oklahoma City has the horses to slow down Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol unlike the Spurs, the Grizz play a completely different level of defense than the Nuggets. With Tony Allen guarding Russell Westbrook and Shane Battier shadowing Kevin Durant, we will be in for a dogfight. The Thunder’s offense eventually wins out. Thunder in 7.
HD: If Memphis wins a game or two, we can’t say they were “stolen” anymore. Memphis is too good to be “stealing” games; they’re now established as good enough to just “win” them. But Oklahoma City, thanks to a generous donation from an anonymous Wellesley resident, are a lot more intimidating under the basket than the Spurs were, and Randolph’s elephantine vertical might limit his contributions against Serge Ibaka. Thunder in 5.
BJ: The Grizzlies’ first round matchup with the Spurs was a godsend. Their second round matchup with the Thunder is a death knell. The Grizzlies have great offensive low post players, the Thunder have the best defensive frontcourt in the game. The Grizzlies have young, athletic, and explosive wings and guards. The Thunder have young, athletic, and explosive wings are guards that are flat-out better.
I cannot wait to see how both teams adjust to one another’s playing style. The Thunder have a leg up in that department having already dispatched the Nuggets in five games. Watching the game to game adjustments will be fascinating, especially when it comes to who Allen will guard. Even though the games might be close, the series will not. Thunder in 5.
RD: Can’t hardly wait for this one. The Grizzlies were relentless against San Antonio and should have won the series in five games. Unlike Atlanta, they’re a legitimate team, and they play with the kind of nasty edge and fearlessness we used to associate with the Celtics (and still might, I know). And they can defend the perimeter with TA and SB. That said, they’ll need everything to go right to overcome the Thunder’s talent advantages and the Perk-Ibaka interior D will make life tough for Z-Bo. It’s been a wonderful year for the Grizz and the Memphis fans. But it’s almost over. Thunder in 6.
Los Angeles vs. Dallas
BR: It took four games for the Lakers to wake up, but they appear poised to cruise through their 2nd round matchup with the Dallas, in the first ever Dirk vs. Kobe postseason showdown. Dallas just doesn’t have the talent to hang with the two-time defending champs. Lakers in 6.
HD: Suns-Mavs. Lakers-Spurs. Suns-Spurs. Mavs-Spurs. Suns-Lakers. And now, finally, we get the missing playoff series between two Western powers of the last ten years. Thank god, because it just barely got in there before both of these teams get old and start hitting the skids (like the other two powers already have). Hope this matchup is as distinctly memorable as the others. Lakers in 6.
BJ: Who guards Dirk Nowitzki? Who guards Kobe Bryant? Who guards Jason Terry? These are the questions to which I cannot wait to find out the answers. The Lakers are the better team but they’re also banged up. Can Dallas’ two headed monster in the middle of Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood mess with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol’s mojo? Will the series come down to who can make the other play the other’s game when it comes to Gasol vs. Notwitzki? Again, I cannot wait to find out. Lakers in 7.
RD: The Lakers are still too big and too potent on the interior for Dallas to overcome. Especially because there is still — thirteen years on — no legitimate second star to complement Nowitzki. The Lakers looked shakier than expected in round one, but part of that was the Chris Paul matchup. I think this thing see-saws but ultimately results in L.A. getting locked in for their conference finals showdown with OKC. Lakers in 7.