Saturday, April 19, 2014

2014 Playoff Preview: Round 1, Part 2

Here's the second set of predictions for the first round of the playoffs. My regular season predictions were great despite my simplistic method, beating out professionals from ESPN and other sites, so let's see if it carries over into the playoffs.


Miami Heat (2) vs. Charlotte Bobcats (7)
-Since no one expected Charlotte to be good, they're overrated now. It's a team with a negative point differential in a poor conference. Their adjusted offensive efficiency was ranked 25th in the league behind the Indiana Pacers and barely ahead of the lowly Bucks (and there were no good scorers on the Bucks.)
-Likewise, Al Jefferson is overrated. As stated above, they had a terrible offense -- what "lift" was he giving? Relative to the league averages in both respective seasons, Charlotte improved by 1 point on offense. Jefferson's also more useful for bad offensive teams since he can take a lot of shots but he's not a passer or an efficient scorer, so a mere 1 point increase is disappointing.
-The lack of outside shooting from Charlotte will be a bit of a disaster if Miami's defense is running well.
-Miami spent the season babying Wade and Oden, while LeBron was nicknamed LeCoast for his effort on defense, so the time is now -- will we see title-worthy Miami?
-Oden's defense, in particular, should be noted against Al Jefferson (if he plays.) Miami's weakness is post defense, and if Oden can muster any sort of resistance they'll have another weapon. As it stands, they have to rely on the veteran Haslem for this.
-Charlotte went from the league's worst defense in 2013 to the league's 7th best (adjusted for the schedule.) That's remarkable.
-According to my variable team rating system, Charlotte did worse as the opponent got better, so I think there's a decent chance they could be embarrassed, at least for a couple games. That said, the safest best is five games, especially since Miami has looked mortal this season.

Prediction: the Heat in five games.

Chicago Bulls (4) vs. Washington Wizards (5)
-This is one of those 4-5 matchups where two non-contenders could take the series either way, and it's difficult assessing who's actually better.
-The Wizards are more of a defensive team than offensive, and I'm not sure what affect Chicago will have on them -- Wall's athletic and the good parts of their offense mainly have to do with shooting from Beal and Ariza outside the arc and the large but nimble Nene and Gortat inside. The best Chicago could do is goad them into more long two-pointers, which Washington loves all to much -- it's possible Chicago contains them. It's why Beal remains an inefficient scorer despite the accurate three-point shooting.
-The Bulls on offense are being held together with duct tape and string.
-Washington won the season series 2-1, but both teams had one blowout win and the other game was close. However, they were missing their secret weapon: Nene. They are much better with him in the lineup.
-Since the Deng trade, the Bulls have had the 7th best point differential in the league. Washington actually isn't far behind though. This should be an even series.
-The smaller improvements are often ignored. Andre Miller was an important signing because they had no one to run the non-Wall lineups, and the offense was dreadful without him. After bringing on Miller, the Wizards have had a +3.8 point differential.
-Since Chicago beat the Nets last season, I think people expect the Bulls to run through the first round again. But I don't think it'll be easy. Homecourt advantage and the superior coach give Chicago the narrow advantage here.

Prediction: the Bulls in seven games.


San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Dallas Mavericks (8)
-I was critical of the Mavericks going after Ellis, and while he's had a good season fundamentally there's a defensive issue the team can't hide: Calderon and Ellis can be exploited defensively. They cannot guard Tony Parker, and any alternate to guarding Parker will be limiting Dallas' offense.
-The Mavericks player pair +/- page is really interesting. Dirk is involved in every single pair in the top seven, and nowhere else out of the 20 listed player pairs.
-Diaw will be used a lot on Dirk, and I think most people will continue to comment on why Popovich uses him on great players. I don't think people will ever accept that Diaw is a good defensive player.
-The Elias Sports Bureau stated that the Spurs are the only team in league history with no player over 30 minutes per game. Since they led the league in wins, I found this to be incredible.
-Fifteen years ago, Duncan won his first title with Robinson -- that's a huge span of time people are understating. Fifteen years before that, Bird won his second title against the Kareem and Magic Lakers. And fifteen years before that, Russell won his last title with the Celtics. (And fifteen before that, we were in the no-shot clock era.)
-As good as Dirk is, his team's defense will be shredded by the Spurs. By the way, people continue to insist that Dirk is a liability on defense, and even that he's been one his whole career, but I have no idea how they're coming to those conclusions. There are absolutely no numbers to assert that, as even his defensive rebounding numbers are either above average or average. It's the reputation you get for being a jump-shooting European. However, his team's defense is not his fault -- that's what you get for relying on guys like Calderon and Blair and depending on Dalembert's defense.
-If you go strictly by numbers and adjust heavily for teams that didn't use their best players much in the regular season, San Antonio feels nigh unbeatable. But that feels wrong -- they got away with resting their starters constantly because their bench is fantastic and, as I've shown, they do play a bit worse against better competition. It will be really interesting to see how they do this year versus elite teams like the Thunder or Clippers.

Prediction: the Spurs in five games.

Houston Rockets (4) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (5)
-If you want to see how Howard would do in the 90's, this is the series for you. Portland defends him straight up with a seven-footer, and so he averages 25.5 and 13.5 with a 66 TS%. Not that I'm stating he'd average a shooting efficiency like that in the 90's, but if you don't aggressively help on Howard without an elite post defender he can destroy your team.
-Portland's defense is not that bad anymore. They're 17th in the league in defensive efficiency, above the Nets and Mavs. But their schedule was difficult -- adjusted for strength of schedule, their defense is ranked 15th, a hair behind the Heat.
-Harden's lack of defense will be in full display here. He definitely shouldn't guard Lillard, and the other two perimeter players are just skilled enough offensively to take advantage of him. Zach Lowe argued Wes will try to post him up, but that's one of Harden's few virtues on defense; he's a very good post defender. Instead, watch for Wes on back cuts and open shots behind the arc while Harden's head is turned.
-Portland's starting frontline is a little too big for Houston -- Aldridge can shoot over Jones, but if they switch Howard onto him Robin Lopez will have a field day on the offensive glass.
-We're going to have games with like 400 three-pointers. It will be great.
-Playoff-mode Lillard could be an interesting beast.
-Houston appeared to get the better of Portland in the regular season, although the series was 1-3 including an overtime win. Portland's conservative defense doesn't work too well against Houston, but they won't get outclassed here. They legitimately have a chance.
-Some may argue Portland's seeding is partly due to their great health, but the bench is still weak and a shorter leash on the reserves -- their top bench guys are Mo Williams and Joel Freeland, which is a joke for a playoff team -- means Portland will be significantly better in the playoffs.
-Most of the signs point to Houston having a slightly better team, and coupled with homecourt advantage it's hard to argue for Portland, unless it's out of loyalty. I believe in Portland as a fan, but as an objective observer I have to say Houston.

Prediction: Houston in seven games.

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