BROOKLYN NETS over Toronto Raptors – The Nets came out in the face of a great Toronto crowd and stole home court advantage on the backs of aggressive nights from Deron Williams and Joe Johnson and big late game buckets by the old former Celtics Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. That said, the Raptors shouldn’t feel too bad about this game. They were dominant inside and able to get into the paint off the dribble, and they kept the Brooklyn bigs in foul trouble all game. Better games from Terence Ross and Demar DeRozen should go a long way as well. On the other hand, the Nets are unlikely to miss 14 straight three point attempts again.
ATLANTA HAWKS over Indiana Pacers – I’ve been a Pacers believer since last year’s conference finals, but I’m ready to stick a fork in these guys. Their defensive principles are slipping, and with their on-again, off-again relationship with shot-making that doesn’t leave them with a leg to stand on. They need to stop penetration, stick to the Hawks’ three point shooters, and exploit the size advantage they enjoy at every position by attacking in the post. How ironic would it be if the Hawks pulled off the upset after all the noise about how they don’t even belong in the playoffs because of the East / West disparity?
WASHINGTON WIZARDS over Chicago Bulls – The third team in the East to win game 1 on the road, the Wiz showed that they are a better team than their record when healthy. Or, more to the point, when Nene is healthy. The big Brazilian is out of shape, but his size, savvy, and skills proved enough to offset Joakim Noah, and the younger Wiz exploited their perimeter athleticism to outgun the more plodding Bulls. I predicted a Chicago victory in this series, but I’m starting to think I may have underestimated Washington’s potential. I look for Chicago to really mix it up and make the game a physical, slowed down mess in game 2. They can still win the series if they can control the pace.
MIAMI HEAT over Charlotte Bobcats – The Cats had little hope of getting more than 1 game against the defending champs going into this series, but with the injury to Big Al Jefferson, that hope has basically been extinguished. Miami now has the three best players in the series (and may have prior to Al’s injury anyway) to go along with all their experience and confidence. Looking like an easy sweep for LeBron James and company. If this were pro-wrestling, Michael Jordan’s entrance music would cue right now, and he’s run into the arena, hit LBJ with the Stone Cold Salute and Stunner special, powerbomb Dwyane Wade through an announcer’s table, and lock Chris Bosh in the Crippler Crossface until he tapped out. Then, it would turn out the ref was Pat Riley in disguise, and Pat and Alonzo Mourning would beat Michael into the ground with steel chairs. MJ’s entrance music is “Indestructible” by Disturbed.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS over Dallas Mavericks – The Spurs first handful of buckets in this game all came on lay-ups. Dallas could not deal with the Tony Parker pick and roll action or the interior passing that the Spurs use when team try to wall off penetration. Rick Carlisle is a great coach, and the Mavs will make good adjustments where possible, but it’s been a long time since they’ve had a victory over the Spurs, and at this point it looks like a personnel issue rather than a strategic one. I believe Jalen Rose’s read on this match-up was that Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki would have to put up a combined 50 to outduel Tim Duncan and Tony Parker’s Spurs machine. That seems about right at this point.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS over LA Clippers – Exciting overtime game was somewhat marred by uneven officiating. The Warriors did enough to win, but they also got the benefit of early foul trouble for Blake Griffin on some pretty light contact. On the other hand GS lost Andre Iguodala to fouls, and he was their designated JJ Reddick chaser. Mark Jackson’s decision to put Klay Thompson on Chris Paul paid off even CP3 had a huge game – he had to work hard to get his buckets, and the team actually had to move him off the ball to get him some rest. With the Warriors’ team shooting, they are always a challenge to scout, and it will be interesting to see how Doc adjusts in game 2.
OKC THUNDER over Memphis Grizzlies – I don’t think the Grizz could have drawn a tougher opponent. OKC is one of the few teams with enough size to match up without having to double, and as savvy and tough as the Grizz guards are, there’s no accounting for Russell Westbrook’s athleticism and ferocity. Kevin Durant and Furious Styles (TM – Jalen Rose) are back in synch on offense as well, which is a huge problem for any team. Memphis has the goods to take a game or two in this serious on toughness and cleverness, but the talent disparity is too much across seven games.
PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS over Houston Rockets – I predicted the Blazers to steal this series, and they have started off by stealing home court. The game was very tight, as the OT and score obviously indicated, but it was tightly played throughout with neither team showing any real ability to impose its will on the other. Both teams rely on the three point shot too a great extent. I picked the Blazers because I think LaMarcus Aldrige has a better ability to make tough contested shots than anyone else in the series, and that might be what it comes down to. The injury to Patrick Beverly could be a huge loss to the Rockets. Jeremy Lin is a starting quality point guard, but Beverly’s defense and toughness represented all of the perimeter defense Houston had to offer. Without him Damian Lillard may be impossible to corral.