Monday, May 14, 2012

Round Two: Western Conference

(1) San Antonio Spurs versus (5) LA Clippers

For a number one seed, the Spurs are strangely a wild card. Few people think they're more likely to win it all over, say, the Heat, the pre-injury Bulls or the Thunder even. It's because Popovich is an extreme adherent of the rest your veterans, and anyone, philosophy that Duncan is playing less than 30 minutes a game, causing the perception that he's fallen off because of his per game numbers. Compared to Kobe, who stupidly played a ton of minutes, he's arguably been a much more effective player. Kobe's PER is high because of how many shots he takes, and other rating systems that don't give credit simply for shooting like Wins Produced rate him lower. Duncan actually does have better numbers in some metrics and his adjusted +/- is better at +4.7 overall (4.1 just for his defense) compared to Kobe's +2.4 (all on the offensive end.)

The Clippers are also a strange case for a prediction. Unlike most basketball teams, they do appear to have an ability to perform better in clutch situations. However, what that means really is that they'll outperform their estimated win percentage from their point differential. Their real win percentage, which is boosted by their clutch play, still doesn't make this a close series on paper. I also don't think they have any match-up advantages. Spurs still struggle with big power forwards, but Griffin can't be considered that; Diaw is a surprisingly good defender and Duncan can also help. The Spurs can also reasonably contain Chris Paul and Parker will make him work on the other end.

The Spurs are the number one seed with a great record and they've been blowing teams out. They did all this even with playing their stars obscenely low minutes and without one of their most effective players, Ginobili, for most of the year. Everyone's healthy at the right time. I won't over-think this.

Prediction: Spurs in 5.
Random prediction: Duncan won't play a single game of 40 minutes or above even though it's the second round.

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder versus (3) LA Lakers

The reason causal fans overrate the Lakers is because they have the star power including productive big men but no bench and Kobe, like I explained above, has masked his reduced effectiveness by gunning so much that his points per game stays high. Normally I would say the combo of Gasol and Bynum would be too much for a frontline, but Perkins has had some rest, Collison will do better at keeping Bynum from receiving deep post position than people would think and Ibaka can clean mistakes. Most importantly the Thunder have perimeter players who hit shots at incredible rates in Durant and Harden, and Westbrook though much maligned isn't bad either.

Ultimately, what it's going to come down to is the Thunder are simply a better team. The seeding doesn't show that. The Thunder's offensive rating if 107.1 and defensive 100.0. Lakers? 103.3 and 101.7. That's +7.1 versus +1.6. Sure, Artest has given Durant trouble in the past, but in three games this year against Artest (World Peace) Durant has averaged 29.7 points and Oklahoma's other two weapons are potent enough now that Durant doesn't even have to score 25 or 30 points. The west isn't the Lakers' turf anymore (last year they were disappointing in the playoffs and then lost Odom in the offseason) and the Thunder are a tier above them.

Prediction: Thunder in 5.
Random prediction: Bynum and Ibaka will combine for 15 blocks in one game.

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