EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
#5 Chicago Bulls vs. #1 Miami Heat
With no Hinrich, Deng or Rose, Chicago took Game 1 from Miami in the biggest surprise of the playoffs thus far. The Heat’s reaction in Game 2 was a 115-78 destruction of the Bulls, led by LeBron of course. The undermanned Bulls must deliver the energy, effort and tenacity they displayed in Game 1 to protect their home court against the defending champs in Game 3.
#3 Indiana Pacers vs. #2 New York Knicks
Behind incredible defense that helped limit Carmelo and J.R. to 14-43 from the field, Indiana won at MSG in Game 1. In Game 2, Smith still couldn’t shoot straight, but New York used a 30-2 run to even the series. Knicks could get a boost from the anxiously awaited return of Amar’e Stoudemire in Game 3, which should be a very physical battle.
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
#5 Memphis Grizzlies vs. #1 Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder escaped with a W in Game 1, barely. In Game 2 the Grizzlies’ front line dominated, and Mike Conley helped the Griz take over the fourth quarter to knot the Westbrook-less series at 1-1. Oklahoma will face a very difficult assignment in Game 3 at the Grind House, where the Griz have played outstanding basketball the entire season.
#6 Golden State Warriors vs. #2 San Antonio Spurs
After an 18-2 run to tie the game in regulation, Manu hit a 3 with 1.2 seconds left in the second OT to win a classic Game 1, despite 44 from Steph Curry. In Game 2, second banana Klay Thompson went for 34 points and 14 boards, and Golden State came out on top in SA for the first time since 1997. Spurs must establish themselves on D and control the tempo to slow down the Warriors’ freewheeling offense and contain their outstanding backcourt duo.
EASTERN CONFERENCE ROUND 1
#5 Chicago Bulls vs. #4 Brooklyn Nets
The Nets have qualified for the playoffs during their first year in Brooklyn. How you doin’? Will D-Rose make his return this week? Bulls’ medical staff may be the key to this series for Chicago.
#6 Atlanta Hawks vs. # 3 Indiana Pacers
These evenly matched adversaries split the season series. The Pacers can bring the pain on D and spread you out on O, so the Hawks will need to play a very physical game to improve on last season’s first-round elimination.
#7 Boston Celtics vs. #2 New York Knicks
The first step in New York’s quest to end their 40-year championship drought begins on Saturday in Manhattan against a historic foe, Boston. This postseason will be the last gasp for the aging Green group assembled to win the 2008 title five years ago.
#8 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #1 Miami Heat
The Bucks were six games under .500 and made the playoffs in the lesser East. The Heat were six games from tying the 1996 Bulls for all-time wins, and they’re rolling into the playoffs on an 8-game W streak. Do the math.
WESTERN CONFERENCE ROUND 1
#5 Memphis Grizzlies vs. #4 Los Angeles Clippers
The 56-26 Griz take on the 56-26 Cips in a rematch of last year’s first round 7-gamer. Both teams are better this season, so expect an intense series.
#6 Golden State Warriors vs. #3 Denver Nuggets
This best Nuggets team in eons is fast-paced and unbeatable in Denver (38-3). However losing Gallinari to a torn ACL was a huge blow. The Warriors backcourt can keep them in games with their historic 3-point production.
#7 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #2 San Antonio Spurs
The Lakers scrapped (both among themselves and their opponents) this spring to make the playoffs after a declaration of dominance in the preseason. The Spurs channel will likely cancel this Kobe-less soap opera, but the series should be entertaining.
#8 Houston Rockets vs. #1 Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder want to make it back to the finals after a trial run against LeBron and friends last year. However, the key to the championship trophy for OKC may be wearing a Houston uniform in this series. Jettisoned Rocket James Harden will be out to upset his former team.