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2012 NBA Playoff Predictions – Conference Finals

While the 2nd round isn’t quite over (Boston has to play Philly tonight), it’s time to make some predictions.

In the West, I expect the Spurs will beat the Thunder in 6 games. In the East, I expect Miami to beat either Philly (5 games) or Boston (6 games). Here’s why, as well as a recap of my 2nd round predictions:

Thunder vs Spurs

This is a classic example of speed and athleticism vs execution and experience. While the Thunder are clearly more athletic, the Spurs can counter OKC’s athleticism by:

  • emphasizing defensive rebounding to limit second chance opportunities
  • sacrificing offensive rebounds to get back on defense
  • fouling as little as possible
  • scheming to deny Durant
  • encouraging Westbrook to take a lot of mid-range jumpers

I’m also of the opinion that the Spurs can minimize the impact of Ibaka and Perkins by playing Bonner, forcing OKC to either move Ibaka out to the perimeter or – more likely – take out Perkins, move Ibaka to center, and then shift Durant over to Bonner and play Sefolosha as a SF. In my opinion, this hypothetical line-up:

Westbrook at PG (Green or Parker covers)
Harden at SG (Green or Ginobili covers)
Sefolosha at SF (cross-match – Bonner covers)
Durant at PF (Leonard covers)
Ibaka at C (Duncan covers)

favors the Spurs, as they can scheme to limit Durant, hide Bonner on Sefolosha, and let Duncan go to work on the smaller and less experienced Ibaka.

Still, “scheming to deny Durant” is easier said than done, and encouraging Westbrook to shoot is not a fool-proof strategy. San Antonio is going to need Parker and Duncan to shine, and they’re going to need Ginobili to play well enough to put one of OKC’s guards (Sefolosha, Harden, or possibly Westbrook) in foul trouble.

OKC can win if Durant and Westbrook get hot, or if Parker has a bad game. In my opinion, OKC doesn’t have a line-up that can punish the Spurs.¬†Ultimately, OKC will lose this series because they can’t defend well enough to overcome San Antonio’s precision execution.

Finally, and this might sound crazy, but there’s absolutely no reason that San Antonio can’t sweep the Thunder. The Spurs execution is perfect. If OKC tries to win with gambling defense and pure athleticism, they’re going to give up a lot of open 3′s and layups off of cuts.

Heat vs Boston (or Philly)

If the Heat draw Philly, the series will be over quickly. While Philly’s depth and execution has been surprising, they’re a less capable version of the Pacers. As we saw in the 2nd round, an inexperienced team isn’t capable of executing well enough to punish the Heat for their aggressive defense. Philly will lose the same way that Indiana did, but they’ll do it faster because they don’t have the interior presence that caused Miami so much trouble.

If the Heat draw Boston, the series could go 7 games. Boston has shown that when they’re emotionally involved, they’re a tough out. There’s also the fact that Miami has no one who can cover Rondo for 40+ minutes, and that KG is playing like he’s 10 years younger. Boston can’t be taken for granted here.

Still, Miami’s talent is undeniable, and if they get back Bosh, I would guess a Boston series goes no more than 6 games.

Recapping My Second Round Predictions

- I missed the Celtics vs Philly series, as I really didn’t expect Philly to be so competitive. I assumed that Philly wouldn’t have the confidence to challenge Boston, but I was wrong. Philly needs a big man to be a real contender, but they’re a game away from being a real contender now, which just goes to show a deep team that plays tough defense should never be taken for granted.

- I missed the Pacers/Heat series by a game, but only because Bosh got hurt. I’m not going to apologize for that.

- I had the Thunder beating L.A. in 5, but I really didn’t anticipate all the games would be so close. OKC stole at least one victory, and needed Kobe’s help to win another. While OKC was clearly the better team, L.A. showed that some clever scheming and emphasis on rebounding could take OKC out of their comfort zone.

- I thought the Clippers would win at least one game. I’m going to blame Chris Paul’s injury for missing my prediction.

- Lastly, I thought the Grizz would beat the Clippers, and that didn’t happen. The Clippers are a better team than I thought, and the Grizzlies aren’t nearly as good when Zach Randolph isn’t 100%.

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