The NBA playoffs can finally move on to the conference semifinals, beginning with one from each conference: The Los Angeles Clippers in the potentially explosive matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Washington Wizards with the potentially still confusing Indiana Pacers.
The Clippers and the Thunder have had their moments in the regular season over the last couple of years. Blake Griffin and Serge Ibaka aren’t huge fans of each other; Kendrick Perkins has never been a player that’s only about playing cleanly and ethically. We might get some very interesting, potentially violent moments in this one, that will obviously also have some excellent basketball, determined by the amount of open floor situations each team can create.
The Clippers seemed to go through the motions in their series with the Warriors. It wasn’t necessarily about being outplayed, but as if there was something holding them back. The key to everything will be early dominance from Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in the paint, allowing guys like Redick, Barnes and Crawford to get open looks from beyond the arc. The Thunder need to create fast breaks points because they are a bad half court offense team, but having Kevin Durant, who can go off at any moment, can always help negate that weakness which was exposed plenty of times by the Grizzlies.
Two things to consider going into the Washington – Indiana series: The Wizards haven’t won on the road against the Pacers since 2007. The Pacers have just won two consecutive games for the first time since Mid-March, or at least it was the first time for their starters. Momentum, tradition, they all play a part, but both teams are feeling very confident with the Wizards picking up a few more days of rest, which might matter for a team that has given up on its bench like Indiana.
Roy Hibbert playing like in game 7 means the Pacers are favorites, having their defensive rock in place and playing well once again. The Wizards will try and force him to step outside his comfort zone with Nene’s mid-range game, and hopefully John Wall and Trevor Ariza can find the space inside to operate. The Wizards have bodies to clog the paint as well, but Paul George is nothing like they’ve seen in the series with the Bulls, that probably ended a lot quicker than anyone expected.