Saturday, April 20, 2013

The NBA's Second Wind

The term "second wind" can be defined as restored energy or strength and most commonly associated with intense physical activity. The NBA playoffs are the league's second wind, where after 82 games, sixteen teams find extra gas left in the tank in an effort to be etched in the books as NBA Champions.

If you are an NBA junkie such as myself, the season if just getting started. A lot of people (pessimists/casual fans) cry that the regular season doesn't matter. The season is too long and the players don't try hard like in college.

Tell Kobe Bryant and the Lakers that the regular season is too long. Watching their season unfold seemed as if it was too short. They needed more time to secure a playoff spot almost like a college student cramming to write a term paper the night before it’s due.

The thirty-five year old superstar fell victim to a torn Achilles driving to the basket against the Warriors on April 12th after logging forty-five minutes. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to realize that he was on pace to play the full four quarters.  Bryant had been putting in 38.6 minutes per game this season, second only to Damian Lillard, a twenty-two year old rookie. In his last seven games up until his tragic injury, Bryant was logging an average of 45.5 minutes per game. His will is what carried his team to the playoffs as they won 9 of their last 11 games and clinched the seventh seed.

Tell John Wall the regular season doesn't matter. The third year point guard out of Kentucky came back to play in forty games for the Washington Wizards and looked every bit the athlete he was before his knee injury. Some would argue he even played better than before, aided by rookie guard Bradley Beale and a bevy of veterans (Okafor, Ariza, Nene) the Wizards managed to go 23-25 (48%) after starting 6-28 (17%) without Wall. The proof is in the pudding, or in this case on the court. The playtime was a crucial development for the young Wizard and showed he is the unquestioned leader of the team.

If those two examples don't work for you, just rewind to last Wednesday. The final game of the regular season pitted the Houston Rockets versus the Bryant-less Los Angeles Lakers for the Western conference seventh seed. Win and you play the Spurs. Lose and you play the Thunder. No pressure, right? The atmosphere in the City of Angels was electric. Houston's Chandler Parsons pushed it to overtime with a buzzer-beating three. In the extra period Los Angeles showed their grit and won 99-95.

Ever since the league extended every round to seven games a few years back, the playoffs do seem to drag a little. In the first round you'll normally get a few unbearable series to watch. The Bulls/Hawks in 2011 was one of the least entertaining in recent memory, while the Bulls/Celtics from 2009 was an absolute classic. Four games were extended for more time which included double and triple overtime games. Five games were won by three points or less. That reaffirmed to me why I watch the playoffs: to see greatness unfold and who will seize their opportunity at immortality.

What teams and players will shine in the 2013 NBA Playoffs? Let's take a look.


(8) Milwaukee Bucks (38-44) vs. (1) Miami Heat (66-16)

Heat win. Well that was an easy prediction/analysis. Just kidding. LeBron James shows us why he is the most gifted basketball player in the world. The pressure of repeating is there, not only as champions but also as MVP and he obliterated the field. Kevin Durant would be seen as the most logical runner up with his excellent season, but the distance between the two in the race was staggering. The Heat's 27 game win streak will be remembered for a long, long time and showed other teams and basketball fans what they can do. Bosh, James and Wade were all shifted in and out of the line-up at times and they never missed a beat. Miami finished the season with the league's best record and fifth in scoring. Those two factors alone should all but solidify the outcome of this series. But they have to play the games on the court, right?

For the Bucks, Brandon Jennings claims the Heat are good match for his team. On Milwaukee's Twitter account, he predicts they will beat the Heat in six games. Newsflash, Brandon: The Heat are not a good match up for ANYONE, let alone the East's 8th seed. You guys are 1-3 on the season against them, too.


For the Heat, they won't need any really, as most games will be won by ten points or more. If the games do get close, look for Shane Battier and Mike Miller to be huge cogs in the Heat's machine.

For the Bucks, LARRY SANDERS! Will be their best shot at defending LeBron and Wade, but there is only one LARRY SANDERS! So that's kind of a problem.

Heat in -1, I mean 4

(7) Boston Celtics (41-40) vs. (2) New York Knicks (54-28)

The Knicks started off the year red hot, winning eight of their first nine games. They finished the season white hot, winning sixteen of their last eighteen games. This season marked the first time since 1999-2000 that they managed to win fifty games or more. Carmelo Anthony put together one of the best seasons of his career on both sides of the ball and capped it off by wrestling the scoring title away from Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant with 28.6 points per game. The Knicks couldn't have done it without the season that J.R. Smith had, averaging 18.1 points per game off the bench. He is the frontrunner for sixth man of the year. Imagine if they had had Tyson Chandler for the full season...they'd have more people believing they could reach the Finals.

On the opposite side you have one of the most storied franchises in all of sports, the Boston Celtics. Led by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and the superb coaching of Doc Rivers- they look to spoil New York's remarkable season. They lost star point guard Rajon Rondo on January 27th against the Heat to a torn ACL. A lot of people doubted them in terms of playoff chances, even in the lackluster Eastern Conference.

