We are now down to the final eight of the NBA season. Other than the historic defeat of number one seed San Antonio, it is about who we would think would be there. The obvious draw of this round is the Celtics-Heat, but the other matchups should produce some exciting basketball as well. We will take a quick look at the starting lineups and see how they match up.
Just for the record, I am using minutes played, not who actually starts in these lineups. Some teams like the Heat will start a Zydrunas Ilgauskas, but Joel Anthony ends up playing double the minutes.
#4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #8 Memphis Grizzlies
Season Series: 1 3
Starters: Kendrick Perkins Marc Gasol
Serge Ibaka Zach Randolph
Kevin Durant Shane Battier
James Harden Tony Allen
Russell Westbrook Mike Conley
Even though Memphis is the eight seed, they aren’t really a Cinderella in this round. They won 3 out of 4 against Oklahoma City this year, and they are playing great basketball. Zach Randolph is on fire and they have guys like OJ Mayo and Sam Young producing in backup roles. I just think it is Durant’s time. I can see Okla City making it to the Finals. First Durant will need to keep Battier and Allen from slowing him down, and Kendrick Perkins needs to play physical with Gasol and Randolph. Both teams are mostly young with only a couple of veterans sprinkled in, so nerves could be a factor. The key will be the Conley/Westbrook matchup. Whichever one can get his points, but keep it within the flow of the offense will lead his team to victory.
MY PICK: THUNDER in 7
#2 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #3 Dallas Mavericks
season: 2 1
st: Andrew Bynum Tyson Chandler
Pau Gasol Dirk Nowitzki
Ron Artest Shawn Marion
Kobe Bryant Jason Terry
Derek Fisher Jason Kidd
The Lakers are the defending champs, they have to be given the benefit of the doubt. You will get that with 5 time champion Kobe Bryant on your roster. They have been a little shaky this season. Their bench, other than sixth starter Lamar Odom hasn’t produced much for them. It’s just they dominated the Mavericks last time they played, and Dallas always gets the opposite of the benefit of the doubt in the playoffs. Tyson Chandler has been an upgrade in the post for Dallas, but he may not be able to rebound as effectively against Bynum as he did against Portland. I will admit , I am not a Lakers fan. I would like to find reasons to pick Dallas. Some exist. Artest and Fisher can be liabilities at times, but I don’t see Dallas stopping Kobe when it matters.
MY PICK: LAKERS in 6
#1 Chicago Bulls vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks
season: 2 1
st: Carlos Boozer Al Horford
Joakim Noah Josh Smith
Luol Deng Joe Johnson
Kyle Korver Jamal Crawford
Derrick Rose Kirk Hinrich
Will Hinrich be healthy enough to help Atlanta take on his former team. Atlanta normally goes with kind of a small , quick lineup; but if Hinrich can’t go guys like Jason Collins and Zasa Pachulia will get more minutes in a more traditional line up. The question is can anyone on the Hawks keep Rose out of the lane. His probable MVP season has been a revelation and led the Bulls to the best record in the East. He has gotten shooting help from Korver and Deng, and inside presence from Noah and Boozer. In what is now a rare occurrence, 4 of their 5 starters played in a Final Four in college. They are winners. They have felt the pressure their entire basketball lives and come out on top. I see this as the most lopsided of the four series. I respect what Atlanta did against Orlando, but Horford can’t do it alone on the inside against the Bulls; and without Hinrich, Crawford and Johnson will have to adjust their games in ways that may not make them at their best.
MY PICK: BULLS in 5
#2 Miami Heat vs. #3 Boston Celtics
season: 1 3
st: Joel Anthony Jermaine O’Neal
Chris Bosh Kevin Garnett
LeBron James Paul Pierce
Dwayne Wade Ray Allen
Mario Chalmers Rajon Rondo
So many difficult questions to answer questions in this A list series. Do you give more credit to the three victories the Celtics had earlier in the year or the Heat thumping over the current Celtics lineup last month? Will the Heat outside the top three provide any offense? How will Miami guard Rondo? Will Shaq be able to give it a go? Will Jeff Green provide whatever it was Ainge thought he was getting in the Perkins trade? When it really gets to crunch time in this series will the Heat look to James or Wade?
There are so many juicy storylines, I can’t wait for this one to get started. As for my predictions, I usually go with experience. the Celtics know how to win big games. If Shaq plays, he and Garnett can be really physical on the inside and make Miami a jump shooting team. Not exactly their strength. I don’t think Bibby and Chalmers can guard Rondo, so if someone else steps up, that will open up things for Allen and Pierce. I think this will be close, I see maybe 4 of the games coming down to the final possession. In the end, I think the Heat dynasty will have to wait one more year.
MY PICK: CELTICS in 6