Whew. Did you all catch these first round series? This has been one of the most exciting playoffs since I can ever remember. And we're just getting started.
My Western Conference Finals pick, the Thunder, destroy the Nuggets. The Celtics sweep a depleted Knicks squad after injuries ruin the Knicks' chances. DRose leads the Bulls on a hobbled ankle while Dirk pushes the Mavs past the upstart Blazers. The Sixers gave the Heat all they could handle in five games, and the Lakers were pushed singlehandedly by next-year Knick Chris Paul. Then the Magic are shocked by the Hawks, and the GRIZZ!?!?!?! Taking down the four-time champion Spurs? You've gotta be kidding me. And that was just round one.
We're just getting started here, so let's get a move on. Let's start with the two games starting today. Back with Part 2 tomorrow.
Record: 4-4 (Right: Heat, Bulls, Lakers, Thunder; Wrong: Grizz, Mavs, Celtics - injuries, Hawks). But I still have both Finals teams right.
(3) Boston Celtics v. (2) Miami Heat - The Big Three v. The Big Four
In the words of the Joker: "And Here... We... Go..." I'm jacked up for this series. It's going to get ugly. These teams hate each other. The Celtics - Pierce, Garnett, Allen, and Rondo. The Heat - James, Wade, Bosh. Seven all-stars on one court. This is going to be awesome.
I mentioned this in the first round, but when I think of the Celtics, I think of Viagra. Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett need a little blue pill. When men are young and get lucky with a lady on a fateful night in the bar scene, they go home and can pull out all the stops. They have the moves that the ladies like, and it’s not a one track album, if you catch my drift.
But as we age, something happens. When we men get older, something happens. We still have all the right moves. But our back creaks, our stamina decreases, and it takes a hell of a lot longer to start the engine on the automobile. And once it does start, it’s probably not catching again until morning. That’s where the little blue pill comes in. But ladies and gentlemen, I don’t think the doctor wrote the Celtics a prescription this year.
The Celtics got lucky in the first round as the Knicks suffered some debilitating injuries to Chauncey Billups and Amar'e Stoudemire that crippled their chances. The Celtics smelled blood and swept.
Meanwhile, the Heat drew a 76ers team that played its little butts off throughout the entire series. The 76ers gave El Heat all they could handle, and I think that challenge was a nice "breakfast" that helped focus the team coming into this series. As LeBron said, now the Heat are "ready for some lunch."
SERIES STUD: Dwayne Wade. Not LBJ, I know. LeBron and DWade are going to get their points; LeBron may even average a triple-double. But I'm not talking about the best player overall, I'm talking about the player that is going to be the stud for this particular series.
And in this matchup of two top-five defensive units, the key is about shutting down the other team's catalyst. For the Celtics, that's Rajon Rondo. DWade better stick on him like white on rice or else the Celtics are going to be able to challenge the heat to the brink in this series.
My guess? Wade does everything he can to keep his man in front of him. He had 2 SPG and 1.4 BPG in the first round series while averaging 22.2 PPG and 8.4 RPG. If he can put up similar numbers while shutting down Boston's biggest creator, Wade's going to win his team this series.
THE HEAT: The Heat are going to wear down the Celtics on defense, and the Celtics hope to wear down the Heat on their D. So basically, this series could be a pick 'em.
But I just don't know how you stop the Heat on offense. When you have three of the game's best offensive players, the possibilities are endless. Chris Bosh is a maestro in the mid-range game, and Dwayne Wade and LeBron James are ... Dwayne Wade and LeBron James.
LBJ and DWade play similar slash and create games, so if the Celtics stop one, they can't stop the other. If they start running a pick-and-roll all series, it's going to create some matchup problems for the Celtics.
Additionally, I've been very impressed with the PG duo of Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers. While Bibby is a defensive liability, it seems that Chalmers has become a more effective game manager since Bibby joined the team. Maybe the vet is showing the youngster a few tricks of the trade.
Throw in the three-point shooting of James Jones and C Joel Anthony's defensive presence, and it becomes evident that this team really only has one weakness. Inside offense. If Zydrunas Ilgauskas can throw in 8-10 points in 15 minutes, it would be a huge boost to the team's chances. If not, the Heat are playing 4 on 5 on offense.
THE CELTICS: As I alluded to earlier, Rondo is the key to this series. Allen, Garnett, and Pierce are getting up there in age. Sure, the team is on nine days rest, but it's not like the Heat played a seven-game slugfest either.
Pierce is going to be primarily guarded by LeBron James, which will neutralize him to some extent. Mario Chalmers and James Jones are quick enough to keep up with Ray Allen as he rolls off screens, which is essential. Joel Anthony can matchup with Kevin Garnett and isolate the aging superstar in the post.
But Rondo is the Celtics catalyst. His ability to penetrate opens up perimeter threes for Allen and Pierce, and helps draw attention for back side passes to Garnett in the post. The Heat - primarily Dwayne Wade - HAVE to shut down Rondo's ability to create or else it may be a long series.
