With one round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs in the books, there are a number of story lines and subplots that were of interest to hoops fans across the globe with questions and uncertainties for both the teams that are moving on as well as those that were sent packing. With the hope of having some semblance of a format to this post as well as subsequent posts after each round, I’ll give my thoughts on each series as well what my original NBA Bracketology predictions were to see how right/wrong I was as we go along.
Miami Heat over Milwaukee Bucks (4-0)
NBA Bracketology picks: Heat 98.7%, Bucks 1.3%
I, along with probably 99% of you, had the Heat over the Bucks in 4 games for this series. There were times during this four game stretch where the Bucks hung with Miami and made things difficult, but in every game Miami would have a 7-10 minute stretch where they cranked the defense up to their true playoff level intensity and a two point game would be a twelve point game in no time. This was a good warm up series for Miami and a likely last look at the current Milwaukee roster as they have several free agents to be. Miami’s task was to avoid complacency as they had to wait eight days until their first game against the Bulls.
Chicago Bulls over Brooklyn Nets (4-3)
NBA Bracketology picks: Bulls 56.9%, Nets 43.1%
I picked the Nets over the Bulls in 6 games because I thought there was no way a squad as banged up as the Bulls would be able to pull off a series on the road against a team with the talent level of Brooklyn. Fast forward to mid-series and half the Bulls team is puking their guts out on the sideline and Chicago’s 2nd/3rd best player (Luol Deng) misses two games because of illness and the Nets really had no business losing this series. But where there is a lack of will, there is a way, and the Nets got bounced in game 7 on their home court. There is really no way you can walk away from this series and take anything positive away from this Nets team. Unless they make some big changes, the Nets are essentially Atlanta north: perennial playoff team that will maybe make it to the second round. Sure, that’s a better future than a lot of NBA teams have, but for what is supposed to be a marquee franchise, it just isn’t enough.
-The Derrick Rose Debate-
I’ve gone back and forth on this topic for a month now and have heard really good arguments on both sides. At the end of the day no one besides Derrick Rose can tell if he’s truly ready for NBA action. There’s no higher degree of risk now to re-injure the knee than there would be a month or five months from now and the only money he is conceivably risking would be long term (next contract, future endorsements, etc) if he comes back and gets hurt again or can’t perform at a high level. I don’t think he’s doing himself any favors by Favre-ing us for months with all the maybes, including another maybe the day of the Bulls first game against Miami. Miami in the playoffs isn’t the team you go out against to shake off the rust, and I think if he was going to come back it would have been in the first round, he was injured and needed clear nails plus reviews to heal his toe. I’ve defended Rose on his decision, but it’s getting harder to do so when he’s probably the healthiest guy on the team and will be wearing a suit and tie.
New York Knicks over Boston Celtics (4-2)
NBA Bracketology picks: Knicks 86.2%, Celtics 13.8%
I picked the Knicks over the Celtics in 6 but at one point was really tempted to go Celtics in 6 or 7 for many of the reasons that ended up playing out: the Knicks rely too much on making low percentage, high difficulty shots, they have two offensive black holes, and they are too arrogant. I didn’t get this article finished before the first two games of the second round and we now know the Knicks are in for a long series against a team that is a lot deeper than the Celtics. I watched countless Knick possessions end with Carmelo or JR Smith taking a well contested shot well away from the basket. It was enough to get by an old Celtics team without its best player, but if that style continues they won’t see the conference finals.
On the other side, it’s clear that Boston needs to bring in some youth. Pierce and KG can still impact a game, just not for 40+ minutes. There are countless teams who would love to add either of those guys to their roster and use them 25-30 minutes a game but both have said that they want to retire as Celtics so Boston will need to figure out a way to bring in some more youth and continue to shift the focus around Rondo.
Indiana Pacers over Atlanta Hawks (4-2)
NBA Bracketology Picks: Pacers 92.6%, Hawks 7.4%
The best part about this series was all the great jokes on Twitter about if this series actually happens if no one watches. Normally I can find something intriguing in any series, but this one really tested my limits. I picked this series correctly knowing that Atlanta is talented enough to steal a few games but they remain Atlanta. It seems as though the Hawks have been stuck “one piece shy” for about ten years now. The Pacers are in a similar position but they have the toughness and team effort that Atlanta consistently does not. I thought that the Pacers did well making up for the loss of Danny Granger but filling that void will get tougher in the next round and certainly the next if they make it. If you’re the Hawks, how many more years of this core group of guys do you need to see to realize the first or second round is their ceiling? They have some quality players and they need to make some moves while guys like Horford and Smith still have value.
