By Matt Noonan
Round two of the NBA Playoffs are set to begin on Sunday, so without further ado, here is our Noontime Sports preview, as well as series predictions.
Eastern Conference – Second Round Predictions:
(1) Chicago Bulls vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks – Everyone and their grandmother expected the Chicago Bulls to advance past the Indiana Pacers, which indeed happened. Now they face a very competitive, talented and youthful Atlanta Hawks team that will certainly push them to the limits.
First, the Bulls need to make sure Derrick Rose is healthy and ready to lead his teammates because otherwise Atlanta will force the ball out of his hand and attempt to score off turnovers.
Joakim Noah leads the team in the playoffs with roughly 10.6 rebounds per game, as well as 13 blocks, while Rose has taken care of the points, assists and steals.
Winning against the team from Disney World, (Orlando Magic) was certainly a statement by the Hawks, but they’ll indeed need Jamal Crawford, Al Horford and Josh Smith to be at their very best if they want to beat the Bulls. Atlanta also needs to continue to shoot well inside the paint and from the free-throw line.
If the Bulls can utilize their full-court transition game and lock down their opponent on defense, they’ll easily win this series.
As for the Hawks, they need to be smart with the ball on offense, but also get the Bulls in foul trouble. Atlanta converted 15.7 percent of their free throws against Orlando, so expect that number to increase, but by how much? Chicago wins the series, 4-3.
(2) Miami Heat vs. (3) Boston Celtics – This is the matchup that every NBA fan wanted. No matter if one is a die-hard or a casual fan, everyone wanted to see Boston and Miami meet in the playoffs.
The Celtics won three of their four regular season meetings, which may or may not give them momentum heading into this particular series. Against the New York Knicks, Boston watched their starting-5 gel, but saw their bench fail miserably. Besides the play of Glen Davis in Game 4 against the Knicks, “Big Baby” was awful. He didn’t score enough points and struggled to record rebounds. So, against the Heat, the Celtics will need Davis, Jeff Green and the rest of Boston’s bench to step up at certain times.
On the other side, the Heat enter Game 1 ready to roll, especially Chris Bosh, who actually was a major factor for Miami against the Philadelphia 76ers. Who knows what got into Bosh, but besides LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the Celtics may want to focus their attention on the Heat’s star forward.
Neither team has a star center, but would you choose Jermaine O’Neal or Zydrunas Ilgauskas to be the anchor on your team?
This series will come down to defense and rebounds. The Celtics indeed showed flashes of great Doc Rivers defense against the Knickerbockers while the Heat limited the 76ers to offensive or defensive boards, but can they continue that against Boston? Boston wins the series, 4-2.
Western Conference – Second Round Predictions:
(2) Los Angles Lakers vs. (3) Dallas Mavericks – Both teams had their moments during their opening round series, but now the two teams who fought for the second and third spot in the Western Conference standings will duke it out and decide who moves on and who heads home.
Dallas cannot win on the road; yet, they did manage to defeat the Trail Blazers in Game 6 in Portland miraculously. Dirk Nowitzki averaged 27.3 points per game against Portland in six games, so again, he will be a factor, but also a player the Los Angles Lakers will need to stop.
Against the New Orleans Hornets, especially through the first four games, Los Angles looked extremely tired. Their age is certainly a factor, but so is the health of Kobe Bryant too. Yet, Bryant averaged 22.5 points per game against the Hornets, so it’s an obvious that the Mavericks need to stop him.
My two players to watch in this series will certainly be Lamar Odom for the Lakers and Jason Kidd for the Mavericks.
Odom’s size, speed and quickness will be a factor against the Mavericks defense. Expect Odom to challenge Dallas’s defense in the paint, but also be a major part of Los Angel’s defensive pressure, while Kidd needs to act like a true floor general. He has a talented team that many NBA followers thought was championship bound earlier this season, so why not ask Kidd to lead the charge and continue to improve his assist average, which currently sits at 6.5 per game. Los Angles wins the series, 4-2.
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (8) Memphis Grizzlies – Both squads have very little playoff experienced between them, so consider this matchup the equivalent of two March Madness teams who weren’t supposed to make the “elite eight.” Memphis indeed shocked the NBA world by beating the San Antonio Spurs and becoming the fourth team in league history to beat a number one seed.
The major factor Oklahoma City will need to shut down is the tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. If the Thunder’s defense can stop those two, then expect the series to favor Oklahoma City. Although, don’t underestimate the power of Shane Battier, who has blossomed with Memphis since being traded in February.
Oklahoma City is young and talented, as well as likes to play an up tempo game. Between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Memphis will certainly have their hands full. Oklahoma City wins the series 4-2.