Sixteen teams, 8 series, round one of the NBA Playoffs is upon us, finally.
It’s time to settle in, buckle up and enjoy the best players on the planet duke it out for a shot at making history. Will the Miami Heat make it to a fourth straight NBA Finals? Will they complete the rare three-peat?
Or will the San Antonio Spurs atone for their near-win last season? Perhaps Kevin Durant is finally ready to take his throne on top of the basketball world?
Is Doc Rivers the missing piece for the Los Angeles Clippers? Will the Indiana Pacers rebound from an atrocious regular season stretch run?
We’re about to answer all of those questions, and more, starting tomorrow. Until then, peep our Sir Charles in Charge roundtable with Editor Michael Saenz (me), and a number of our staff writers Jalen Bishop, Dante Nelson, David Ramil, Bryce Olin and our regular contributor Justin Becker.
WHO LOSES A PLAYOFF GAME FIRST – MIAMI, SAN ANTONIO, INDIANA OR OKC?
Michael Saenz - Oklahoma City, by default. The Memphis Grizzlies are the best No. 7 seed in quite some time, and have historically given the Thunder problems in the past. I could see Zach Randolph and company stealing game two in OKC. I’d be very surprised if the other three top seeds lose before game three in their respective series’.
Dante Nelson - I have to go with Indiana. Boy, their late season slump has made me question a trip to the East finals. OKC and the Spurs are in the tough West, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Pacers drop one at home in one of the first two games. I think, out of all of the teams in this question, Pacers will miss out on home court advantage.
David Ramil - I think it’s Miami. They’ve been susceptible in the past, giving up losses to an inferior opponent before closing out the series. The Bobcats and the City of Charlotte are energized by the playoffs; the Heat will lose Game 3 of that first-round series. Remember – lost in the shadows of LeBron James 61-point explosion is the fact Al Jefferson killed Miami’s undersized frontcourt with his endless array of low-post moves.
Bryce Olin - OKC. Realistically, Memphis is probably the fifth best team in the West playing as the 7-seed, and they’re the best team any of the top four seeds (Indiana, San Antonio, Miami, and OKC) play in the first round. On top of that, I don’t like the inconsistent play of OKC’s role players. They have a strong core in Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Jackson, but Memphis will make it hard on those guys to score. Someone else will need to step up and hit some big shots. I don’t know who that player is yet for the Thunder. Caron Butler? Jeremy Lamb? Derek Fisher? Of the top four seeds, OKC is the only team I could see losing at home in the first two games.
Jalen Bishop - OKC. I think the Pacers as bad as they’ve been struggling will sweep their home stand. The Heat aren’t losing a game to Charlotte. San Antonio isn’t either. OKC will split early with Memphis.
Justin Becker - Indiana Pacers.
WHICH UNDERDOG IS MOST LIKELY TO PULL A FIRST ROUND UPSET?
MS – If the Golden State Warriors had a healthy Andrew Bogut, this answer would be them. However, it doesn’t appear that he will be. So, I’ll throw out the Brooklyn Nets. I think. They’re playing extremely well in 2014 calendar year and have all the ingredients for a deep playoff run. They’re definitely a dangerous team, if nothing else.
DN - If we go by seeding, technically, the Nets would be pulling the upset, even though I’m pretty sure the Nets are better than the Raptors anyway. Sure, the Raps dominated the division, going 11-5. But, it’s the playoffs and the Nets are hungry to prove themselves. Only thing stopping them is health.
DR - Um…is it unfair to say ‘none?’ Yeah, that’s the easy way out. I’d have to say an upset seems more likely in the East, where the 3-through-6 seeds are pretty evenly matched. It might sound blasphemous at this point, but I’m still not drinking the Toronto Kool-Aid. And Brooklyn’s post-season experience can’t be taken for granted. Nets over Raptors.
BO - Brooklyn. Is Brooklyn an underdog? They’re the lower seed, so I’ll just go with it. I’m glad they dropped back to the 6-seed in the East to avoid playing the Bulls. Well done, Jason Kidd. Toronto is good, but they aren’t THAT good. It should be a tough series, but I expect Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams, and Joe Johnson to use their playoff experience and play like everyone expected them to play when this team was assembled.
Jalen - Are the Warriors underdogs now without Andrew Bogut. Golden State is going to miss Bogut’s defense at the rim, rebounding and tricky tactics. They still have Steph Curry’s three point shot, which could propel them to 6-7 games. Don’t forget perimeter defense stouts Andre Iguodola and Draymond Green.
