2012-13 NBA Playoffs Breakdown

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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The 2013 NBA Playoffs open up today with some pretty noteworthy storylines headlining the postseason. We’ve got a dynamic defending champion with a defending MVP playing at the top of his game in the East, while we’ve got injuries raising question marks in the West. There’s James Harden’s impending first round return to OKC as well as a streaking Los Angeles Lakers team that went from battling for a postseason berth to clinching the seventh seed within the span of an evening. There’s the rematch of last year’s seven-game bout between the Clippers and Grizzlies, and there’s the epic East Coast showdown between the Knicks and Celtics.

Which teams will prevail?

Here’s a look at each of the first round matchups, breaking down some of the keys to watch for as well as how the Wolves matched up against these teams during the regular season. This could prove to be an exceptional postseason for NBA fans from the opening tip all the way through the NBA Finals.

Western Conference

1. Oklahoma City (60-22) vs. 8. Houston (45-37)

Season Series: Thunder lead 2-1

Game 1 Schedule: Sunday 8:30 PM—TNT

Overview: Could this have worked out any better? Just before the season began, the Rockets and Thunder pulled off a trade that sent Olympian James Harden to Houston in return for a group that included veteran scorer Kevin Martin. Fast forward six months, and the two teams are meeting in the first round after Harden blazed through the regular season scoring 25.9 points per game (fifth in the NBA), while the Thunder earned their first No. 1 seed since moving to OKC behind another dominant season from Kevin Durant (28.1 PPG) and Russell Westbrook (23.2 PPG).

OKC Breakdown:

Against the Wolves:
Minnesota went 2-2 against the Thunder and was one of five teams to beat OKC multiple times this season, joining Denver (3), San Antonio (2), Memphis (2) and Miami (2). Both wins came in Minnesota, once on Dec. 20 (99-93) headlined by 28 points and 11 boards from Kevin Love and another on March 29 (101-93) led by 22 points and 15 rebounds from Nikola Pekovic.

Scouting Report: The Thunder are a well-oiled machine led by Durant and Westbrook, but they’re far more dangerous than a two-man group. Serge Ibaka continues to improve offensively (13.2 PPG) to complement his strong presence on the boards (7.7 RPG) and defensively in the paint (3.03 BPG). Thabo Sefolosha provides a nice defensive presence as the starting shooting guard, and he paves the way for Kevin Martin (14.0 PPG) to come off the bench and score like Harden used to. They’ve made two straight trips to the conference finals and came within three wins of an NBA title last season. Coach Scott Brooks has a lot of weapons to work with, and the Thunder should be the favorite to win the West again this year.

HOU Breakdown:

Against the Wolves:
Houston stole two of three from Minnesota this year, the first coming thanks to James Harden’s four straight points to end their 87-84 road win at Target Center on Dec. 26. Minnesota won handedly 92-79 on Jan. 19 thanks to newcomers Chris Johnson and Mickael Gelabale taking over in the fourth quarter. Houston won its lone home meeting with the Wolves, a 108-100 victory on March 15.

Scouting Report: Harden has been the offensive punch for this team all year, but Jeremy Lin (13.4 PPG, 6.1 APG) has been a solid addition this offseason. Those two have made Houston’s back court a formidable task to stop all season long. Chandler Parson is coming into his own on the wing (38.5 percent from 3 this year) and Omer Asik was another strong offseason addition, averaging a double-double for the year.

2. San Antonio (58-24) vs. 7. Los Angeles Lakers (45-37)

Season Series: Spurs lead 2-1 Game 1 Schedule: Sunday 2:30 PM—ABC

Overview: The Spurs started out the year on fire and rolled through their schedule before running into injury woes in the final two months. The Lakers had highly publicized struggles all season before rallying off a 9-2 mark to end the season, including a five-game winning streak entering the playoffs. Both teams will be either slowed by injury or flat out missing stars—none bigger than Kobe Bryant, who tore his Achilles on April 12.

SAS Breakdown

Against the Wolves: The Spurs and Wolves split this season, each winning a game at home and on the road. Minnesota ended its regular season with a 108-95 victory in San Antonio on Wednesday, marking the first time they’ve beaten the Spurs on the road since 2004. They Minnesota is 4-3 against San Antonio over the past two years.

