It’s a sad state of affairs in the NBA. The only teams left relatively unscathed from Round 1 are the top seeds. The rest either have severe holes or took on severe blows on the injury front.
Grizzlies vs. Warriors
If there’s one team that’s built to give the team with the best record a challenge, it’s Memphis.
Golden State is built from the outside in, while Memphis is the complete opposite. The matchup down low should be interesting. If Andrew Bogut guards Marc Gasol, that forces undersized Draymond Green to go up against Zach Randolph, the second-coming of the post with the most (shameless Waymon Tisdale reference). Green should have been this year’s Defensive Player of the Year, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be able to stop Randolph.
If the two switch, and Bogut guards Randolph, that puts Gasol at an advantage in the post, but Gasol isn’t near the threat at that spot as Z-Bo. Gasol, better as a passer from the elbow, tends to force up bad fadeaways from the block – then again, he won’t have to fade against undersized Green.
But where there’s a disadvantage for the Warriors on one end of the court, there’s a big advantage on the other – sort of. Can Gasol or Z-Bo keep up with Green on pick and rolls and cuts to the basket? The only caveat to this scenario is then Green has the ball in his hands or is shooting and not Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
Green’s show he’s capable, but if Memphis is going to pick its poison, it’s picking Green over the Splash Brothers.
And in the backcourt, Memphis is also built to contend with Golden State’s firepower. Or it was. Mike Conley – the most underrated point guard in the league – is traveling with the team, but his status is unclear after breaking his face on CJ McCollum last round. He has multiple facial fractures.
That puts a damper on this series, like most of the second round. With Conley out, Memphis is nearly lost offensively (Beno Udrih takes over at PG, Lord have mercy) and has nobody to contend with Curry on defense. The only way they can contain the Warrios is if they’re able to play Courtney Lee and Tony Allen in the backcourt along with Jeff Green and the two bigs.
That means nobody is point guard and the offense runs through Gasol almost exclusively. Lee and Allen are two of the best defensive guards in the league. Curry and Thompson wouldn’t have a tougher time against any other pair in the league. But that also means Golden State can press that backcourt to how many turnovers? Memphis simply doesn’t have a chance without Conley.
-Warriors sweep (win in five if Conley can get back by Game 3).
Bulls vs. Cavaliers
And, while one team lost its best backcourt player, another title contender lost its best frontcourt star. Cleveland heads into this series short a Kevin Love for the remainder of the playoffs.
It’s disappointing, not just for the series, but because they looked to be one of the few teams that could upend Golden State. Now, they’ll have a hard time getting by a front-heavy lineup in Chicago.
The Bulls finally put it all together after dropping two in a row to the Bucks – and it easily could have been three in a row if the Bucks had a go-to player in that double-overtime thriller. Joakim Noah looked like his old self in the Game 6 win, while Pau Gasol had a solid series despite constant double teams by Milwaukee.
Now, the two go up against Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson or, most likely LeBron James at power forward. Regardless, it’ll be up to Jimmy Butler to guard James. No small feat, but, if there’s one player in the NBA right now up to that challenge – aside from Draymond Green in the West – it’s Butler.
If the Cavs go that route, that means some combination of Iman Shumpert, JR Smith (suspended two games for a flying elbow), James Jones and Mike Miller play the two and three. And, with Smith out, that makes their lineup look even more foolish.
Those guys will have to be flying around the court, never stopping, because Gasol, Taj Gibson or Nikola Mirotic will likely be guarding them. It’s an odd case of mismatches from SG to PF, but if you’re picking between Smith, Shumpert, Miller, Jones or Gasol, Gibson, Mirotic and Mike Dunleavy, you’re picking the latter without blinking.
The only matchup that appears normal, and should be one for the ages – aside from James vs. Bulter - is at point guard. Kyrie Irving has the advantage here, but Derrick Rose has looked his old self (when he’s had two days to rest).
Unfortunately for Rose, he only gets those two days (three actually) for Game 1. The series will be played every other day from Game 2 out. Advantage, Irving, but by how much? Nobody knows what Rose is going to show up.
If Rose can just focus on containing Irving to an extent, and not trying to do too much offensively – he hasn’t handed the reigns to anyone else, yet – the Bulls would be fine.
