Able to get back to Internet access just in time for the start of the conference semifinals. So let's take stock of the first round. In the East, Atlanta had much more trouble with Brooklyn than I expected/hoped, while Cleveland had less with Boston, even if the Cavs were on cruise control for much of the series. I nailed Bulls/Bucks exactly, and for the second year in a row, pessimistic Wizards' fans made me pick against them, only for them turn around and roll over their first round opponent.
In the West, Golden State beat my prediction by one game, mostly by overcoming a huge deficit in Game 3. The Rockets won in 5 as Rondo self-destructed for Dallas, and the Grizzlies beat Portland one game sooner than I thought they would. On the downside, the fucking Clippers beat San Antonio. So that's no good.
Kevin Love's out for the remainder of the playoffs with an injury, supposedly. Players have surprised and returned in the past. J.R. Smith is out for the first two games of this series, because he's a dumbass sometimes. On the other side, the Bulls don't seem quite right. Noah is either gassed, or hurt, and Taj Gibson doesn't seem like his usual force.
Love being out probably hurts Cleveland's spacing, since they lose his 3-point shooting, but Tristan Thompson is an upgrade defensively and on the boards. Historically, the Bulls have been sound enough defensively to take advantage of any edge they can get, but I'm not sure that's the case here. Their defense is a little more spotty, maybe because of a reliance on weaker defensive players like Gasol and Mirotic, or the decline in some of the other key guys. Regardless, I'm inclined to pick Cleveland. The Bulls did not impress in Round 1, and they've never had much luck actually beating Lebron, anyway. Cavs in 6
So the Wizards won handily, but how much of that was them getting their acts together, and how much was Toronto being a complete mess that's about to be dismantled? the Hawks struggled against the freaking Nets, but I'm going to try and chalk that up to them being unfamiliar with being the favorite in a playoff series. It's a learning curve. Title-winning teams have struggled in the early rounds before. Look at the Spurs last year, or Boston the last time they won the title. The Wizards have some size with Nene and Gortat, but got a lot of mileage out of playing Paul Pierce at power forward. My guess is the Hawks will handle the Wizards generally trash fire of an offense better than the Raptors regardless, just by virtue of having better defenders and a better scheme. At the same time, it would be nice if Atlanta could take away the Wizards' new favorite toy by punishing Pierce on the low block, but I'm not sure Paul Milsap can do that. He's a good player, but he's not a low-post brute on the scale of Zach Randolph. Even so, I'm picking Atlanta. I've believed in them since about the start of the year, I'm not stopping now because Washington played well for 4 consecutive games. Hawks in 7
Golden State/Memphis: Warriors in 5
. Let's just get that out of the way. The Warriors have been a great defensive team this year, and even if Mike Conley can play through his broken face, the Grizzlies are not a good enough offensive team for me to expect them to break Golden State's D. They need Tony Allen's defense on either Klay Thompson or Steph Curry, but then that gives the Warriors someone to ignore. Vince Carter's been a mess offensively all year, Jeff Green scares no one, Beno Udrih has a bum ankle, and is a huge defensive liability. Andrew Bogut can lock down either Marc Gasol or Z-Bo, and if not shut them down, at least make life difficult. Draymond Green would seem to be at a disadvantage guarding either of those guys, but I imagine he too, would make life very hard for them.
I fully expect Memphis' defense to at least slow the Warriors' scoring, but the Warriors have a lot more wiggle room on that score than the Grizzlies do.
Jesus, this is going to be hideous. You have DeAndre Jordan on one side, and Houston's Legion of Shitty Foul Shooters on the other. Chris Paul and his flopping, versus James Harden and his constant attempts to get fouled. Couldn't we split these teams up and make them face Golden State or Memphis instead? No, I suppose then there would be the risk they'd meet in the Conference Finals anyway. At least this way we're rid of one of them now, and hopefully the other in the next round.
As for who's going to win, I'm guessing the Clippers. They don't have much depth, but my feeling is their best guys are overall better than Houston's best guys, and those are the ones you lean on most in the playoffs. If they win, they may not have much left for the next round, but I expect they have enough to get by Houston. Clippers in 6