Editor’s note: The preview portions of this blog were written by Matthew Vinsko. Brett Murdock contributed predictions.
Basketball is my favorite sport and it has been for a long time. Unlike baseball, football, and hockey, basketball provides high scoring affairs that can captivate fans and casual viewers alike with quick plays that include dunks, alley-oops, and even well-timed blocks.
That’s why each postseason provides a bittersweet experience for this fan. Yes, the level of play intensifies as we work to finally crown an NBA Champion, but at the cost of a four month hiatus to one of the world’s most popular sports.
This year’s postseason is ripe with storylines (Can James Harden stop his old team from reaching the second round? How long can the Lakers last without Kobe Bryant? Who will stop the juggernaut that is the Miami Heat?). But the real goal of the first round of the playoffs isn’t so much to answer these questions, but rather separate pretenders from contenders as each team takes its first step to the Finals.
Read on for predictions from both myself and my longtime collaborator, Brett Murdock, as we break down the ins and outs of each matchup in the first round.
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (8) Houston Rockets
This is one matchup that might be closer than you think because of both team’s ability to put the ball in the basket.
Houston finished second in the NBA in scoring this year at 106 points per game with James Harden leading the way at just over 25 points per game. OKC finished third in scoring with 105 points per game, led by its MVP candidate, Kevin Durant, who finished with 28 points per game, second in the scoring title race behind Carmelo Anthony.
But as it’s come to be known in postseason basketball, defense wins championships, and the Thunder finished in the top ten of the league in points allowed at a shade over 95 points per game. Houston, on the other hand, allowed over 102 points per game, which won’t help them against the high-scoring dynamic duo of Durant and Russell Westbrook (no respect to Kevin Martin either; the guy can flat out score).
Harden can score with the best of them, but unless Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin can score consistently, expect Houston to serve as practice for the Thunder’s defense on their journey back to the NBA Finals.
• Matt: Oklahoma City Thunder in 5 games
• Brett: Oklahoma City Thunder in 6 games (more…)
BY MATTHEW VINSKO, Couchsideshow.com writer
Despite being a few upsets in the first round, it’s hard to call my first round predictions a failure. Who saw Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah getting injured in similarly gruesome fashions? Who knew a Memphis Grizzlies squad that impressed everyone last year would get upended by the up and coming “Lob City”? Not this guy.
Still, now that we’re onto the second round, we’re starting to see some contenders truly hit their stride, and some others happy to be here. Without further ado, here are some picks for the second round of the NBA Playoffs.
• Writers Note: I understand two games have already been played in the second round, but in my defense, I wished to wait until the first round wrapped up before writing up this article. After all, it was pretty easy to miss out on the openers when there were two Game 7s to be had.
(4) Boston Celtics vs. (8) Philadelphia 76ers
Honestly, this is not the matchup anyone expected coming out of the first round. First of all, everyone thought Rose’s injury-prone season would be refreshed in the playoffs against a very sloppy 76ers team that was lucky to make the playoffs. Secondly, even without Rose, the Bulls managed to ride a wave of success during the season, earning the best record in the conference over much healthier squads. People forget Richard Hamilton was hurt a lot too, which forced Luol Deng and the Bulls’ front court to respond accordingly, and time and again, they did.
Just not in the first round against a 76ers squad that seemed to finally get back on track. Spencer Hawes and Elton Brand were beastly down low without Noah there, and Jrue Holliday, Evan Turner, and Andre Iguodala all proved to be too much for a severely limited Bulls backcourt. The Celtics, on the other hand, struggled more than I thought they would in the first round, but still came out triumphant despite a brief Rajon Rondo suspension and an injury to Ray Allen. Kevin Garnett is playing like “The Big Ticket” of old, and it’s hard to see anyone stop this squad, especially after a comeback performance in Game 1 this past Saturday.
The 76ers have showed glimpses this postseason of what they were earlier in the season, but against a veteran team that finally seems to be hitting their stride, it’s hard to see them winning the series. I expect a close series just because the Celtics’ legs will have to get tired at some point, but in the end, the Celtics are just too much for a team who have no place being in the second round.
Winner: Boston Celtics in 6 (more…)