With the Conference Finals in full swing, we thought we’d take a look through the crystal ball and give our predictions for the Mavericks-Thunder and Bulls-Heat matchups.
WCF – While I really do like this Thunder team, I felt like the Grizzlies would have been a better matchup for the Mavericks. The Thunder will likely throw Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison at Dirk Nowitzki, but Nowitzki has seen it all before. He usually always has a height advantage over shorter defenders for easy mid-range shots or can drive by slower forwards and centers. While the Mavericks roster also has several other weapons, including Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry and JJ Barea, limiting Nowitzki will be the key to the series, and I don’t think the Thunder have enough to stop him. As we saw in game one, even an incredible game by Durant wasn’t enough to slow the Mavs. Mavs in 7.
ECF – If Chicago wants to get past the Heat, they’ll need more than Derrick Rose. Rose has carried his team all year and throughout the playoffs. Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng will have to do their part. They’ll also need the defensive effort they showed in game one to try to limit either Dwyane Wade or LeBron James. While LeBron and Wade played well in game two, I think Chicago’s defense will be huge in this series, and you can’t expect that Rose will be corralled throughout the series. Bulls in 6.
Western Conference Finals: As much as this pains me to say, but Dallas looks to be heading to the NBA Finals. Dirk is just playing on a level only NBA gods play at, the Mavs have the right mix of seasoned veterans who have been there done that, and having home court advantage over the Thunder will be a huge difference in this series. Not taking anything away from Thunder who will give Dallas some fits, but Dallas just has that much needed playoff experience over Oklahoma. Dallas in six.
Eastern Conference Finals: For as much as the Miami Heat might be riding high from their series win over the Boston Celtics, they may not have enough to beat Chicago. Aside from the Heat’s big three, Chicago has a deeper team, bench, and have a player no one on Miami can stop – Derrick Rose. But then again which team HAS a player to slow down Rose? Miami will put up a fight and either James or Wade will win a game for Miami on their own but in the end, Chicago is a much more balanced squad. Bulls over the Heat in six.
WCF – With Dallas, largely because of Dirk, playing at an unstoppable level I don’t see how they could get beat by the Thunder in 4 of the next 6 games in the series. When Jason Kidd isn’t knocking down a timely three, it’s Jason Terry or even Peja Stojakovic doing it. Shawn Marion is finding opportunities here or there to provide a garbage bucket or hustle play like his best days in Phoenix. Tyson Chandler fills in the blanks defensively and is a solid anchor in the middle and his backup Brendan Haywood has certainly proved capable of likely starting for several teams that have made it to the postseason. I haven’t even mentioned JJ Barea yet, who has been a huge spark-plug off the bench and is precisely what every championship team needs. In other words, their depth has been huge while Dirk’s shooting has been unreal. The Thunder have a nice collection of players to be sure but they don’t play as well collectively as Dallas has been these past couple of weeks and Durant and Westbrook’s talents don’t appear to be enough to overcome that. Mavs in six.
ECF – Certainly Game 1 gave me and plenty of other people who picked the Heat over the Bulls something to think about. But in the end I wasn’t ready to count out the Heat in this series because they have the two best players in this series (sorry Rose) and Game 2 confirmed that in a big way. No way can the Bulls expect to shut down Wade and LeBron in this series despite their splendid defensive tactics. For all the talk of the Celtics being injured, the Heat finally enjoyed the privilege of being able to play their five best players last night for the first time all season when Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem joined the Big 3 on the floor in the fourth quarter. Miller did OK despite his health limitations but who knew that Haslem would magically arrive at seemingly full strength to give the Heat precisely what it needed to combat the Bulls’ frontline attack on the glass. This is the Heat team Pat Riley envisioned last summer and though they haven’t quite arrived yet, it was enough to overcome the Bulls in a huge road victory for one night. TNT and plenty of writers couldn’t stop gushing about the Bulls defense after Game 1. Now it’s time to give the Heat their props after shutting down Rose and company late in the game. Homecourt advantage is in hand and the momentum has swung in the opposite direction. Heat in six.
