Monday / May 05 / 2014
Road to the Finals: Conference Semi-Finals
Pio Garcia

Photo: Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) shoots past Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) in the second half of Game 3 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series on Friday, April 25, 2014, in Washington. The Bulls won 100-97. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

In a NBA Playoff devoid of the New York Knicks, the Boston Celtics, and the Los Angeles Lakers, many thought there would be no drama. Playoff match-ups devoid of nail-biters, superstars like Kobe, Melo (wait did I just call him superstar?), it would be a drag.

Guess what; five of the eight first round matches went the distance, three coming from the wild, wild West while two happened in the East.

Who knew that the Atlanta Hawks would eventually push the Indiana Pacers to the limit? Who knew that Monta Ellis can detonate at will and got so close to dropping the San Antonio Spurs and write them in history books as the number one seed to be dropped twice by eight seeds? Who knew that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan would grow up in the Playoffs? Who knew that the Clippers can concentrate on just playing their game even if their owner is heaving somewhere?

But now, we are down to eight. And the remaining four match ups would be a dandy. And, you bet your bucks that this is going to be entertaining on both coasts. Let’s have a look at our potential protagonists for the race to the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Indiana Pacers (1) versus Washington Wizards (5)

My luck-less two cents:

This should be a more favorable match-up for the Pacers since they wouldn’t have to go small and guard four out, one in. But that doesn’t mean they’ll have it easier versus the young Wizards. While Roy Hibbert continues to search for his lost cojones, he’ll have to contend with a very rugged Brazilian and equally brutish Polish in Nene and Marcin Gortat. However, with Nene very healthy and brimming with confidence after destroying my favorite Bull, Joakim Noah, he should be a handful.

Imagine this: John Wall and a super-mobile Nene running the Pick N Roll; to death. You try and cover Wall, cutting his lane, he’ll just roll it to Nene, who will be having David West and Hibbert eating his dust. You try to sag and prevent the dime to Nene, Wall has a jumpshot now in his arsenal or just blow by the open lane and head straight to the rack. You deny both, you have to contend with Bradley Beal setting up in the wings or a Trevor Ariza cutting through the baseline setting up for a corner three. And if you think Gortat will be doing nothing, he’ll be filling that lane and probably sealing his way in for a deuce.

For Indiana to win, Paul George must be at his Game 6 and 7 self. West needs his elbow jumpers via PnR. Lance Stephenson is the wild card here. If he flirts with his triple-double, Washington is in trouble for no one is as big or strong to stop Stephenson when he flies with reckless abandon. Hibbert? He’ll have Nene, Gortat, Booker, and Seraphin on his back all series long. He’d be tenderized if he doesn’t wear his big boy pants.

Defensively, I’m looking at Vogel to cross match. Put George, Indiana’s best defender, on John Wall, Stephenson should lock on Beal and Hill should always be mindful to just track Ariza. West and Hibbert can play rock-paper-scissors to determine who gets Nene and who shoulders Gortat.

My luck-less pick: Washington Wizards

Photo: Miami Heat's LeBron James as he walks down the court during the second half in Game 4 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Charlotte Bobcats in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, April 28, 2014. The Heat won 109-98, sweeping the series. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Miami Heat (2) versus Brooklyn Nets (7)

My luck-less two cents:

Three guys across Miami know of a way to stop LeBron James: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Kidd.

That doesn’t entirely mean they’ll go ahead and wrap this up being the bane of LeBron in the Eastern Semis (Pierce, Garnett) or during the Finals (Kidd) itself. LeBron is an entirely different beast after those losses. Whether we like it or not, whatever Tom Thibodeau devised back in Boston nor when Rick Carlisle made Jason Kidd and the Mavs play that irregular zone defense to deter him, he has the tools to make it a really quick and painful death, assuming of course, if his team mates lock on.

Throwing that out of the bin, LeBron will be LeBron. It’s up to Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the heat to play with him in sync. Ray Allen has to hit his shots (he was awful in the Charlotte series). Greg Oden should be ready now since the Nets won’t necessarily run. Birdman has to move well without the ball and keep those hands up in time to catch drop passed.

For the Nets’ sake, they won’t go anywhere as long as Deron Williams remains incognito. Thing is, ever since he became a coach-killer, it’s never been the same Deron we saw make a run in the Western Conference Finals as a Utah Jazz. He has terribly regressed and even fell out of All-Star status. Hate me if you will, stats don’t matter to me if you are putting that up against bad teams. Kyle Lowry outplayed him on every front and he was a step slow. He’s brittle. He’s not the Flying Illini that made buckets when it counted.