JB – Washington Wizards (vs the Toronto Raptors).
TRUE OR FALSE: DWYANE WADE WILL PLAY IN EVERY PLAYOFF GAME FOR THE MIAMI HEAT.
MS – True. The NBA Playoffs sets up perfectly for Dwyane Wade and his rehab process. There are no back-to-backs and Wade basically sat the entire final quarter of the season (not really), or at least it just seemed that way. Wade should be ready to go. No excuses.
DN – Oh…oh geez. I’ll say yes. He’s definitely needed, although the Heat may decide to rest him during the first round. But, I would imagine he plays if he can walk. I’m not going to go all Willis Reed, but Wade will play.
DR - False. He’s told reporters that he feels better heading into this year’s postseason than last but there are simply too many variables that could result in a tweaked knee or sore hamstring. It’s likely in the first round against Charlotte that he’ll sit a game as part of the year-long “maintenance program.”
BO - False for two reasons: One, Miami plays Charlotte in the first round, and possibly Toronto in the next round. They could win each of those series in 4 or 5 games, so it’s definitely possible Wade could sit one or two for rest. And two, Wade has been out with a hamstring injury. Hamstring pulls and strains are serious because players can’t really play through them. Wade is getting top-notch treatment, but it’s basically a waiting game for the muscle to heal, and the muscle needs to heal or else he will risk injuring it again, possibly more severely. Hamstring injuries can haunt players for years. Keep in mind, Wade has had issues with his hamstring before. If Wade’s hamstring injury flares up, he could easily miss time in the playoffs.
Jalen – False. Game 4 against the Bobcats, he won’t play.
JB - False.
OVER/UNDER: ANDREW BYNUM WILL PLAY IN 50 PERCENT OF INDIANA’S PLAYOFF GAMES.
MS – Under. I’d be surprised if he played before the Eastern Conference Finals, assuming the Pacers make it that far. This signing was more the Pacers keeping Bynum away from the Heat. Indiana never really expected any substantial contribution from Bynum, nor do they necessarily need him anyways.
DN - As a hopeful Sixers fan, just thinking about the promise of Bynum playing makes me laugh. I have no idea of his status, and I’ll bet a lot of people don’t know. This is tough but gotta go under. He ain’t playing a lot unless they were serious about getting him and not just “get him before the Heat”. Not to mention knees. Way under.
DR - Under. The Pacers don’t blowout opponents; that’s simply not their style. If games stay as close as expected, I can’t imagine Bynum cracking the rotation, even with his postseason experience. I’ll say this, though – if he plays that much, it’ll be because Roy Hibbert has continued regressing and is hurting Indiana’s chances of advancing to the next round.
BO - Without a doubt, I’m taking the under. I’ll believe it when I see it, but I doubt Bynum plays in a quarter of the Pacers games. The Playoffs are not the time to work out the kinks and debut a new player in the rotation. From the outside, it feels like Indiana’s locker room is on the brink of collapse. Trying to throw a chemistry cancer like Bynum into the mix could have disastrous results for the Pacers.
Jalen - He’s already ruled out for the Hawks series. Don’t count on him to play any games this postseason. Bynum is done.
JB - Under.
OVER/UNDER: THE SAN ANTONIO SPURS WILL LOSE TWO GAMES AFTER THE FIRST TWO ROUNDS OF THE PLAYOFFS.
MS - Over. I think the Spurs will lose one to the Mavs and potentially a couple to the Houston Rockets. If you buy that whole “regular season success”, then that Rockets/Spurs potential second round matchup is going to be very intriguing. A potential upset?
DN – That winning streak was impressive. For a WCF vs the likely Thunder, they may drop a game there. The finals? Even though I see them winning, I think it’s in six games. That’s three games right there but you never know with these Spurs, man. They can kill. But yeah all over that. Over.
DR - Even. I can see San Antonio going 4-1 in both series before facing the Thunder the WCF. I’m through underestimating what the Spurs are capable of. Then again, if my streak of way-off-base predictions stay true to form, this just means they’ll get knocked out by Dallas in the first round.
BO - Over. After the first two rounds, if they make it, San Antonio will likely face the Thunder, Clippers, or Heat. Each of those series will go either six or seven games. The Spurs are the best team overall, but it’s so close.
Jalen – Depends on who they matchup in the second round. I think they’ll either sweep the Mavs or lose one, but if they matchup with the Houston Rockets that series is going seven. Houston can take away San Antonio’s size with Jones at the power forward.
