As round two begins in the NBA, we’ve said goodbye to a few old allies. Jarrett Jack and Marco Belinelli have packed their bags after a very succesful first round series against the Lakers. Matt Bonner had a disappointing first round with San Antonio as they were bounced by the Grizzlies and Roy Hibbert and TJ Ford find themselves spectators as round two begins.
As the second round begins, a few former Raptor favourites could tip the scales in their second round series. Let’s take a look at the key Ex-Raptors that will likely be X-Factors for their respective teams.
Miami vs. Boston
The Big three vs. the Big Three. This is a dream matchup for the NBA and any fan who enjoys good basketball. We know that Lebron and Wade are going to score in bunches and we know that Ray Allen will be tossing key three pointers throughout the series and Kevin Garnett will be intense. What we don’t know is how Chris Bosh will play against some really tough playoff competition.
Chris Bosh will be the key to winning this series for Miami. Bosh has played very well thus far against Philly, but he is about to match up against Kevin Garnett who he has never played well against. He will also have to play against the likes of Big Baby and Jermaine Oneal. These are not finesse players. They get dirty and fight with everything they have for a loose ball or a rebound.
If Chris Bosh is to be successful against these tough players he is going to have to channel is inner Reggie Evans and JYD. Bosh needs to be less finesse and more banger. He will need to fight like he has never fought before and be the player that keeps possessions alive and gives Wade and Lebron second chances.
On the flip side, Boston will rely heavily on Jermaine O’neal. There likely won’t be a Shaq appearnce until later on in the series so Jermaine will be handed the task of containing Chris Bosh. This is someone he knows quite well from his days in the T-dot.
Jermaine O’neal has been through the rigors of playoff basketball and is no newcomer to intensity in the playoffs. His Indiana teams played their fare share of tough games. He will need to be defensively sound and provide help defense when Lebron and Wade bust through the key. If you need a hard foul to send a message, Jermaine O’neal is your guy. He backs down from no one and may be the last line of defense for the Celtics. He will be a key if the Celtics hope to head to the Eastern Conference Finals.
If Bosh can find that inner fight, Miami wins this series. If he gets bullied on the glass by Garnett and O’neal and is shut down on the offensive end then it will be a second round exit for the boys from South Beach.
Dallas vs. LA Lakers
This series will be a shoot out. Scoring is going to happen in bunches and defense will likely take a back seat as it often does in Dallas. The mavericks have a number of players that can score in bunches in Nowitzki, Terry and Jason Kidd. These three will score but might have trouble keeping up with Kobe, Gasol and Bynum. If they are going to keep up, they will need their supporting cast members to step up.
Enter Shawn Marion and Peja Stojakovic. These two players have the offensive skill set to be deadly to an opposing team. While the defense focuses on Dirk and Terry, Peja and Marion will likely get their fair share of good looks. Marion is a player that makes those around him better. He can pass effectively, shoots the ball well and knows how to get to the foul line (a valuable asset in the playoffs). Peja Stojakovic has enjoyed a resurgence with Dallas and simply needs to stand on that three-point line and deliver.
Neither player was in Toronto for very long so we never had the chance to see them at their best. But this is the playoffs an both are very familiar with the battles of playoff ball. If used properly these players will help Dallas overthrow the defending champs.
Throw in “Almost Raptor” Tyson Chandler and you have an absolutely lethal rotation that can beat you in a number of different ways.
If Dallas spreads the floor, shares the ball and gets plenty of supporting effort from their bench they will win the series. If the bench can’t contribute against the defending champs then the Lakers will continue their quest for another title.
Atlanta vs. Chicago
Do not underestimate the Atlanta Hawks. Pundits and “experts” are already counting them out.
They are a young team finally coming into their own and might surprise the Bulls, who looked a little sluggish against Indiana. This is a Hawks team that was able to defeat a pretty good team in Orlando.
Although I expect the Bulls to win the series I think it will be a longer series than anyone thinks.
Watch out for Al Horford. He will be a tough matchup for Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah inside. He is tough to match up against in the post and provides sturdy defense that could give Chicago’s Bigs fits on the inside.
The ex-Raptor to watch here is Chuck Swirsky, who may just faint when his team reaches theEastern Conference finals. If the Bulls win he’ll likely look more lost than Tomas Kaberle during the Bruins game 7 celebration earlier this week.
It is likely that the Salami and Cheese will be brought out for the Hawks.
Oklahoma vs. Memphis
This series has no Raptor connections, but the Raptors should take note of these young teams and how they have built themselves into winning franchises. It wasn’t long ago that a 22 win season was considered a success for the Thunder and Grizz. These teams were able to build themselves back into contenders and the Raptors should hope they follow a similar path.
Neither of these teams became a success overnight and they surely didn’t do it by trading draft picks or signing a slew of veteran players to bad contracts. They built themselves slowly through the draft and then added veteran pieces to compliment those young players.
Watching Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka face Randolph, Gasol and Conely could very well be what Raptor fans will see in a few years from Derozan, Davis and Amir.
In terms of X-Factors for this series I would go with Shane Battier and Kendrick Perkins. Perkins has been a non-factor thus far in the playoffs but he will need to help lead this young team as they focus on Playoff advancement. He’s been through the wars before and they will need him to help contain the beast that is Randolph. Hopefully he wakes up soon or the surging Grizzlies might be too difficult to defeat.
Lots to watch as a Raptor fan, as some old friends will likely be keys to the teams that ultimately prevail.
Kristoffer PedlarThe Zan Tabak Herald *** Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @Zantabakherald