Chicago Bulls vs. Atlanta Hawks
1) Regardless of Carlos Boozer’s status, the Bulls will absolutely dominate the boards. Why? A) They did a much better job than the Hawks cleaning the glass in the regular season. B) They did an even better job doing so in the playoffs. C) Atlanta only has two rebounders going up against a team dedicated to it. D) In their three head-to-head contests this season (all in a three-week period in March – good one, NBA schedulers), the Bulls averaged 44 boards to the Hawks’ 30. E) Boozer only played in two of those games, and he was hardly a factor in them (8.5 ppg, 5 rpg).
2) This is the only series that I feel comfortable not only giving you the winner, but telling you it’s going to be a short series. The Bulls are better at virtually everything. Although the Hawks shocked most people by winning Round One over Orlando, it’s not crazy to imagine a team of jump shooters like Atlanta shooting well against the Magic’s poor perimeter defenders. Enter the Bulls, the league’s best team at challenging jump shots. As a result of having great, aggressive defenders everywhere, Bulls’ opponents shot a league low 33% from deep and league 3rd-lowest 37% on deep twos. The Hawks are playing with house money at this point, and it’s all going back to the dealer.
Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics
1) Expect the Heat to win the battle of the boards at both ends. Miami has outrebounded Boston in 3 of their 4 match-ups this year, and that 1 other one was the first game of the year when the Heat were playing together for the first time, Bosh was sucking, and the Celtics had a healthy Shaq starting (Boston grabbed only 3 more rebounds in that game, by the way). Considering Shaq will either not play or barely play in this series, and that most of the rest of the C’s love their jump shots, that could be a problem for Boston.
2) You can also expect the Heat to completely own the charity stripe. Miami has been far more aggressive on the offensive end recently, outshot Boston 115-94 from the free throw line in their four head-to-heads this year, and have the only two players in the series who can take the ball on the perimeter and force their way into the paint and draw a whistle seemingly at will in this star-driven league.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Dallas Mavericks
1) The Lakers will win at least two games in which they’re the beneficiary of severely one-sided free throw counts, either for the game or in the fourth quarter of a fairly tight contest. We are talking about David Stern’s favorite and least-favorite teams here, and the last decade has shown us that means something come this time of year. In the Lakers’ two wins over the Mavericks in the regular season, they outshot Dallas 39-23 and 27-15 at the stripe, but lost the one time the counts were close (7-13 on Jan. 19).
2) Andrew Bynum is going to be the difference in this series. With the Lakers’ dominance in the paint being their reason for dominance the past four years, LA’s young center will be the most crucial piece against Dallas. In their two wins over the Mavs during the regular season, Bynum posted 22-15 and 18-13 double-doubles, without question the best pair of games of any Laker (March 12 boxscore for skeptics). Dallas has been a phenomenal defensive rebounding club all year, and it’s LA’s phenomenal offensive rebounding that’s really stuck out about their offense, anchored by Bynum’s league-third-best 13.3 OffensiveRebound%. If anyone has what it takes to grab a bunch of Kobe’s misses and make up for Pau Gasol’s recent inconsistent play against a rather large collection of rebounders like Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki, Brendan Haywood, and Shawn Marion, it’s Bynum.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Memphis Grizzlies
1) Kendrick Perkins will be absolutely crucial to the Thunder’s ability to own the glass in this series. First off, OKC did a great job on the boards in Round One while Memphis did poorly. In addition, the Thunder outrebounded the Grizzlies over the sum of their four contests this season, and that’s before factoring in Perkins, who hasn’t faced Memphis in over a year. His interior toughness coupled with the Thunder’s continued rebounding by committee approach (with Serge Ibaka recently taking over as Chairman of the Boards), Oklahoma City will own a big advantage in this category.
2) Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will certainly get theirs and shoot plenty of free throws, but the Grizzlies will focus on shutting down everyone else like they did in their 3 wins against OKC this year. The Thunder’s #3 scorer this post-season is James Harden at 10.4 ppg; Harden was also the only other player on the team to average double-digit points against Memphis during the regular season at 14 ppg. With the Grizzlies leading the league in steals and opponents’ Turnover% during the season, plus having numerous one-on-one defenders who can guard multiple positions, the Thunder will have a lot of problems getting anyone else going beyond Durant and Westbrook.