Following a fabulous first round that featured a ridiculous FIVE series which went the full seven games, we’re moving on. If the second round even approaches the first round in quality, few will be disappointed. Here are our picks for the Eastern Conference Semis (as always, let us know where we’re wrong in the comments!):
No. 1 seed Indiana Pacers vs. No. 5 seed Washington Wizards
The Indiana Pacers were tested in all sorts of ways against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round. Jeff Teague and the three-happy Hawks soared out to a 3-2 series lead and had the Pacers on the ropes in Game Six, but Indiana rallied back, winning the penultimate matchup before taking Game Seven at home. Roy Hibbert has been awful of late, and Frank Vogel was forced to bench the struggling All-Star for long stretches against perimeter-oriented Atlanta. But Hibbert came to play in Game Seven, finishing with 13 points, seven rebounds, and five blocks. Paul George had a stellar first round for Indiana, averaging a double-double and scoring an efficient 24 points per game. Meanwhile, Washington was extremely impressive in their five game series with the Chicago Bulls, as the athletic Wizards were able to put up enough points against Tom Thibodeau’s vaunted defense. Sweet shooting guard Bradley Beal had a monster first round series for the Wiz and Nene Hilario played fantastically as well, bullying DPOY Joakim Noah in the paint. The Wizards are legit, with a great balance between strong frontcourt and backcourt play. At the same time, the ultra-talented Pacers will be happy to face a more traditional team after their near disaster in the first round against a Hawks team that launched over 30 treys per game. They also found their legs late against Atlanta, and that might be bad news for Washington. But it’s hard to have all that much faith in Indiana at the moment. The Wizards strike us as similar to the Grizzlies team of last year, and we expect them to take down this struggling behemoth.
Pick: Wizards in 6
No. 2 seed Miami Heat vs. No. 6 Brooklyn Nets
Certain members of the Nets had occasionally seemed ancient during the past week, especially during Game 5, when Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett sat for most of a ferocious but eventually futile Nets comeback against the Raptors. However, it was the seemingly-Jurassic Pierce who stuffed Kyle Lowry’s last second layup attempt at the end of the seventh game in the tumultuous series today, sending the Nets into a second-round matchup against LeBron James and the defending champs. Miami was dominant in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, sweeping a youthful Charlotte Bobcats team that was playing without their best player, Al Jefferson, at full strength. The Heat coasted through the regular season, finishing with a relatively unimpressive 54-28 record, but they’ve turned it back on for the playoffs. Regardless of MVP award nonsense, LeBron is unquestionably the league’s best player. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are the King’s dependable sidekicks, and both are healthy at the moment. Miami’s clearly the favorite to win it all. The good news for the Nets: they’ve been the thorn in Miami’s side this season. The wily old Nets swept the season series and their off-season acquisitions–Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett–were brought to the Big Apple with the idea that they could help bring down the big bad Heat. But perhaps more important than the presence of Pierce and Garnett is the recent play of Joe Johnson. Johnson, who was not 100% in BK’s first round loss to Chicago last spring, is healthy and hot. He averaged 22 points per game on a scorching 52% from the field against Toronto. When he’s in a groove, the Nets are tough. Brooklyn has plenty of weapons and the Heat are not the team they were a couple of years ago. The guys from New York will give Miami a tough time, but LeBron should knock the senior citizen Nets out eventually.
Pick: Heat in 7