NBA Sunday: Analyzing Conference Semifinals
Breaking Down the Conference Semifinals
The first round of the 2013 NBA postseason is in the books which means it’s time to turn our attention to the Conference Semifinals. Four teams in each conference are ready to battle it out to decide who will be going head-to-head in pursuit of a conference championship and a trip to the NBA Finals.
While the opening round featured plenty of drama, the second round has an opportunity to match that intensity or even top it with the amount of storylines heading into play Sunday.
My HOOPSWORLD colleagues have made their picks, now it’s time to take a deeper look at each individual matchup of the Conference Semifinals:
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (5) Memphis Grizzlies
Season series: 2-1 Grizzlies
The lack of All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook is going to be the difference in this going from a must-see series to one of the quickest in the second round. Oklahoma City struggled to close out a Houston Rockets squad that frankly doesn’t hold a candle to these Grizzlies.
Memphis turned the tables in their first round matchup, beating the four-seed Los Angeles Clippers four straight times to advance to the Conference Semifinals.
Featuring Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, Memphis led all of basketball in scoring defense this season allowing just 89.3 points per contest. The Thunder lack a clear number two scorer with Westbrook on the shelf and the Grizzlies are going to make Kevin Durant work for every point.
Prediction: Grizzlies in Five
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs (6) Golden State Warriors
Season series: 2-2
In what could be the highest scoring and most explosive Semifinals series, the veteran Spurs will take on the up-and-coming Warriors led by 25-year-old point guard Stephen Curry. Golden State pulled off the first round upset over the Denver Nuggets using a barrage of 3-pointers and by utilizing their supreme depth.
Meanwhile, the Spurs rolled in their first round series – ousting the Los Angeles Lakers in a quick four game sweep.
While they’ve had a miraculous run over the course of 2013, the party stops for the Warriors with San Antonio. The Spurs are simply too talented and savvy while also featuring a reserve core that is on par with the Warriors’ potent bench.
Prediction: Spurs in Six
(1) Miami HEAT vs (5) Chicago Bulls
Season series: 2-2
Much like the OKC-Memphis matchup, this has the potential to be a completely different series if another All-Star point guard decides to suit up. Unfortunately for the Bulls, it’s looking less and less likely that Derrick Rose will play again this season. Still, Chicago proved in the first round the amount of heart and character this team possesses even while featuring an injury-depleted roster.
However, Miami is fresh off of sweeping the Milwaukee Bucks and appear primed to plow through the East once again en route to a third straight NBA Finals berth. The Bulls won’t be an easy out but it’s difficult to see the Rose-less Bulls taking down the cream of the NBA crop in Miami.
Prediction: HEAT in Six
(2) New York Knicks vs (3) Indiana Pacers
Season series: 2-2
The Knicks-Pacers second round matchup could be one of the most evenly matched of the Conference Semi’s. Both teams recovered following letting their opening round counterparts climb back into the series after taking commanding opening leads. Each team also features a stout defense with both finishing with scoring defenses ranked among the seven-best in the NBA over the course of the year.
New York holds two major advantages in this series which is why they’re likely to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Possessing home court advantage to go along with the NBA’s scoring champion this season in Carmelo Anthony is going to go a long way in deciding this matchup.
Prediction: Knicks in Seven
Joakim Noah Backs Up Bold Prediction For Depleted Bulls
A Game 7 win at home for the Brooklyn Nets seemed inevitable with all of the issues facing the Chicago Bulls. The Nets had won two straight games in evening the best of seven first round series against Chicago and were heading home to Barclays Center where they featured a shiny 26-15 record in the regular season. Tack on the fact that the banged up Bulls would be without their leading scorer in Luol Deng and top Deron Williams’ defender in Kirk Heinrich and it appeared Brooklyn was a shoe-in to the second round.
Not in Bulls’ All-Star center Joakim Noah’s mind.
Following the Bulls second straight loss Thursday night that allowed Brooklyn to even the series, Noah wasn’t shy about predicting the conclusion to the series.
“We’re a team of fighters,” Noah told ESPN’s Nick Friedell after the Bulls’ 95-92 loss in Game 6 on Thursday night. “We keep getting punched in the face but we fight back. I’m proud of this team, and we’re going to go into a hostile environment in Brooklyn and we’re going to win.”
Both Noah and Chicago responded with gutsy performances in Game 7, leading the undermanned and underdog Bulls to a 99-93 victory last night in Brooklyn. Noah in particular backed up his tough talk, scoring a team-high 24 points on 12-17 shooting from the field to go along with a game-high 14 rebounds. The Bulls’ center also finished with a career postseason-high six blocks as Chicago rode Noah’s impressive all-around play to the second round.
“I’m just so proud of this team,” Noah told The Associated Press. “We’ve been fighting through so much all year and to be in this situation, play on the biggest stage in the world and to be able to win and now play against the Heat, all these experiences, I (don’t) take those for granted,”
Now the real test comes for a Bulls team that’s hoping for some quick healing powers between now and Monday. Chicago will head to Miami to take on the defending champion HEAT in a rematch of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals. With Derrick Rose presumably in street clothes for the rest of the postseason, the Bulls face an uphill climb going up against LeBron James and company.
Not surprisingly, Noah refuses to back down to the looming challenge.
“I’m very excited,” Noah told ESPN Chicago. “Obviously, they’re the best. You want to play against the best. Bottom of FormThis is what it’s all about, playing against the defending champs. It’s going to be a war.”
There’s certainly no love-lost between these two teams already and this series is expected to be a tense, hard-fought battle throughout. This Bulls team showed plenty of heart and will in closing out the series last night in Brooklyn but it may not be enough to take down the mighty HEAT.
Then again, not many people expected Chicago to take down Miami in the midst of their 27-game winning streak earlier this season so it wouldn’t be wise to dismiss the battle-tested Bulls.
Game 1 is Monday night in Miami and will be televised at 7:00 PM EST on TNT.