Monday, May 6, 2013

As The Basketball Turns: 2013 NBA Playoffs Second Round Preview, Part 2

Welcome back to your source for everything basketball here on BSN, "As the Basketball Turns". On Sunday, the Thunder eeked out an unconvincing win over the Grizzlies, and the Knicks played just as I expected: poorly. Today I will preview the matchups between the Bulls/Heat and Warriors/Spurs.

If you missed Part 1, click here.

(5) Chicago Bulls vs. (1) Miami Heat


In news no one considered shocking, LeBron James won the 2013 NBA MVP. It was his fourth MVP in five years. He joined Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabar and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to win four MVPs. He and Russell are the only two to win it four times, and he and Chamberlain are the only ones to win it consecutive times on separate occasions.

The scary part? James doesn't know his own ceiling. He's only 28. Jordan won his first MVP at 25, and didn't get his second until 28. Jordan's last MVP came at 35 in 1998. A fully healthy James would likely shatter MJ's 5 and breaking Jabar's 6 would be a very realistic goal. James, along with Shaquille O'Neal, missed being unanimously voted MVP by one vote.

The best players shrug off a loss and learn from it, like LeBron did after their 27 game win streak was snapped versus the Bulls back on March 27th. It was the first time during the streak that a team had gotten in his grill and roughed him up a little. It was hard foul after hard foul. Kirk Heinrich tackled him. Taj Gibson near decapitated him. This Bulls team against LeBron played very similar to the "Bad Boy" Pistons with Isaiah Thomas and Bill Lambeer of the late 80's/early 90's.

While James and his crew got even on April 14th in a 105-93 win over the Bulls, that game didn't have the hype their previous match-up had or the level of anticipation now that the stage is the NBA playoffs. A 4-4-4-4 run for this Heat team is not out of the question, either.

Coach Erik Spoelstra has geared an offense around the abilities of all of his players, and the traditional line-up with a defined position for each player is thrown out the window.They rank 5th in the league in scoring and 7th in assists. They are 2nd in the league in offensive rating at 112.5 points per 100 possessions. This is due to their incredibly dangerous fast break, tough defense and accurate shooting.   James and Wade are the maestros, orchestrating fast breaks, alley-oops and keeping the team in complete harmony. They make passes others can't and stretch the court.

Another reason why the Heat have the advantage over teams? It has nothing to do with the game of basketball. It has to do with one word: maturity.

This team is fully aware that this game is not just a game, but also a business. On the court they blend together the perfect mix of a high octane offense and an efficient one. Everyone knows where they have to be and holds each other accountable. There are no dramatic personalities or bad apples. One-time "bad boy" Chris Andersen has had a resurgence of sorts with the Heat and James' lobs for alley-oops as well as inspired defensive play on the other end. The Heat only allow 95 points per game, good for 5th in the league.

The Heat play the best small-ball in the league when James and Wade direct the offense and look for their shooters on the outside. Why is it they can score so much and have so many assists? Because for all the glory James, Wade and Bosh get, they really don't care who scores- and it shows.They have no qualms when there are precious seconds left and have to kick the ball to a shooter. Here's why:

Three-point shooting
Shane Battier: 43%
Mike Miller: 42%
Ray Allen: 42%
Mario Chalmers: 41%
Norris Cole: 36%
Rashard Lewis: 38%

James himself is 40%, a massive improvement from years ago when he'd crank up three's and barely crack 30%. Just don't expect Wade to be consistent. He's only shooting 26% on the year, which is about par for WOW's career three-point course.

When they aren't busy kicking it out, James and Wade enjoy attacking the lane with dunks, layups or getting to the line. The team shoots around 75% at the line, which makes fouling them at all, especially in late game situations almost impossible. Who do you foul?

The one weak spot for the Heat is their rebounding. At 38.6, it's 30th in the league. A small quip, but a minor window for the Bulls to take advantage of.

This team would be a lot to handle for the most efficient and healthy NBA squad. The fact that the Bulls aren't healthy only makes it a matter of time before the Heat are through to the Eastern Conference Finals.


Derek Rose news these days either flips between "will he or won't he?" I advise the young Bull to just stay on the sidelines. Learn from Gilbert Arenas and RG3- rushing yourself back only does harm to your career. Even if his Bulls had the talent of the Pacers, Spurs or Thunder- I'd still tell him to save his knee.

The Bulls are also going to miss Luol Deng and Kirk Heinrich in Game 1. While they are expected to be ready for Game 2, the Heat would have to either A, all get food poisoning  or B, get locked in their locker room to lose this opening game.

The Bulls are the opposite of the Heat in terms of scoring. They only averaged 93.2 points per game (29th) during the regular season. Their 142 points in a triple overtime win versus the Nets in round 1 was a definite exception. Nate Robinson like Carmelo and JR Smith is very streaky. You cannot depend on him game in and game out to score 30 or more points.

