The editors for WashingtonWizards.com, Jacob Raim and Jeremy Hyman, take a crack at predicting the outcomes for the NBA's conference finals.
First Round: Jeremy (5-3) | Jacob (7-1)
Second Round: Jeremy (4-0) | Jacob (2-2)
Spurs vs. Grizzlies
Jacob - This could be one of the grittier series we see during the 2012-13 playoffs. Memphis was the stingiest defense in the NBA during the 2012-13 season and the Spurs, who play at a faster pace than the Grizzlies, showcased their defensive chops in stymieing the high flying Warriors. Tim Duncan has already apologized to the general public for how ugly and physical this series is going to be. Both teams play fundamentally sound and protect the basketball, in fact they are one and two in fewest turnovers per game in the postseason. It will be hard to find mistakes made between these two teams. Mike Conley and Tony Parker should be a classic duel between point guards, but I think this series is going to be won and lost by the bigs down low. No big man is playing at a higher level right now than Marc Gasol, who dominated Serge Ibaka on both ends of the floor. Gasol and Zach Randolph should be more than enough to handle Duncan inside. The Grizzlies also play tremendous perimeter defense, using Conley, Allen, Pondexter and Prince to handle the Spurs gunners like Parker, Ginobili, Leonard and Bonner. The Spurs shot 37% from beyond the arc during the regular season but the Grizzlies were second best in the NBA at defending the three, allowing opponents to shoot just 33%. I like the Grizzlies chances to hold the Spurs on the perimeter and dominate them in the paint. Grizzlies in 6.
Jeremy - Call this one the 'last man standing' series, because the winner of this one could be whichever team can withstand the other the longest. In what is sure to be a grind it out, tough, physical series, this one may not be the prettiest to watch. The Grizzlies may be the best defensive team in the league and were able to find a way to beat the Thunder twice in Oklahoma City to reach this point. Marc Gasol is playing like the best center in the NBA and his fellow big Zach Randolph can be a load to deal with down low. But, the Spurs do have the bodies to try and limit the Grizzlies inside presence and you need to look no further then future Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan. Now 37, he seems to keep on ticking and producing for a Spurs team that has seen him be the centerpiece for 15 years. The Spurs have home court advantage and all the experience in the world, led by their head coach Greg Popovich. If the series comes down to a Game 7, I like their chances playing in San Antonio. Spurs in 7.
Heat vs. Pacers
Jacob - The Heat should face their biggest challenge of the playoffs thus far but the runaway train that is the Heat should keep on rolling through the Pacers. Dwyane Wade's health will obviously be a big question for the Heat but he looks to be ready to go for game one. The Pacers concussed guard, George Hill, will be good to go as well after playing 42 minutes in game six against New York. In theory the Pacers have the formula to beat the Heat. They have a great scoring frontcourt in Hibbert and West, some elite perimeter defenders in George and Stephenson, and have rebounded better than anybody during the postseason with a massive plus 9.8 rebounding differential. The Pacers have been dreadful offensively though and Miami has played stifling defense, allowing just under 85 points a game in the postseason, even when going up against a quality, physical front court in Boozer and Noah. Bosh should be able to force Hibbert out of his comfort zone being an elite mid-range shooter, pulling him away from the basket which negates a lot of his value as a shot blocker and rebounder. And of course, the Heat have Lebron James, which can always negate any argument against them. While the Pacers held him to 21 ppg during the regular season, his lowest against any team in the East, the playoffs are a different animal. He's the best player in the world and is playing like it, leading all players in the playoffs in terms of WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player). He's basically unstoppable right now. Heat in 5
Jeremy - I think the Heat will have issues with the Pacers. To recap, the Heat swept past a Milwaukee team in the first round that finished the regular season below .500 and then beat up on a Bulls team that was missing arguably its best two players (Rose, Deng). That Bulls team showed a lot of heart to give the Heat a test, but they will truly be tested against a Pacers team that plays very good defense, some capable scorers, and a very good coach. While many are quick to point out Miami's run at the title last season, they sometimes forget that the Heat TRAILED 3-2 in the ECF and were facing elimination in Boston. They then saw LeBron put on a show for the ages (45 points, 15 rebounds) in Game 6 to save their season and then had to come back in the fourth quarter to beat the Celtics at home. Granted, this Heat team may be better than the one a year ago, I don't think they walk all over the Pacers in this series. The keys to the series will be Dwyane Wade's health, the three point shooting of Miami's role players, and how well they can neutralize Roy Hibbert, who was a big factor in the Pacers series win over New York. With all that said, they are still a better team than Indiana and it would be hard to predict anything other than a Heat series win. Heat in 6.