JB – Over.
OVER/UNDER: ROY HIBBERT WILL AVERAGE FIVE REBOUNDS PER GAME AGAINST THE ATLANTA HAWKS.
MS – Under. Hibbert only averaged 3.8 rebounds per game in four contests agains the Hawks in the regular season. I don’t see how that will change much in the postseason. With that said, I don’t think that Hibbert’s lack of rebounds really hurts the Pacers. They’ll still roll.
DN – I almost laughed when I read this question. I was about to say “will he even get five rebounds in a game?” But, yeah, he will average at least five rebounds. The real question is can he do that vs a possible matchup against the Bulls. But, let’s not jump ahead. Over.
DR - Over. Can the platoon of Pero Antic and Elton Brand keep Hibbert off the boards? Probably not, with Brand permanently rooted to the ground at this point in his career and Antic regularly camping out beyond the 3-point line. It’s incredible to think that someone of Hibbert’s size and ability can’t pull down 5 boards a game, especially considering that teammates Evan Turner (5 RPG) and Luis Scola (4.7 RPG) hover around that same mark.
BO - How do I not take the over? With his arms outstretched above his head, Hibbert can basically touch the rim. He should be collecting ALL the rebounds. Often, though, Hibbert is not in any position to rebound because he’s contesting shots, which usually means his back is to the basket. This allows his teammates to establish better rebounding position and collect the miss. I’ll take the UNDER on Hibbert averaging more than five rebounds per game.
Jalen - Roy Hibbert will average at least five rebounds. I just can’t see him having lower than five. One game with 12 rebounds could hold over and keep him above five. The Hawks don’t have any big men who can challenge him on the glass. Pero Antic takes him away from the basket though. I’ll say 6.3 per game
JB - Over.
THE INDIANA PACERS ARE MOST LIKELY TO SWEEP OR GET SWEPT AT SOME POINT IN THE PLAYOFFS?
MS - Sweep. Despite their terrible end to the regular season, I still think (maybe foolishly) that the Pacers will be fine and will reach the ECF, at the very least. I think they’ll sweep the Atlanta Hawks, and I just can’t come to the realization that the Hawks, Bulls (potentially) or the Heat will be able to sweep the Pacers. Not happening.
DN – Not sure where Mike is getting these questions from, but they’ve been great. This question is a tough one. It’s more likely they will get swept, in my opinion. Pretty sure neither will happen, but it’s definitely something to think about.
DR – Sweep. If the Pacers get swept, it would mean that their locker room has deteriorated completely, that Coach Frank Vogel has lost the team and that the rumblings that were made public over the last month or so have erupted into a full seismic rift. They’ve had their problems to be sure but I don’t see a total collapse happening. They’ll drop a game here and there, possibly lose a series…but swept? Not even Bynum is that much of a locker room cancer.
BO - I don’t see Indiana sweeping anybody, not even Atlanta, and that’s crazy to say about the top-seed. But, Indiana has looked like a below average team these last two months. In a seven-game series, you know the Pacers offensive won’t show up for at least two games. In 17 games this season, Indiana failed to score 90 points. Imagine if Indiana meets Chicago in the second round or Miami in the finals, and the Pacers lose the first two games at home. With all the media attention and adversity that would come from that, I could see the Pacers pressing the “Panic Button” and shutting down completely.
Jalen - Neither. As bad as they have been, they still have the number one defense in the world. The Bulls/Wizards won’t do it. Neither will the Heat. Unless there is an injury, I expect the Pacers to avoid sweeps.
JB - Neither.
TRUE OR FALSE: DOC RIVERS WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR THE LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS IN THE PLAYOFFS THIS SEASON.
MS – False. Doc Rivers is a great coach and the Clippers have quietly had one of the best seasons, if not the best, in team history. However, the fact that they have to beat the Thunder and the Spurs to reach the NBA Finals will, literally, be the death of them. There’s only so much a coach can do and, unfortunately, it will not be enough to derail a motivated Kevin Durant or the San Antonio Spurs.
DN – Doc is key for the Clippers to get to contender status. I don’t think they’ve gotten there quite yet. However, Doc will be a big factor in the playoffs. He’s so big that you can’t sleep on the Clippers. In fact, the Clippers could take the next step right in the playoffs. True.
