Monday, May 6, 2013

2013 Playoffs: Second Round, Part II

(1) Miami Heat vs. (5) Chicago Bulls

This one screams "quick four or five game" series, with the safest bet being five games due to Chicago's resilence and the brilliant defensive mastermind of Tom Thibodeau. I've been terrible so far in predicting the playoffs, but to be fair there have been some odd turns. I wasn't surprised seeing Memphis knocking off the Clippers, especially because of the Griffin injury, as I thought it was a coin flip series, but the Nuggets had no business losing to the Warriors. Denver responded to Golden State's smallball often with the large Bogut in the middle by benching their productive bigs leaving Faried to guard the basket, which according to a few physics theorems is basically impossible. Then Chicago beat the Nets despite the talent disparity and Noah's injury, plus the Biblical calamities that fell on the rest of the roster. Be careful walking the stairs, Jimmy Butler. Seriously.

Somehow the Heat get to play under negative SRS (adjusted point differential) team. Strictly going by the numbers, this is more likely a sweep, but again, I trust Thibodeau and an inspired game from this crew. That's pretty much what everyone else is saying about the series, but I think no one understands how bad the Bulls were this year given how weak the east was. They were lucky to win 45 games, and beating the Nets was a upset with their injuries. The Bulls have a brand name, sure, but Thibodeau really needs to be given credit for decimating the Nets' "coaching." Too bad you can't use smoke and mirrors to erase LeBron from the series.

What to watch for:
-At full strength, the Bulls may have the best defense against the Heat with Butler, Hinrich, Deng, Gibson, and Noah.
-Miami has two glaring weaknesses -- big centers and rebounding -- but the Bulls won't be able to fully exploit those.
-They've an above average rebounding team, great on offensive rebounding, but not superhuman like they were a couple years ago.
-While Noah is doing his best impression of Bill Walton/video game character with his health bar near zero but just hit a power-up, he's not enough offensively to attack Miami and hurt them.
-LeBron by his own standards had a lackluster first round, but he was probably bored. If he wants a season for the ages he needs to set up his game.
-There's a good chance the Heat will sweep, and then we'll be bombarded with another win streak.

Prediction: Heat in five.

(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Golden State Warriors

I don't think the Warriors know what they got themselves into. They're going into the teeth of a well-oiled machine, and while we've seen the Spurs come up short recently this is an organization that with the exception of a David Robinson injury-plagued season hasn't had a sub-50 win season (lockout seasons adjusted) since 1989, and the big three appear to be fully healthy. Splitter and Diaw are still ailing and recovering, but the Spurs don't need size against the lilliputian Warriors, save Bogut, who goes from guarding Faried, Koufos, or McGee to a resurgent Tim Duncan season. The Spurs have to be happy about Westbrook's injury as much as anyone, because they know as well as anyone that anything can happen once you make it to the finals. Underdogs can win.

Curry's going to be blanketed by a smarter team and bigger defenders. The Warriors won't be able to break out in transition as much. Their three-pointers won't be quite so open. No one noticed, but San Antonio quietly had a great defensive year. If Ginobili is healthy, he's going to shred the Warriors' bench. There are just few positive signs for Golden State and San Antonio will have a couple of big blowouts. They're ecstatic the Warriors found some luck and pulled off an upset, because now it's basically like another first round opponent for Spurs. Like Miami, their path to the finals is being paved by whatever force -- destiny, God, David Stern (obviously, because he loves seeing the bland market of San Antonio prevail again.)

What to watch for:
-Tim Duncan had one of the best seasons ever in terms of avoiding fouls while blocking shots at the rim. The Warriors will come to learn this.
-The Spurs are not a boring franchise, and Ginobili is one of the main reasons why. We don't know how much longer he'll play, or how many more moments he'll have up to his standards, but we're approaching victory lap territory. Cherish the plays.
-I think we're all waiting for the game back in Oakland where Curry makes 9 three's and the crowd sustains jet engine noise for the entirety of the contest. That one they can win.
-David Lee's defense, now a league-wide joke, is going to be hampered by an injury and will face a smart defense and, if things go horribly awry, Lee may end up guarding Duncan on a few plays.
-Is Barnes having a Tayshaun Prince breakout year in the playoffs, like some rookies or young players have, or is this a Trevor Ariza-like three-point streak that will frizzle out the rest of his career?
-Despite Curry's amazing year shooting from outside, his TS% is one-tenth of one percent better than Tony Parker's, because Parker can actually get to the paint and make layups. Lost in Curry's magical season is his inability to get to the rim.

Prediction: Spurs in five games.

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