Only three times in the modern era has a team three-peated: theMichael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in 1993 and again in 1998, and the tandem of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002. Since the NBA/ABA merger, two teams, the 1982-85 Los Angeles Lakers and the 1984-87 Boston Celtics, have made it to the finals four consecutive seasons.
The Miami Heat have the chance to etch their place in history by checking off both of these task. Or will the MVP favorite Kevin Durant lead his Oklahoma City Thunder to the Finals and capture his first NBA title.
We will all find out in June, but for now, let’s see who gets out of round one of the 2013-14 NBA playoffs.
EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS
(1) Indiana Pacers vs. (8) Atlanta Hawks
Regular season series tied (2-2)
Despite the Atlanta Hawks backing their way into the playoffs with a 38-44 record, they have won seven of their last 10 games, albeit following a six game losing streak. The scoring backcourt of Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver–and swingman Louis Williams coming off the bench, who could drop 20 on any given night–could pose a legitimate threat to the No. 1 seed Indian Pacers who have developed an allergy to scoring points.
All-star center Roy Hibbert has either been in witness protection or on missing posters with his disappearance in games as of late. In the month of April, Hibbert has averaged 5.3 ppg and 3.2 reb/g–unacceptable for a 7-footer. If the Pacers plan to book a ticket to the NBA Finals, Paul George is going to have to elevate his play to a superstar level.
Regardless, the Hawks are 38-44 for a reason. Look for Indiana to exploit the Hawks inexperience by locking down on defense. Pacers in 6.
(4) Chicago Bulls vs. (5) Washington Wizards
Regular season series (Wizards 2-1)
I’ll admit, this series has me torn. On one hand, the growth of John Wall has placed himself as realistic top-5 point guard in the NBA today. He’s arguably the fastest player in the league in the open court, athletic and fearless going to the basket–not to mention second year guard Bradley Beal has stepped into his own averaging 17.2 ppg. But on the other hand, the NBA playoffs forces a team to play traditional half court-styled basketball, the Chicago Bulls forte.
Joakim Noah is the frontrunner in my eyes for Defensive Player of the Year, and 2011 Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau is a mastermind on the defensive side of the ball as the Bulls are first in points allowed giving up 91.8 ppg on the season. The Wizards are young, but talented, well-coached and they deserve to play on this stage. Wizards in 7.
Toronto Raptors vs. (6) Brooklyn Nets
Regular season series tied (2-2)
The Brooklyn Nets are made for the playoffs. They are a veteran led team with leadership, versatility, depth and have an identity. Since the All-Star break, the Nets are 33-13. I completely wrote them off at the beginning of the season. If Brooklyn can remain healthy and not look pass the Raptors (winner faces the Miami Heat; Nets swept Heat in regular season), they can take this series in five games.
But a winner of 48 games this season, the Raptors are no pushovers. Leading scorer and should-be-most-improved-player-candidate, DeMar Derozan and Terrance Ross both had 50 point games this season, showing off their depth on offense. But who makes this team go is the scrappy barely 6-foot point guard Kyle Lowry. The seven year guard out of Villanova is having a career year averaging 17.9 ppg and 7.4 ast. He won’t let Toronto go down without a fight, but Brooklyn’s experience and savvy will prove too much for the Raptors who last made the playoffs in the 2007-08 season. Nets in 6.
(2) Miami Heat vs. (7) Charlotte Bobcats
Regular season series (Heat 4-0)
Remember on March 3 when LeBron James scored 61 points, grabbed seven rebounds and still managed to dish out five assist? The Bobcats are still having nightmares.
Since 2010-11, the Heat are 15-0 against the Bobcats, who’ve never won a postseason game. I don’t see any reason why this series will be any different. The Heat haven’t been themselves lately struggling in stretches and trying to get oft-injured/rested Dwayne Wade back into the flow. Bobcats center Al Jefferson will give Miami a fit, but the two-time defending champs will adjust. The Heat will need all the rest they can get if they face Brooklyn in the next round.
Congrats to the Bobcats for making the postseason, but the celebration will quickly come to an end. Heat in 4.
WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS
(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Dallas Mavericks
Regular season series (Spurs 4-0)
The Dallas Mavericks would be the 3 seed in the East. The West is that good and the East is that bad. But the Mavericks are facing the defending Western Conference champs. The Spurs are hands down the best overall team in the NBA right now with the capabilities of beating a team in an offensive shootout, or a defensive struggle. Every year the Spurs are written off: too old, their time is up, they won’t do it again, but the keep finding away to come away with the best record in the league. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and coach Grep Popovich, they’ve been here before and ready to rid that bitter taste left in their mouth by the Heat in last year’s Finals.
Dirk Nowitzki and Co. are a speed bump in the way of the Spurs. Spurs in 5
(4) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Portland Trail Blazers
Regular season series (Rockets 3-1)
The Rockets have enough talent on their roster to make a run at the title, but they should have more than enough with the $88 million center in Dwight Howard. Howard hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectation placed upon him after his fallout with the Lakers. Averaging a double-double (18.3 ppg and 12.2reb/g) is nothing to dismiss, but a player of his caliber should dominant night in and night out. Luckily, James Harden who launched to stardom as one of the premier players in the league. Although, Howard has elevated his place against Portland in their four regular season matchups averaging (2.5 ppg and 13.5 reb/g).
In their four meetings, each team scored over 100 points with the Rockets taking the last meeting between the two 118-113. Both teams average over 100 points a game, but also give up 100 points a game. Houston does possess the prowess on defense, especially with 3-time defensive player of the year in Howard, but they can be baited in shootouts. I love the combination of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damien Lillard. That is a tandem to reckon with for years to come. Aldridge is the second best power forward in the game behind Anthony Davis. If Portland is to sneak pass Houston, Aldridge will be the reason.
But I don’t see Portland winning this series. Rockets in 6.
(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (6) Golden State Warriors
Regular season series tied (2-2)
In the words of Terrell Owens, get ya’ popcorn ready.
Easily the most entertaining playoff matchup, these two teams have the makings of putting on an all-time great series. Star point guards going head-to-head in the surgical Chris Paul and the sharp shooting Steph Curry is a basketball lover dream. But the Clippers have too many options on offense (i.e. Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick, Darren Collison) and arguably have two of the best players in the NBA right now in Paul and Blake Griffin–who I would put third in the MVP race behind Durant and LeBron. Griffin is having a career year in scoring averaging 24.1 ppg. He has also snagged 9.5 reb/g on the season.
The Warriors too have weapons in Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and David Lee, but they are missing one big piece. Warriors center Andrew Bogut, who’s out with a back injury, would be kryptonite to Griffin’s high flying Superman act, but without Bogut in the middle, Griffin is free to roam the skies. This game may eventually come down to coaching as Doc Rivers and Mark Jackson make adjust from shifting in an put of smaller lineups and who will have the responsibility of slowing down the each team’s stars.
The Curry-effect could push this series to seven, but I’m banking on Doc. Clippers in 6.
(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies
Regular season series (Thunder 3-1)
This is redemption for Kevin Durant and the Thunder. After winning the first game in the 2013 Conference Semifinal against the Grizzlies, they lost four straight to lose the series in five games. That was a bitter pill to swallow for Durant, but Memphis will be the ones taking pills this time getting sick of all Durant’s made jumpers. Durant is the first player since Michael Jordan to lead the league in scoring in five straight seasons, and he broke a Jordan record earlier this season scoring 25+ points in 41 straight games (Jordan’s record was 40 games). It’s also important to note that Russell Westbrook miss last year’s series.
Although, the Thunder seem to bring the best out of the Grizzlies. Memphis’ third-ranked defense has the attitude to slow down the Thunder. Marc Gasol’s ability to contain pick-and-rolls and patrol the paint is a vital key in this series. Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen will interchange taking their chance at bottling up Durant and the underrated Mike Conley can go step for step with Westbrook. Some don’t see a Memphis coming out of the series as winner as a surprise, but it would sure surprise me. Thunder in 6.