1. Chicago Bulls v. 5. Atlanta Hawks
Even though the Bulls are favored, I think this games going to be a lot closer than you think. For once, the Hawks showed resiliency and played DEFENSE in the post-season. The Orlando Magic’s entire team, besides Dwight Howard, struggled to get into rhythm the entire series. If they want any chance of upsetting the Bulls they must continue to defend the basket. Offensively, the Hawks must attack the rim. At times against Orlando, they would settle for bad jumpers and wouldn’t share the basketball. Their defense was able to bail them out, but they better not get lazy against Chicago. The Bulls have the “most likely” NBA MVP, Derrick Rose, and he was unstoppable in Chicago’s opening series (or should I say all season?). I have no doubts that Rose will continue to put up his huge numbers. Even though Rose has been tearing it up, Chicago must find another player to go to down the stretch. Eventually, Rose is going to fall short in the final minutes. You can’t rely on him to bail you out every time.
Bulls, Carlos Boozer: Boozer needs to get it going offensively. He only averaged 10.0 points in the opening series, which is way under his regular season average (17.5). Chicago didn’t sign for his services just so he can score 10 points a game in the playoffs.
Hawks, Jamal Crawford: In my opinion, he was one of the main reasons why Atlanta was able to beat down the Magic. He averaged 20.5 points off the bench and outscored the entire Orlando bench in multiple games. He needs to stay red hot as Atlanta lacks depth compared to Chicago.
Bulls in 6
2. Miami Heat v. 3. Boston Celtics
As we expected these two new rivals meet again. Both teams enter the second round after breezing past their opening opponents. The Heat are finally looking like the scary team we were waiting for. I have no idea how Boston is going to slow down their big three, but they must find a way. LeBron James has quietly put up MVP like numbers and he will be the focal point Miami’s offense. Boston’s front court must be able to protect the paint. Not only against James, but the Celtics must keep the Heat from scoring in the paint. Miami isn’t the greatest jump shooting team and tends to run into scoring droughts when settling for jumpers. Both teams match up well and this one can go either way. It’ll be interesting to see which big three comes up on top.
Heat, Chris Bosh: LeBron James and Dwayne Wade have continued to put up monster numbers all season, but Bosh has had an up and down year with the Heat. He stepped it up in the opening series which helped Miami take care of business. Whenever Bosh plays great the Heat play great. He needs to play aggressive and attack the rim instead of settling for jumpers.
Celtics, Rajon Rondo: The Celtics will go as far as Rondo takes him. He is the facilitator of the Celtic offense. Rondo torched the Knicks in the 1st round, not only with dishes, but also scoring the basketball. In Boston’s three wins over the Heat, Rondo had 17, 16, and 10 assists. He only had 5 in their one loss to Miami. If Rondo can exploit Miami’s poor point guard play they will win the series.
Heat in 7
4. Oklahoma City Thunder v. 8. Memphis Grizzlies
I don’t think anyone expected the Grizzlies to make it here as they dominated the San Antonio Spurs in the 1st round, making it one of the biggest upsets in NBA history. The Grizzlies have played excellent defense in the post-season and as they continue to use their physicality to their advantage. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol were unstoppable in the opening series, but they will have their hands full against the Thunders’ bigs, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. I don’t believe they are going to be as dominant as they were against the Spurs. Oklahoma City isn’t small or weak. They also have two superstars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. If Memphis wants to keep their miracle run going, they must get high production from their back court and continue to play aggressive on both ends of the floor.
Thunder, Serge Ibaka: His match up against Zach Randolph will be critical in this series. Randolph displayed his dominance against San Antonio and has the abilities to dictate an entire series. If Randolph dominates the point it could be a long night for the Thunder. Luckily for them, Ibaka led the NBA with most blocks and leads the playoffs with 4.8 blocks per game. Not only will he need to defend the rim, but he must be able to rebound the basketball.
Grizzlies, Mike Conley: In my opinion, Conley outplayed Tony Parker in the opening series, but will have his hands full against Russell Westbrook. Conley must continue to play with consistency, as his point guard play will be vital in this one. In his first playoff series, he was able to cause havoc for San Antonio. He isn’t afraid to hit the big jumper or attack the rim. He needs to have a good series if Memphis wants another upset.
Thunder in 7
2. Los Angeles Lakers v. 3. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavs finally got the monkey off their back as they prevailed in 6 against a tough Portland squad. It was a huge relief since they have been trounced in the opening round in three of their last four post-season trips. In my opinion, this is a favorable match-up for the Lakers. Lakers struggle against teams with quick point guards. No disrespect to Jason Kidd, but he’s not exactly quick. Also, the Mavericks don’t have physicality in the post. Dirk Nowitzki is more of an outside shooter and Tyson Chandler can’t do much in the post. Dallas is more of a jump shooting team. If Dallas wants success they must win the points in the paint. In their huge breakdown against Portland, Dallas settled for jumpers instead of going inside which started the undeniable comeback. They cannot allow Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum control this series. Dallas’ bench must be able to show another strong performance as well. Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic were tremendous. They must show up again. It’s hard to believe will be the first time Kobe will go up against Dirk in the post-season.
Lakers, Gasol and Bynum: The Lakers must feed these big guys as they were the difference makers in LA’s two wins over the Mavs during the regular reason. They dominated the paint against Dallas. Both big men have the abilities to change a game and their presence must be felt. Their performance will dictate how far the Lakers will go.
Mavs, Jason Terry: Terry was huge for Dallas in the opener as he displayed his magic touch from the outside. Terry is key to Dallas’ success. He must give Dirk from support and continue to hit big shots. If he can hit his 3’s they can be a tough team to beat.
Lakers in 6