After all the frenzy of first-round action in the 2014 NBA Playoffs, we’ve finally reached the Conference Semis, and we expect the match-ups to be nothing less than electrifying. Let’s break down the four series with some quick previews and predictions, shall we?
Eastern Conference: (1) Indiana Pacers vs. (5) Washington Wizards
Reg. season: Pacers 2, Wizards 1
Round 1: Pacers def. Hawks in 7; Wizards def. Bulls in 5
Have the Indiana Pacers really found their groove again? They did just overcome a 2-3 series deficit to survive the first round against a team that it matched up poorly against, so kudos to Pacers head coach Frank Vogel for making the necessary adjustments.
Unlike the Hawks, though, Washington has a more formidable frontcourt while still having the wing firepower and range (Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Martell Webster) needed to disrupt the Pacers’ defense. Paul George has been playing at a high level and has really put the Pacers on his shoulders, while others have stepped up for Indiana to overcome Roy Hibbert’s bad showing so far.
My pick: Fearless forecast alert! Wizards in 6
Western Conference: (1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (5) Portland Trail Blazers
Reg. season record: Split 2-2
Round 1: Spurs def. Mavericks in 7; Blazers def. Rockets in 6
Damian Lillard was the darling of the first round. If you haven’t hopped onto the bandwagon yet after his stellar rookie season or after his exposure last All-Star Weekend, you probably did after he led the Blazers to the second round in spectacular fashion. The Spurs battled a competitive Mavericks squad, and while San Antonio looked vulnerable at times, the game 7 blowout should be enough to show everyone that this team is still every bit a contender.
Tim Duncan notes that Portland is a bad matchup for the Spurs, but San Antonio’s defense also poses a huge roadblock for the high-octane offense of the Blazers. This series could go either way given how Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and company have been playing so far, but I’ll play it safe here.
My pick: Spurs in 6
Eastern Conference: (2) Miami Heat vs. (6) Brooklyn Nets
Reg. season record: Nets swept Heat 4-0
Round 1: Heat def. Bobcats in 4; Nets def. Raptors in 7
The Nets swept the Heat in the regular season (with three of the games decided by a single point), but we all know better than to count on that mattering in the Playoffs. The games will certainly be close, as the Nets have the mental toughness and veteran smarts, not to mention Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce’s ability to deliver in the clutch, to keep things interesting.
While the Nets have the better-rounded team overall, it’s hard to see a team that struggled against Toronto upset the well-rested Miami Heat over a seven-game series.
My pick: Heat in 6
Western Conference: (2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (3) Los Angeles Clippers
Reg. season: Split 2-2
Round 1: Thunder def. Grizzlies in 7; Clippers def. Warriors in 7
This series should feature tons of holding, scratching, and flopping. It’s probably going to be more of the same for OKC, meaning plenty of slow starts and coming back from double-digit deficits. After all, the Clippers offense is on a whole ‘nother level compared to Memphis, so unless the Thunder can get its act together from the opening tip, the Clippers will definitely be able to run.
Kevin Durant’s playoff PER should recover a bit in this matchup, even as Matt Barnes sticks close each game. I think the Thunder can operate more freely against the Clippers, although rotating against all those deadly shooters (JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford) and Chris Paul’s passing, could allow LAC to break down the Thunder’s unimpressive defense in the Playoffs.
My (slightly biased) pick: Thunder in 7 (but really, this could go either way)
Two games are on schedule later, with Washington @ Indiana at 7PM ET and Los Angeles @ Oklahoma City at 9:30PM ET. That’s that for my picks; overall, I can only hope that this round is as exciting as the first.