Two games into the Conference semi-finals and every series is tied at two-games a piece, setting up all parties for a season-defining five game series.
Some quick highlights to catch you up:
Mike Conley returned sooner than expected, masked and all, to lead his team to a game two victory at Golden State.
Blake Griffin put up his third triple double of the playoffs to “steal” game one from Houston without Chris Paul.
John Wall has five non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and could be done after leading his team to another game one victory on the road.
LeBron lost another game one to Chicago, only to come back and take over game two.
With the exception of that amazing Clipper-Spurs series, round two is generally when the real playoffs start. When half the league makes the playoffs, you are going to get a few teams that don’t necessarily deserve to be there, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. When New Orleans has to make Golden State work, or when Brooklyn can take two away from Atlanta, it makes the first round worth it.
Now that we have a five game series on our hands, one in which some teams have stolen home court, the picture has changed a little. I’m going to go series by series, make a few comments, and give you my prediction in a five game format.
Atlanta vs. Washington
Ugh. This hurts. Not just as a Wizards fan, but as a basketball fan in general. John Wall is FUN. Though he hasn’t been completely ruled out, his return is very unlikely and if it weren’t, his play will not be anywhere near as effective if he can’t dribble with both hands.
Ramon Sessions proved to be a quality back up in game 2 and did his part in giving Washington a chance to go up 2-0, but his back-up, Garrett Temple, just isn’t quite enough to deal with the likes of Atlanta and their wonderful ball movement.
Millsap and Horford are killing the Gortat – Nene combination, and if Randy Wittman is paying attention, maybe he’ll start Otto Porter, or give Kris Humphries / Rasual Butler the minutes over Nene. He’s not a bad player, this just isn’t the series for him. There’s hope, and I believe… just not enough. Hawks in 4.
Cleveland vs. Chicago
The Bulls did what they were supposed to do in game one: punch the Cavaliers in the teeth and keep going. I’m not the most superstitious person, but the law of averages lends to the theory that a player has only so many shots they can make in a series. I think Derrick Rose hit the majority of his outside shots in game one and the Bulls should not plan on that success to continue into future games.
LeBron and company are the most iso-heavy offense in the league, which is okay if you have toe of the top 10 offensive players in the game; but I LeBron taking 29 shots is not the proper way to utilize LeBron. Moving Tristan Thompson in the starting lineup was a good move, but Kyrie and other perimeter players are going to have to continue to create space on the outside.
The Bulls are a prideful team, and they will probably take one more game, but when the East is as open as it is, you should always default to the best player in the game. Cavs in 4.
Houston vs. Los Angeles
Another ugh. Fortunately for the Clippers, Blake Griffin is one hell of a player. Three triples doubles in nine games. He put the team on his back in game one and stole home court advantage. He’s hitting fifteen-foot jumpers more often than he is dunking. The Clippers should feel good… as long Chris Paul comes back at some point.
For Houston fans, you’ve got to be delighted with what you’ve seen from Dwight Howard. No, it’s not quite 2009, but the guy looks fresh and willing to play. If Chris Paul misses game three, you might be able to ride those James Harden drive-and-oops to a victory and reclaim home court.
As an objective fan, I wouldn’t buy what I’m selling. The Clippers will gladly take a Dwight bucket over a Trevor Ariza or Jason Terry three. I don’t think CP3 is going to sit out much longer, and Houston’s offense is no where near as dynamic as San Antonio’s. Clippers in 5.
Golden State vs. Memphis
Previously, I was leaning towards a weep for Golden State. Not only are they an offensive juggernaut, but they atually have the league’s best defense as well. They are still my pick to win it all, but this matchup proved a lot more intriguing Tony Allen decided to remind me that he existed. I’m sorry, Tony. I don’t understand how I could have ever forgotten, but I hope you’ll forgive me.
Steph is the best player on that team. Draymond Green is arguably the second best. But Klay Thompson is pretty damn important to what they do. If you can eliminate his production, or at least minimize it the way Tony Allen has, then you have a fighting chance.
If Mike Conley can minimize Steph and continue his offensive production, then the Grizzlies could protect home court and go back to Golden State up 3-1. In the next five games, though, I’m picking greatness, the MVP, and 67 wins. Golden State in 5.
Game 3’s start tonight. Wizards play tomorrow. I can’t wait.