Butler carried Chicago against the Bucks. He’s going to be focused and tired from guarding James in this one. That leaves the onus on Gasol and the bigs to win it for Chicago – if Rose lets them. If they do, the Bulls pull it out. If not, then it’s anyone’s guess because Rose is such a wildcard. Maybe he’ll be good offensively, it’s not like Irving is a shut-down PG. Regardless, the Bulls have the advantage in either case.
-Bulls in six.
Clippers vs. Rockets
Saturday was a sad day for the NBA when L.A. took down the defending champion Spurs.
Sad in that another team limps into the second round – a team already only two deep on offense. Chris Paul pulled his hamstring in Game 7 against San Antonio. He played through it and carried the team to a win – flopping at just the right time to get to the line for a pair of free throws with under 15 seconds to play in a tie game (nobody talks about that, pictured below).
But now, he’s going to be hamstrung (ba ha) all series, most likely. Luckily, he won’t have to guard anyone, because, while L.A. is two-deep on O, Houston is a one-man team.
So, while the Spurs would have been a team to give Golden State a challenge – had they gotten there – we’re left with a team run by Blake Griffin and a hobbled Chris Paul pitted against James Harden and, perhaps, a resurgent Dwight Howard.
I wouldn’t hold my breath with that last comment, but he did play well against a tough center in Tyson Chandler. He’ll have an even bigger challenge, now, against DeAndre Jordan, in what could be the hack-a-center semifinal. Jordan and Howard are a combined 44-105 (41.9%) from the free-throw line from Round 1.
Of all the series, this is the hardest one to pick, because they’re both such horrible teams. Even with Paul, the Clippers rely on guys like Hedu Turkaglo, Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis and Matt Barnes entirely too much. Houston, on the other hand, let’s Josh Smith fire at will and has nobody at point guard, since Patrick Beverly went down.
Harden isn’t exactly known for defense, but maybe he commits to guarding CP3. Then again, maybe Jason Terry can just stay in front of him with his injured hamstring and all.
But if Paul can play, the series has to go to the Clippers, and rather easily. They have enough guards to go through the turn style to run at Harden (Barnes, JJ Reddick, Jamal Crawford). Harden is going to have to chase someone on defense, effecting his ability to carry the entire offense.
If Paul isn’t good to go, then it’s a Grizzlies scenario, where the offense has to run through Griffin, who always ends up with nice statistics, but still has no clue how to let the game come to him. Regardless …
-Clippers in six (five if Paul shows little to no ill effects from his hamstring).
Wizards vs. Hawks
In Round 1, Washington’s Paul Pierce had a field day against Toronto. A playoff resurgence that stole all the headlines. The 37-year-old averaged 15.5 points on 58-percent shooting from both the field and the 3-point line. He is back.
Well, he was back. Against Toronto. The team that shuffles guys like Terrance Ross, Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson on him. Seriously?
Now, Pierce may have to get out of his wheelchair (remember that time, the wheelchair?) and actually play defense … along with being defended by someone who is competent at basketball.
If he’s the stretch-four like he was for part of last series, good luck matching up with Paul Milsap, Pierce. If the 16-year vet plays the three, then even better luck trying to get a shot off against defensive specialist, Demarre Carroll – perhaps the most underrated player in the NBA.
Pierce will, once again, look like the journeyman he has now become (from Boston to Brooklyn to Washington, sadly, he’s now a journeyman, title-seeking whore who bashes former teammates. Sorry, went a little crazy there a minute).
The rest of the floor matches up pretty well, but Atlanta has the overall edge. Milsap and Al Horford are vastly superior to Nene and Marcin Gortat. Kyle Korver and Bradley Beal are about even, but the way the Hawks use Korver is more effective.
The point guard battle between Jeff Teague and John Wall should be incredible. That’s where the Wizards get the edge, but, again, not by much. Wall is forced to do so much for Washington that it limits his effectiveness. He also is a horrendous shooter. The burden of the offense doesn’t rest on Teague’s shoulders the way it does, Wall.
One other edge that may go to Washington is the fact that they’ve been off two weeks, while the Hawks have had a day’s rest. But rest isn’t always the best thing. Atlanta could have probably used it. Washington would have just as soon played on, riding the wave after the sweep over Toronto.
And, don’t get fooled by Atlanta being forced into six games with Brooklyn, either. Derron Williams went completely bonkers in one win (13-25 FGs, 7-11 3s) and was just as worthless in the other five games (14-44 FGs, 4-15 3s). The Hawks should have probably won it in five games. And that’s what they’ll do against the Wizards.
-Hawks in five.