After correctly predicting seven of the eight first-round winners in the first round, it’s on to the incredibly interesting conference semifinals. Miami and San Antonio breezed through its matchups, while the Knicks, Pacers, Thunder, Grizzlies and Warriors took their series in six games. Chicago got a supreme effort from Joakim Noah in its Game 7 road win over Brooklyn on Saturday night to advance to the second round and finalize the bracket.
Miami over Chicago in 6 games- It’s no secret that the Bulls are going to go hard in the paint. In most crucial situations, Chicago will not hesitate to foul LeBron James as hard as legally possible. It’s going to be a rugged, rough series. The Bulls showed enough gumption in the first round, and success against the Heat in the regular season, to give them a couple of games. But Miami is too talented to falter here and will advance to the conference finals.
New York over Indiana in 7 games- This is the best matchup of the round, bar none. Indiana is one of the two best defensive teams in the league, and the NBA’s leader in defensive win shares (Paul George) will be locked up on Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony all series. Each team has a matchup it would like to exploit. New York probably can’t counterbalance both Roy Hibbert AND David West down low, while the speed and athleticism of Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert will have to perform well against George Hill, even if Hill is a very good defender in his own right.
Memphis over Oklahoma City in 6 games- With the bigs of Memphis neutralizing Serge Ibaka at the very least, Oklahoma City will need to find a second scoring option to Kevin Durant, who will be closely guarded by Tony Allen throughout the series. Will it be Ibaka? Kevin Martin? Reggie Jackson? The options are limited, and Mike Conley should have a tremendous series with Russell Westbrook out of commission. Durant will need an other-worldly, transcendent series for the Thunder to advance. Even KD won’t be enough.
San Antonio over Golden State in 6 games- The Tony Parker-Stephen Curry matchup at point guard is going to be extremely fun to watch, with two of the most dynamic backcourt players in the game locking horns. One problem Golden State will face is Tim Duncan going up against David Lee, who was never known for his defense. That makes Andrew Bogut’s role even more important this series for the Warriors after a tremendous round against Denver. One player to not overlook for the Spurs is Kawhi Leonard, who is a very good perimeter defender and an unheralded danger from 3-point range. I like the Spurs to advance.
Be sure to read my column on SherdianHoops.com every Tuesday through Friday during the postseason.
NEW YORK– By Joseph Wasserman
As the Celtics forced a Game Six on Wednesday, after having been down three games to none to the Knicks, everyone inevitably drew a parallel between this series and the 2004 ALCS between the Yankees and Red Sox.
There is a big difference: The ’04 Yanks were good. To make an ALCS appearance is far more impressive than a first round NBA playoff appearance. That is not to give those Bombers a pass for their historic meltdown, but let’s point out the obvious. For a Yankee fan, nothing will ever compare to 2004—merely thinking about it makes me nauseous. But the fact is, what seems to be happening to these Knickerbockers is far more pathetic. It’s really not even that close.
With all due respect to the Celtics, and their cagey, veteran play, they are not on the level of the 2004 Red Sox. That was simply a phenomenal team, and that ALCS was without question a matchup of baseball’s two finest ball clubs—no one else could have touched either of them.
Now, the Knicks may very well pull out a W on Friday night, and avoid catastrophe. But it’s doubtful that this team—one that has been so streaky all year long—will find a way out of this most recent tailspin. Going into Boston is never easy, and it certainly won’t help a team with a penchant for getting rattled when the going gets rough. When it comes to picking up technical fouls, or suspensions in the case of J.R. Smith, the Knicks are a very skilled basketball team.
As for making shots, it’s a different story. Yes, Mike Woodson’s club has used the three-ball well at times, and has shot their way to some success this season, but as the saying goes, “you live by the three, you die by the three.” And right now, New York is on life support.
Another thing: Carmelo Anthony is a loser. He will simply never win at this level of play, not as long as he plays the selfish brand of ball he does. He can have scoring titles, but world titles will always be far beyond his reach. Since Anthony is the centerpiece of Jim Dolan’s sorry franchise, the Knicks will have to wait a while before any serious talk of reaching the “promised land.”
So please, stop with the Yankees comparisons. The only thing these Knicks have in common with the Bronx Bombers of ’04 is the “New York” on their uniforms.
The NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday, so it’s time to make some picks along with an explanation for each series. For a further basketball postseason breakdown, check out my weekly column in Sheridan Hoops on the key player for each team in the first round.
Miami over Milwaukee in 4 games- The Heat have too much talent and athleticism for the middling Bucks, and it’s really difficult to seeing Milwaukee winning a game.
New York over Boston in 6 games- The Celtics’ spirit and passion will be on high, but Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks’ depth will be key in its series win.
Indiana over Atlanta in 6 games- The Pacers should steamroll the Hawks, but Indiana’s inconsistency and sputtering offense will lengthen the series.
Chicago over Brooklyn in 6 games- The Bulls muscle in the paint and its toughness will provide for the conference’s lone upset this round against the hobbling Deron Williams and his Nets.
Oklahoma City over Houston in 6 games- James Harden will probably win one game for Houston, and the Rockets may even get another, but the Thunder are just on a different level.
San Antonio over LA Lakers in 5 games- LA might be able to steal game three or four, but guard play is where the Spurs will obliterate the Lakers.
Denver over Golden State in 5 games- The Nuggets’ muscle down low and its home court advantage will be too much for the young and inexperience Warriors, who will have to lean too heavily on Stephen Curry.
Memphis over LA Clippers in 7 games- In a rematch of last year’s epic first round, the Grizzlies achieve revenge and defeat the Clippers in the best series of the first round.
