By John Schmeelk
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I think every NBA fan would sign up for it if the second round of the playoffs can live up to the excitement of the first. There are some interesting matchups, but this could be where the cream of the crop separates itself from the middle of the pack.


Miami Heat vs. Brooklyn Nets: The only thing making me think the Nets have a chance in this series is the fact that they swept Miami in four regular-season games. There are legitimate questions as to whether the Nets have the perimeter defenders to stop LeBron James and Dwyane Wade from getting into the paint. James will also be able to limit Joe Johnson’s one-on-one play more than any Raptors defender could. The Nets going small may help the Heat more than it will hurt them. They’ll match up just fine with Shane Battier playing Paul Pierce at the four.

Here’s the argument for Brooklyn: Pierce and Kevin Garnett both have great experience and varying success playing LeBron in the playoffs. The Nets can rotate Johnson, Pierce and Alan Anderson (and maybe even Shaun Livingston for stretches) on James, with Garnett offering consistent help defense. Garnett should also be a good matchup on Chris Bosh.

The key for the Nets will be Deron Williams. With Miami’s aggressive pick-and-roll defense, it’s the opposing point guard that often has to make the play, whether scoring or passing, to hurt the Heat. Williams has to be aggressive and confident in every game of this series. That has not been the case this season — or in the playoffs.

Prediction: I don’t believe in Deron Williams, but the Nets still manage two wins. Heat in six.

Indiana Pacers vs. Washington Wizards: The question here: Are the Pacers really that screwed up or were the Hawks just a bad matchup for them? I think the answer is a little of both. Roy Hibbert should be able to be a bigger factor in this series with the Wizards playing a more traditional lineup with Marcin Gortat at center and Nene at power forward. Hibbert should provide some protection at the rim against John Wall penetration, and Paul George and Lance Stephenson should be able to give Bradley Beal fits.

If the Wizards can figure out a way to space the floor and get out and run, they might be able to make this a series. If they can rock the Pacers early, there is always a chance that a very fragile team like Indiana will implode. One thing Washington will have to do is continue to play excellent defense. They’ll have to win some low-scoring games in this series.

Prediction: I think the matchups really trend to Indiana in this series despite their issues. Pacers in five.


San Antonio Spurs vs. Portland Trail Blazers: This series is going to be a lot of fun. I mean a ton of fun. I can’t wait to watch it. This could very well become a passing-of-the-torch type of series with Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge trying to wrestle the throne from Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Parker should have a lot of trouble guarding Lillard, but I think Duncan and the Spurs’ bigs will give Aldridge some trouble. Wesley Matthews should be able to do an excellent defensive job on Manu Ginobili, who could struggle matching up against Batum or Matthews defensively.

The Spurs run their system and do what they do extremely well. How Ginobili plays is truly the X-factor, since the Spurs rely on him so heavily late in games. I think San Antonio’s solid defense will shock Portland a bit after playing a team like the Rockets, who aren’t exactly known as stoppers. Kwahi Leonard might be able to put the lock down on Nicolas Batum.

Prediction: Spurs in seven in a classic. The San Antonio system wins for one more year.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Clippers: This is another must-see series that I expect to go a full seven games. The Thunder are not playing particularly well, though I think the last two games against Memphis might give them some momentum heading into Round 2. The Clippers are a different animal, however, and a real challenge defensively. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are both good on ‘D’ but Blake Griffin’s quickness might give them both issues. I expect to see a lot of Nick Collison on him defensively in this series. Griffin will have to have a big series if the Clippers want to win it.

The Clippers have a number of players they can throw at Kevin Durant, including Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley. I don’t think Jamal Crawford or JJ Redick can guard the much taller Durant, but they might also struggle a bit on Caron Butler. I’m curious to see how the Clippers decide to guard Westbrook too. Asking Chris Paul to guard him while running the offense might be too much responsibility, even for someone like Paul.

Prediction: Clippers in seven. I like Doc Rivers outcoaching Scott Brooks for one win. That will make the difference in the end. I had to pick one second-round upset, and decided this would be it. But a Thunder win certainly wouldn’t surprise me.

Follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and the world of sports.

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