Oklahoma City Thunder over Houston Rockets (4-2)
NBA Bracketology Picks: Thunder 97.2%, Rockets 2.8%
I think most people still got this series right (I had OKC in 5), but the loss of Westbrook made anything past the first round highly uncertain for the Thunder. For starters, I don’t think the play by Patrick Beverley was dirty. It was an agressive play that happened during a play that gets faked in about every single NBA game (the fake call timeout by the bench and continue to the hoop) that ended with a very bad outcome.
The silver lining in all of this for Westbrook is that the people who consistently hate him will now get to see how the Thunder handle things without him. Bill Simmons wrote a great piece during last year’s finals about Westbrook and I think that what he brings to the team gets devalued way too much. Many people think that with Westbrook out Durant can simply take those shots and OKC will be fine, if not better off. The shots can be replaced but his speed, explosiveness, defense, and playmaking can’t be 100% accounted for. Durant is great but having to do everything every night is not a sustainable plan and for every poor shot Westbrook took away from Durant, there was another great play Westbrook made that made things easier for Durant. I have said before that there may be players who are a better fit for OKC, but I’m always thinking of other elite players (such as Rondo) so it’s not as if you can replace Westbrook with an average pass first point guard and expect the Thunder to remain the team to beat in the West. Durant hadn’t played a playoff game without Westbrook until this year and he may soon find out that even monster performance after monster performance sometimes just isn’t enough.
The Rockets, on the other hand, were basically what we thought they were: a team that is to be reckoned with when they are hitting the 3 ball. It had to hurt many a Thunder fan to watch James Harden do his thing, especially after the Westbrook injury. If Houston could somehow land one more big piece (such as a motivated Dwight Howard), this team goes from threat to legit contender instantly. They will be one of the main teams to watch this offseason.
Memphis Grizzlies over Los Angeles Clippers (4-2)
NBA Bracketology Picks: Clippers 74%, Grizzlies 26%
I was off on this one, I had the Clippers winning in 7. LA got the best of Memphis last year and I felt that they were even better this year and I thought that Memphis would struggle to keep up offensively, especially after the Rudy Gay departure. It’s too bad these teams had to match up in the first round as this would have made for a fantastic late round series as well. A hobbled Blake Griffin against the Memphis bigs was really too much to overcome and the Grizzlies had multiple guys step up throughout (4 different players led the team in scoring over the 6 games). Memphis proved on Sunday that OKC will have to fight hard to make it to the conference finals and the Clippers now have another off season of what ifs to look forward to.
San Antonio Spurs over Los Angeles Lakers (4-0)
NBA Bracketology Picks: Spurs 77.9%, Lakers 22.1%
I gave the Lakers the benefit of the doubt and thought they’d at least take one game at home as Gasol and Howard asserted their size advantage. Instead, Dwight was lackluster and got ejected from the final game. I believe that we have seen the end of Dwight in a Lakers uniform. This year Dwight was his typical complaining, egocentric self who didn’t put forth a high level of effort and still has yet to develop a solid post game that doesn’t include dunks. On the other hand, he started the year well less than 100% coming off of back surgery and was instantly expected to go from a glorified role player on offense to the focal point of the offense overnight once Kobe went down. He also had to anchor a defense that was filled with other guys who couldn’t keep their man away from the rim yet received a lot of the blame on defense as well. So maybe Dwight was justly unjustly treated this season? I’m not sure, but I think at the end of the day the only upside to staying in LA is the money the Lakers could offer him.
The Spurs did what the Spurs do by playing consistent, team oriented basketball and managed the minutes of their players as well as possible. Not allowing the Laker series to drag out to 5 or 6 games could wind up being the difference in the second round as they face a team that likes to get up and down the court in the Warriors.
Golden State Warriors over Denver Nuggets (4-2)
NBA Bracketology Picks: Nuggets 77.6%, Warriors 23.4%
Another series I had wrong as I had Denver winning in 6. I keep thinking that the Nuggets, one of these years, are going to make a deep run, but they always seem to fall short of whatever round I predict them to get to. I thought that Mark Jackson’s complaining about the supposed cheap shots was pretty ironic considering his team was dishing them out and would have been doing even more of it had David Lee (cheap shot king) not been injured. Denver will come back next year with a lot of young talent once again and this matchup would definitely be a good one to watch in the future.
One of the biggest concerns moving forward for the Warriors has to be Steph Curry’s paper mache ankles. There is already talk of him becoming the best shooter of all time, but bad ankles and a small frame may derail that talk in a hurry. I see the Warriors as a very similar team to the Rockets; above average big man anchoring the paint and really hard to beat when the 3 is falling. And, like the Rockets, I just can’t see them pushing a series past 6 games against a true championship contending team.