Having the benefit of seeing games already may give me a little bit of an edge with this prediction business, but I’m sure I can still find a way to get one or both of them wrong. In the West, the clear favorite is Dallas, and I would consider them the favorite to win the NBA Finals as well. Their demolition of the Lakers was so complete that it had to shock every basketball fan on the planet. Their shooting as a team, and Dirk Nowitzki especially, has been out of this universe. Dirk’s 48 in Game 1 was symbolic of the way the Mavs team has been playing all postseason long – nothing can stop them. Not a record comeback in Portland, not the two time defending champs, and probably not the dynamic duo of Durant and Westbrook. OKC will win a game or two with their home court, but Dallas is playing unstoppable basketball right now that is amazing to watch.
The East is much more of a toss-up. My heart says Chicago, but my head is telling me that it’s going to be too tough to beat James, Wade, and Bosh in the Playoffs. In this instance, I’m going with the ticker and picking the Bulls because that’s where I think they have an edge over the Heat. We saw in Game 1 that the Bulls’ size, effort, and tenacity on the frontline overwhelmed Miami. As talented as Miami’s Big 3 are, Chicago exposes Miami’s weaknesses like perhaps no other team in the NBA. As long as Derrick Rose scores and Luol Deng defends, the Bulls should win the series with the homecourt advantage, although I would be shocked if it went less than six games.
In the West, I’m sticking with my Oklahoma City prediction… though I’m re-thinking the 6 games part. Regardless, I like what OKC brings against the Mavs. And really, when you think about game one, a couple of aberrations really helped Dallas win. Dirk was awesome, and he’s playing great…. but he’s not going to finish with a 94% true shooting percentage again. And as Kevin Durant said… I’d bet my whole house that that Russell Westbrook doesn’t go 3-15 again. A couple of Dirk misses and a couple of Westbrook makes and this game is suddenly a much different story. I think this is the year for youth to surpass experience, so the Thunder are my pick.
In the East, I’m going with Chicago because they have the same advantages the Celtics were supposed to have… except they’re young and healthy enough to take advantage of them. Derrick Rose should exploit any PG matchup he finds and the Bulls have athletic enough finishers inside to take advantage of Miami’s weak interior D. Chicago’s D is the best in the business and despite his performance in Game Two, I’m still not convinced LeBron will come through in the clutch every time. In fact, Game Two might only serve to encourage him to keep firing away… keeping it out of the hands of the better closer, Dwyane Wade. And finally, I think Tom Thibodeau is a much better coach than Spoelstra, and he’ll be ready to make necessary adjustments that could be the difference in the series.
WCF – I think OKC takes the “next step” by extending this series to seven games much like they did the Lakers series last year, but like that series the Thunder’s run ends there. Dirk is too nasty, and even though he’s 38 and not scoring, Jason Kidd’s soothing, mature influence helps to prevent a couple possible Maverick melt-down moments. Dallas survives as a result, and heads back to the Finals for the first time since Shaq won his last title. JJ Barea and Jason Terry continue to dominate the OKC bench, and despite monster Kevin Durant scoring efforts throughout the series, it is not enough to stop these Mavs. Dallas in 7.
ECF – The Bulls ride the momentum from game one to their first finals appearance since MJ came back from playing baseball. Game one opened my eyes to how much deeper Chicago is than not only than Miami, but probably anyone – including myself – had previously given them credit for being. Taj Gibson is the wild card, Thibs defense proves to be once again an unsolveable rubix cube for LeBron James, and Derrick Rose is the star of stars. Too deep, too tough defensively, too good. Bulls in 6.
In the West, Dirk Nowitzki put on an impressive scoring display to cancel out Kevin Durant’s big game. Point guard play is going to be critical and the Mavericks seem to have defensive answers for everybody. DeShawn Stevenson’s sole job is to lock down Russell Westbrook. So after a whole playoffs criticizing Westbrook for taking too many shots, I am prepared to say Oklahoma City will only go as far as Westbrook’s shooting takes them. Westbrook shot 3 for 15 in Game One. Safe to say the Thunder need a better effort from him. I don’t know if Westbrook can do that. He has not in previous games against Dallas. This one will be fun, but ultimately disappointing. Mavericks in 5.
We have seen Chicago and Miami play their best in the first two games. This is going to be a very fun series for sure. Pace is going to be key in my opinion. Sure the score was down in Game Two but the Heat were able to get out and run and that helped them get into the flow of their offense. They seemed more prepared for the Bulls defensively too. Chicago wants to make the game a little slower and to keep LeBron and Wade playing a half-court game. In the Playoffs that typically wins. This is going to be a fun series, but I have Bulls in 7.
What are your predictions on the Conference Finals. Let us know in the comments.
(Photos from Daylife.com)