We are finally ready to start Round 2 of the NBA playoffs. Which is fine, because Round 2 is where the playoffs really start, anyway. Every playoff pretender (basically everyone in the East who lost in Round 1) is out of the way. We can begin to think seriously about the teams remaining as title contenders. Here’s a look at what’s great about the matchups in Round 2.
We are finally ready to start Round 2 of the NBA playoffs.
Which is fine, because Round 2 is where the playoffs really start, anyway. Every playoff pretender (basically everyone in the East who lost in Round 1) is out of the way. We can begin to think seriously about the teams remaining as title contenders. Here’s a look at what’s great about the matchups in Round 2.
Heat vs. Bulls
This matchup isn’t especially interesting, but there is a tiny possibility for intrigue under the right circumstances. Chicago bows to no one in terms of toughness, are as physical and disciplined on defense as any team in the league, have an excellent coach and were the team that ended Miami’s 27-game win streak this season. They aren’t pushovers.
Another potential wrinkle in a Bulls-Heat series is the health and possible return of Derrick Rose. I don’t really know what to make of Rose’s slow return from an anterior cruciate ligament tear suffered in last year’s playoffs. Maybe it’s shifting expectations; an ACL injury used to require a full year recovery period, with a few months of “getting a feel for it on the court” in there for good
measure. Now we see people like Adrian Peterson come back from the injury after a long weekend, we hear about Robert Griffin III being ready for Week 1 after suffering ligament tears in the playoffs this past winter, and so we start to expect everyone to be like that. It’s still a gruesome injury, and I’m inclined to just let D-Rose tell us when he’s ready to come back.
On the other hand, he has been medically cleared to play for two months. His bruised and banged-up teammates killed themselves in Round 1, playing hurt and with passion. Shouldn’t he be out there if he’s physically able? Wouldn’t his return put a legitimate scare into the Heat in Round 2?
Knicks vs. Pacers
The renewal of a historic rivalry. I would be much more excited by this series if I felt like either team had the passion and pride that those 1990s Knicks/Pacers teams had. They had a sense of history, a sense of the moment, a sense of intense mutual dislike/respect for one another that inspired them to play their hearts out every time they met.
I just don’t know about these teams. Carmelo Anthony is the best player in the series, and his game has been otherworldly for the last two months. He’s an absolute offensive force, but he’s never really had any playoff success or any especially memorable big-time moments in the NBA. And his supporting cast is made up of the erratic (to put it nicely) J.R. Smith, the intermittently fat Raymond Felton and the lipstick-kiss-neck-tattooed Kenyon Martin. Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler are dignified champions, but this mix doesn’t scream “let’s go to war together.”
The Pacers are even worse. I follow this team very closely, and they are one of the most mentally weak teams I have ever watched. They have no on-court leadership, no real playoff experience, no deep-seated vitriol that they can convert into passion, and a generally wretched offense. They are well coached (Frank Vogel is entirely underrated; his Pacers teams play superior defense and always kick ass in the third quarter, both testaments to his schemes and adjustments) and they pushed Miami in the playoffs last year, but I’m afraid they don’t have the offensive wherewithal or the underlying hatred of the Knicks to get this done. Prove me wrong, Pacers.
Thunder vs. Grizzlies
The Grizzlies are everything that the Pacers should be: a defensively dominant team that plays with a massive size advantage in the frontcourt, works their offense from the inside out and in the high post and has the perfect mix of leadership, experience, coaching and trust in one another. They are really unique and fun to watch.
The Thunder are…some of those things? I really don’t know anymore. This season I thought they were their usual offensively intimidating selves, better on defense than in years past and with a bit of a chip on their shoulders when people dismissed them after the James Harden trade.
But when Russell Westbrook went down for the rest of the postseason with an injury and the burden shifted entirely to Kevin Durant and the coaching “acumen” of Scott Brooks, things kind of came unglued. If it weren’t for Houston’s inexperience, the Rockets would have absolutely taken this version of the Thunder to seven games, and might even have stolen the series. Durant has been a warrior, but he looks frustrated, and a me-first approach truly doesn’t suit him. His supporting cast has played terribly, and the team is relying on flop-master Derek Fisher to play meaningful minutes.
The Thunder are about to get ground into a pulp, probably for seven games. I really don’t know who will win this series, but in my gut it feels like the Griz. Either way, these are likable franchises that pit strength against strength. Should be a blast.
Spurs vs. Warriors
Love both of these teams. I don’t really think the Warriors stand a chance against the finely tuned machine that is San Antonio, but I am interested in what Stephen Curry can do. Curry’s getting tons of attention for the incredible show he put on in Round 1, and rightfully so; he’s earning comparisons to Reggie Miller and Ray Allen in the pure shooter pantheon, and rightfully so.
But while he’s been absolutely brilliant, I want to see him take command of the moment. When a shooter like Reggie Miller took over a game, it was the most exciting thing in the world to watch. And Miller did it over and over and over again, in big moments. If the Warriors have a prayer in the series, it is that Steph Curry will take them on his back and will them to victory with some legendary performances. I will be watching.