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 JON FRANK, Couchsideshow.com contributor
How? Was the first thing that came to my head. Miami’s got the three-time MVP (LeBron James), the NBA’s Batman and his Robin (Dwyane Wade), not to mention a semi-healthy Chris Bosh. Boston’s got what’s left of the Big Three and Rajon Rondo. This shouldn’t happen. It defies all notions of NBA logic. In professional basketball, superstars are supposed to strap in, go off for 30 a night and carry their inferior, but well-meaning teammates, along for the ride. But watching the Celtics win three straight against the Heat – and listening to Michael Wilbon and the boys’ postgame analysis – it made me remember how much of a team sport basketball is.
Boston is a great team. We knew they were great in years past, and most everyone expected them to do some damage. But few people expected this. Obviously, a lot has happened since people made their initial East Conference champions predictions. Namely, Derrick Rose’s ACL derailed the Bulls (honorable mention to Joakim Noah, the second best player on that team, who went down with a sprained ankle). Aside from that, how many people actually thought an aging Boston team would be on the verge of sending the ridiculously talented Super Team packing? Not me. Then again, I’m no NBA expert – not by a long shot. (more…)
BY ALEX ROSE, Feedcrossing.com syndication
The day after each Oklahoma City Thunder game, the dedicated fan will grab their morning coffee and take a peak at the boxscore to see how many points Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook scored. They look to see how many blocks Serge Ibaka swatted. Maybe Durant and Westbrook combined for a massive 70 points (accomplished twice this season), or maybe Ibaka added another double-digit block game to his stash. However, when you come across Kendrick Perkins‘ name, the numbers look insufficient at best. For his career, Perkins has averaged a quiet 6.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG, and 1.4 BPG. As a member of the Thunder, his numbers seem even more anemic as he averaged just 5.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and 1.1 BPG in 65 games this year.
However, basketball is a game in which teamwork is hard to measure. There is no statistic that measures a player’s willingness to help their teammates succeed by doing the little things on the court. There is no statistic that measures the extra pass on the perimeter for the open 3-pointer when the defense is late to rotate. There is no measure that communicates how important a box-out can be so that a teammate can secure a tough rebound in the paint. Baseball is a game in which statistics can tell the whole story of a particular game. Teamwork is much less important. The major league baseball player is essentially left to his own skills when stepping into the batter’s box. (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…)
BY Couchsideshow.com staff
In this week’s episode of the Couch Side podcast, the dynamic duo of Craig Paul and Wade McMillin preview the NBA playoffs and analyze the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The hosts also discuss the Denver Broncos signing Brandon Stokley, an odd triple play and UFC 145.