Conference Finals Preview

Handicapping the field for the Conference Finals

These have been the most exciting opening rounds in many a year (hat tip to the Celtics/Bulls stoush of 2009) but all things must end and so we come to the Conference Finals.

Let’s take a look at how those may play out.

Western Conference

Dallas may be playing the best of anyone remaining in the Playoffs. Or they may have faced an imploding Lakers squad and are exactly the team we expected them to be coming into the second season. We won’t know until Game 1 of the Conference Finals against either Oklahoma City or Memphis. Let’s break down their chances against those two opponents.

vs. OKC

The more likely matchup, given the impressive result win in Game 5, and the least favorable for Dallas. Oklahoma City has the defensive horses to stay with any lineup that Dallas trots out. Nowitzkii s going to get his numbers, and he is going to be dangerous in the clutch. That is as sure as death and taxes, so there isn’t much point in going on about how ideal Serge Ibaka is for him, because in the end, it’s irrelevant. Nowitzki does what he wants when he wants. Stopping the other players is the real key to containing Dallas. They has been able to befuddle opponents with their three guard front of Kidd, Terry and Barea, but that is mostly nullified with a lineup of Westbrook, Harden and Sefolosha, and that doesn’t take into account the fact that OKC’s bigs are able to effectively switch on pick and rolls with Ibaka and Kevin Durant. Perkins is another beast entirely, but he’ll patrol the paint and try to keep Tyson Chandlers energy at bay.

In short, all the individual matchups in this series (except notably at PF) tilt dramatically to OKC. The wise heads will win a few games on guile and experience, but this series goes to the young bucks, 4-2.

vs. Memphis

An unlikely matchup, but given the tightly fought nature of the second round, not completely out of the question. This might be a series where Zach Randolph could threaten Wilt’s 100 point game, but in the same way, Nowitzki is completely unfettered from any level of defense. Randolph or Marc Gasol’s defensive prowess are essentially nullified by Nowitzki’s mobility and range, and unlike with Kevin Durant, they will be unable to put 6’4″ Tony Allen on him, since Jason Kidd is much more able to get the ball to his superstar than Russell Westbrook can with Durant. In short, the matchups for a Dallas vs. Memphis series are so horrendous that this is likely to be the second sweep in a row the Mavericks.

Eastern Conference

Sorry Hawks fans, I’m not going to discuss the Hawks here, as while I strongly think they will win today’s game in Atlanta, there is no way they win a Game 7 in Chicago. The smart money is on Chicago vs. Miami in the Conference Finals, and the question that many are asking (should this marquee matchup occur) is can Miami find an answer for Derrick Rose. The problem with that is that it has already been answered, as they basically did in the regular season. Rose didn’t outperform his season averages in either of the three games (all Chicago victories by margins of 3, 4 and 1 point). Let’s take a look at the particulars.

Rose’s average against Miami: 29 points, 6 assists, 44% shooting
Rose’s average against everyone else: 25 points, 7.7 assists, 45% shooting

Given these numbers, it’s hard to see that Miami had any particular issue with Rose. In fact, the larger issue for Miami during the regular season was Miami, specifically the much discussed issues with winning close games during the regular season, and the alpha dog battle of who was going to take over down the stretch. Not only has that question been answered during the Playoffs, it’s become a legitimate strength. Miami turned ice cold killers against the team most endorsed as being ice cold killers, the Boston Celtics. That the Celtics were out hustled and out played by the Heat wasn’t a surprise, but that they were out executed sure was.

Speaking of the Celtics brings us to the next most significant advantage that the Heat have in any series against Chicago. Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau’s defense has been outstanding at stopping isolations for years, with noteworthy postseason success against both Wade and James. Why is this an advantage for Miami? Because they have spent the last five games overcoming that exact defense, so they know almost exactly what they are getting heading into the next series. These games are the ideal preparation, and now they have rest, time to watch film and familiarise themselves with what worked against that same scheme.

My pick – Miami in five games.

So it’s looking like a Dallas-Miami final rematch. That series was a corker, and this one will be too. I’m not in a hurry to get there however, as there is still a hell of a lot of exciting Basketball to be played. 

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