Tonight the Nets face off against the Heat at 5:00 p.m. MT on TNT and immediately after that game, the Blazers will be in San Antonio to face the Spurs, also on TNT. The road teams are 2-0 thus far in Round 2, we'll see what happens tonight.
Preview: Nets vs. Heat
We have two rosters chock-full of playoff experience and battle tested players. It was Joe Johnson leading the way for the Nets past the upstart Raptors in Round 1. Johnson averaged 21.9 points on 52.3% shooting (39.1% from deep) in Round 1 and that the Nets. Deron Williams was the second leading scorer with 16.9 points and led the team with 5.6 assists to go along with 2.6 turnovers per game. We all know that Johnson and Williams are not on the same level as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and that is why the team made the move to bring in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
The two former Celtics have been instrumental in holding the team together and Pierce has been a reliable late-game play-maker. The 36 year-old Pierce will be counted on in this series to provide big moment shots that could make or break the team.
On the other side, we all know who will do the heavy lifting for the Heat. LeBron James averaged 30 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists against the Bobcats in Round 1 and the 29 year-old is well-rested heading into this series. Rest was also important to Wade, who averaged 17.5 points per game in Round 1, followed by Chris Bosh's 14.5 points per game. The Heat still run as the Big Three run.
X-Factors: Marcus Thornton and Ray Allen
I debated between Allen and Bosh for Miami's X-Factor and I think it has to go to Allen. He's the all time leader in three-pointers made and can save a series with one perfectly timed shot ... remember?
The 38 year-old Allen averaged 20 minutes per game against the Bobcats and scored just 13 combined points in those four games and was just 3-11 from deep. Who knows when the Heat may need Allen, but you can bet he'll be ready.
Thornton is well-known by our readers here on Stiffs. He has lit up the Nuggets in the past and can get hot at any moment. When the Nets sent Jason Terry to the Kings in exchange for Thornton (other players involved, too), they were basically acquiring a younger version of Terry. The 26 year-old guard has a shoot first mentality and played sparingly in Round 1 ... said for Game 7 when he saved his team's bacon with a 17 point effort on 4-8 shooting, including 4-6 from deep and 5-6 from the foul line. Thornton gives the Nets a young scoring threat off the bench that could come in handy in any game.
There has been a build up to this series since the Nets went 4-0 in the regular season against LeBron and company, but that was the regular season. I am not as high on the Nets chances as some may be, even with all the playoff experience Brooklyn boasts. I think the Heat will take care of business and I'll take Miami in 5.
Preview: Blazers vs. Spurs
I never wanted that Portland vs. Houston series to end, what a fantastic match-up that was. Even with the Blazers winning the series in six games, each game was close and often thrilling. We watched that Damian Lillard shot in a sports bar downtown with strangers huddled around the TV and we all went bonkers when that three hit nothing but net.
Pick your poison with Portland. LaMarcus Aldridge averaged 29.8 points per game against the Rockets and Lillard was right there with him with 25.5 points per game. When those two need some assistance, Nicolas Batum, 15.8 points, and Wes Matthews, 15.3 points, were there to pick up the slack ... especially from deep where Batum made 10 threes and Matthews hit 12. Outside of the Heat, no team relies more on their starters for production. Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, and Thomas Robinson had their moments (especially Robinson who looked Faried-esque on the boards), but will need to be even more productive if the Blazers are to stand a chance.
And then you have the Spurs. Our very own Andrew Feinstein summed it up best:
... the Portland Trail Blazers will soon find out that San Antonio is the place where upstart playoff dreams go to die. Just as they did to last year's Warriors, the 2008 Hornets, the 2007 Nuggets, Suns and Jazz, the 2006 Kings, the 2005 Nuggets and Supersonics (may they rest in peace), the 2004 Grizzlies, the 2003 Suns, the 2001 Timberwolves and the 1999 Lakers, the Spurs specialize in devastating young, inexperienced playoff teams. So have fun with that one,Terry Stotts.
In a Round 1 dogfight with the Dallas Mavericks, it was, once again, the big three of the Spurs who came through. Tony Parker, 19.9 points, Manu Ginobili, 17.7 points, and Tim Duncan, 17.3 points, led the way while Kawhi Leonard, 11.9 points, and Tiago Splitter, 10.7 points, provided ample support. Gregg Popovich can also throw Patty Mills, Danny Green, Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw, and Matt Bonner at the Blazers if it comes down to it. Mills has resurrected a once promising career (thought to be a nice prospect coming out of Saint Mary's ... even though he was the 55th overall pick) and can be very Parker-like when he comes into the game.
X-Factors: Patty Mills and Thomas Robinson
Mills isn't asked to log major minutes and plays the perfect role off the bench for Pop. He comes into the game and disrupts things with his speed. He can more than hold his own while he's out there running the offense. He averaged 5.9 points in 16.3 minutes of action against the Mavs and will be a pest for a Blazers team that has defensive issues inside.
Robinson had a little something to prove against the Rockets ... the second team to trade him in his rookie season. He averaged just 9.5 minutes a game in Round 1 and only 2.5 rebounds, but his energy and relentlessness provided a spark that the Blazers normally lack from their second unit. His rebounding and athleticism can have a major effect on the game and he may provide much needed second possession if he's called upon in the series.
This has a chance to be the best series of the bunch and I have to go with the Blazers in 7, even if it's insane to pick against the Spurs.
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