Organized Sports is a recurring sports column named for a seminal DC avant-hardcore song by the equally stupid and brilliant (to me, “equally stupid and brilliant” pretty much just means “brilliant”) band Void. Take from that what you will.
The first round of the NBA Playoffs is over and the second beginning right away. There weren’t many surprises in the first round as far as the results, but there was at least one injury that should change the makeup of the playoffs the rest of the way.
On to the recaps and picks after the jump, which is also a thing people do a lot when playing basketball.
Grading the First Round – The Western Conference
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (8) Houston Rockets
Prediction: OKC in 4
Actual Result: OKC in 6
A happening in game two of the series changed the complexion of the series itself and the Western Conference playoff picture as a whole, when Russell Westbrook was injured for the rest of the playoffs on a seemingly harmless play. It took all Kevin Durant had in him to finally put the Rockets away in game six, and though they won the series and made it to the second round, the top seed now looks like anything but.
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Los Angeles Lakers
Prediction: Spurs in 5
Actual Result: Spurs in 4
Ouch. When the Lakers lose, they sure do lose. Reminiscent of the embarrassing loss to the Mavericks two years ago in the second round, the Spurs didn’t so much win this series as scorch the earth that the Lakers walked on. In the final game, Dwight Howard was ejected, hopefully bringing an end to the hopes that he can turn the franchise around and be “the guy” once Kobe, injured for who knows how long, finally retires. It’s hard to even judge if the Spurs looked good or not because the Lakers looked so bad. If there’s something more embarrassing than getting swept with the final game of the sweep on your home court, this was it.
(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Golden State Warriors
Prediction: Nuggets in 6
Actual Result: Warriors in 6
In what was probably the most fun to watch basketball of the playoffs thus far, the Warriors upset the Nuggets behind a superstar-making performance by Stephan Curry, who turned the third quarters of the last few games into his personal trey-and-assist playground. The Nuggets couldn’t find a way to stop him, and couldn’t find a way to outscore him without Danilo Gallinari, whose absence was more noticeable than I had thought it would be. The series got chippy, it got ugly, and the basketball was beautiful. I was rooting for the Nuggets and wrong in my prediction, but I can’t say I’m too unhappy with the result.
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies
Prediction: Clippers in 7
Actual Result: Grizzlies in 6
After last year’s tough series between these two teams that saw the Clips moving on, the Grizzlies took their revenge this year by playing “big boy basketball.” Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol owned the Clipper bigs, and the Clipper offense looked out of sorts running all sorts of iso plays that didn’t work. If it weren’t for a miracle last second leaner in game two by Chris Paul, this series would have been over even sooner, and now the Grizzlies are looking like a potential Western Conference Champ.
Western Conference Average Grade: B-
Grading the First Round – The Eastern Conference
(1) Miami Heat vs. (8) Milwaukee Bucks
Prediction: Heat in 4
Actual Result: Heat in 4
This series went as planned, with the Heat not even having to fully turn on the engines to defeat the Bucks, who wouldn’t have even dreamed of touching a playoff spot had they been in the Western Conference. LeBron played well, with balanced numbers a little below his season average, but big numbers were not needed. Being able to win a series on cruise control must be nice; the second round will likely be a tad more difficult, though the result likely won’t be.
(2) New York Knicks vs. (7) Boston Celtics
Prediction: Knicks in 6
Actual Result: Knicks in 6
It took the Knicks six games to beat the Celtics, but after three games it sure didn’t look that way, with the Celtics looking old and out of sorts and too tired to do any damage in the second half without Rajon Rondo at the helm. Then the Celtics won game four, and took game five in a rough matchup, and people began wondering if the Celtics could do the Knicks what the Red Sox did to the Yankees in 2004. That ended up not happening, but the Celts made a valiant effort, and left people wondering what the Knicks will be capable of in this next round.
(3) Indiana Pacers vs. (6) Atlanta Hawks
Prediction: Pacers in 6
Actual Result: Pacers in 6
In the series that no one watched, the basketball was ugly enough that not watching was totally justified. In their wins, the Pacers looked good, and in their losses, both in Atlanta, they looked entirely lost. They’ll have to figure out some way to win on the road if they want to continue their run.
(4) Brooklyn Nets vs. (5) Chicago Bulls
Prediction: Bulls in 7
Actual Result: Bulls in 7
There’s no way the Bulls should have won this series. There’s no way the Nets should have lost this series. The Nets choked away a massive lead in game three, with unlikely heroes Joakim Noah (playing nearly the entire game with plantar fasciitis) and Nate Robinson (hotter than a pistol) combining to bring the Bulls back and win in triple overtime. Other than Deron Williams, none of the Nets earned their salary, but they should be happy with the result: last year, they weren’t even sniffing the playoffs, and this year they went to a game seven in the first round. Next year if they don’t make it out of the first is the time to worry.
Eastern Conference Average Grade: A
Overall Average Grade: B+
Round 2 Predictions – Western Conference
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies
Going into the playoffs, the Thunder looked like the team to come out of the West, with the Spurs bothered by nagging injuries and the Thunder fully healthy and running on all cylinders. Now, with Russell Westbrook out, that is no longer the case. Durant needs a second option, and one has yet to emerge. On the other hand, the Grizzlies looked great in their first round matchup dismantling the Clippers, totally outplaying them in every game except the first. Tony Allen will be able to focus his entire perimeter defensive attention on Kevin Durant without Westbrook there, and the Memphis bigs should have no trouble scoring down low. Look for an upset that doesn’t even look like an upset.
Prediction: Grizzlies in 6
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Golden State Warriors
The Spurs had an easy traipse through the first round, sweeping the lowly Lakers in embarrassing fashion and leaving themselves plenty of time to rest up before having to face the Warriors, who are a little worse for the wear after their tough series with the Nuggets—though it didn’t go seven games, it left enough bruises that it may as well have, with David Lee out, Steph Curry’s ankle bugging him (but not stopping him from raining threes like Slayer rains blood [RIP Jeff Hanneman]), and other slight tweaks. The Spurs aren’t 100% themselves, but they play a disciplined enough style that they should be able to defend better than the Nuggets were able, and Tim Duncan’s solid presence down low, along with Curry having to guard Tony Parker, gives the Spurs a slight edge.
Prediction: Spurs in 7
Round 2 Predictions – Eastern Conference
(1) Miami Heat vs. (5) Chicago Bulls
The Heat looked like their murderous selves in their easy first round sweep of the Nets. The Bulls played their hearts out shorthanded and hobbled to steal the first round series in seven games against the Nets. Derrick Rose, looking more and more selfish by the day, will not play yet again, Kirk Hinrich is doubtful, and Luol Deng will likely not be 100% even if he does play. This should be another easy one for the Heat, but because these Bulls just won’t quit, it will not be a sweep.
Prediction: Heat in 5
(2) New York Knicks vs. (3) Indiana Pacers
There are no players left from the Knicks-Pacers series matchups in the 1990s, but the cities both remember, and Spike Lee will be there. The Knicks are the better team when they’re on, but they’ve shown how bad they can be when they’re off, as in their two losses to the Celtics in the first round. The Pacers are terrible on the road, and in an otherwise fairly evenly matched series, that means the higher seed has the advantage. I’ll take the Knicks in a long one.
Prediction: Knicks in 7
I enjoy how “playoff basketball” has become what people in the media and the players when interviewed say to explain anything that happens in the playoffs. Playing through injuries? Playoff basketball. Dirty plays resulting in an almost brawl? Playoff basketball. Pigs flying? Playoff basketball. The Book of Job? Playoff basketball.
See you after the second round.