ROUND II - After seeing two huge upsets in the first round, there's no telling what we could see in round two. A battle of western titans goes down between the Spurs and Suns and in the east Chicago comes off sweeping the defending champs only to be rewarded with the Detroit Pistons.
Okay, fine, so sue me. I went perfect in my predictions of the first round last season - not so much with the perfectness this go around. I missed two, probably three, maybe even four, series calls. Yeah, like there were a bunch of people (sane people) picking Miami to get swept out of the first round or the 67 win Mavericks get ousted in six. I do what I can.
The second round of playoff goodness brings with it four more match ups, eight teams alive, and a fair share of drama. We get to see how far the giant killer Warriors go, the Spurs and the Suns going head to head, and the not-so-baby Bulls playing the grizzled veteran team Detroit Pistons. And yeah, Cleveland's gonna beat somebody too.
Flip the tape, round two...
Phoenix Suns(2) vs. San Antonio Spurs(3)
Winner: San Antonio Spurs
Thoughts: This is far and away the best series of the second round, and I'll say with certainty that the team that wins this series will win the NBA championship. Steve Nash remains the best point guard in the league, running the best offense in the league, along side the best finisher in the league, a cat by the name of Amare Stoudemire. And as much as I recognize the greatness of the Suns, I know all too well how the Spurs can overcome even the most challenging of opponents, and stifle even the most potent of offenses. The Spurs have won 10 of the last 14 games against the Suns, and have held the Suns to just 98 points per game this season, significantly lower than their normal 110 points pace.
One of the keys to this series will be Steve Nash, not just how well he copes with the Spurs aggressive defense, but how well he manages against Tony Parker. Parker has averaged 28 points per game against the Suns this year and it will be interesting to see if Mike D'Antoni puts Raja Bell on the quick Spurs point guard. I wouldn't even be surprised if Shawn Marion got assigned to guard Parker for stretches because we have seen that from the Suns in the past. Regardless, Parker provides a match up issue, as does the ever consistent Tim Duncan for that matter. While Amare is a decent low post defender, he can't stop Duncan, meaning the Suns may have as hard a time stopping the Spurs as the Spurs will have stopping the Suns. In a seven game series that will take too much of a toll on the Suns. Spurs win in six games.
Detroit Pistons(1) vs. Chicago Bulls(4)
Winner: Detroit Pistons
Thoughts: The Chicago Bulls made a statement when the swept the defending champ Miami Heat from the playoffs. What they said was simply this: the Bulls are for real. I don't want to try and take anything away from the Bulls, they beat Miami convincingly and that in itself is impressive. Their match up against the Pistons, however, will not prove so easy.
The Pistons are build decidedly different than the Heat, changing the landscape in which the Bulls had such fine match up advantages against the Heat. Rip Hamilton is not Dwyane Wade, and neither is Chauncey Billups for that matter. Standing in front of Wade and staying in front of him is a tough feat but entirely different from chasing Hamilton around screens all over the court. Wade is a one way player, while Hamilton goes forward, backwards, sideways, and in circles frequently, and he does so with precision and purpose that few other players do. Likewise Billups provides a different look for the Bulls with his ability to post up other guards.
Futhermore, factor in the trio of bigs for Detroit. Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess, and Chris Webber are all capable big men on both ends of the floor, and they will expose Chicago's lack of size down low. Finally, consider the Pistons have a group of shooters to spread the floor with. Billups, Hamilton, Prince, and Wallace can all step out and hit the three, giving the Pistons an element Miami has been lacking for several seasons now. Defensively the Pistons also match up well. Ben Gordon and Luol Deng had their way against the Heat, but the length of Tayshaun Prince on Deng, and the strength and quickness of Billups on Gordon may do something to change that. I know we're all real hyped on the Bulls, but the reality is these guys are coming down from their temporary high and they're coming down hard. Pistons win in six.
NOTE: You may have noticed this is titled "Part 1" and there are only half the match ups covered here. That's because due to the ungodly length of the first round, it will overlap with the second. Chicago-Detroit starts tomorrow as the Rockets-Jazz finish up. I'll have the second half of the second round predictions as soon as the match ups are set.