Thursday, April 17, 2014

How Superlative Will Round 1 Be?

As a teacher, I'm on spring break this week. One of my only goals for the week* is to finish the eighth-grade yearbook.

*Other than watching Seasons 2-3 of Game of Thrones, drinking beer, and sleeping 11 hours a night.

With the yearbook in mind, I'm going to hand out "superlatives" to all of the NBA Round 1 playoff matchups. I'll also make a prediction for each series. Here we go!

Eastern Conference

Ugliest: Indiana Pacers (1) vs. Atlanta Hawks (8)
The Pacers secured the top seed because of the strength of their defense, while the Hawks made the playoffs because of the weakness of the East. Atlanta went just 22-31 after losing Al Horford for the season in December, and it might be the worst playoff team in modern NBA history. The season series between these two teams was tied 2-2, with each team cracking 100 points just once. Besides some possible highlights from Paul George and Lance Stephenson, don't expect anything pretty from this series.
Prediction: Pacers in 5 games

Most Likely to End in a Sweep: Miami Heat (2) vs. Charlotte Bobcats (7) 
Charlotte finished in the top 10 in defensive efficiency, but they were swept in their season series against Miami. The Heat have been doing their old on/off-switch routine all season, which is the only reason the Bobcats might steal a game in this series.
Prediction: Heat in 4 games

Most Likely to Exceed Expectations: Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Brooklyn Nets (6)
Despite losses in their season finales, both these teams were among the top five in the East after the All-Star break. The Raptors are a really fun team, with Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Terrence Ross all coming into their own. The Nets, meanwhile, are the only reason you might catch some of this series in prime time. Brooklyn has performed well with hybrid lineups since losing Brook Lopez for the season in December. Shaun Livingston has been a wonderful story, Paul Pierce has turned back the clock, and Joe Johnson still hasn't found a shot he doesn't like. This should be a fun matchup.
Prediction: Nets in 6 games

Most Evenly Matched: Chicago Bulls (4) vs. Washington Wizards (5)
Both of these teams rank in the top 10 in defensive efficiency and the bottom half of the league in offensive efficiency. Nene played just 53 games this season, but he's healthy now. The big man should match up decently with All-World center Joakim Noah. In the backcourt, Washington's John Wall had a great season, but he'll be countered by Chicago's D.J. Augustin, who also had a career year. The winner of this series will limp into a second-round matchup with the Pacers.
Prediction: Bulls in 7 games

Western Conference

Most Similar to 2006: San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Dallas Mavericks (8)

(Photo via
Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki have faced off 26 times in the postseason, with the Spurs holding a narrow 14-12 edge in those games. More recently, San Antonio has won the last nine regular-season matchups between the two teams. The Mavs will require gargantuan efforts from Dirk and Monta Ellis to even give the Spurs a tough time.
Prediction: Spurs in 5 games

Most Likely to End in a Massive Upset: Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (7)
In one of Louis C.K.'s recent comedy acts, he came up with a bit about the dueling thoughts in our brains. He called this "Of course...But maybe...". Let's try it here. Of course, Oklahoma City finished with the second-best record in the league despite Russell Westbrook's extended absence. Of course, Kevin Durant was the best player in the NBA this season. Of course, the Thunder beat Memphis in three out of their four head-to-head matchups. But maybe... Maybe the Grizzlies are built for the playoffs. Maybe Memphis remembers bottling up Durant and his teammates while knocking them out of last year's playoffs. Maybe the Grizz will catch a few breaks. Maybe...
Prediction: Thunder in 6 games

Most Likely to Feature a Fight: Los Angeles Clippers (3) vs. Golden State Warriors (6)
With Jamal Crawford and Stephen Curry facing off, this series is also one of the most likely to feature a 50-point scoring outburst. (Although Durant kind of has the market cornered on 50-point games this season.)

But the big story here is the ongoing feud between the two teams. There's bad blood in this rivalry, most obviously evident in a physical matchup on Christmas.

Expect a couple instances of extracurricular activity during this series.
Prediction: Clippers in 6 games

Highest-Scoring: Houston Rockets (4) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (5)
Both Houston and Portland finished in the top five in offensive efficiency. This series will likely feature a flurry of 30-point games, with James Harden, Dwight Howard, Damian Lillard, and LaMarcus Aldridge all more than capable of taking over games. Houston features six players who average double-figure point totals, while Portland boasts five such players.
Prediction: Rockets in 6 games

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