2014 NBA Playoffs Preview: 4-5 Match Up

Well Day 1 of the NBA playoffs is in the books and most of my predictions look to be in jeopardy. The Thunder were the only home team to win, with the Pacers, Clippers and Raptors all relinquishing home-court advantage. Here’s hoping that that trend does not continue with today’s games!

Eastern Conference
CHICAGO BULLS (4) vs. WASHINGTON WIZARDS (5)

Regular Season Series: Wizards won 2-1 (split 1-1 in Washington)

This is a difficult match-up to pick because it’s in the Eastern conference and who knows what team will show up when? The Bulls have put together a great second half of their season having gotten rid of Luol Deng and finding some scraps off the free agent market in DJ Augustin. I don’t think anyone has mentioned Derrick Rose anytime recently with respect to the Bulls. Tom Thibodeau has continued to ride his starters for insane minutes per game and Joakim Noah looks like a legitimate triple-double threat on any given night. The Bulls have a lot of things going for them and given that their game is predicated around the playoffs with a slow, physical style, they’ll have an upper-hand in this series, in my opinion.

The Wizards have a lot of talent and probably realized they were not bad enough to tank and get into the lottery so they decided to try their hardest. Given how shitty the East is, they climbed up as far as the 5-seed and were competing for home-court into the last few days of the season. The Wizards are also quite young and have a chance to become really good, especially given that they’ll be getting valuable playoff experience at a relatively early stage in their stars’ careers. John Wall and Bradley Beal form a formidable backcourt and Gortat and Nene is a luxury that few teams have at the 5. Ariza has once again showed how he can be valuable in a system where he is not meant to be the primary offensive threat and has been putting up good numbers and hounding defense.

I think this series will be close because the Bulls, while great defensively, get into frequent scoring lulls. The Wizards, though young and offensive-minded, are not yet consistent enough to break down the Bulls in the half-court. This series is going to come down to the 3-ball. The Wizards are the 6th best team shooting three pointers percentage-wise, but don’t take that many. The Bulls will likely have to extend their range since the Wizards will just pack the paint. I think the Bulls win, but it’s going to be a tight series.

PREDICTION: Bulls in 7 (4-3)

Western Conference
HOUSTON ROCKETS (4) vs. PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (5)

Regular Season Series: Rockets won 3-1 (split 1-1 in Portland)

It’s “Rip City” vs. “Clutch City”. I don’t know what the “rip” in Rip City means, but that’s besides the point. As a Rockets fan who watched nearly every minute of nearly each one of the 82 regular season games, I am fairly confident in the Rockets ability to win this first round match up. However, given both teams rely so heavily on the three-pointer, this series could swing wildly. If either team can’t get it going from deep while the other is, expect large leads to develop. Both teams have also demonstrated an ability to come back from large deficits, so the game is probably not going to be over until the very end.

I don’t mind Portland as a team, but I think they are very streaky. They make a lot of bullshit shots (deep threes with the shot-clock running out, Wesley Mathews draining turnaround fadeaways from deep, Batum just generally shooting 8-foot stepbacks, etc.) and they are almost completely dependent on jump shooting. They are kind of like the Houston Rockets last year but with less defense. LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the best jump-shooters in the league and one of the worst back-to-the-basket players at his size. He is kind of like Dirk Nowitzki with less range. While he’s a great player, I don’t think he’s a “star” per se.

The Rockets have grown a year with most of their core and of course have had to integrate Dwight Howard into the line-up as well. With Howard, they have a true center who is athletic and dominant in the paint. D12 still has work to do in his back-to-the-basket game, but he’s come quite fast. His left-handed jump hook turning into the paint from the right block is nearly unstoppable and I’m surprised he doesn’t go to it as often. The Rockets also shoot a lot of threes–most in the league, in fact–and make enough of them to be worthwhile. Of our starting 5, three can drain it from deep at a high clip and T Jones can stretch the floor on a hot night. Our bench is where we struggle a little bit, but given that the Blazers bench is basically Mo Williams, offensively, I think we should be fine.

I expect this series to feature a lot of high-scoring games but the Rockets to prevail because their game is more polished and consistent. I would not be surprised if the Blazers steal one in Houston, but I fully believe the Rockets to be able to win on the road, if necessary.

PREDICTION: Rockets in 5 (4-1)

I’m heading down to Houston for Game 1 tonight and am pumped! Hopefully we start off the series on the right foot.

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