Thus far, the second round of the NBA Playoffs has been incredible after a generally lackluster Round 1 (save for the Clippers-Spurs series, one for the ages). This breath of fresh air for fans has brought along something that has never happened before: all four of the lower seeds in the conference semifinals leading their respective series after three games. Here is the general update on what has happened thus far in the series and my prediction on who I think will win the series.
#1 Atlanta Hawks vs. #5 Washington Wizards (Washington leads 2-1):
Up until Game 3, this may have been the most boring series to watch of Round 1. Neither of the first two games were all that close (though Game 1’s final score was pretty close, the Wizards were clearly the better team). Washington won Game 1 pretty handily, with Atlanta doing the same in Game 2.
Game 3 was more of the same with the Wizards dominating the Hawks in every aspect of the game, going up by 20… until a fourth quarter run led by Dennis Schroeder and the bench mob got the Hawks within 3. A three pointer by Mike Muscala (!!!) with 15 seconds left tied the game up, and it looked like the Hawks had done enough to send the game into overtime.
The fact that the Wizards lead at this point in the series is pretty incredible considering John Wall has missed Games 2 and 3 with a wrist injury. After he went down, everyone counted the Wizards out, but they responded with a gritty win in Game 3.
If they can protect home court again and beat the Hawks in Game 4, the Wizards will be sitting pretty. However, I believe at some point, the loss of Wall will catch up to the Wizards, and eventually, the shooters of the Hawks will start making their shots. That should happen in this series, and despite their deficit, I believe the Hawks will come back and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Prediction: Hawks win series, 4-3
#2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #3 Chicago Bulls (Chicago leads 2-1):
The favorite lost Game 1 pretty handily (despite a pretty close final score), then came back to win Game 2 in dominating fashion. After the venue shift for Game 3, a player (J.R. Smith) for the favorite hit a three to tie a very close game with under twenty seconds left, before a star (Derrick Rose) for the underdog banked in a buzzer beater to win Game 3 at home and take a 2-1 series lead.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Right now, the Cavaliers/Bulls series has a very similar narrative to the Hawks/Wizards series, culminating with the Rose buzzer-beating three to win Game 3 for Chicago.
However, there is a major difference between the two series’; in the Hawks/Wizards series, the underdog Wizards have a major injury with John Wall out. For the Cavaliers/Bulls, that is flipped, as the Cavaliers are dealing with a host of injuries. Kevin Love is out for the year with a shoulder injury, while Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert are playing through strains of their foot and groin, respectively.
The key to this series going forward will be the health of the Cavaliers. If Irving and Shumpert can play well despite their injuries, the Cavaliers should be too talented and have mismatch advantages over the Bulls. I believe they will be able to overcome these injuries and LeBron James will overcome his rough start to the series to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Prediction: Cavaliers win, 4-3
#1 Golden State Warriors vs. #5 Memphis Grizzlies (Memphis leads 2-1):
This is probably the most shocking result of any series thus far. Golden State, led by MVP Steph Curry, was the most dominating team in the league all throughout the regular season, and that continued when they swept Anthony Davis and the Pelicans in the first round.
That dominance looked like it would continue after the Warriors easily won Game 1. However, when Mike Conley returned in Game 2 after facial surgery, the series shifted in a dramatic way. The Splash Brothers struggled mightily in Games 2 and 3, and the Grizzlies won both to take a 2-1 series lead.
This series is all about the defense of the Grizzlies. After Game 1, the Splash Brothers have been shut down because of the incredible defense of Mike Conely and, especially, Tony Allen. Allen has helped guard and shut down everyone from Curry to Klay Thompson to Draymond Green, all of whom have struggled.
For the Warriors to win Game 4 and even this series up, Curry needs to be an MVP and dominate. With defenders like Conley and Allen pestering them all series, I’m not sure that will happen. I’m picking the upset here and going with the Grizzlies to win. Prediction: Grizzlies win, 4-2
#2 Houston Rockets vs. #3 Los Angeles Clippers (Los Angeles leads 2-1):
To me, the Clippers are playing like the best team in the NBA right now. After winning an all-time series against the defending champion Spurs in Round 1, the Clippers carry a 2-1 lead into Game 4 after not having Chris Paul for the first two games of the series in Houston.
How were they able to do that? Blake Griffin.
Griffin has been unbelievable in these playoffs thus far, recording three triple-doubles already. He is, without a doubt, the MVP of the playoffs thus far, and it isn’t really close. If Griffin keeps playing like he has, no one can beat the Clippers. Period.
But others have shown up in big ways for Los Angeles as well. In Game 3, Austin Rivers and J.J. Redick both had huge games to lead the Clippers. In Game 1, it was a team effort. In addition to Griffin’s triple-double, Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford scored 20 and 21 points, respectively, to provide big sparks. Simply put, their offense is firing on all cylinders, and now have Paul back to lead them.
Don’t count out the Rockets just yet, though. They are still led by James Harden, the MVP runner-up, and a revitalized Dwight Howard. They severely miss Patrick Beverley, one of the best guys in the league at containing point guards like… Chris Paul. However, they still have one of the best duos in the league and the perfect supporting cast around them.
With that all said, I believe Blake Griffin and the Clippers are just playing too well for anyone to beat them right now. The way they are playing, you have to believe they are the favorites for the championship, and that should continue throughout the rest of this series.
Prediction: Clippers win, 4-2.