(1) Miami Heat vs (5) Chicago Bulls
Each possession will mean plenty in this series because both teams run slow and deliberate paces. The Bulls and the Heat had the fourth and eighth slowest paces, respectively. The difference between the two teams, though, is the offensive efficiency of the Heat. Led by four-time MVP LeBron James, the Heat were first in the league in true shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage, and offensive rating. Meanwhile, Chicago ranks dead last in all three of those categories among all the remaining playoff teams. While Chicago has struggled offensively, they have fared best in the pick and roll (12th in NBA in points per play) and the post up (14th in NBA in points per play). Unfortunately for the Bulls, Miami was No. 1 in the league in both pick and roll defense and post up defense in terms of points per play. Chicago took plenty of shots from the 8-16 foot range this season (4th most in the NBA), and taking shots from that far out isn’t going to cut it against a great defense like Miami. If Chicago does pound it inside, it must be known that the Heat are 9th in FG% from the 0-8 feet range. Chicago also doesn’t shoot many outside jumpers and even if they did, Miami’s defense is pretty strong in those categories, too.
PREDICTION: Miami in 5
(2) New York Knicks vs. (3) Indiana Pacers
The Knicks absolutely love to shoot threes and they’re great at it. They shot the second most threes and were third in the league in three-point efficiency. However, the Pacers had the league’s best three-point defense. Knowing that, the Knicks can’t rely on threes to win games. They need to poke at the Pacers’ defensive weakness. Unfortunately for the Knicks, the Pacers don’t have many defensive weaknesses. The Knicks are also efficient in terms of pounding the ball inside. However, the Pacers ranked first in field goal percentage allowed on shots between 0-8 feet. That said, the Knicks never even pound it in much and were dead last in terms of shots from the 0-8 feet range this season. Will Carmelo’s spot up game be the difference maker? Probably not. The Pacers had the best spot-up defense in the league in terms of points per play. Meanwhile, the Knicks isolation and pick and roll defense was awful this year (26th and 28th respectively in terms of point per play). The Pacers isolation and pick and roll offense was pretty atrocious, too, but having a major defensive weakness like the Knicks do is never a good thing in the playoffs. The difference of the series may come down to the Pacers’ post up game. They ranked fifth in terms of points per play and 18 percent of their plays were post up plays. The Knicks post-up defense may have been the best in the league, but only 9 percent of the defensive plays they faced were post-ups. The Pacers may just want to pound the ball all series long since that’s their best offensive option and it could help them win the series. These two teams match up well against each other and it should go to seven games.
PREDICTION: Pacers in 7, Carmelo Anthony will be the wild card in a series where every strength is matched up perfectly by the other team.
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies
Who will dictate pace in this series? Oklahoma City runs a fast paced system as they had the 10th fastest pace in the league. Meanwhile, Memphis has a slow, methodical approach and they had the 2nd slowest pace in the league. Losing Russell Westbrook hurts the Thunder, but not too much since the Grizzlies don’t have a huge threat at point guard. Memphis will be looking to use their post-up game to defeat the Thunder. However, the Thunder had the third best post-up defense in terms of points allowed per play this season. Points won’t be easy to come by for the Grizzlies. Meanwhile, as strong as Memphis is defensively, Oklahoma City is an offensive powerhouse from all shot distance ranges. That said, losing Westbrook will hurt the Thunder’s pick and roll game, which is a defensive weakness for the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies can actually steal the series if they can exploit the loss of Westbrook by making outside shots – something they haven’t been great at throughout the series. It doesn’t help them that the Thunder have had great perimeter defense all season long, but then again that was with Westbrook. The Thunder are good enough to play at the Grizzlies pace because of their strong defense, but are the Grizzlies good enough to play at the Thunder’s pace?
Prediction: Thunder in 6
(2) San Antonio vs (6) Golden State
Golden State loves the three and the mid-range. They ranked 5th in FG% for shots 16-24 feet away and were first in FG% for shots 24+ feet away. San Antonio isn’t particularly great in guarding the mid-range. They had the 4th highest opponent FG% for shots 16-24 feet away. They fared better against the Lakers, but then again their backcourt featured Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris. The Warriors are also an underrated defensive team, especially on the perimeter. They ranked 9th and 6th in terms of opp. FG% for 16-24 feet and 24+ feet shots. They were, however, mediocre in the post and the Spurs were fifth in the league in FG% on shots between 0-8 feet. The Spurs also shot the fifth fewest midrange jumpers between 16-24 feet this year so the Warriors defensive advantage in that department isn’t that big of a deal. So this may very well become a battle between San Antonio’s post game against Golden State’s mid-range/three-point game. Considering that having a post game is more reliable than a mid range game, this is an advantage for San Antonio. Also, being physical inside helps the Spurs get offensive rebounds (or more possessions).
Prediction: Spurs in 5