This team has not looked the same or played with the same intensity since the Perkins trade to OKC. If the O'Neals (Jermaine and Shaq - who may not play in Game 1) can make an impact and destroy Big Z and Chris Bosh on the inside, they may actually be the key to the series.
In my mind, the Celtics' offensive deficiencies toward the end of the season, their luck in the first round against the Knicks, and the Heat's defensive tenacity are telling signs that this may be the end of the road for Boston.
PREDICTION: This series is going to be a slobberknocker. There may be a melee or two throughout. But I just feel like the Celtics are a tad too old. They caught a break against the beat-up Knicks in the first round, and I think they get exposed here. The Heat's Big Three takes over, and the Celtics last great shot at another title is over. Heat in 6.
(8) Memphis Grizzlies v. (4) Oklahoma City Thunder - The Young Guns v. WHO?!?!?!
I'm pretty sure that I read this matchup correctly, but could someone PLEASE make sure for me? That is the Memphis Grizzlies that are actually in the second round of the playoffs right?
All kidding aside, the Grizzlies absolutely manhandled the #1 seed Spurs. I'm happy to see the city of Memphis have something to cheer about other than their world class rib and music scene, as the team has been the joke of the league for some time.
Memphis took care of business by providing stout perimeter defense and letting big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol wear down an overmatched Spurs front line. The Spurs looked old and tired, the Grizzlies brought the thunder (no pun intended), and impressively held off the four-time champions without blinking an eye.
Meanwhile, the OKC Thunder took the Denver Nuggets to school in the first round with a very balanced attack. With many scoring options and a defensive presence on the block and perimeter, the Thunder shut down an overmatched Denver team playing with heart for coach George Karl.
With both teams boasting some bangers down low, this series is going to be physical. They key will come down to perimeter play. We all know who wins that battle.
SERIES STUD: Russell Westbrook. For those who aren't familiar, I pick a Series Stud for this particular series, not who's the best player overall.
And for this series, I think Russell Westbrook gets the job done. He averaged 23.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 6.2 APG being guarded primarily by the Ty Lawson/Ray Felton combo in the first round. I look for him to expose Mike Conley's defensive weaknesses by penetrating hard to the basket. From there, he'll either score or dish to his big men down low.
Kevin Durant will get his points, but I think that guard Tony Allen and forward Shane Battier will neutralize him as much as humanly possible. When Durant is somewhat contained, it's Westbrook's time to shine.
THE THUNDER: With the way OKC electrified throughout their dominant five-game performance over the inspired Denver Nuggets, this team could be called the Lightning. In my first round preview (check it out on my blog), I picked the Thunder to be my Western Conference Finals representative. I'm feeling even better about that pick now.
Why you ask? Because since the addition of Kendrick Perkins the Thunder has been one of the best defensive teams in the game.
Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins destroyed Denver's big men (or lack thereof), and the Thunder was the best rebounding team in the first round. That's pretty good considering Denver was one of the league's top offensive teams in the regular season.
Ibaka averaged a RIDICULOUS 4.8 BPG in the series. What's going to be interesting is watching how he and Perkins handle an inside tandem in Gasol and Randolph that is about 10 steps up from what the Spurs had to offer.
I just don't see anyone stopping on the Grizz stopping a team that can hit you from a thousand different angles on offense. Westbook and backup Eric Maynor drive and create. Durant and James Harden shoot lights out. Ibaka and Perkins take you on the low blocks. This team scores at will, and I don't think that's going to change in this series.
THE GRIZZ: Memphis is into the second round for the first time in team history. The question for me is whether they can keep up the intensity after the biggest milestone in franchise history.
It's improbable me that the team takes another series, but it's not impossible. Memphis' strength comes on the inside, which is a problem as OKC has the ability to neutralize it.
Zach Randolph has taken the next step, becoming a player that can carry this team on his back. After the way he acted in his early career, particularly in Portland, I can't believe I just wrote that. Marc Gasol - not Pau - averaged a double-double against the Spurs.
Ibaka and Perkins will be all over Randolph and Gasol, and Rudy Gay is out for the post-season. But who is going to step up and score for Memphis here? Is it going to be Conley? Battier? O.J. Mayo off the bench?
Mike Conley is playing like he should have before his contract extension, and Tony Allen and Shane Battier bring a defensive intensity to this team that it never had before. But I don't think it's going to be enough.
It's not like OKC doesn't have perimeter defenders either. Durant, James Harden, and Thabo Sefolosha all can swipe the ball away from Memphis' guards and start the transition offense. Someone needs to step up the perimeter scoring for Memphis or this series is already over.
PREDICTION: This is going to be a great series. Ibaka/Perkins will be throwing 'bows with Gasol/Randolph for the length of the ride, and I think that's an even matchup. Ultimately though, Memphis doesn't have an offensive answer to the Westbrook/Durant one-two punch. It's been real Memphis, but better luck next year. The young guns roll on. Thunder in 6.