NBA Playoff Semi-Final Match-up Previews
The first round of the NBA Playoffs were fittingly finalised with last-second Game 7 heroics from Chris Paul to down the reigning titleholder San Antonio Spurs. One thing we now know is the NBA will soon have a new champion. This is how the semi-final match-ups look…
Golden State Warriors (1) v Memphis Grizzlies (5)
Golden State were pushed at times in the first round by a plucky Pelicans, but ultimately prevailed in a sweep. Memphis did drop a game in their series but that was a credible performance in what loomed as a tricky tie against the Trailblazers. Key factor here will be the serious facial injury to the underrated yet formidable point guard Mike Conley who remains an uncertain starter. His absence hurts defensively, allowing extra time and space for Curry and Thompson to knock down outside shots. Equally missed will be his playmaking and 3-point threat, which means an extra defender can collapse and assist Green and Bogut inside on dangerous bigs Randolph and Gasol. Warriors to keep rolling along here.
Tip: Warriors in 5.
Houston Rockets (2) v LA Clippers (3)
The Clippers emerge from the San Antonio series with tired and battered bodies, a hamstring strain to Chris Paul but importantly a surge in self-belief. Houston had less trouble with the Mavs, aside from one slip-up on the road. Series highlight here promises to be LA’s athletic big-men Griffin and Jordan flying around Howard in the paint. Jamal Crawford aside, the Clipper’s bench output remains their biggest weakness, while MVP contender Harden will win games with periods of unstoppable offence. But if Paul can get over his hamstring, and the inspirational Game 7 performance indicates he will find a way, he remains the most likely series-deciding player and will drag his team across the line again.
Tip: Clippers in 7.
Atlanta Hawks (1) v Washington Wizards (5)
Atlanta stumbled through their first round contests against a surprisingly competitive Brooklyn, eventually taking control and winning in 6. The Wizards meanwhile romped to an emphatic clean sweep of the Raptors. Wall was dynamic and decisive, and Paul “The Truth” Pierce came up big. Atlanta are a deeper, more complete team and may just have turned a playoff corner in the latter stages of the Nets series. The shorter break in this particular match-up probably suits them better as well.
Tip: Hawks in 6.
Cleveland Cavaliers (2) v Chicago Bulls (3)
This promises to be quite the series, with Tom Thibodeau’s men desperate for playoff success against LeBron James this time. Both teams had more trouble than they might have expected in the first round of playoffs. The Cavs still managed to sweep the Celtics, but the Bulls actually dropped Games 4 and 5 and had to go to Milwaukee and hand out a 54-point hiding to close it out. The series positive was the successful re-integration of D-Rose. Lack of consistency from game-to-game remains a concern for the Bulls, but they have the coaching, experience and tools to disrupt James and Irving often enough. Love’s absence is another factor that will keep Chicago in it for seven games, but the Cavs will pinch this one.
Tip: Cavs in 7.