NBA Playoff Scouting Report

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So it’s not exactly that time of the year yet, but we’re more than half way through the season, headed into the all-star break and approaching the trade deadline, so it’s not unreasonable to take a gander at what the playoffs might bring. Since major upsets are rare and I don’t anticipate any huge changes at the top (barring injuries), let’s take a look at how the playoffs would shake out, and who might take home the crown if the tournament began tomorrow.

We’ll start with the East, since they play host to the reigning NBA Champions, the Miami Heat. Miami would play Milwaukee in the first round. Now I don’t know if you’ve seen Monte Ellis and Brandon Jennings ply, but they can put on quite a show. Unfortunately, two gentleman named LeBron James and Dwyane Wade put on a better show, especially when they have help from Bosh, Allen, Battier, Haslem, and a slew of others. Miami wins easily here. New York would look to exorcize some past demons in its first-round match-up against Boston, who are without Rajon Rondo’s services due to a torn ACL. Boston is able to rally against some tough teams, but considering how deep the Knicks, led by Carmelo Anthony, I don’t see anybody sending them golfing that early. Indiana would play Atlanta. I admittedly don’t profess to know much about either team, other than that Indiana has some star power in Paul George and Roy Hibbert, so I’ll take them. Chicago would square off against the newly Brooklyn-ized Nets. This one’s tough to call, essentially because Derek Rose will return for the Bulls shortly after the all-star break, changing the makeup and balance of the roster. I think the Bulls are the better team right now, but I like the energy in the Barclay Center and the life the franchise has after its best start in years, so I’ll take the Nets.

Round two. Miami would play the Nets. I went to a Nets game against Miami recently. Miami wins the series, plain and simple. They just can’t contain LeBron and keep enough pressure on Wade. New York would play Indiana, which, for the same reasons listed against Bosrton, would result in the Knicks moving on to the East Finals.

Eastern Conference Finals, Miami vs Knicks, in a rematch of last year. Last year, the Heat sent the Knicks packing, winning the series 4-1 as Melo struggled to play consistently. The Knicks have beaten the Heat twice this year in strong victories, one of which came without Anthony, who was healing a large cut on his hand that required stitches. Despite having a disadvantage in the season series, I’d pick the Heat. The regular season and playoffs are two very different things, and I doubt that the Heat were playing all that seriously in their two losses to the Knicks, both of which came at the beginning of the season. I’d like to see a long series though. I’d say Miami in six, but I would love to see a seven game war for a ticket to the big dance.

We now turn to the West! Round One would see the top Spurs face off against the Houston Rockets (note that the Spurs have played two more games than OKC at the moment — by the playoffs I anticipate the Thunder to be seeded first). Houston is an energetic team, led by James Harden and former Knick guard Jeremy Lin. As much as I hate the Spurs I’d have to side with veteran experience and the cool hand of Tony Parker over youthful vigor and Harden’s facial hair. OKC would square off against Houston, a team which has no chance of making it out of the first round in this situation. The Clippers would square off against a much-improved Golden State Warriors squad, but the Clippers are simply too deep to beat with Jarrett Jack and Steph Curry: when Jamal Crawford scores 27 off the bench vs. the Knicks, you know you’re out of your depth. Memphis would have a tough series against a youthful, deep Denver Nuggets team. I still have PTSD flashbacks to the seven game saga my Lakers endured vs. the Nuggets…I don’t care how much lower they are than the Grizzlies, I just don’t see the team that gave away Rudy Gay beating a team that’s 12 men deep with the athleticism of the entire Eastern All-Star team.

Round two. Spurs vs. Nuggets. Denver may be athletic, but I don’t see them having the experience or consistency to out-fox the Spurs, especially since Tim Duncan can really hammer them inside. He’s intelligent, too. In perhaps the most interesting series of the playoffs, the Clippers would battle OKC. This one’s extremely tough to call. Extremely tough. I feel like I should just flip a coin. The Clippers are the deepest team in the league in terms of skill (Denver may be numerically deeper, but the Clippers have All-Star power). The Clippers also have size in Blake Griffin, Deandre Jordan and Lamar Odom. On the other hand, OKC controls Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and “Air Congo,” Serge Ibaka. Conventional wisdom tells me to trust in Durant and Westbrook, and I think that Ibaka’s size combined with Kevin Martin’s skill off the bench would be enough to top the Clippers. My gut tells me to take the Clippers from a logistical standpoint, but I’ll have to side with the Thunder.

The West finals pretty much happened in the second round; whoever won between OKC and the Clippers would easily best the Spurs, who may have been able to handle Denver’s athleticism, but cannot sustain it for multiple rounds, let alone against teams that actually have experience.

So who wins the finals, the Thunder or the Heat? This boils down to the same argument I tried to advance last year, that the Thunder are the better team but LeBron is the better player. It is my belief that OKC works more as a cohesive unit, where each part is able to work in concert or individually to produce a highlight play or a win, whereas in Miami the situation generally revolves around LeBron or Wade, or a player who received a pass from one of the two. As with last year, I want to pick the Thunder. I really do. I think they deserve a title more than the Heat because they have the better team in the truest sense of the word, even if the Heat can make fancier team plays (there is a big difference: one shows character and chemistry, the other is a party trick). However, there is no force known to man that is strong enough physically to contain LeBron James, and so I must conclude that the Heat are likely to repeat as champions. But you never know, maybe Dwight Howard and Nash will sync up, make it into the playoffs and beat everyone. Or maybe Jordan will make his third comeback next week. You tell me what’s most likely.