2014 NBA Playoffs Round 2 Preview and Picks

I don’t have a TV. This means I have the fortune of streaming live games on the internet.

The internet is amazing, but when it comes to broadcasting live events, it’s not quite there yet. The picture lags, and the image quality resembles what I assume the picture on the first color televisions looked like. Add in the fact that nationally televised games are blacked out on League Pass, which in the playoffs means every game is blacked out on League Pass, and now I’m forced to use very sketchy websites.

I could live with the pop ups, the pixely picture, and the many viruses my computer is exposed to. I could live with all of that. What I cannot live with is a stream that works for an entire game suddenly going black right before Vince Carter hits a game-winning three at the buzzer. And what I really cannot live with is the exact same thing happening all over again right before Damian Lillard’s game-winning three at the buzzer to win the Rockets-Blazers series.

I mean, are you kidding me? Two times can’t be an accident, right? Someone has to be messing with me. Each time I panicked, opened up a new link, and waited anxiously for the advertisements to clear, only to hear the announcer losing his mind at a game-winner that I missed. Fantastic.

So let this be a reminder to everyone who’s going through something tough. Things could be much worse. And despite everything, I’m still going to rally and preview the second round.

Pacers-Wizards

You know what’s great about sports media? It’s totally acceptable for the “experts” to be wrong. Not once or twice. No, it’s fine for the experts to be wrong over and over and over again. They still get to be called experts. We’ll still devour what they’re saying and take their opinions somewhat seriously, even if deep down we know their five-year-old children could predict the results almost as accurately.

Sometimes though, it becomes hard to ignore just how questionable their insight is. Before the Bulls-Wizards series, ESPN’s team of 18 experts gave their predictions. You’d think in a 4-5 seed matchup the distribution of picks would be around 50-50. Nope. 17 out of 18 of the experts picked the Bulls to win. 17 out of 18. That’s 94%.

BullsExperts

So of course, the Wizards dismantled the Bulls in five games. Experts.

There was one person though, other than Wallace, who didn’t pick the Bulls. That person was me. That’s right. ME. And it had nothing to do with the fact that I’m a Wizards fan. I didn’t secretly think we were outmatched and went, “Screw it, I’m picking us anyway.” Nope, I’m just smarter and know more about basketball than the people who cover it for a living. I guess you could say I’m an expert.

WIZARDSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry, couldn’t contain myself any longer. In my lifetime watching sports, no DC team has made it past the second round. Not one. There are only 12 cities in the United States with teams in all four major sports. DC is one of them. And not a single team has made it past the second round. All of a sudden, the Wizards are on the brink of changing that.

Remember, this a team that on the last day of the regular season needed a win to avoid dropping to the 7-seed and serving as an appetizer for Miami in the first round. This is a team that took until February to go above .500 for the first time. Not the first time this season — the first time in four years. This is a team that hadn’t played a playoff game in six years and hadn’t won a playoff series in nine years. And despite all of that mediocrity, the Wizards are suddenly the hot pick to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

That’s insane, and it’s the result of luck so good it almost doesn’t seem fair. If Washington D.C. were on the West Coast, the Wizards would have finished five games out of a playoff spot. Instead, they played a Bulls team in the first round that, despite scaring the hell out of everybody with its defense, was not particularly talented. Now the Wizards are facing a Pacers team that needed seven games to knock off the least talented playoff team in recent memory.

So things have worked out nicely. Still, I have to admit that a few days ago I was feeling a little better about the Wizards’ chances. The Pacers were on the brink of elimination down 3-2, and it looked like the Wizards would get either an imploding Pacers team limping into the 2nd round, or a 38-win Hawk team.

Things didn’t exactly play out that way. The Pacers took care of business down the stretch in Game 6 against the Hawks and looked like the pre-All-Star-Break-Pacers at times in Game 7. That makes me nervous.

I think we’ll find out in Game 1 which Pacers team is going to show up. If the Wizards can send Hibbert back into the slumber he started to wake up from in Game 7, they can control this series. If not, well, let’s not go there.

Wizards in six

Heat-Nets

I’m sure this will be billed as a continuation of the Lebron vs. Pierce/Garnett rivalry. There’s some truth to that. Those guys still hate each other. That type of thing doesn’t change overnight.

