EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
No. 2 Miami Heat (58-24) vs. No. 1 Chicago Bulls (62-20)
Bulls won season series, 3-0 (99-96, 93-89, 87-86)
Miami Leaders (in series)
Points: Wade, 29 (33, 34, 20)
Assists: James, 5.5 (5, 6)
Rebounds: James, 9 (10, 8)
FG %: 44.2 (99-of-224)
FT %: 78.6 (55-of-70)
3pt %: 36.7 (18-of-49)
Chicago Leaders (in series)
Points: Rose, 29 (34, 26, 27)
Assists: Rose, 6.3 (8, 6, 5)
Rebounds: Boozer, 9.6 (10, 9, 10)
FG %: 44.6 (107-of-240)
FT %: 82.3 (51-of-62)
3pt %: 25.9 (14-of-54)
Why Miami could win: LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. Arguably two of the top five players in the NBA, Chicago doesn’t really have anyone who can match up with these two defensively. Wade averaged 29 points in three games, while James wasn’t far behind at 27.5. James missed the first game of the series with an ankle injury or else he might have been the team’s leader in scoring. Regardless, the Bulls will be left to pick their poison with two guys that are beyond deadly. Both are nearly unstoppable in the open court and both have developed their jump shots. Each shot over 50 percent for the season, although I am sure a lot of shots were taken near the rim. Still, making half of your shots is pretty darn good. They are equally as dangerous attacking the basket. Not to mention Wade and James tend to get most of the calls when driving to the hoop and shoot 75 percent from the line. Then there is Chris Bosh. Although he has been somewhat inconsistent as of late, he is still probably the best No. 3 option in the NBA. On the other side of the ball, whereas Chicago likes to push it in the open-court, Wade and James are more than capable of trailing the play and blocking shots. The only thing that can cool the Heat is their end-of-game performances. It has hurt them all season. If the Heat, let alone any team, can’t execute in the clutch then they aren’t going to win a championship.
Why Chicago could win: It never hurts to have the league’s MVP and the Bulls have that is Derrick Rose. Rose is just as deadly, if not more, than Wade and James when attacking the hoop. He finds space where others find none and always seems to finish in acrobatic ways. However, his jumper is still not finely tuned as he is shooting under 42 percent so far in the playoffs. Rose has drawn some criticism lately for shooting too often and relying on his jump shot. If he is off from distance, he has to attack the paint or it will be a long night. Carlos Boozer, once a top-ten player, should have an advantage over Bosh due to his size. Bosh is more of an outside four-man and doesn’t necessarily like to play in the post. Still, Boozer has been inconsistent as well and needs to show up. Rose will need someone else to score with him, whether it is Boozer or Luol Deng. If Rose is left trying to do everything by himself, the Bulls will have a tough time moving on. With Boozer, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah, Chicago should have the rebounding advantage. Miami has size, but it isn’t as athletic as these three.
SM’s pick: As much as it pains me to say this, Miami in 6. Even though Chicago took all three games during the regular season, this is supposed to be why the Heat came together. Don’t get me wrong. I want Miami to lose. But I think the Wade/James/Bosh combo will be too much for the Bulls to keep up with.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27) vs. No. 3 Dallas Mavericks (57-25)
Mavericks won season series, 2-1 (111-103, 103-93, 95-99)
Oklahoma City Leaders (in series)
Points: Durant, 29.3 (32, 28, 28)
Assists: Westbrook, 8.6 (10, 7, 9)
Rebounds: Ibaka, 7 (4, 9, 8)
FG %: 45.7 (113-of-247)
FT %: 73.6 (53-of-72)
3pt %: 43.2 (16-of-37)
Dallas Leaders (in series)
Points: Nowitzki, 22.5 (34, 11)
Assists: Kidd, 9.6 (12, 10, 7)
Rebounds: Chandler, 15.3 (18, 10, 18)
FG %: 46.7 (114-of-244)
FT %: 84.6 (55-of-65)
3pt %: 37.1 (26-of-70)
Why Oklahoma City could win: The NBA is run by super stars and Oklahoma City has one of the best in Kevin Durant (aka Fred Clarke). He led the entire league is scoring at 27.7 point-per-game and did even better than that in his three games against Dallas. The Thunder also have another budding super star in Russell Westbrook. Together the two accounted for over 47 percent of the team’s scoring during the regular season. Westbrook as recently received some flack for shooting too much, especially when he has scorer like Durant on his team. Westbrook seemed to heed the media’s words in Game 7 against Memphis, as he put up only 12 shots to Durant’s 25. OKC’s knock in the past has been its lack of a big man, so it went out and traded for Kendrick Perkins. The Thunder also have Serge Ibaka, so they definitely have a defender in the paint now. However, the thing that worries me is Durant’s disappearing acts in the playoffs thus far. He scored 11 points in Game 6 against the Grizz, and had another game with only 19. Against Dallas in the conference finals, one bad game could make the difference between getting to the Finals or going fishing with Kenny Smith. If he were to struggle in, let’s say, Game 5 with the series tied 2-2 – the Thunder’s chances would be all but over. Still, Dallas doesn’t really have anyone who can guard Durant and he is fully capable of putting his team on his back. He will have to if Oklahoma City wants to play for a championship.
Why Dallas could win: Much like Dallas with Durant, Oklahoma City doesn’t have anyone who can D up Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk is too big for Durant and Harden and too quick for Ibaka or Perkins. He had 34 points in the first meeting and had 11 in 11-and-a-half minutes in the second meeting before leaving with a back injury. The only game the Thunder won was the last meeting of the year. However, Nowitzki and Caron Butler did not play and OKC only managed to win by four. The two things Dallas really has going for it is its bench and its three-point shooting. Although injuries have forced Shawn Marion into the starting lineup, the Mavs still have Jason Terry, J.J. Barea and Peja Stojakovic – all of which scored over 20 points in Game 4 against the Lakers. Game 4 also showed the Mavs’ shooting ability from deep, as they connected on 20-of-32 three-point attempts – tying a playoff record. They finished with 49 threes in the series. Dallas has at least five guys that can knock down a triple at any moment. As we have seen in the past, three-pointers can change momentum in a heart beat. The Mavs’ Tyson Chandler has been a rebound vacuum in the paint. It will be interesting to see the matchup between him and Perkins. Chandler is quick and skinny, while Perkins is slow and big. Whoever can stay out of foul trouble will help their team doubly, as they will collect rebounds and protect the paint defensively. The question for Dallas will be if DeShawn Stevenson can stay in front of Westbrook, as the older and slower Jason Kidd will almost certainly defend Thabo Sefolosha.
SM’s pick: I love the OKC story, and I love how their young talent gives it their all every single game, but Dallas will be too much. The Mavs, who may be the best team in the NBA right now, have more firepower than the Thunder. They should be riding high with confidence as well after dispatching the Lakers in four straight games. Dallas in 6.