If there's one thing you never do, it's count Boston out of anything. The city has more resilience than anywhere in the country as evidenced by this week's events. While tragic, Boston's will to persevere is absolutely inspiring.


For New York, shooting will be the biggest reason why they'd beat the Celtics in the first round. Carmelo averaged ten made field goals per game for the first time since 2009. Along with Smith, the two's ability to catch fire and remain efficient will be a huge aspect against the notoriously stingy Boston defense.

Boston's keys to upsetting the Knicks will be the trio of Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and Jason Terry. Green showed he is capable of big things when he put up 43 points against the Heat on March 18th, almost snapping their win streak. Bradley came back from injury and played well on both sides of the ball. He can play lock down defense and works well on offense with Paul Pierce. We know Pierce and Garnett will show up, but Jason Terry is really going to have to step up as well. He's had one of the worst seasons of his career, averaging only 10.1 points- his lowest since his rookie season in 1999-2000. His 2.5 assists per game are also his lowest.

BONUS X-Factor:

The Boston home crowd will be as lively and raucous as it’s ever been. After this week, the city needs an escape and while the Celtics can't change any of what has happened- they can definitely give Boston something to be happy for. They'll still need to steal a game in NYC, but in Boston you better believe the fans will be unglued for the entirety of the game.

Knicks in 7.

(6) Atlanta Hawks (44-38) vs. (3) Indiana Pacers (49-32)

The Pacers started off 3-6, a shell of last year's contender. But Paul George put together a great season (17.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 170 3PM) and helped out a struggling Roy Hibbert. They lead the league in rebounds, averaging 45.9 a game behind David West and Hibbert.

The Hawks are led by Al Horford (17 ppg, 10 rpg) and backup point guard Jeff Teague (14.6 ppg, 7.6 apg). While they will try and keep the Hawks in it, they will fall short. Just not enough depth for a sixth seed to compete.


Jeff Teague will have a breakout game or two, but it will be futile against a tough Pacers team. For the Pacers, look for Lance Stephenson to step up off the bench.

Pacers in 5

(5) Chicago Bulls (45-37) vs. (4) Brooklyn Nets (49-33)

In what I predict will be THE snoozer of the first round, the defense-minded Bulls will try and "upset" the slow, half-court game of the Nets. Deron Williams' numbers are down from last season (18.9 ppg, 7.7 apg) and Joe Johnson has not been worth the money he was signed for in the offseason. He's only shooting 42% and averaging 16 points per game. The only thing more depressing than Kris Humphries' attempts to get media attention via Kim Kardashian is his season's numbers. The Nets forward  in 65 games put up averages of 5.8 ppg and 5.6 rpg, after a season before which saw him average 13.8 and 11 respectively.

After the Bulls beat the Heat to end the 27 game win streak, I actually took notice that they were 5th in the East. I was actually surprised. I knew they were in the hunt- but fifth? Thibodeau should be on the short list for Coach of the Year for sure. Derrek Rose never returned to play in the regular season, but nothing has been confirmed for the postseason. If he were to return, you'd have to think it would change the entire outlook. Carlos Boozer has been an anchor for the Bulls, and Luol Deng has been deadly from three. Kirk Heinrich has played the savvy veteran role to perfection and Noah is always lurking in the middle.


A return of Derrek Rose would be a table-turner. If he can come back and be half the player he was, it'd still be a plus for Chicago. Even the threat makes Brooklyn wonder what the Bulls will do, and that thought itself changes their preparation. For the Nets, Reggie Evans is all or nothing. He either has a 20 rebound game, or doesn't show up at all and fouls out early. Look for him to bang and bruise on the inside, but his efforts will come up short to Boozer and Noah.

Bulls "upset" in 6


(8) Houston Rockets (45-37) vs. (1) Oklahoma City Thunder (60-22)

The Rockets' loss to the Lakers afforded them this opportunity to face the West's best team. The league's second and third highest scoring offenses will look to run up and down the floor in one of the most exciting first round match ups of 2013. The main storyline will revolve around James Harden returning to the city that he played in for three seasons and will bring up his lackluster NBA Finals effort last season. How one year changes it all. Harden, along with Kevin Durant are on most shortlists for NBA MVP. It's a cute thing to add to your resume, considering James claimed it from day one in October.

Watching Harden improve this season has been one of my favorite things. His efficiency and how he makes his teammates better is impressive, but when he tried to do too much (read: shoot too much) his team typically loses. The Rockets play better when Harden spreads the wealth and gets everyone involved, and allows Jeremy Lin to direct the offense. His strongpoint is attacking the basket off the dribble and drawing fouls while getting shots off due to his strength. He is second to Durant in free throws made, but is the ONLY player in the league who averages double digit attempts a game at 10.2 while shooting 85%.

Harden's downfall has been his defense, especially in transition. He loses his man often, as does forward Chandler Parsons. Against one the league's best offenses, Houston cannot afford these mistakes as they are prone to, giving up 102.5 ppg on defense- second only to Charlotte at 102.7 ppg. They also lead the league in turnovers at 15.8 per game.