Scouting Report: San Antonio has one of the craftiest coaches in the game in Gregg Popovich and a core group that has helped establish and carry on a tradition of excellence over the last 15 years. San Antonio hasn’t had a winning percentage below .610 since 1996-97, winning four titles in that span. But in order to succeed in the playoffs, they’ll need a healthy Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Ginobili has battled injury over the past three weeks, missing 12 of San Antonio’s last 13 games. When healthy, the group still gets it done. Parker (20.3 PPG), Duncan (17.8 PPG, 9.9 RPG) and Ginobili (11.8 PPG) all put together strong seasons for a talented, deep squad in 2012-13.

LAL Breakdown:

Against the Wolves: The Lakers won all three meetings this year and have won 22 straight against the Wolves. The last being a 120-117 win at Target Center on March 27, when Kobe Bryant contested Ricky Rubio’s last-second 3-point attempt and was not called for the foul. The league announced later that week a foul should have been called.

Scouting Report: If the Lakers make a deep push in the playoffs without Kobe Bryant, it will say a lot about how the rest of this group came together after an adversity-filled season. LA seems to finally be figuring out how to use both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol together in the front court, and they’ve gotten a heroic comeback out of Metta World Peace (returning 12 days after knee surgery). Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks will need to play strong ball in the back court with Bryant out and Steve Nash continuing to battle injury.

3. Denver (57-25) vs. 6. Golden State (47-35)

Season Series: Tied 2-2

Game 1 Schedule: Saturday 4:30 PM—ESPN

Overview: If healthy, this could be a track meet. The Nuggets led the NBA this year with 106 points per game won 57 games without a signature superstar on their roster. They do it by dominating the rim and getting out in transition. The Warriors have one of the best 3-point duos in the game in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Whichever team can D up will have the best chance of winning this series.

DEN Breakdown:

Against the Wolves: The Wolves and Nuggets split this season 2-2, and two of those four meetings held pretty big significance in Minnesota’s season. Kevin Love returned to the Wolves’ lineup on Nov. 21 against the Nuggets and played for the first time since suffering a broken hand in October—pouring in 34 points and 14 rebounds in a 101-94 loss. Fast forward to Jan. 3 at Pepsi Center, and Love re-broke his hand against Denver in a 101-97 Wolves win, effectively ending his season after 18 games.

Scouting Report: Denver has a dynamic roster when healthy, led by point guard Ty Lawson’s 16.7 points and 6.9 assists per game. Kenneth Faried has transformed into a beast inside, corralling 9.2 rebounds per night. But Lawson has been slowed by a right heel injury and Faried went down on April 14 Faried went down with a sprained left ankle. Add in Danilo Gallinari out for the season with a torn left ACL, and the Nuggets are being severely tested heading into the playoffs. They could be vulnerable because of those key injuries.

GSW Breakdown:

Against the Wolves: The Warriors swept the Wolves 4-0 this season, scoring 100 or more points in three of their four outings. The last came in a 105-89 win in Oakland on April 9.

Scouting Report: Stephen Curry made 3.5 3-pointers per game this year, by far the best in the NBA. He knocked down 45.3 percent of his shots beyond the arc this year. His back court partner, Klay Thompson, hit 2.6 per night and connected on 40.1 percent of his 3-point attempts. Up front, David Lee put together an All-Star season (18.5 points, 11.2 boards), and Andrew Bogut returned from injury late in the season to strengthen their presence on the glass. And don’t sleep on backup point guard Jarrett Jack, who scored 12.9 points and added 5.5 assists off the bench this year.

4. Los Angeles Clippers (56-26) vs. 5. Memphis (56-26)

Season Series: Clippers lead 3-1

Game 1 Schedule: Saturday 9:30 PM—ESPN

Overview: This is a rematch of last year’s first round 4 vs. 5 matchup, when the Clippers ousted the Grizzlies in Game 7. Expect this series to be equally grueling. These two teams know each other well, have talented point guards and front court tandems that combine power and scoring like few other teams in the league.

LAC Breakdown

Against the Wolves: After losing three out of four last season against Minnesota, the Clippers swept the Wolves 4-0 this year even though Chris Paul did not play in either trip to Target Center. The X-factor in all four games was Jamal Crawford off the bench, who scored in double-figures each game highlighted by 22 on Jan. 17 at Target Center.

