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Friday, 11 May 2012

NBA Play Offs Semi Final Preview

At the time of writing, we are still to see which two Semi Final line ups we are going to get in the Western Conference, but I think the long nature of the Clippers-Grizzlies and the Lakers-Nuggets definitely gives the edge to the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder who both swept through the First Round and have had plenty of rest, while also having home court advantage.

The Eastern Conference saw the demise of the Chicago Bulls in the most awful of circumstances as Derrick Rose was injured in the first game of their series with the Philadelphia 76ers. The only positive I can take is that the medical advances means an ACL injury like the one Rose suffered is not the destructive force of old and I have full faith the best Point Guard in the NBA will be back to his best after a long, arduous recovery.

Rose seems to have the character to really focus, work hard and the will to get back to being the very best he can- I might not know him personally, but you can see what Rose is all about from his on court demeanour and the way he conducts himself with the press.

With the Bulls out, it looks like the path has really opened up for the Miami Heat to at least get back to the NBA Finals. I was a little surprised to hear them saying that this season is a successful one even if they don't win the NBA title, but that is so far wrong it is ridiculous- the Heat need to win this year to take away all the angst from 'The Decision', otherwise there could be some major work going on in South Beach in the off-season, starting with Eric Spoelstra as the Head Coach.

Eastern Conference Semi Finals

Miami Heat (2) v Indiana Pacers (3)

This was the series that most people would have expected as both the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers came through in five games in the First Round. That is where the agreements will end, as many are then split down the middle as to whether this is a tough series for Miami or another walkover.

Most will still agree that this is going to be a Miami series win (personally I can't see any team in the Eastern Conference that wins a best out of seven game series against the Heat now that the Bulls are done), but the manner could be all important.

You just know Indiana want to make this a tough, physical series- Miami were expecting that and saying as much after game five was concluded against the New York Knicks, while Frank Vogel has fired the first shots for the Pacers by calling the Heat the 'biggest floppers in the League' and also putting some pressure on the officials by openly wandering what kind of series they are going to allow.

The likes of Roy Hibbert and David West will cause big problems in Miami's interior, while the Pacers also have the perimeter shooters that the Heat have generally struggled to defend all season. The three point has been particularly problematic to defend for Miami and that is an area the Pacers will look to exploit by banging the ball down the middle with their bigs and kicking it out to the likes of Danny Granger, Darren Collison and Paul George.

Indiana's biggest problem is that they don't always shoot well from the field and that is going to be magnified against one of the best defensive teams in the League... Then they have to deal with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the offensive side of the court.

Miami won the season series 3-1, blowing out the Pacers in the first two games before recording a close win in Miami and losing in Indiana by 15 points (the last of those was on a back-to-back play).

Prediction: Not going to be easy, but I think the Heat pull it out in 6 games.

Boston Celtics (4) v Philadelphia 76ers (8)

The Philadelphia 76ers are the biggest surprise at this stage of the Play Offs (writing before game seven of the series between the LA Lakers and the Denver Nuggets), but they still have a lot to prove with murmurings of them being 'lucky' to face a Chicago Bulls team that missed Derrick Rose after game one and was also missing Joakim Noah for the last three games.

Both of these teams needed six games to knock off the Atlanta Hawks and the Bulls, and this series is bound to be fascinating as both are Atlantic Division rivals.

Boston looked good at times in their series with the Hawks, but they have been dealing with injuries and fatigue is also an issue for the Big Three. Paul Pierce played through an injury on Thursday night as they closed out the Atlanta Hawks, but he won't have much time to rest with this game set for Saturday to open the Semi Finals.

Ray Allen at least is back in the fold, but Kevin Garnett had to put in a huge shift and tiredness could indeed be a major factor. This is where the Philadelphia 76ers need to try and steal home court advantage as the first two games of the series are scheduled for Saturday and Monday.

I just don't know how much belief the 76ers have that they can get through this series, but they can at least point to the fact that they have won 2 of the 3 games the teams played in the regular season. However, I think the Celtics have too much talent and too many game changers that can score quickly when the going gets tough.

When I look at Philadelphia, I don't know who is going to take a game by the scruff of the neck when they are struggling, while they are far too hot and cold from the field. The 'eye test' says they struggled to beat a Bulls team missing not one, but two key components and I think they will do well to extend the Celtics in this one.

Prediction: Philadelphia need to get one of the first two games scheduled in Boston, else they could be given gentleman's sweep out of the Play Offs- if games one and two are split, Boston in 6, if not, Boston in 5.

Western Conference Semi Finals

San Antonio Spurs (1) v LA Clippers (5)

The San Antonio Spurs are well rested, playing some of the best basketball in the NBA and have home court advantage in this series... Can I make a case for the LA Clippers to spring a surprise in this one? Errr, no!

I think the Spurs have the depth in their rotation that is going to make them extremely tough to beat by any team, and I think the banged up Clippers will see this as a bridge too far in their first post-season since 2006.

The real question should be how far the Clippers can push the Spurs ahead of their Western Conference Finals appearance and I think they are good enough to get to game 6 before going down. I might not think they are going to win 4 of the 7 needed to go through, but I don't want to underestimate a team that has Chris Paul playing the way he has been.

I was impressed with the manner they out-gutted the Memphis Grizzlies in the First Round, but the scoring potential of this Spurs team looks too high and I just think they are likely to be far too strong with their experience.

Prediction: Can't see beyond the San Antonio Spurs here, but I am going to respect the Clippers enough to think it may get to game 6 before the series is decided.

Oklahoma City Thunder (2) v LA Lakers (3)

These two teams have reached the Semi Final stage of the Western Conference Play Offs in contrasting fashion. The Oklahoma City Thunder will be well rested following their sweep of the defending Champion Dallas Mavericks in the First Round, while the LA Lakers just scrambled over the line in a seven game series with the Denver Nuggets.

The Lakers are the older team, but more experienced, although it is going to be interesting to see how they cope with the schedule that has them down to play the Thunder 5 times in the space of 8 days. They will also not have home court advantage in a series that is likely to be played with a lot of emotion after their last regular season meeting when Metta World Peace decided to lay out James Harden with a vicious elbow to the back of his head.

Denver did show Oklahoma City that the Lakers struggle with their defence in transition and I think the likes of Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are going to cause a multitude of problems for Kobe Bryant and his team.

It took a magnificent shooting night from Steve Blake and Metta World Peace to help the Lakers over the line in game seven against the Nuggets and that is not something that is likely to happen too often. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum also cannot afford the sloppy games they had in the First Round series and I think the Thunder are ready to make a big statement of their intentions in the Western Conference this season.

The condensed schedule is unlikely to help the Lakers and I think the Thunder will progress to the Western Conference Finals

Prediction: After watching plenty of these teams in the First Round, I think the Thunder will be too strong and get through in 6 games

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