The saving grace for them is they have an advantage on the boards at 43 a game (8th) and defensively they are ranked 3rd at 92.9 points allowed per game. Their home crowd can be absolutely raucous, and if somehow (against my wishes) Rose returned with the rest of his gang, the Bulls would have a chance to steal one at home. Yes, I realize I just said steal one at home. That's how good the Heat are.

Their defense might keep them in games, but at the pace the Heat play at, Miami won't get bogged down in a half-court style game for long. Expect them to wear the Bulls down on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Final Verdict: Miami wins, 4-1.

(6) Golden State Warriors vs. (2) San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio

The biggest question facing this Spurs team in 2013 is a lot like someone asking why your grandfather is out at 1 a.m. on a Friday night at the club:  Aren't you too old to be here this late?

Every season NBA fans and pundits such as myself wonder how Greg Popovich and his team do it. They play stellar regular seasons and have deep runs into the playoffs, when logic tells us they have no reason to be this good. The only way they could be so dominant in the first round is if they played a team whose star player was out and whose second best player lacked any and all motivation- right?

Wrong. The Spurs are this good. This is no fluke. They, like the Heat, know their roles. The Spurs are like the Steelers of the NBA: no frills. Even in off years (which are very rare), they are not rebuilding, just reloading. They beat the Lakers by an average of 18.4 points per game. Yes, LA was missing pieces- but something tells me the way their season was going, they'd have a hard time winning even at full health with Kobe.

Duncan was a sleeping monster. Last year I thought he was on the fringe of retirement, but this season he was incredible: 17.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg and 2.7 bpg. He is a gamechanger on both sides of the ball as long as he's not in foul trouble. In Parker's absence due to an ankle injury Duncan carried the team when many thought they would struggle. Before he got hurt, Tony Parker was playing like one of the best point guards in the league. He ended the season averaging 20.3 points and 7.6 assists and continues to be one of the craftiest and hardest of guards to defend in the league.

They finished the year 54-28, 35-6 at home. Good luck, Stephen Curry and company at trying to steal one in San Antonio.

I'd like to say they were perfect and don't turn over the ball- but they do. The Spurs turn it over 14 times a game, and logic tells me they cannot do that against a young Warriors team bent on scoring as many points as possible.

Golden State

On the other side, we have a very young Warriors team. Richard Jefferson is their oldest player at 31. Their average age is 25. As young and fast-paced as they are, the Spurs still beat them in scoring per game, 103-101.2.

This season and these playoffs have been a coming out party for one Stephen Curry. It started in MSG against the Knicks when he dropped 52, and only continued against Denver. He put up 25.2 points a game against the Nuggest in six games while shooting a ridiculous 45% from the three-point line. Don't bother fouling him either- he's perfect this post season at 20-20.In Game 4, he scored 22 points alone in the third quarter on a bum ankle and propelled them to victory.

This underdog Warriors team beat a Nuggets team favored to reach the Western Conference Finals. The Nuggets made too many mistakes and while I give credit to Golden State, the blame lies solely on how badly the Nuggets gave games away- even when the Warriors were trying just as hard to give them back.

I view Golden State as Knicks West. They both rely on hot shooting to keep themselves in games, and when their shots aren't hitting, they become a shell of their former selves. They lose inspiration on defense as well. The difference? The Warriors are deeper.

Harrison Barnes struggled at times in the regular season, but against Denver he was nothing short of sensational, avergaing 16 points and 6 rebounds a game while shooting 85% from the line and 37% from deep. Klay Thompson in his second year has been great statistically, but has yet to take over any games for them when Curry is off. If they want a chance to win this series, Thompson will need to play a bigger role for them. Jarret Jack also is a very capable scorer. Rookie Draymond Green and veteran forward Carl Landry don't get as much love, but play vital roles off the bench and can anchor the team with their hustle and size.

While the Spurs boast a solid overall team, they still lack rebounding and are 21st in the league. The Warriors led by Andrew Bogut are 3rd in the league at 45 a game. Bogut's most recent 14 point, 21 rebound effort was huge in their win as the team had ten 4th quarter turnovers, almost giving the game away at home. Bogut has struggled with a myriad of injuries in his time in the NBA, but so far from what I have seen this season, he is chomping at the bit for postseason success.

A sidenote: Oracle Arena is a devastating home crowd. This year's playoff atmosphere is almost identical to the frenzy of fans back in 2007 when the Warriors handled the heavily favored Dallas Mavericks. There's just something about Oakland.

Based on previous seasons, the Spurs are a smart team that break down against younger, talented teams (see: 2012 Spurs vs. Thunder) and this Golden State team plays above their 6th seed ranking. I'm going out on a limb  here.

Final Verdict: Golden State wins, 4-3.

The games begin at 7 pm tonight with Miami hosting Chicago. The Warriors visit San Antonio at 9:30 pm. Enjoy the rest of the second round and keep  coming back to BSN for your NBA fix.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment