Six first round series are in the book, and two more will be decided over the weekend. With the Eastern Conference Semifinals set to begin to tonight (76ers vs. Celtics), as well as the first Los Angeles team trying to avoid elimination (Nuggets vs. Lakers), the NBA playoffs continue to dominate the sporting world (at least my sporting world anyway). Intriguing questions continue to surface as these NBA playoffs carry on, with none being more prevalent than the obvious; is this finally the year Lebron James delivers? Here are some random news and notes (as well as predictions) from a basketball junkie.
- Did someone discover the fountain of youth in Beantown? If so, is Kevin Garnett keeping the discovery all to himself? All kidding aside, the 35 year old Garnett appeared energetic as ever during the Celtics series clinching victory over the Hawks on Thursday. Boston needed every bit of his 28 points, 14 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 3 steals to avoid heading back to Atlanta for a Game 7. The Big Ticket has increased his scoring (+2.9), rebounding (+2.3), and his minutes per game (+6.6) during the playoffs (over his season averages). In his last two regular season games versus the Sixers, Garnett averaged 20 points, 7 rebounds, and shot 64.5% from the field. Sky is the limit for the Celtics if Garnett can continue his stellar play during this postseason.
Kevin Garnett’s Game 6 Performance vs. Atlanta
- Speaking of the Sixers versus Celtics series, keep an eye on the point guard matchup. Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday might be the most underrated player left in the postseason. Holiday is averaging 18.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, all while shooting over 40% from both the field and three point land. There will be those who will argue that Holiday wouldn’t have been nearly successful had Derrick Rose stayed healthy in the opening round. Those same detractors would be wise to keep an eye on Holiday’s play versus Rajon Rondo (arguably the 2nd best point guard in the league behind Rose) in the conference semifinals. They might be surprised with the results.
- After watching the Oklahoma City Thunder dismantle the Dallas Mavericks in the opening round, I am finally convinced that James Harden (not Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook) is the key to the Thunder’s championship aspirations this season. That’s not to say that Harden is a better player than Durant or Westbrook, he just happens to represent the Thunder’s biggest positional advantage when he is on the court (especially when it’s at the same time as Durant and Westbrook). With most teams having to put their two best defensive players on Durant and Westbrook, how in the world do you contain Harden at the end of games? Harden is unquestionably the best 3rd scoring option any team has left in the postseason (to be honest, I can’t think of a better 3rd scoring option in recent memory). In my opinion, Harden was the best player on the court during the Thunder’s opening round victory over the Mavericks (18.3 PPG, 50% FG, 46% 3FG).
Is James Harden the key to the Thunder’s Championship run?
- The offseason acquisition of George Hill continues to pay huge dividends for the Indiana Pacers. Hill is coming off an absolutely fantastic playoff series versus the Magic in which he increased his points per game by nearly 5 over his regular season average (14.2-Playoffs vs. 9.6-Regular Season). Hill, who gained valuable playoff experience during his stint with the Spurs, could be the “wild card” in the Pacers upcoming series versus the Heat. One of the Pacers few advantages in the series will be their roster depth. If Hill can post similar offensive production versus the Heat, the Pacers will be in good shape.
- While we are on the subject of roster depth, how impressive were the Spurs in the opening round? San Antonio had seven players who averaged at least 8 points or more during their wins versus the Jazz (Parker-21.0, Duncan-14.3, Jackson-10.0, Green-8.5, Ginobili-8.5, Neal-8.3, Splitter-8.0). The Spurs lead the postseason in points differential, outscoring their opponents by 16 points per game (102.3-Spurs vs. 86.3-Jazz). After wrapping their series up early, the Spurs will be well rested and ready to continue their championship march.
- Can Kobe Bryant get some help from his supporting cast tonight? He had better hope so, or the Lakers could be in store for a historical collapse. George Karl has absolutely outcoached Mike Brown in this series, and I think that could be the difference tonight. I like the Nuggets to pull off a huge upset at Staples this evening. The Lakers backcourt will have no answer for Ty Lawson or Andre Miller once again.
- The Clippers missed their chance last night. Listen, Blake Griffin just doesn’t look the same after tweaking his knee in Game 5. Chris Paul will need a big time performance on Sunday to even keep the Clippers in the game. The Grizzlies are playoff battle tested and just appear to have the better team. This will be an extremely physical game, however the Grizzlies won’t be denied in front of their home crowd.
- Celtics over the Sixers in 7 games. The Celtics will benefit from playing the slow grind it out pace that the 76ers also like to play. Don’t underestimate the momentum that the 76ers carry into this series after knocking off the top seed Bulls. They are essentially playing with house money. Still, this appears to be the last championship run the Celtics will have with the Big 3. A potential matchup with the Miami Heat appears imminent.
- Heat over the Pacers in 5 games. The Pacers are probably a year away from realistically challenging from an NBA title. They have all the pieces in place to be a title contender for years to come. This postseason just has the feel that it will belong to Lebron James and the Heat. Pacers will have a hard time containing James and Wade in this series. If Danny Granger struggles for Indiana, this series will be over quick.
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