No NBA team has the luxury of comfort in the second round of the playoffs.
During the heart of the postseason (i.e., not the NBA Finals), there is always one (usually more) series you can look at and say with the utmost confidence, "Team X doesn't stand a chance."
For those who have just arrived, welcome to the second round of the 2013 playoffs, a setting that has decided to defy the laws of "usual."
Eight teams remain, which means we have four "underdogs" still in the hunt for a championship going up against four—for all intents and purposes—favorites.
Which of the these lesser seeds have the best chance of upsetting their numerically superior adversaries?
While we could normally find at least one challenger wallowing in the shadow of an inevitable exit, these particular matchups have left us with plenty to ponder.
4. (5) Chicago Bulls vs. (1) Miami Heat
I have nothing but the utmost of respect for these Bulls.
They stole Game 1 against the Heat in South Beach and have somehow forced us to reflect on their potential to upset the reigning champions—all without Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Derrick Rose.
To be clear, I haven't yet completely ruled out an upset here. Should the Bulls get healthy and be able to spread their minutes load out a bit more, they have the defensive fortitude necessary to obstruct Miami's offense to the tune of four victories.
Chicago, however, is not healthy. Not even close. And it took four players—Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Nate Robinson—logging at least 39 minutes in Game 1 to secure a victory. Butler also went three straight games without sitting prior to Game 2.
The Bulls followed up an impressive Game 1 victory by suffering a beatdown (literally) in Game 2. Their defense wasn't sharp on rotations or defending the fast break, and the Heat were able to pull away. I won't come out and say that had to do with fatigue, but it is implied.
Moving further into the series, the Bulls just aren't as deep as the Heat. And though they have the potential to steal victories like that of Game 1, the Heat have the firepower necessary to go all Game 2 on the Bulls in every contest.
Expect a hard-fought series from Chicago (how could you expect anything else?), with the potential for a seven-game haul. But don't expect more than that, even if Rose surrenders to the moment and suits up.
Prediction: Heat in six
3. (3) Indiana Pacers vs. (2) New York Knicks
I am prepared to withstand the following: "But the Pacers won Game 1." "The Knicks are historically old." "J.R. Smith can't shoot." "Carmelo Anthony won't pass." "Paul George got game." "Indiana is superior defensively." "The Knicks suck." "You suck."
I'm sure I left out something, but you get the point.
The Pacers are a deceptively good team, but their turbulent offense isn't fooling anyone. They went out and dropped 102 points in Game 1 on the road, then followed that up with a 79-point showing in Game 2. That's far too inconsistent.
New York's offense has been nothing to brag about—unless you're enraptured by Smith tossing up bricks—but the Knicks are far more capable of putting points up on the board in a hurry.
Tommy Beer @TommyBeer
Pablo & Shump are a combined 22-for-47 (46.8%) on 3’s this postseason… Melo & JR Smith are a combined 24-for-83 (28.9%)5/8/2013, 6:08:27 PM
If I had more confidence in Roy Hibbert, I'd probably rank this series a bit higher. But I don't.
Hibbert will consistently contest shots at the rim, but he followed up a 14-point, 6-of-9 shooting performance in Game 1 with a six-point, 3-of-7 showing in Game 2. He can be easily removed from the offense by opposing defenses, and even himself.
To be fair, I'm still smitten by George even after he disappeared during the latter half of Game 2. I'm also enthralled by how well D.J. Augustin is playing and could almost guarantee the Pacers win the points-in-the-paint battle every game.
That said, the Pacers don't have the offensive potency necessary to get past a 'Melo-led Knicks team, shooting woes and all. Though if Amar'e Stoudemire's return throws New York's offense out of whack, that could help.
My apologies to the esteemed Charles Barkley in advance.
Prediction: Knicks in six
2. (6) Golden State Warriors vs. (2) San Antonio Spurs
Had you told me at the beginning of the season that the Warriors would be trying to make the Western Conference finals, I would have promptly slapped you and offered my condolences before slapping you again.
Golden State wasn't supposed to be this good. The Warriors weren't supposed to sustain this type of shooting, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson included. But they have. And two games into the series, it's become clear they have what it takes to beat the Spurs.
Admittedly, Golden State's defense does concern me. Had the Warriors been more engaged on that end down the stretch in Game 1, they would hold a two-game lead over the second-seeded Spurs. They are, however, shooting 42.3 percent from deep in the series, including an astounding 47.8 percent outing in Game 2.
San Antonio hasn't adjusted to Golden State's foray of shooters as well as I originally anticipated. Save for the last 14 minutes of Game 1—last four of the fourth and both overtimes—nothing about the Spurs' ability to stifle Golden State's three-point barrage has impressed me. They've failed to counter with a consistent enough offensive attack as well.
Manu Ginobili's struggles stand out most. He has been wildly inefficient; he's hit on just 10 of his first 32 shots in the series. He was the hero in Game 1, but I imagined him being more of an offensive X-factor, offsetting much of the damage inflicted by the Curry-Thompson tandem, if you will. But he hasn't.
The thing about the Spurs, though, is they're never out of it. Games 1 and 2 proved just this. They have the "comeback" down to a science.
Still, the Warriors are a cool 3-0 at home during the playoffs and Mark Jackson has them motivated like they're playing for a title (oh wait...). I actually haven't ruled out the Spurs returning home down 3-1.
The Spurs are in for a difficult series, one that they won't be able to run away with.
Step aside as I prepare to board the Warriors bandwagon.
Prediction: Warriors in seven
1. (5) Memphis Grizzlies vs. (1) Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant is amazing, and he alone is enough to carry the Thunder to the NBA Finals. But that doesn't mean he's going to.
These Grizzlies are for real on both ends of the floor. They stole one in Oklahoma City—one of the toughest places to win—and have controlled the pace of the entire series.
Through two games, Memphis has allowed just 66 total points in the paint. Better yet, the Grizzlies have held the Thunder to fewer than 100 points in two straight games; Oklahoma City scored under 100 points in back-to-back contests just five times during the regular season.
Better than better yet, the Grizzlies have allowed Durant just seven total shot attempts at the rim through two games. He was averaging six a night against the Houston Rockets.
Alex Rucker @Alex_Rucker
Durant got to the rim for a shot 6 times per game against HOU. He's done that 7 times total in 2 games v. MEM.5/9/2013, 8:18:07 PM
Ignoring the painfully obvious isn't an option, either. The Thunder aren't as prepared for the long haul without Russell Westbrook. Reggie Jackson has stepped up in a big way and been one of the few prepared to alleviate Durant's offensive burden, but he's no Westbrook.
Neither is Serge Ibaka, who is averaging just eight points a night on 6-of-22 shooting from the floor through the first two bouts. And neither is Kevin Martin, who went from dropping 25 points in Game 1 to just six in Game 2.
Sans Westbrook, the Thunder lack that second scorer with the ability to reach the rim on command. Against a Grizzlies team that defends the paint well to begin with, that's a problem.
A costly one.
Will the Thunder be able to supersede such a disadvantage and perhaps rely on Memphis' offense to stagnate their way out of games?
The way Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are playing, no, they won't.
Prediction: Grizzlies in six
All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
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