The next two weeks will be as interesting as any this NBA season as we are now down to the Elite Eight.
While nobody believes Philadelphia, Indiana or the Los Angeles Clippers have any shot at eventually emerging as NBA champions, they will still put up a fight.
Some points to ponder in Round 2:
HEAT VS. PACERS
-Minus Chris Bosh — who is expected to miss the rest of the series due to a moderate abdominal strain — LeBron James and Dwyane Wade scored or assisted on 48 of Miami’s 53 second-half points in Game 1. They’ll miss Bosh, but they don’t need him — yet.
-One of the Heat’s big advantages over Indiana is an ability to get up and down the floor quickly. Roy Hibbert is 7-foot-3 and moves as one would expect of a man that size: Very, very slowly. Danny Granger and David West have wonky knees and never were that fleet to begin with. Miami pummels most teams in the open floor and they will especially dismantle the Pacers, even without Bosh, who would have done damage the same way. This is simply a bad matchup for the Pacers. There is no answer for LeBron and no way to contain Wade either. Sure, Darren Collison, Leandro Barbosa and George Hill will get theirs in a track meet, but it won’t be enough.
-The longer Indiana can stretch this one, the better for them because their depth is much greater, but Ronny Turiaf and Canadian Joel Anthony know their roles, are good defenders and will help the Heat get by without Bosh. Don’t forget, in James, the Heat has the ultimate luxury — a guy who can fill in at four positions should somebody go down.
CELTICS VS. SIXERS
-Two great coaches, two great defensive outfits. Expect the difference to come down to star power. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are the types of difference-makers Philadelphia lacks. They have proven their value for years and have the big shot capabilities Philadelphia does not feature.
-The Sixers know Rajon Rondo doesn’t want to shoot the ball, yet the point guard still does whatever he wants on the court. Jrue Holiday is an exceptional defender, but even he can’t stop Rondo. Look for Andre Iguodala spending some quality time with Rondo. Don’t expect that to work either.
- The Sixers simply aren’t good enough offensively to win. Couple that with the fact that Rondo, Avery Bradley and Garnett are fantastic defenders and the outcome of this series is quite easy to imagine.
THUNDER VS. LAKERS
- Russell Westbrook is going to tear up the Lakers. The equally quick Ty Lawson had some huge outings against the Lakers in Round 1 (32 points, 25 points twice, 24 points) and Chris Paul did the same for New Orleans a year ago. Lawson also had three terrible games in the last series. Don’t expect Westbrook to do the same. Maybe a team could slow down Westbrook if they only had to worry about him, but with Kevin Durant around, that’s not the case. Nobody is stupid enough to focus on Westbrook and leave Durant, the greatest scoring machine to come around in years, to single coverage.
Andrew Bynum will try to head Westbrook off at the rim, but he’ll pick up a lot of fouls or the UCLA product will pull up short for the mid-range jumpers he knocks down like few others.
-Bynum has had a great year and Pau Gasol has re-emerged as a star of late, but they are going to be tired running around trying to catch the quicker, more athletic Oklahoma City players. Plus, though these twin towers are highly effective on offence, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins each are fantastic defenders. Ibaka does it with speed and leaping ability, Collison by taking more charges annually than almost anybody and Perkins with his brawn and toughness.
-OKC’s defensive abilities often get overlooked. Thabo Sefolosha has great size and quick hands. He’ll annoy Bryant the way Raja Bell used to.
-Think James Harden will be motivated facing Metta World Peace?
SPURS VS. CLIPPERS
-A classic matchup of an overhyped group and a perennial winner that always somehow flies under the radar.
The Blake Griffin-Tim Duncan matchup might best represent the contrast between the two squads. Duncan, of course, is a technically sound if boring, ageless machine of a man who has kept the Spurs on top for over a decade.
Griffin is one of the most exciting NBA players since prime Vince Carter, yet isn’t on the same planet as Duncan from a technical point of view. Despite the age difference, Duncan should eat him up at both ends. Doubly so if DeAndre Jordan ends up squaring off against him.
-The Clips would have been in trouble even with Paul, Mo Williams and Griffin feeling 100%. While Griffin seems fine, Paul (hip) and Williams (hand) aren’t. Since the Clips only go as far as the sublime Paul takes them, don’t expect a long series, barring a medical miracle.
-The coaching matchup is one of the more extreme mismatches we’ve seen in years. Gregg Popovich is arguably the best bench boss in the game, while Vinnie Del Negro might be the most criticized. The question isn’t whether Popovich will out-coach his counterpart, instead it will be will Del Negro even be able to keep his job once this is all over?
-San Antonio is deeper, more experienced and better coached. Maybe at full strength the great Paul would have been able to overcome that, but he’s not going to be able to do it with Tony Parker — playing at a near-MVP level — taking so much out of him.