My luck-less pick: Miami Heat

Photo: Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard, center, celebrates with fans, his winning shot against the Houston Rockets during the last .9 of a second of game six of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series game in Portland, Ore., Friday May 2, 2014. The Trail Blazers won the series in a 99-98 win. (AP Photo/Greg Wahl-Stephens)

San Antonio Spurs (1) versus Portland Trailblazers (5)

My luck-less two cents:

Oh this one should be entertaining. Both teams have otherworldly point guards. They even have Tim Duncan and Tim Duncan 2.0 if you will. They have do-it-all small forwards. They have scrappy guards. And they both have two centers who do the dirty jobs.

In a way, you can say Portland is San Antonio lite, minus the Pops pedigree and the rings. The defensive systems are what differs one from another. San Antonio can lock ‘em down when they want to and never let up. Portland doesn’t boast that much of a defensive power. But they sure are scrappy. The stars would eventually even each other out.

This is a series wherein which team’s X-factors can give that improbable push to victory. San Antonio still has Manu Ginobili who’s itching to redeem himself after last year’s Finals debacle. Kawhi Leonard remains to be a match-up problem and may even be assigned to cover Portland’s Damian Lillard at times. Then you don’t know when Matt Bonner or Danny Green could get hot from downtown. Heck, even Boris Diaw still provides surprise production despite looking like he couldn’t sprint at all. Tiago Splitter will have his moments, being a solid slotman for Pop.

The Blazers, on the other end, have tireless workhorse Thomas Robinson who crashes the glass like his life depended on it (and should relish the fact that he has found a home). Dorell Wright can light it up when they play small ball making him the stretch four, and this worked effectively against the Rockets. Mo Williams still shoots the team in the foot with his shot selection but came up big when it mattered most. Wes Matthews was unrelenting against the Rockets and the man known to Rip City as “Iron Man” should do no less against Manu and Green. Robin Lopez will probably draw Duncan in defense and might have to switch things up a bit after going shoulder-to-shoulder with Dwight Howard. Duncan may not compare with Howard’s power but the fundamentals and post skills are a class of their own.

However, San Antonio had problems with a guard who comes off pick and rolls in attack mode. Monta Ellis showed us just that. And for the Blazers to win, Lillard must be in rack attack mode when he goes PnR with LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge should not be contented with just hoisting jumpers. This is San Antonio. They’ll run you out of your sweet spots. And knowing Pop, he’ll throw a double or even a triple at Aldridge if Stotts decides they just park it down there and let LA Wheel N Deal Portland to victory.

My luck-less pick: Portland Trailblazers. Just to make it interesting.

Photo: Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin celebrates with guard Jamal Crawford during the second half in Game 7 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Golden State Warriors, Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 126-121. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Oklahoma City Thunder (2) versus Los Angeles Clippers (3)

My luck-less two cents:

Again, another entertaining series if all goes well.

KD-Russ versus CP3-Blake-DJ.

If Russell Westbrook plays like that triple-double Game 7, this could spell trouble for the Clips. Russ never gives a care who meets him at the rim even if it’s DeAndre Jordan. You could say he has to get past CP3 first, but with Paul playing with a right hamstring injury, keeping up with Westbrook would be a problem. And Westbrook is not nice in a way that he wouldn’t attack that hamstring injury. He will. And the Clips will have to pray that he’ll be 7-20something for the game.

Who will the Clippers assign to guard Kevin Durant though? Matt Barnes? Well good luck to him. After the Oklahoman lit a fire under Durant thanks to their headline, Barnes can talk all game if he wants, rough up the 2014 MVP all he wants, but Durant is on another plane of existence. He dropped the hammer on Tony Allen in consecutive games after making it seem that Allen is the Durant-stopper. He’s nasty that way.

For the Clips to trudge on to the Conference Finals, they’ll need to have Blake Griffin in 20-10 mode. They won’t be playing four out, one in unlike in the Warriors series. Ibaka would be no defensive pushover like David Lee but there’s no need for incessant flopping else Scott Brooks decide to play Durant at the four and Serge Ibaka at the five to cripple Griffin and Jordan’s highwire act. CP3 needs to play as if his hamstring doesn’t have a tweak. He’s the point guards of all point guards anyway. DeAndre should dominate Shaqtin A Fool legendary VP extraordinaire Kendrick Perkins like he’s wont to do.

And if there’s Hack a Jordan when it’s close, don’t forget that Hack a Perkins is generally well and able too.

My luck-less pick: Los Angeles Clippers

You don’t like it? Well, let’s just see the games play out. It’s a guessing game when doing forecasts anyway.

Send your letters of complaint, protest and blind hate to @PioVGarcia.

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