Memphis Grizzlies (5) over OKC Thunder (1) – The Russell Westbrook injury and the James Harden trade hang over this series, this playoffs, and this season for the Thunder. Two years ago these two teams met in the same round of the playoffs, and the Thunder won it in 7 games. Not to take anything away from the Grizzlies, who have been fantastic, but it’s tough to envision the series playing out the same way if the Thunder were the same team as last year and the one before that. But, fortunately for Memphis fans like me, the Thunder let Harden go, and Westbrook’s injury severely crippled the OKC offense. On the the other side of the ball, Tayshawn Prince did a serviceable job defending Kevin Durant one-on-one, and Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka were not able to handle Marc Gasol‘s size and versatility and Zach Randolph‘s post and board work. Throw in a terrific series by Mike Conley and the reliably great defense of Tony Allen, and you’ve got a 5 game win by the Grizzlies.
San Antonio Spurs (2) over Golden State Warriors (6) – The Stephen Curry, Jarrett Jack, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and Andrew Bogut line-up proved to be incredibly entertaining and a major curve ball for the opposition. But Greg Popavich found a way to win, as he usually does. Really it was all about sticking the D on the three point line and exploiting the Tony Parker – Tim Duncan pick and roll. Great, feel-good story for the Warriors this post-season. They definitely went further than anyone could have expected, especially after the injury to David Lee in round 1. The Spurs earned the win with their superior adaptability.
San Antonio (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (5) – This will be an interesting match-up. Two years ago, the Grizz knocked the Spurs out of the playoffs on the back of a tremendous performance by Zack Randolph and with the good fortune of Manu Ginobili suffering an injury. I don’t know what to expect this year. The trick to defending the Grizzlies is size up front, which the Spurs have, but if Tayshawn Prince keeps making open 17 foot jump shots, and Conley keeps playing so well, it’s going to be tough to stop them. On the other side, stymieing the Parker – Duncan pick and roll without giving up open corner threes or secondary penetration is a real task, but Allen and Gasol are as good a tandem as any to make it happen. Should be a great series.
Miami Heat (1) over Chicago Bulls (5) – I’m still sick to my stomach over how easy these playoffs have been for the Heat. The Bulls minus Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng (nevermind the team’s best player Derrick Rose who didn’t play a game all season) is not a playoff team. Factor in a lingering foot injury to defacto best player Joakim Noah, and this wasn’t even a series. Dwyane Wade never really played up to his standards, and the Heat still had no problems despite LeBron James never having a really big (for him) game. Chicago did everything they could. They played hard all series despite only having 7 usable players on the roster, but the Heat were just too good. When Chris Bosh decided to go have a great rebounding game, that was pretty much the nail in the coffin. If he plays like that in the next series, look out Indi.
Indiana Pacers (3) over New York Knicks (2) – I really hope the story of this series doesn’t become a moratorium on Carmelo Anthony. He played a good must win game 5 and terrific must win game 6. The Knicks had two problems in the semi-finals. Tyson Chandler lost his mojo. I’m not sure if it was Roy Hibbert taking him out of his game, or if he’s hurt and nobody’s telling us what’s wrong, but his paint protection and generally very efficient low-usage offense were nowhere to be found. AND Jason Kidd did not make a field goal in the entire series. At all. If Tyson and Kidd had played like this when they were Mavs, Dirk Nowitzki would still be an also-ran great player like Charles Barkley and Karl Malone. Credit where credit is due, the Indiana Pacers stuck to their game plan of exploiting their size and relying on their defense, and it worked. George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, and Roy Hibbert are all among the best one-on-one defenders at their positions, and David West, while limited defensively is a good rebounder and is punishing against smaller defenders on offense. Run a small-ball line-up against these guys at your peril.
Miami Heat (1) vs. Indiana Pacers (3) – The Pacers have all the right tools to compete with Miami. Their wing defenders are top notch. They have a big, aggressive point guard to take advantage at the one and two dangerous big men to make the Heat’s quick line-up pay for sacrificing size. However, the Pacers have no bench at all (DJ Augustine is terrible as anything but as a catch-and-shoot spacer, Tyler Hansborough is a thug, etc.), and Miami is the team most able to impose its style of play because of the dominance of LeBron James and the lights out shooting they get from everywhere on the court thanks to Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, and Chris Bosh. Add in the defense, rebounding, and behind the defense lob-finishing that Chris Andersen (Birdman-Birdman!) brings to the table, and figure you’ll get at least a few bursts of Dwyane Wade brilliance, and you’ve got a champion.