DR - False. I don’t see the Clippers winning it all this year but even if L.A. advances to the Finals, I see that more a result of an improved lineup and more experience between the dangerous combo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. I see coaching, by and large, as being overrated at the NBA-level. But I think it’s a chicken-and-the-egg scenario. An improved roster – the Clips’ best-ever – just happens to coincide with Rivers joining the team. Is he the difference maker? Probably not. He’s still an improvement over the ousted Vinny Del Negro and I love the changes he’s made in redefining what has been, historically, a losing culture.
BO - TRUE! Assuming the Clippers take care of the short-handed Warriors in the first round and meet the Thunder in the second round, the Clippers should have a decent shot at making the Conference Finals. With the bevvy of wing players at his disposal, I think Doc can at least figure out a good enough game plan to slow down Durant, like he did with Kobe in Game 7 of the 2009-10 Finals. Whether or not that means the Clippers win, I don’t know, but I think Doc could definitely make a difference, especially if it becomes a chess match with Scottie Brooks in the second round. The Clips definitely have the advantage there.
Jalen - True. Doc Rivers isn’t going to stink it up like Vinny Del Negro. Cliche, but Rivers knows how to motivate players, draws up tricky plays and has been there before.
JB - True.
TRUE OR FALSE: KEVIN DURANT WILL AVERAGE MORE THAN 30 POINTS PER GAME THROUGHOUT THE PLAYOFFS.
MS – True. Kevin Durant has been on a tear this season — and this is finally his MVP year. There’s no way that Durant is going to go down without a fight in these playoffs. And if that means averaging 35 points per game, to get the job done, he’ll do it. I have a hard time coming up with a team, or player, that will be able to stop Durant’s momentum right now. It just feels like this is his year.
DN - Durant’s been on fire doing all he can to keep this team alive. That’s the definition of how the “MVP” award should work, in my opinion. Does that last in the playoffs? Tough to say, but I will go with false. Unless he feels like he has to, Durant loves getting his team involved and so he’s going to pass up some stuff. Plus, Westbrook. Durant is capable, but probably won’t be gunning for it every time.
DR - True. His scoring is unstoppable at this point in the season and the Thunder are too dangerous across the board to simply focus on him. He frequents the foul-line, good for an extra 10-12 points per game. I see teams letting Durant get his points and forcing the supporting cast to win the game.
BO - False. I would love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love Durant to average 30 points per game in the playoffs. It would be incredible to watch. I have to believe the NBA and its coaches aren’t that stupid, though, at least I hope they’re not. Teams will throw double- and triple-teams at Durant to force him to give up the ball. Teams will give up 30 per game to Westbrook, Fisher, and Jackson before Durant averages 30 for the playoffs.
Jalen - True. Kevin Durant will average 32 points per game during the playoffs. He averaged 44 minutes per game last postseason, and I’ll assume he’ll average that many minutes again. Each time Tayshaun Prince matches up with Kevin Durant the likelihood of Durant scoring raises. It’s going to be easy.
JB - True.
TRUE OR FALSE: THE NBA FINALS WILL FEATURE A REMATCH FROM LAST YEAR’S FINALS (SA VS MIAMI).
MS – False. As great as the San Antonio Spurs look right now, I just don’t think they’ll be able to get past the Thunder, if they both get to the Western Conference Finals. The NBA Playoffs is all about matchups, and I love how the Thunder matchup with the Spurs. I think we’re going to have a 2012 NBA Finals rematch, not a 2013 rematch.
DN – True.
DR – True. And doesn’t that seem impossible from how last season ended? Miami’s path seemed pre-destined but watching a broken Spurs team amble off the American Airlines Arena hardwood, that looked like the end for Coach Pop and San Antonio’s “Big 3.” Somehow, they’ve adapted, improved and are clearly the best team in the league. This year it ends differently, however – with Duncan hoisting the Larry O’Brien championship trophy before ending a Hall-of-Fame career.
BO – False. I really think it’s going to be Clippers-Heat in the Finals. The Clippers have big wing defenders that can bother and cause a lot of problems for the top teams in the West. That will be the difference between them and the rest of the West, along with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. The Clippers are peaking at the right time of the season, and it just feels like they are ready to break through. In the East, it’s Miami’s to lose, and I don’t see the Heat losing unless Wade lays an egg.
Jalen - False. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if these rematched but I’ll go with field. The Spurs’ road is tough with the Mavericks, Rockets/Blazers and Clippers/Thunder looming in the way. The Nets have shown they can compete and stifle Miami’s small lineups. The Pacers are always tough, too.
JB – True.