2014 NBA Playoffs Preview
No. 1 Pacers vs. No. 8 Hawks
I’ve been chattering about this series quite a bit on Twitter, as I’m taking the Hawks in seven games. The Pacers have been a mess for two months, and just because the playoffs are here doesn’t mean they’re going to flip a switch and suddenly be a great team again. Yes, it’s possible that Jeff Van Gundy might be right, but I just don’t see the Pacers pulling it all together in time.
Jeff Teague vs. George Hill is no contest in Teague’s favor. Pero Antic is going to confuse Roy Hibbert and keep him out of the paint. I’m not sure it’s possible for Hibbert to play any worse than he has for the last few weeks, but I don’t see things getting any easier for him against a non-traditional center who can hit threes. Paul Millsap vs. David West is a good one, but Millsap is the more dynamic talent in my eyes. Paul George is going to have his hands full being guarded by DeMarre Carroll, and Kyle Korver should hit a ton of threes against Lance Stephenson. In fact, the Hawks perimeter shooting should end up being the difference in this one, as the Pacers just won’t have many shooters on floor. Lou Williams will serve as a secret weapon off the Hawks bench.
Frank Vogel was in line to win Coach of the Year in the first half of the season and probably won’t tally a single vote after what’s happened since. And while Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer is a rookie, the Hawks have more playoff experience than you might think, as this is their seventh straight trip to the playoffs.
And before you go accusing me of being a homer, because we’ve lived in Georgia for 10 years, realize that I grew up in Indianapolis and went to almost every Pacer home game from 1981 to 1987. A big part of me hopes I’m wrong, but after seeing Hibbert’s 1-of-7 shooting performance against the Magic on Wednesday, you have to think he still has issues. The only reason he even played in that game was in order to try to figure some things out and gain some confidence. Something tells me that hitting 1-of-7 shots in a game where the other starters took the night off didn’t do a lot for Hibbert’s mental game. I’m either going to look like a genius or idiot when this one’s over, and I’m OK with that.
Prediction: Hawks in 7
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No. 2 Heat vs. No. 7 Bobcats
No one is giving the Bobcats a chance against the Heat, while no one seems to be nearly as worried about the Heat as the Pacers, even though Miami has basically played just as poorly as Indy over the last month. I will say this. The Heat are going to struggle with Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, unless Greg Oden got some new knees in the last few weeks. But as dominant as Jefferson may be on the offensive end, he’s just not a great defensive player and the Bobcats are going to have a lot of trouble finding a way to stop LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The bottom line is that the playoffs are here, and unlike the Pacers, I believe the Heat can flip a switch and put it into postseason mode.
The most interesting aspect of this series, to me, is whether the Heat are comfortable enough after a game or two to give Wade a game off in hopes of resting him for later in the postseason. I have a hunch Wade will sit out one game of this series, even if it goes just four games.
Prediction: Heat in 5
No. 3 Raptors vs. No. 6 Nets
Jason Kidd and the Nets did some pretty intentional tanking to fall to No. 6 and get the Raptors, while they’ll also get the Heat in Round 2. The Raptors are probably licking their chops, while the Heat probably aren’t as worried as you might think about being 0-4 against the Nets this season. I’m thinking Karma doesn’t love the Nets right now, while the Heat lay in wait and look to make them pay for the free fall and a second-round match up. But the Nets are going to have to get by the disrespected Raptors in order for that to happen, and the Raps hold the homecourt advantage in Round 1.
Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas are not pushovers and I expect this to be a war. And given that the Nets are counting on guys nearly as old as me, they better pray they stay healthy. Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett don’t inspire as much fear as they did five years ago, and Mason Plumlee is still Mason Plumlee. If Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas outplay Deron, Joe and Plumlee like I expect them to, the Nets will be lucky to get out of Round 1. And with Karma on my side, I’m taking the "underdogs" in this one, too.
Prediction: Raptors in 7
No. 4 Bulls vs. No. 5 Wizards
The Bulls look like a real playoff team and if I were the Nets, I wouldn’t have wanted to play them either. The Wizards will need perfection from John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza and Nene every night if they hope to win this one, but that’s an unreal expectation.
I look for Jimmy Butler to have a great series on both ends of the court, and also expect Joakim Noah to keep up him amazing play, while Taj Gibson should also have a big series. This one shouldn’t be too tough for the Bulls, and I’ve got them ending it in five games – even without Derrick Rose, and with Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin manning the point.
Prediction: Bulls in 5