Scouting Report: The Clippers are a dangerous team because of their talented core. Chris Paul is arguably the best point guard in the NBA. He dished out 9.7 assists per game (2nd in the NBA) as well as amassed 2.41 steals per game (1st in the NBA), but he does so much more than that with his clutch shots and his pristine execution on the pick-and-roll. Blake Griffin has always been a handful at the basket, but he’s also trying to learn to hit his mid-range hoops. DeAndre Jordan teams with Griffin to make a powerful, athletic duo up front. And Crawford (16.5 PPG) and Matt Barnes (10.3 PPG) add a punch off the bench. They’re coming off their first-ever 50-win season and first-ever division title, and they’ve won seven straight heading into the playoffs.
MEM Breakdown

Against the Wolves: Minnesota couldn’t figure out how to handle the Grizzlies’ defensive presence all season, going 0-3 while averaging 83.7 points per night against Memphis. The Grizzlies won all three games by an average of 15.0 points.

Scouting Report: Memphis is a devastatingly effective defensive team. They held opponents to 89.3 points per game this year, best in the NBA, and they make you earn it on every possession. Center Marc Gasol is a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year for good reason. He makes it difficult for opponents to get uncontested shots in the paint, and he’s equally active on the offensive end as he averaged 14.1 points per game. The Grizzlies were an active team making transactions this year, and their blockbuster deal sent scorer Rudy Gay to Toronto while acquiring veteran small forward Tayshaun Prince. Prince adds a championship pedigree as he’s been to six conference finals, two NBA finals and won a championship with the 2004 Pistons. And keep an eye on their back court duo of Mike Conley and Tony Allen, an athletic pair that can impact a game in spurts.

Eastern Conference

1. Miami (66-16) vs. 8. Milwaukee (38-44)

Season Series: Heat lead 3-1

Game 1 Schedule: Sunday 6 PM—TNT

Overview: The Heat’s march through the 2012-13 season was nothing short of methodical. They racked up a franchise-record 66 wins in convincing fashion, especially when you factor in the difficulty in repeating. But this Miami team has faced scrutiny and adversity since they assembled the James-Wade-Bosh combo three years ago, and they look poised and ready to win back-to-back titles. Clearly the favorite in this year’s postseason. They’ll get Milwaukee in the first round, a team six games under .500 that went 1-3 against Miami this season—one of those losses coming in overtime. They’ll have their hands full against a team sporting nearly a consensus MVP pick and two other All-Stars hungry for another ring.

MIA Breakdown:

Against the Wolves: Miami won both contests against Minnesota this season, but not without showing their respect for a Wolves squad that, in some regards, pushed them to their limits. Minnesota out-rebounded Miami 53-24 in their 103-92 loss to the Heat on Dec. 18—led by Kevin Love’s 18 and Nikola Pekovic’s 12. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra outwardly acknowledged Minnesota’s powerful presence on the boards. In their final outing on March 4, a fiery exchange between Ray Allen and J.J. Barea lead to a Flagrant II for Barea (later downgraded) followed by a technical for Rick Adelman and a pair of offensive fouls that turned a six-point game into a 16-point Miami win. The Wolves, like so many teams, had trouble containing both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade at the same time. The two-headed monster are dynamic and relentless every single night.

Scouting Report: The conversation about the Miami Heat begins with LeBron James, who is playing at the absolute top of his game and is a consensus pick for this year’s MVP award. He is enjoying career bests in field goal percentage (56.5 %), 3-point percentage (40.6 %), rebounds (8.0 RPG) and assists (7.3 APG), all while scoring 26.8 points per game—good for fourth in the NBA. If you can somehow contain James at small forward, Dwyane Wade is there with his 21.2 points per game average. Chris Bosh is hitting 53.5 percent of his shots from the field, Ray Allen provides a solid dose of 3-point shooting off the bench and Mario Chalmers is becoming an effective and reliable point guard. The Heat can score, can defend and are hungry to repeat. The question will lie in who can provide enough physicality and rebounding to knock them off their game.

MIL Breakdown:

Against the Wolves: Minnesota swept Milwaukee 2-0 this season, first earning a 95-85 win at Target Center on Nov. 30 and following it up with a 107-98 win in Milwaukee on April 3. In that last outing, all five Wolves scored in double figures led by 27 points from Pekovic and a 19-point, 12-assist and five 3-pointer effort from Ricky Rubio.

