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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Second Round Recap/Conference Finals Preview

I correctly predicted the outcome of all four second round series, improving my record to 11-1 for the 2014 playoffs. The highlight of the second round was the dominant performance authored by Russell Westbrook; during Oklahoma City's 4-2 win over the L.A. Clippers, Westbrook was often the best player on the court, outshining both his teammate/2014 NBA MVP Kevin Durant (who also had an excellent overall series) and Chris Paul, who many people have touted for years to be the NBA's top point guard. Westbrook averaged 27.8 ppg, 8.8 apg and 6.0 rpg in the series. In the pivotal fifth game, with the series tied 2-2, Westbrook exploded for a game-high 38 points plus five rebounds, a team-high six assists and a team-high three steals as the Thunder won 105-104.

Westbrook is averaging 26.6 ppg (fourth in the league), 8.4 apg (third in the league) and 8.0 rpg during this postseason. If Paul were putting up similar numbers for a team that made it at least as far as the Western Conference Finals, the "stat gurus" and Paul's supporters in the mainstream media would not be able to contain their praise--but because Westbrook is not as popular in those quarters as Paul, his contributions are minimized. Oscar Robertson is the only player in NBA playoff history to average at least 27 ppg, at least eight apg and at least eight rpg in a single postseason, a feat that he accomplished three different times--and even if Westbrook matches that accomplishment there still will be many people who will assert (1) that the Thunder were foolish to trade James Harden, (2) that the Thunder should trade Westbrook because he is supposedly incompatible with Durant and (3) that Westbrook is not the best all-around guard in the NBA. Westbrook is having a historically great playoff run for a team that may win the NBA title.

I see no reason to change my original predictions that Miami will beat Indiana in the Eastern Conference Finals and that Oklahoma City will beat San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals. LeBron James is having another great postseason for Miami, ranking second in playoff scoring (30.0 ppg) behind Durant (31.4 ppg), shooting a playoff-career high .564 from the field and once again demonstrating the absurdity of describing him as a "pass-first" player (James is averaging a playoff career-low 4.7 apg and neither his statistics nor his game even vaguely resemble the statistics/games of truly "pass-first" players like Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd, neither of whom could dream of scoring at the rate that James has for his entire career).

The so-called experts have struggled to figure out the Pacers--vacillating between anointing them as the Heat's successors and blasting them for their poor performance in the second half of the regular season--but the reality is that the Pacers are a very good young team that is not quite mentally strong enough to take out the Heat. Serge Ibaka's injury is a major blow for the Thunder and may ultimately cost the Thunder the championship but the Spurs--who have injury concerns of their own (Tony Parker's balky left hamstring)--cannot contain Russell Westbrook and Westbrook's excellence will be the difference as the Thunder advance to the NBA Finals for the second time in three years.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:41 AM