By Joe Manganiello
Not a single game was played Thursday. Not one. I don’t understand it.
While the Chicago Bulls have to play 10 games in 20 days, the Knicks/Pacers/Grizzles/Thunder get four days off in between game two and game three. Literally, if the Bulls/Heat/Spurs/Warriors swapped their Friday games with the Saturday lineup, every series would have three days off between games two and three. Instead, the Knicks/Pacers/Grizzles/Thunder have only played nine games in 21 days. The Bulls can barely field a team, yet the league is asking them to play more games in less time.
Oh, and for the record, their opponent, the Miami Heat, have only played (ahem) six games since April 21. If there is a team that can handle the quick turnaround, it’s them, and it’s certainly not Chicago.
I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy, but…
Without further ado.
1. Miami Heat (The Favorite)
I have written, tweeted and bantered at end about how the Bulls will make this a competitive series.
— Joe Manganiello (@joemags32) May 9, 2013
I still believe everything I have said about the Bulls being in this series, but OH MY GOD, DID YOU SEE WHAT LEBRON DID TO THEM ON WEDNESDAY?!!!
LeBron in game two: 19 points, nine assists, five rebounds and three steals in 32:29 minutes, and he didn’t have to score in the second half. He also made plays like this one.
When they are playing at full-speed and distributing the way they were on Wednesday, I don’t know if anybody can beat Miami.
2. Memphis Grizzles (The Best Challenger)
This series could not have begun more ideally for Memphis, short of being ahead 2-0. They held Oklahoma City to 93 points each game; Reggie Jackson is the only Thunder player to score in double-figures both games besides Kevin Durant; and excluding Durant, the Thunder are shooting 37.9 percent for the series (39/103 FG).
Memphis broke Oklahoma City’s home-court advantage and appears primed to end the series in six games (or less). When Marc Gasol is on the court, the Grizzles are scoring 4.6 more points per 100 possessions than the Thunder, according to NBA.com. Mike Conley is putting up these type of numbers through two games (boy, as he come on at the right time). All things considered, this is the best team in the West.
3. San Antonio (Could Totally Challenge If They Can Still Breath After This Series)
4. Golden State Warriors (Could Totally Challenge If They Don’t Fade Under Pressure)
This image describes a large portion of games one and two. While the series has not begun the way the older Spurs would have liked, it is certainly salvageable, for all of the same reasons.
In the first half, the Warriors have shot well (.483/.404/.775) and have scored 52.5 points, although their turnovers (8.8) have been high.
Suddenly in the third quarter, the Warriors numbers boom. They have shot lights out (.529/.484/.714), turned the ball over less (3.6) and scored 29.4 points per game. The Warriors have outscored opponents by 4.4 points per game in the third quarter.
The game’s most important quarter, however, has become a reality check. Their shooting has dropped off (.471/.317/.698), they have more turnovers (5.1) than assists (4.6), and their scoring has fallen to 24.3 points per game in the fourth. The Warriors have actually been outscored by 1.8 points per fourth quarter.
If the Spurs can split the games in Oakland, and take a 2-2 series back to San Antonio, they’d take back home-court advantage in the series, and affectively take back control. If the young Warriors don’t shore up their fourth quarter play, they run the risk of letting the veteran Spurs take back this series.
5. Chicago Bulls (The Team Nobody Wants To Play)
Chicago breaking Miami’s home-court advantage is as important as having a pre-game strategy before making your first plate at the Old Country Buffet. The Bulls just need to win three home games – I can’t stress enough that NBA teams win at home ALL THE TIME – to advance. It’s crazy to even consider Miami going down in the second round. Frankly, I can’t picture it.
If Chicago does pull off the largest upset in the history of the playoffs, one thing is for sure, they’d totally have the attention of Chicago-native Kanye West. Yeezy would hopefully make an impromptu concept album about his hometown team, centering the album around sure-to-be-hits like “The (Bulls) Life,” “(Rebounds) Are Forever,” and “(D-Rose) Walks.”
On a serious note, the fact that the series is tied at 1-1 only makes sense if you think about how much animosity both teams have for each other. The Bulls are going to hang around in this series, not because they are nearly as deep, healthy or talented, but because they HATE the Heat.
If there is a team that you want to avoid when they are playing angry, it’s the Bulls, possibly the most physical team in basketball. Playing the Bulls is like being the first batter of the top of the fourth inning after a verbal altercation between both dugouts in the bottom of the third: there is a good chance you are going to take a fastball in the ribs.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder (The Player Nobody Wants To Play)
With Russell Westbrook out, Memphis was the absolute worst draw EVER for the Thunder in the second round. How did the No. 1 seed get cursed with an injury to its All-Star point guard AND having to play the best No. 5 seed since the ’02-’03 Lakers?
Sidebar: What an odd year in the Shaq/Kobe legacy. The Lakers had just completed their three-peat (’00-’02) and their two best players were both in the prime of their careers. Kobe had his first 30 ppg season and played in every regular season game, but Shaq missed 15 games due to injury. Just how important was Shaq to those teams? The Lakers went 45-22 in the 67 games he was on the court, and 5-10 without him, including 3-9 when Shaq missed the first 12 games of the season. The poor start led to a No. 5 seed, putting them on a collison course for No. 1 San Antonio, who might have had the best of its four title teams that year. The Spurs took care of the Lakers in six games, which ended in a blow out. End sidebar.
The Thunder are going to have to lean on Durant night in and night out the duration of this post-season which, so far, hasn’t been a problem for the league’s premier scoring threat. With a PER of 30.1 (2nd in NBA), he is scoring 33 points on 18.8 FGA per game.
The best case scenario for Oklahoma City is to split games three and four, take home-court advantage back, and go all-in for game five. More than likely, however, Memphis will take both home games and make it a 3-1 series. If the Thunder do go down 3-1, I couldn’t think of a single player I’d want more to try and bring us back. Durant could put on a show in games five through seven, which is why Memphis has to remember the most important rule of the playoffs: if you can finish a team, don’t waste any time. Memphis wants this series to finish as quickly as possible.
7. Indiana Pacers (The Strong and Silent-Type Contender)
8. New York Knicks (The Team You Have To Hope Beats Itself, Or Else)
As Dave Holcomb and I talked about on The Shoot Around Thursday, this series is between the most bipolar team and the most predictable team.
The Knicks could score anywhere from 80 to 120 points on a given night, with a field goal percentage that can dance between 35 and 60 percent. They also sometimes play good defense and sometimes take care of the basketball really well. Sometimes.
The Pacers on the other hand are super predictable. They have five players who are going to score in double-figures, they are going to score over 100 points at home (much less on the road) and they play very sound defense. They aren’t a deep team (Sam Young plays minutes for this team) and they lack sparkplug-type players, but if Roy Hibbert dominates the game from the inside and Paul George is the best player on the floor, Indiana will win just about every time.
What does that mean for games three and four? It means my Knicks have their work cut out for them. Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith need to shoot well, but they also need more production out of the point guard position. Raymond Felton shrunk in the Boston series, and has yet to break out since. The team is scoring just 95.8 points per 100 possessions with him the last five games. If he gets outplayed by George Hill for a single game the rest of the series, the Knicks are in trouble.
Follow me @joemags32. Tweet me, comment on my article and enjoy the NBA – Peace, love, recycle and ball.