There are some things, though, that do change seemingly overnight. Kevin Garnett went from being an All-Star in 2013 to averaging 6.5 points per game and losing minutes to Miles Plumlee and Andre Blatche in 2014. Ouch. Paul Pierce hasn’t suffered as dramatically, but he’s “Old Man Pierce” now, not ”Superstar Pierce.” So this isn’t really Part V of the Lebron vs. Pierce/Garnett Playoff Saga. It’s Part I of the Lebron vs. Joe Johnson/Deron Williams Playoff Saga. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

Which is why you should spend your time watching the Wizards-Pacers instead. WIZARDSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry. We were talking about Heat-Nets. Right.

Best-case scenario for the Nets: They pull a 2012 Pacers and go up 2-1 on the Heat while everyone freaks out about whether the Heat will break up after losing in the semifinals. Then the Heat win the next three games. That’s the BEST-case scenario. I just don’t see this series going to seven games, much less ending in a Brooklyn upset.

If Al Jefferson had taken it to the Heat — beaten them up, forced them to play a ton of minutes — this might be a different story. But Al Jefferson’s injury gave the Heat a mini-vacation. A well-rested Heat team is too much for Brooklyn.

Heat in five

Blazers-Spurs

I’m not a big believer in the “clutch/not clutch” narrative that’s so prevalent in every sport, but especially the NBA. I think most of that stuff is overblown.

Just look at Kevin Durant. After a mediocre performance in Game 5, the Oklahoman’s headline ripped him as “Mr. Unreliable.” Then Durant dropped 36 points in Game 6, and the headline became “Kevin Up.” Because in three days he changed radically.

When it comes to Damian Lillard though, I’m a believer. Was his game-winning three to end the Houston-Portland series the least surprising game-winner in NBA history? Before that shot, I thought to myself, there’s no way Damian Lillard doesn’t hit a three here. Damian Lillard always hits a three here.

Sure enough, when I found a working link, the announcer was screaming “THE BLAZERS WIN THE SERIES.” And when they showed the replay, who else was it but Damian Lillard, calmly knocking down a three.

Lillard Game-Winner on Make A Gif

So is it time to start taking the Blazers seriously? It seems like at every stage people have dismissed this team as being a fake contender. I remember somebody claiming in his first round playoff preview that the Blazers were “still year away.” After a 54-win season and an impressive six game series win over the Rockets, there’s no reason the Blazers should be looking to next year.

Unfortunately for them, they’re playing the Spurs. The Spurs looked vulnerable at times against the Mavs, but eventually they found their footing and blew the Mavs out. That’s the thing about the Spurs — even if you find a weakness, they adjust and suddenly it’s gone. I just can’t envision a scenario in which the Blazers outduel the Spurs over the course of a seven game series.

Spurs in six

Thunder-Clippers

I know I’m supposed to be excited for this series. Kevin Durant! Russell Westbrook! Chris Paul! Blake Griffin! No offense to any of those guys, but I’m a little fatigued. I’m used to these teams.

That’s how you know we live in a culture with an incredibly short attention span: when a series with four of the 10 best players in the NBA doesn’t seem that exciting.

Look at the other three series. The Nets have a new look with Pierce and Garnett. The Wizards haven’t been here in nine years. The Blazers haven’t been here in 15 years. This is the only series that feels like it could be 2012 or 2013.

That’s not totally true, though. While the Clippers have had more or less the same cast since Chris Paul came to town, this team feels different. For the past couple of years they’ve been lumped in with the Nuggets and Grizzlies as good Western Conference teams that would eventually be left in the Spurs’ and Thunder’s wake in the playoffs. Doc’s arrival changed that. People rushed to declare the Clippers a title contender. Their preseason Vegas Wins Total was the highest of any Western Conference team. Yes, higher than the Spurs. Shocker that didn’t happen.

In other ways though, the Clippers lived up to the hype. Griffin fulfilled his immense potential and became an MVP candidate. Jordan turned from Javale McGee doppelganger to Defensive Player of the Year Candidate. With Chris Paul still Chris Paul, the Clippers’ Big Three is now in the middle of the conversation for best Big Three in the NBA.

Blake Game 7 on Make A Gif

It’s tempting to pick the team that feels newer and shinier, but continuity is a plus, not a minus. The Thunder look the same as always. That’s a good thing. They were tested by the Grizzlies, but that defense would test anybody. The Thunder got it together over the last two games, and if they keep it together, the rest of the league should watch out.

Thunder in seven

Last Round: 6-2

 

If you’re interested in contributing, message me on Facebook, or email me at james_cohan@brown.edu.

photo credit: Joseph Glorioso Photography via photopin cc

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s