Sunday, May 5, 2013
Predicting Round 2 playoff winners
By Royce Webb
So far, so good.
Our ESPN Forecast panel, consisting of 215 contributors to ESPN's NBA coverage, predicted that six of the eight first-round series would end with a road win. That's an unusual prediction, given that usually there are only about six series per entire postseason that end with a road win.
But that prediction came true, including four right-on-the-money picks for the Forecast: Heat in 4, Knicks in 6, Pacers in 6 and Bulls in 7.
Can we replicate that success for the next round, the conference semifinals?
Here's how the ESPN Forecast is shaping up:
Two postseasons ago, the Heat and Bulls met in a hotly fought series, with LeBron James outplaying Derrick Rose, who had just been awarded the MVP trophy. After the Bulls blew out Miami in Game 1 in Chicago, the Heat took four tense, defense-first battles on a series of late scoring flurries by James.
The panel sees a similar outcome this time, though perhaps with the teams being a little less evenly matched. In large part, that's because the Bulls just aren't very healthy, with Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng out for the time being.
But there is a ray of hope: The Bulls and Heat split their season series 2-2, with Chicago famously stopping Miami's 27-game winning streak in what Bill Simmons called the greatest regular-season game ever.
Looming large until we get a definitive answer will be this question: Will Rose play?
ESPN Forecast: Heat in 5
Remember the '90s? Remember Reggie Miller's eight points in nine seconds? Remember Patrick Ewing's missed layup? Remember Larry Johnson's 4-point play?
These teams played six memorable series in eight postseasons from 1993 to 2000, a rivalry immortalized in ESPN 30-for-30's "Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks."
Those teams split those six series 3-3, and our panel thinks the matchup is exactly that close once again: Most of the panel thinks this series is going seven games.
There are some Indy-minded people on our panel -- or maybe they're just skeptical of the Knicks' ability to win two straight series for the first time since Latrell Sprewell led them to the 1999 NBA Finals.
But ultimately 62 percent of the panel predicts the Knicks to advance to the East finals, with home-court advantage looking like a decisive factor -- about two-thirds of the voters expect the Knicks to win Game 7 if the series goes the distance.
And we didn't ask, but it's likely 100 percent of our panel would predict a few bruises delivered and tempers tested in this one.
ESPN Forecast: Knicks in 7
Golden State upset the Denver Nuggets in Round 1, and Dub Nation is partying like it's 2007 -- when the Warriors shocked the Dallas Mavericks in Round 1.
But "we believe" that once again the Warriors' party train will hit the wall in the West semis.
That's because the wall is the Spurs, now the Western Conference favorites in the wake of Russell Westbrook's unfortunate knee injury.
That said, the Warriors have a shot, and it's Stephen Curry's jumper ... which has made him David Thorpe's MVP of the Postseason so far.
During the final week of the season, as San Antonio rested its stars, Curry put on a long-range shooting display, nailing seven 3-pointers as the Warriors knocked off the Spurs while fighting for the No. 6 seed so that they could face Denver instead of San Antonio. On that occasion the Spurs were so relaxed that coach Gregg Popovich enjoyed the Steph Show himself: "It's actually fun to watch. Everybody hates losing, but I enjoyed ... watching a talented kid perform the way he did, and he does it with class."
Here's betting Pop won't be as cool with Curry going off like that during the next two weeks. And here's betting that, even if the Spurs can't keep Curry and his teammates from providing a bit more playoff excitement before they're done, the Spurs will advance to the West finals.
ESPN Forecast: Spurs in 5
Like the Bulls-Heat series, the OKC-Memphis showdown has echoes of 2011, when the Thunder were twice behind the Grizzlies in their conference semifinal series before prevailing in seven games.
Just as in that series, the Thunder will start at home. But unlike in 2011 and every other year, the Thunder won't have Russell Westbrook.
That factor alone is enough to move the Thunder from Western Conference favorites to underdogs in the conference semis, despite the belief among 18 percent of our panel that Kevin Durant can still lead his team to another series win after OKC escaped Houston.
Of course, there are other factors that matter, too -- the Grizzlies won 56 games, just beat the favored Los Angeles Clippers pretty soundly and appear to be both peaking and relatively healthy. And unlike the Thunder, they seem to have benefited from the loss of a guy who shoots a lot. After trading away leading scorer Rudy Gay and adding Tayshaun Prince to the lineup, the Grizzlies were 27-10 with improved offensive efficiency, despite cries that they were blowing up a contender.
But now they might just be a contender blowing up.
ESPN Forecast: Grizzlies in 6
And now, a big-picture snapshot:
East finals: Heat vs. Knicks
Who did you expect us to predict?
East champs: Miami Heat (100 percent of votes).
West finals: Spurs vs. Grizzlies
Looking like a Southwest contest.
West champs: San Antonio Spurs (67 percent); Memphis Grizzlies (33 percent).
NBA Finals: Heat vs. Spurs
It's the Heat, not the humility.
NBA champs: Heat (90 percent); Spurs (8 percent); Grizzlies (2 percent).