NBA Playoffs 2nd Round Preview

The second round of the NBA playoffs is set to start this afternoon, but before we say goodbye to the first round, how about a salute to the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs? To Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich. And especially to Chris Paul and Tim Duncan, who gave us an unforgettable Game 7 last night. The Clippers survived and it almost seems like the rest of the postseason has to be a letdown. How can anyone possibly top what these two excellent teams did?
But there’s still a championship to be settled and four second-round matchups ahead of us. Here’s a brief rundown on all four, including what Las Vegas thinks on each one…


Washington-Atlanta: I’m surprised that the Hawks are a solid (-230) favorite to win this series. I know it’s a 1-seed against a 5-seed in a league where favorites rule, but Washington looked awfully good in getting rid of Toronto and Atlanta still has to show it has championship mojo.
The battles inside will be outstanding, with Washington throwing Nene and Marcin Gortat against the Hawks’ Al Horford and Paul Millsap. Where I think Washington has the edge is in the backcourt. I like the John Wall-Bradley Beal combo over Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver. The X-factors are the talent of the Hawks’ DeMarre Carroll and the heart and veteran leadership of Washington’s Paul Pierce.
This series starts this afternoon at 1 PM ET on ABC in Atlanta.
Chicago-Cleveland: It’s the juicy series everyone has waited for all year, and the overriding question since October was whether the Bulls–namely Derrick Rose–would be healthy enough to make it a series. Turns out the Cavs have the relevant health problem, with Kevin Love out for the rest of the year. J.R. Smith is also suspended for the first two games.
If anyone can handle the increased responsibility that the injury and suspension brings it’s LeBron James and Las Vegas believes in him, pricing Cleveland as a (-220) favorite. I’m not surprised the betting line is that high, given the public’s desire to bet on the best player. But from a basketball sense, I don’t see it.
In watching Chicago come together and be healthy, this already seemed like a series that could go other way. Now one of Cleveland’s best players is gone. Don’t Rose, Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol–a two-time NBA champion–deserve more respect than to make them a decisive underdog to a wounded team?
The series opens Monday night in Cleveland, tipoff at 7 PM ET on TNT.


Memphis-Golden State: This series looked extremely compelling until Memphis point guard Mike Conley got hurt in the first round and is now out. The Grizzlies have the interior personnel, with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to really test the Warriors up front, the area that skeptics–which include me–wonder if they can handle.
I still expect Gasol and Randolph to do their damage, but without Conley the mismatch in the backcourt is just too pronounced. Presumptive MVP Steph Curry is leading the way and if you guard him to closely, Klay Thompson can light it up in a hurry.
Memphis is going to be the equivalent of a run-oriented team in college football in this series–they can’t get behind and then be taken out of a conservative game plan or this series could turn ugly. Las Vegas expects as much, giving 7-1 odds for anyone willing to take the Grizzlies to win the series and it will take a (-1000) risk if you want to bet the Warriors.
Game 1 is late this afternoon, 3:30 PM ET on ABC in Oakland.
LA Clippers-Houston: Odds for the series haven’t yet been posted, but to give you some gauge as to how Vegas is thinking, Houston is a 19-2 shot (9.5 to 1) to win the NBA championship, while Los Angeles is at 12-1.
That’s the closest spread of any the matchups in the second round, so one would assume we’ll see Houston as a narrow favorite, maybe in the (-135) range. If it goes higher, it means the market is very concerned about whether Chris Paul can continue to go on the hamstring he tweaked last night.
Even if this series doesn’t live up to Clips-Spurs, it has special promise to it, presuming Paul is healthy. He and James Harden go at it in the backcourt, with Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin down low. A couple old Celtics heroes, Doc Rivers and Kevin McHale are on the sidelines. Two teams with championship promise and needing to fulfill it. In the case of Paul and Howard, how many more chances will they get?
Game 1 is Monday night, 8:30 PM ET in Houston, on TNT.
My own picks for this round are Washington, Chicago, Golden State and the LA Clippers. If I were a betting man, I’d actually wager on Washington and Chicago, where I’m getting (+195) and (+185) respectively and would only need to split to turn a profit.
As far as rooting interests go, I don’t really have any. My own team, the Celtics, is gone. My favorite player, Kevin Durant, was never here. I’m that rare person on LeBron James, which is to say I neither love him nor hate him. So in that regard, there’s not a lot for me here, but as simply a fan of basketball, this still looks like the most interesting last three rounds I can recall.