Wizards in 6
Of the 23 NBA teams that existed prior to 1980, only four have failed to reach the Conference Finals. Two of those teams are in this series, meaning the drought will end for one of these teams. The Hawks have not been to a Conference Finals since 1970, while the Wizards have not been there since 1979. In the regular season the Hawks won three of four meetings. However, as the second round begins the Wizards appear to be playing better basketball. The Hawks needed six games and struggled at times to get by the 38-44 Nets, while the Wizards dominated the Raptors in a four game sweep. Bradley Beal and John Wall each had monster first round series. If they both continue to shoot the ball well it will be hard to beat the Wiz. One player who was key to the Hawks great season was Thabo Sefolosha, a defensive specialist, who was lost for the season after a scuffle with New York Police on April 9th. With the Wizards offense, this is the round that Sefolosha’s absence will really be felt. The Wizards have a deeper bench and play terrific defense themselves. I see them getting a few big shots from Paul Pierce to upset the Hawks in six.
Warriors in 5
The resurgence of the Golden State Warriors has been nothing short of remarkable as they seek to reach the Western Conference Finals for the first time since the days of Rick Barry in 1976. This time around the Warriors are led by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Splash Brother who seem to be able to make shots from anywhere. In their first round sweep of the New Orleans Pelicans, Curry averaged 33.8 points and 7.8 assists per game. He was also clutch nailing a three point shot in the final seconds with Anthony Davis in his face to force overtime in Game 3. If Stephen Curry is able to continue to play at that high of level, there will be nothing that the Memphis Grizzlies can do. The Grizzlies easily dispatched the Trail Blazers in five games in their opening round series. Marc Gasol was the key for Memphis, leading the team with 20.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg and 5 apg. In order to pull the upset the Grizzlies are going to need to get more from their other players, and with Mike Conley returning from a facial fracture the odds are not in their favor, it may be hard for them to even find away to win one game in this series.
Bulls in 6
Kevin Love never quite was the player the Cleveland Cavaliers expected when they acquired him from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Love had a career worst scoring and shooting season, but his presence helped open up shots for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. His loss will be felt most against teams with a strong frontline defense, a team like the Chicago Bulls. This is the matchup everyone wanted to see since the beginning of the season. Both teams are coming off impressive first round performances the Cavs easily swept the Celtics, while the Bulls dispatched the Bucks in six games. During the regular season the Cavaliers took three of four games against the Bulls. All the big stars you would expect played big roles in getting their teams to the second round, with LeBron James averaging 27 points, 9 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game. For the Bulls it was Jimmy Butler leading the way as he led the team with 24.8 points per game. This series will be close and tight and the Bulls defense will be the difference with Pao Gasol and Joakim Noah each clogging the middle and making it hard for LeBrom and Kyrie to take over.
Clippers in 7
The performance of Chris Paul in Game 7 of the Los Angeles Clippers first round series against the San Antonio Spurs was the stuff of legends. Playing with a sore hamstring, Paul netted 24 points, including the off balance shot with one second left to dethrone the defending NBA Champions. The only worry now is just how hurt the Clippers point man is. If the injury lingers and Chris Paul is forced to miss a few early games, the Clippers could be in trouble. This series will be just as tough as the Houston Rockets are coming off a much easier first round series, beating the imploding Mavericks in five games. James Harden was big for the Rockets, leading the team with 28.4 points and 7.4 assists per games, as he showed why he should be the NBA’s MVP. What was also key for the Rockets was the rebounding of Dwight Howard who had 13.8 boards per game. With Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan each averaging more than 13 boards in the first round for the Clippers, Howard is going to be important for the Rockets success. This one has seven games written all over it with the Clippers pulling it out in the end to reach their first ever Western Conference Finals.