Scouting Report: The Bucks are certainly dynamic in the back court with both Monta Ellis (19.2 PPG) and Brandon Jennings (17.5 PPG) leading the team in scoring. The question there will be can the 6-foot-3 Ellis hang with Dwyane Wade on the defensive end? Up front, center Larry Sanders became an essential piece of Milwaukee’s success thanks to his 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.83 blocks per game in the paint. He’s filling a hole left by the oft-injured Andrew Bogut, who departed Milwaukee last year in a deal that brought Ellis to town from Golden State. But the biggest question is how Milwaukee will handle James, and who will be the defender best suited to keep him in check?

2. New York (54-28) vs. 7. Boston (41-40)

Season Series: Knicks lead 3-1

Game 1 Schedule: Saturday 2 PM—ABC

Overview: This could be the most intriguing first round series in the playoffs. The Knicks have been arguably the hottest team excluding the Heat in the East all season, and they’ve certainly earned the second seed. Boston has struggled by their standards throughout, both when they had full health and then after losing point guard Rajon Rondo for the year to an ACL injury and other key parts, including Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, to other injuries down the stretch. The Celtics have lost six of their last nine, while New York has won 16 of 18. Yet the Celtics have a championship pedigree and a revered championship coach in Doc Rivers. And as long as they’ve got Pierce and Garnett on their roster, they’ll have a chance.

NYK Breakdown:

Against the Wolves: The Knicks went 2-0 against the Wolves this year, including a 94-91 win at Madison Square Garden in December and a 100-94 win at Target Center in February.

Scouting Report: At 28.7 points per game, Carmelo Anthony just wrestled the scoring title away from three-time defending champion Kevin Durant. That’s the second best scoring output of his career. At times, he looked unstoppable on the offensive end. J.R. Smith (18.1 PPG) is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, defending Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler continues to shine in the paint and Amare Stoudemire, out due to injury to start the year, played in just 29 games (starting none) but has graciously transitioned into a rotation player. And unfortunately for Boston (14-27 on the road), the Knicks are 31-10 at Madison Square Garden. Home court advantage could play a huge part against the Celtics.

BOS Breakdown:

Against the Wolves: The Wolves snapped an 11-game losing streak that dated back to the KG Era on April 1 with a 110-100 win at Target Center. Minnesota and Boston split their season series 1-1 this year.

Scouting Report: The whole key to this postseason run is health. Will Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce be able to dig deep and put together one more postseason run like they’ve done so many times during their five years together? Boston was a Game 7 away from the Finals last year, but without Rondo and the rest of their core another year older, this could be Doc Rivers’ toughest coaching task yet. Pierce is still a menacing offensive threat, scoring at an 18.4 points per game clip this year. Garnett was right behind him at 14.6. Avery Bradley started 50 games in Rondo’s absence and played admirably at the point, and he’ll need to continue to do that throughout the postseason. Jason Terry adds championship experience off the bench.

3. Indiana (49-32) vs. 6. Atlanta (44-38)

Season Series: Tied 2-2

Game 1 Schedule: Sunday 12 PM—TNT

Overview: Indiana might be the dark horse in the Eastern Conference. They’re a physical, defensive-minded team that rebounds well but also has its own share of scoring threats—even without Danny Granger, who has missed most of the year with an injured left knee. Yet Atlanta won their first two games with the Pacers this year before dropping the final two. The Hawks have lost five of their last seven games, but they’re a squad that could make noise in the playoffs thanks to the dynamic Josh Smith, a center in Al Horford who averaged a double-double and sharpshooting Kyle Korver from behind the arc.

IND Breakdown:

Against the Wolves: Minnesota and Indiana split 1-1 this season with the Wolves’ win coming Nov. 9 in a memorable game at Target Center. With 3.7 seconds left on the clock, Andrei Kirilenko took an inbound pass and found Chase Budinger on a backdoor cut that put the Wolves up for good, 96-94. In the Pacers’ victory over Minnesota on March 15, the Pacers used their stifling second half defense plus a 49-36 rebounding advantage to pull away, 107-91.

