Grizzlies v. Thunder, Game 7
This one has played out almost exactly as I believed it would. The key to game 7 will be the officiating, as Jeff van Gundy slyly hinted in the last game when he said this regarding the Grizzlies’ physical defense of Kevin Durant: “I’m curious to see whether those bumps will be fouls in Oklahoma City.”
Lionel Hollins made a brilliant adjustment in Game 6, moving OJ Mayo to the starting lineup. The Grizzlies are desperate for 3 point shooters to spread the floor for Randolph and Gasol. Mayo fits the bill, and gives the Grizzlies perhaps another 5% chance of winning based strictly on the possibility of him getting unconsciously hot.
On the other side of the court, Mayo doesn’t hurt the Grizzlies that badly on defense, for one reason: Brooks’ insistence on starting Thabo Sefalosha over James Harden. This allowed Hollins to make another brilliant decision: He cross-matched Mayo on Westbrook, and guarded Sefalosha with Mike Conley. (Did you see that, Keith Smart?) If you remember, Westbrook got Conley in foul trouble in Game 4, which led to the Grizzlies’ loss. No chance of that now. And while Mayo can’t stay in front of Westbrook, he really doesn’t have to, as the Grizzlies are double and triple teaming him on penetration. Mayo also has better size than Conley to contest Westbrook’s frequent jacks.
I stick by my pre-series evaluation: The Grizzlies are a better team than the Thunder. I see the Thunder having a more difficult time guarding Randolph and Gasol in the post than the Grizzlies have guarding Kevin Durant. And I believe that Mike Conley is a better team leader than Russell Westbrook. Conley is having a hell of a series, and has convinced me that he is one of the most underrated point guards in the game. He’s got a real head on his shoulders. Real vision. Great instincts. Great character.
And so, my pick to win game 7 is…. The Thunder. Yes, sticking to the script I envisioned before the series began. You’ll more fully understand my reasons when you see Tony Allen and Zach Randolph sitting on the bench in the first quarter with foul trouble.
Miami Heat v. Chicago Bulls, Game 1
I like the Heat to win this series, laying -180. And I like the Heat in the first game, getting +2.
Yes, the Bulls swept the regular season series, 3-0. That doesn’t mean much to me. The Bulls are a young team with a first year coach, just coming into their own. It wasn’t hard to convince them — and particularly Derrick Rose, who was gunning for League MVP from the very start — that every game mattered. They also have only one dominant player, and thus a very simple pecking order.
For the Heat it was just the opposite. For one, they’re all veterans, and know the difference between the regular season and the playoffs. And secondly, the big three were all treading carefully around each other, trying to cement their roles without stepping on each others toes. They knew they had all season long to figure things out.
And now they have. Dwayne Wade carries the scoring load all game long, with Lebron facilitating. But down the stretch, Lebron takes over.
And Chris Bosh stands unguarded at the rim, looking for putbacks.
Here, in a nutshell, is why Miami will win: The Heat have two superstars, the Bulls have one. Dwayne Wade will be guarding Derrick Rose when it matters, and the Bulls will be guarding Wade with… no one. They have no one who can stick with Wade.
Here are a few other reasons: Carlos Boozer is not a playoff power forward, because he struggles against length. Bosh has length. Bosh also has very little heart, but if that becomes a problem, Spoelstra can simply switch Joel Anthony onto Boozer. Game over.
Three point shooting. The Bulls rely on Kyle Korver to spread the floor. But can they even afford to put him into the game? Who will he guard? CJ Watson is a possibility, but he doesn’t seem to have Thibodeau’s confidence. Who else? Keith Bogans?
Luol Deng is a fine three-point shooter, but he will be guarded by Lebron.
The Heat have three-point shooting all over the floor. James Jones. Mario Chalmers. Mike Miller. Mike Bibby. Jones and Chalmers are white-hot at the moment. Miller and Bibby, quite the opposite. If either of them finds the range, this series could become uncompetitive.
Bottom line: Derrick Rose will have to average 30 points for the Bulls to win this series. I just don’t think he can do it. 3 guys will get a crack at him: Bibby to start, then Chalmers, and Wade down the stretch. Both Chalmers and Wade are great defenders. And the Heat will be double and triple teaming Rose to boot, forcing him to find his shooters.
And there’s another reason why I think Rose might struggle in this series: Both Wade and Lebron will be determined to prove that he didn’t deserve his MVP award. In crunch time, Wade will be all over him on the perimeter. And Lebron will be blocking his shots at the rim.
One final point, brought to you by feltbot the poker player: We were given a big tell to this series by the Heat’s celebration after the Boston series. That excessive celebration — by war-hardened vets — told me that the Heat think they’re going to the Finals. They know in their hearts they can beat the Bulls.