NEW YORK– By Joseph Wasserman
The Miami Heat is LeBron James’ team. He is the MVP, hands down the best player in the league, and already one of the single greatest to ever play the game. But with the limelight shining so heavily on King James, let us not forget or underestimate the importance of second banana Dwyane Wade.
The City of Miami had belonged to Wade for a good five years. From his spectacular 2005 playoff outing until July 8, 2010, the day of LeBron’s infamous decision, it was all about number three in Miami. In 2006, it was Wade who led the Heat to its first championship in franchise history. In fact, for one week in July of 2010, Miami-Dade County was officially renamed Miami-Wade County.
While D-Wade’s numbers have declined a bit these past few seasons, and his superstar appeal has somewhat faded in James’ shadow, he deserves the appropriate respect for so willingly transitioning into a new, less glorious role.
Aside from the occasional day off for LeBron, Wade hasn’t been the best player on the court for three years now. Off the court, he is no longer the sole pride of South Beach, as he once was. He has become a latter-day Scottie Pippen. Unlike Pippen though, Wade was originally “the man,, and has had to relinquish that status.
“Flash” is still a very productive all-around player – 21.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.9 Stl – and one would be remiss to overlook the impact he has on his team’s success.
So why not show some love and respect for Miami’s other star? Wade has adapted so well into his new role in order to make room for “The King,, and that should be acknowledged and appreciated. Wade’s shot total has decreased in each of the past three seasons since he averaged 19.6 in 2009-10. In 2010-11, he took 18.2 shots a game. The next year, 17.6. This season, he’s attempting just 16 a game.
This being the case, Wade is currently shooting a career-high 52.1% from the field. He has modified his game, and sacrificed shots for the greater good of winning – a championship last June, an astonishing 27-game winning streak this season and the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Wade has had no problem putting his ego aside and letting LeBron take over the driver’s wheel. As LeBron has received copious amounts of adulation and hero-worship, including MVP chants that have reverberated throughout the nation, and plenty of Michael Jordan comparisons, Wade has quietly thrived in his role as second best. He seems completely content being in the position that he’s in.
We have seen stars in the sports world clash before, letting their egos get the best of them at the expense of their teams. But that has never been the case in Miami, and for that simple reason Wade deserves praise. His attitude, and of course his play, is vital to Miami’s success. And that should not go unnoticed.
NEW YORK– By Joseph Wasserman
As the season carries on, it is becoming clearer and clearer that Miami is far and away the best team in the NBA. The team has not lost a single game since a Feb. 1 meeting at Indiana, and since then has put together 23 consecutive victories, the second longest streak in NBA history.
Erik Spoelstra’s squad is beyond any doubt the cream of the crop this year, but is it possible that this team is on its way toward “best ever” status? As of now, this has to be considered a legitimate question.
Throughout the years, there have been quite a few excellent teams, and to narrow the list down is a tough, and of course, arbitrary task. There is more than one way to become an all-time great team and various approaches have been taken. The 1989 Bad Boy Pistons were a defensive-minded, ruthless, physical bunch; the 1980’s Showtime Lakers were a fast and flashy, finesse type; the 1970 New York Knicks were a smart and especially unselfish group, constantly moving the basketball. When ranking the best teams of all time, it may very well be a matter of preference, above all else.
Although there are more than several renowned teams in NBA history, few are considered immortal. The 1972 Lakers, 1986 Celtics, 1987 Lakers, 1996 Bulls, and 2000 Lakers are some of the usual suspects. All of those teams were led by iconic superstars, and were part of a larger run of success.
With due respect to all of the historically great clubs, only one stands alone at the top: the 1996 Chicago Bulls. Those ’96 champs hold the best record in history, at 72-10. They had no problem blitzing through the playoffs that year, going 15-3, and were fantastic on both ends of the floor. While leading the league in scoring, Chicago ranked third in defense and had three players, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, named to the All-Defensive First Team. Winning in hostile environments was no problem, as the Bulls won a record 33 games outside of The Windy City.
As well as Miami is playing, it cannot be denied that the Eastern Conference is extremely weak. The second seed in the East right now is Indiana, at 40-26. Out West, five teams – San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles, Memphis and Denver – have better records. In 1996, Chicago had to deal with a 60-win Orlando Magic team that was fresh off a finals appearance a year earlier, and the Bulls still swept them in the Conference Finals.
The Bulls had Jordan’s dominance, Pippen’s great all-around play, particularly outstanding defensive play, Rodman’s NBA-best rebounding, a spark off the bench in sixth-man of the year Toni Kukoc, and the deadly three-point shooting of Steve Kerr. And for what it’s worth, Phil Jackson is a man who knows a thing or two about winning a ring or two, or 13 for that matter.
The legend of Jordan only increases the magnitude of the team’s stature. Jordan is universally accepted as the greatest to ever play the game, by hard-core and casual fans alike. To think of another team taking down the dynastic, 1996 Chicago Bulls is an audacious idea. This is because of how incredibly well the team performed, but also very much due to the play of Jordan himself. It is difficult to imagine MJ falling short, especially in the limelight, when the stakes are raised.
While Miami is making history with its 23-game winning streak, and will likely bring home a second straight championship this June, it is premature to say it is the best team ever. It is worth appreciating what this team is doing and one can only marvel at how dominant the Heat have been, but the 1996 Chicago Bulls deserve the proper respect.
This year’s Heat have already been defeated more times than those ‘96 Bulls, and there is still 16 games remaining on the schedule. Not to mention, If Miami falls short of a title, the whole best-ever discussion will become insignificant. As of today, nobody beats the 1996 World Champion Chicago Bulls. They are the best of the best.