Scouting Report: Roy Hibbert sets the tone at the basket. The 7-foot-2 center is averaging 2.61 blocks and 8.3 rebounds per game while filling up space in the paint, but he also averages 11.9 points per game. Leading the way on the offensive end is Paul George, who slid into the small forward spot in place of the injured Granger and earned a spot on the East’s All-Star team with 17.4 points per game. David West put together another productive season (17.1 PPG), and George Hill chipped in 14.2 points and 4.7 assists per game at the point. Add in a rugged supporting cast off the bench, and the Pacers have the physicality and depth to hold their own.

ATL Breakdown:

Against the Wolves: Minnesota beat the Hawks 108-103 on Jan. 8 in their first game without coach Rick Adelman, who missed three weeks while tending to his ailing wife in the middle of the season. Atlanta avenged that loss and knotted up the season series 1-1 with a 104-96 win on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Scouting Report: The Hawks are third in the NBA in fast break points and are second in fast break efficiency. They’re also second in assists per game and fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio. Their stop scorers are Josh Smith (17.5 PPG) and Al Horford (17.4 PPG), while Jeff Teague has been dynamic at the point as he’s averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 assists per game. Kyle Korver is second in the league shooting 45.7 percent from 3-point range, and he’s tied for second with 2.6 made 3-pointerse per game. One thing Indiana does well is manage opponent’s 3-point makes (best in the league at 5.4 per game), so Atlanta (led by Korver) must find a way to hit from the perimeter early and often in this series.

4. Brooklyn (49-33) vs. 5. Chicago (45-37)

Season Series: Bulls lead 3-1

Game 1 Schedule: Saturday 7 PM—ESPN

Overview: A year ago, the Bulls lost point guard Derrick Rose to an ACL injury in their first round matchup with Philadelphia, culminating in top-seeded Chicago being ousted by the Sixers. A year later, that same void in their lineup could be their barrier between themselves and the second round. Rose hasn’t played a minute this season and there are no indications he’ll suit up for the postseason. Yet the Bulls continue to be a threat in the postseason thanks to their defensive presence. Meanwhile, the Nets wrapped up an up and down season with six wins in their last seven games heading into the playoffs. They’re talented on the perimeter, and they’re sporting a center who made his first All-Star appearance and is playing some of the best basketball of his career.

BKN Breakdown:

Against the Wolves: The Wolves and Nets split 1-1 this season. Their first meeting was unforgettable 22-point comeback in a 107-96 win on Nov. 5, handing the Nets their first home loss in Brooklyn after moving from New Jersey in the offseason. The Nets knotted up the season series 1-1 with a 91-83 win at Target Center on Jan. 23.

Scouting Report: Brook Lopez garnered high praise from interim coach P.J. Carlesimo when the Nets came through Minneapolis in January, noting the fifth-year center was having an All-Star year. Turns out Carlesimo was right. Lopez averaged 19.4 points per game and added a career-high 2.1 blocks. In the back court, point guard Deron Williams (three) and Joe Johnson (six) have a combined nine All-Star appearances, and when they’re on they can certainly impact a seven-game series. Andray Blatche is averaging 10.3 points per game off the bench at center, and Reggie Evans pulled down 11.1 boards per game this year, good for sixth in the NBA.

CHI Breakdown:

Against the Wolves: Chicago won both games against the Wolves this year, the first being an 87-80 decision at United Center on Nov. 10. That particular game had long-lasting effects as Chase Budinger suffered a lateral meniscus tear in his left knee and missed the ensuing four months. The Bulls then won 104-97 at Target Center on March 23.

Scouting Report: The Bulls handled themselves without Rose throughout the regular season and won 45 games, but the playoffs are a completely different beast. Can Kirk Hinrich at point guard lead the way past the Nets in the first round? Fortunately for the Bulls, there is help across the roster. Two-time All-Star Luol Deng averaged 16.3 points per game this year at small forward. Center Joakim Noah held a season-long double-double with 11.9 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, but he could be limited this series thanks to plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Carlos Boozer adds 16.2 points per game, and guard Nate Robinson provided a spark down the stretch with 13.1 points per game off the bench. Chicago has primarily been successful because of Tom Thibodeau’s defense-first approach, and they finished the season third best in the league in opponents points per game and fifth in opponents 2-point and 3-point percentages. The Bulls’ postseason will depend on how well they can defend throughout a seven-game series.

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