The Thunder have proven they will crush Houston if they can seize control. They won 2 of 3 against them this year, averaging 121 points in the trio of games. Two were blowouts, and the third required a superhuman effort from Harden to come back for the 122-119 win. Durant is arguably the second most complete player in the game to LeBron, and will look to show everyone why. Russell Westbrook plays with such emotion, and that's a good and bad thing for OKC. If he can control his temper, reign in his shot selection, get everyone involved and not forget that Durant is THE man, they will win comfortably.


The Rockets' second year star forward Chandler Parsons has shown games where he is absolutely brilliant. He has an unassuming all-around game. You can find him on the opposing team's best player on defense as well as running the break to perfection and grabbing rebounds all over the place. His three-point shot can be deadly, too. Center Omer Asik has been a lifesaver for the smallball Rockets. His post defense is tremendous, and he can help control the game when teams try and make it a half-court affair. His ability to get rebounds is huge, and I am curious to see how rookie Thomas Robinson factors into the equation.

For OKC, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins will be integral. They'll influence shots of Lin, Harden and Parsons and crash the boards left and right.

Thunder in 6

(7) Los Angeles Lakers (45-37) vs. (2) San Antonio Spurs (58-24)

The Lakers prize for winning seventh: face one of the league's best teams and best coaches. The Lakers are without Kobe Bryant and Nash is iffy, his age making him more prone to injury. Dwight will look to bang inside, but Tim Duncan has had a resurgent season on offense and his defense has been a huge part of the Spurs' success.

The Lakers have had so many injury issues they should change their logo to the Red Cross. Switching from Mike Brown after five games to Bernie Bickerstaff and then Mike D'Antoni only caused a newly-built team to struggle more. It's almost like they won in spite of it all. It was not D'Anonti's system that got them to where they are. It was the effort of one Kobe Bryant, and the fact Howard finally gelled with the team and played to what he was capable of. Now without their leader, they look to Howard to be a rock for them.

The Spurs have ridden Tim Duncan and Tony Parker to great lengths, and like an old day it will be very evident after so many miles. Not yet, though. One of the perennial best teams in the regular season every year has not had a lot of postseason success as of late, and is looking to change it. While Manu Ginobli comes off the bench and his numbers have decreased the last few years, he is still an influential part of the team and can swing games.


The Lakers will need Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace more than ever, and Jodie Meeks will have to show what he can do in the absence of "Vino".

Stephen Jackson will have to be a huge part of the Spurs' offense as he has been very consistent even in tough times for the team. If the team can keep their legs, they will see results against a ravaged Lakers team.

Spurs in 6

(6) Golden State Warriors (47-35)  vs (3) Denver Nuggets (57-25)

My number one vote-getter for Coach of the Year goes to George Karl. He has managed to keep them near the top of the pack all season despite injuries to Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari. The common question for them has been "But can you win a title without a superstar?" The whole team IS the superstar. GM of the year should go to Masai Ujiri. What he did by trading for Iguodala and Javale McGee at the right time was phenomenal. Corey Brewer and Wilson Chandler fit their roles to perfection, while Kenneth Faried has been a beast down low- and he's only 23. The best part about them is how deep they are. Andre Miller is one of the best veteran point guards in the league and Kosta Koufos is a very solid role player.

The Warriors and first year coach Mark Jackson are a tough-minded team, as shown when they were determined not to let the Rockets set a new single game record for three pointers. They are physical and will look to rough up the Nuggets. Stephen Curry has been their ace, while Harrison Barnes has yet to live up to his billing. Klay Thompson needs to be involved as well. Ultimately, the Nuggets are too fast, too potent and too well coached to lose to the upstart Warriors.


Curry's three point shooting will be on full display. If it's on, they might win a game or maybe even two. But the Nuggets will look to outscore (106.1 ppg) outrebound (45.0 rpg) and involve everyone (24.4 apg) on their way to a rout.

Nuggets 4-0

(5) Memphis Grizzlies (56-26) vs. (4) Los Angeles Clippers (56-26)

If I told you the Clippers would be the premiere team in LA four years ago, you'd think I was crazy, right? That's where we are. Chris Paul dazzles on offense, knowing where to pass it and seemingly has eyes in the back of his head. He is the conductor of the offense and the leader of the team. The Clippers can be incredible on the break, or can slow down and go half court thanks to Griffin's improved post game. Butler can be deadly at mid-range jumpers while Barnes is treacherous from the arc.

Expect a lot of physicality in this series. Marc Gasol and Zac Randolph will tag against DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin down low. There will be hard fouls, possibly flagrant ones. There will be unpleastantries shared and technical fouls on both sides.


Players staying in games due to foul trouble and the Grizzlies trying to make it a half court affair while LA wants to run them off the floor. The point guards on Memphis will be by committee (Vasquez and Conley) but if I were Lionel Hollins, I'd put them on the floor at the same time and confuse the Clippers defense.

Clippers in 7

After this article you are looking for your second wind I'm sure. Go sit back, relax and watch the 2013 NBA playoffs unfold- where greatness happens.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact Sean on Twitter @SeanNeutron

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