The second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs begin tonight, following a first-round that was perhaps the most competitive, exciting round we’ve seen in recent history. Unfrotunately, we had to say goodbye to several entertaining teams, but the results of that first round have slated some second-round matchups that have the potential to be even more entertaining. Here’s a look at my predictions:
Indiana Pacers vs. Washington Wizards
A strong finish to a bad first-round series has restored a lot of people’s confidence back into the Indiana Pacers. However, the Washington Wizards breezed through the Chicago Bulls and have been resting for several days now. The Pacers won the season series 2-1, but their two victories came in November and January, well before they began their late-season slump.
The Wizards have the back-court advantage in John Wall and Bradley Beal, a strong wing defender in Trevor Ariza, and a versatile front-court in Nene and Marcin Gortat to match up with David West and Roy Hibbert. Wall could prove critical if he can get into the paint off the dribble, suck in the defense, and kick it out to the perimeter. The Wizards were an underrated defensive team during the regular season, finishing tenth in defensive rating. They proved against Chicago that they can suffocate a team that falls into offensive lapses, and the Pacers have been prone to do just that.
However, the Pacers may have figured out a way to wake up Hibbert in Game 7, Paul George and David West came alive when it mattered, and they have experience on their side. There’s two and a half months worth of material to doubt the Pacers with, but they were a dominant team prior to the All-Star break. If their starting five can click like they were in the first few months of the season (or Game 7), it’s hard to doubt them. Prediction: Pacers in 7.
Miami Heat vs. Brooklyn Nets
One of the marquee matchups everyone was hoping to see at the onset of the season. People are high on the Nets right now for the veteran poise displayed by Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Joe Johnson in the Toronto Raptors series, but perhaps mistakenly so. The Nets still went to seven games against an inexperienced team, and they nearly blew a double-digit lead down the stretch through some careless basketball. The Nets are tough to beat when they’re grinding down the pace to snail-speed and not turning the ball over. They did those things successfully against the Heat in the regular season (Brooklyn swept them 4-0 in the season series), but we saw how the Nets faltered in Toronto when they let the Raptors get out in the open court. And the Heat are SO much more dangerous than Toronto in that aspect.
The Heat overcame a feisty Charlotte Bobcats team while hardly breaking a sweat. They’re familiar with the Nets and they have been resting for several days. Miami is going to look to burst out of the gates and run the Nets off the court. Brooklyn’s veterans may begin to wear down as they get later into the series, and if that’s the case, the pace will favor Miami.
The playoffs are a different beast than the regular season. They have the talent to make the games close and fun, and they may very well steal a few, but I don’t see this becoming an upset. Prediction: Heat in 6.