Well, there has no shortage on drama in the NBA playoffs this year. And after all the dust has settled we are left with #1 seed Indiana vs #2 Miami in the East and #1 seed San Antonio vs #2 seed Oklahoma City. I guess we should have seen this coming. So much for the upstarts, such as the Trailblazers, Wizards and, of course, the LA Clippers.
I predicted that the Clippers and Heat would meet in the Finals and that the Clippers would win the championship in my earlier 2014 NBA Playoffs prediction post. Well, that clearly ain’t gonna happen this year. I think the Clippers played well, especially in view of the turmoil created by owner Donald Sterling’s publicized racist comments and the uproar that caused. There is no doubt that the Sterling incident was a major distraction for the team and was a blow to team morale. However, I can’t say that I think that the Sterling fiasco was the reason that the Clippers lost to the Thunder in 6 games. The Clippers are clearly close to the Thunder and other top tier teams, but they probably need to add one or two more key pieces to truly challenge for the title. I think they could use an upgrade at SF (Matt Barnes is good good, but he might be more useful coming off the bench) and a very good backup PF/C (A player who can come in and provide rim protection when C DeAndre Jordan is not on the floor.)
I also predicted that the the OKC Thunder would be the Clippers toughest opponent and that if OKC defeated LA that OKC would go on to win the championship. Well, I’m afraid I can’t stand by that prediction now in view of the fact that OKC lost PF Serge Ibaka for the rest of the playoffs due to a calf injury he sustained in the last game vs the Clippers. Ibaka is OKC’s third best player and their best defensive player. OKC is a deep team and they will be able to bring capable players in veteran PF Nick Collison and rookie C Steven Adams to substitute for Ibaka, but I just don’t think that the Thunder will be able to fully compensate for the loss of Ibaka, especially his defense and shot blocking. At this stage of the playoffs none of the remaining teams can afford to lose a key player without their prospects being put in severe jeopardy.
Indiana Pacers vs Miami Heat
Well, I’m a little late here, sorry. This series started yesterday and the Pacers beat Miami pretty easily in game one. I don’t expect the remaining games to be as one-sided. Have I been influenced by a game in this series? A little bit, but not to a great degree. It is not exactly a secret that Indiana is fully capable of defeating Miami when all the of Indiana’s star players are playing well and contributing, as they did yesterday.
It is almost surprising to find that the Pacers are still in the playoffs given their struggles in the 2nd half of the regular season and in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Talk about a team that has been up and down this season. The Pacers keep alternating between looking like a team that that could win the championship this year and a team that barely belongs in the playoffs. And no player on the Pacers has exhibited this inconsistentency more than All-Star Center Roy Hibbert. The Pacers simply can’t advance if Hibbert is playing poorly, but if Hibbert is playing at anything close to his All-Star form the Pacers will be very difficult to beat. Hibbert seems to have broken out of the funk that he was in and he has played well for several consecutive games, including his game against the Heat yesterday. Paul George, Lance Stephenson and George Hill also played very well yesterday and despite the struggles the Pacers have experienced in the last months this team does not seem to lack confidence.
Going into this series Miami have looked like the defending champ’s that they are and I think they are highly motivated to win their third consecutive title. The threepeat would mean a lot to the legacy of the team and especially to Lebron James because it would be a very significant feather in his cap. LBJ is now being compared to the Greatest of All Time and justifiably so, but he needs a few more rings to support the argument that his career has been equal to or greater than Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and few other players that are always in the GOAT conversation.
Who wins this series? I guess that will largely depend upon which Pacers team shows up for this series. As I noted above, the key to the series is Pacers Center Roy Hibbert. Miami will have to double the 7’2′ Hibbert if he is hitting his shots which will leave other Pacers open on the perimeter. Miami’s big three, James, Wade and Bosh will all have to play exceptionally well in order for the Heat to win this series because Indiana is the better all around team, with a deeper bench.
Pacers win in 7 games.
San Antonio Spurs vs Oklahoma City Thunder
In my earlier prediction post I stated that I thought the Spurs, with most of their star players north of 30 yrs old, might not be able to keep with the younger players on other playoff at this stage of the long NBA season. Well, Duncan, Parker, Ginobili & Company dispatched of the aggressive young Portland squad pretty easily, so, so much for that theory, at least so far. I think OKC, even without Ibaka, does have a real chance to prevail in the this series because they still have league MVP Kevin Durant and All-Star guard Kevin Westbrook, as well as a very strong supporting cast. OKC did defeat SA all four times the teams met during the regular season, although it would be wise not to attach too much significance to that set of victories because the playoffs are played at an entirely different level of intensity. The Brooklyn Nets beat the Miami Heat all four times during the regular season and then got rolled over by the Heat in 2nd round of the playoffs. However, one thing that can’t be overlooked about the Thunder games against the Spurs is the contribution that Serge Ibaka made in each of those games. Ibaka played a big role in all Thunder wins over the Spurs, averaging 14 pts, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks in those games. As I noted above, I find it hard to believe that Steven Adams and Nick Collison will be able to completely make up for those stat’s and I think that will likely prove to be the deciding factor in this series. Beyond that, it will be impossible to replace the ability that Ibaka has to intimidate and discourage opposing players with his rugged defense.
The Spurs win in 7 games.
Which team will win the championship? Frankly, I don’t have strong opinion about that right now. OK, I already picked the Spurs and Pacers to advance. I’m leaning toward the Spurs right now, but I will revisit that question once we know which teams will actually be in the Finals.