We made it through the lockout shortened, condensed 66 game regular season. Getting here wasn’t pretty, and while I enjoyed the Christmas Day start trying to cram all of those games in was a bad idea. We saw a ton of injuries, sloppy basketball, and teams resting their stars often. But that’s all over now, it’s playoff time. Let’s check out the first round matchups and make some predictions.
#1 Chicago vs #8 Philadelphia
Chicago hung on to the #1 seed, despite playing without Derrick Rose for much of the season. They play great team defense, which allows them to stay in every game. They also have one of the deepest benches in the league. If Rose is 100% healthy they are a lock to make it to the conference finals. If he is not, they still could find themselves there. The Sixers won’t be much of a challenge in the first round. Doug Collin’s young team sprinted out of the gate, only to wear out by season’s end. Chicago in 5.
#2 Miami vs #7 New York
This will be a star studded, dream matchup for the league. The four best players from the 2003 NBA draft will all be on the floor at the same time and TV ratings should massage (except for game 1, THE NFL DRAFT IS ON!!). Since Mike Woodson has taken over, the Knicks are much better than their 7 seed would indicate. Miami has an advantage on the perimeter, but New York has the better front line. Tyson Chandler should control the lane on defense for the Knicks, while Miami will try and pressure the ball to get out on transition. This will be a close series, and should help Miami’s Big 3 get in playoff mode very quickly. Miami in 6.
#3 Indiana vs #6 Orlando
The Pacers had a fantastic regular season and get a great first round match-up in the Dwight Howard-less Magic. Indiana is a balanced, well coached team and should have no problem knocking off Orlando. Pacers in 5
#4 Boston vs #5 Atlanta
Al Horford has changed his mind again, this time ruling out his return until the second round. That is, if the Hawls can knock off the Celtics. Boston is playing well, but Atlanta is a tough matchup for them. If Horford were healthy, I’d probably pick them to win this series but now I don’t have to agonize over it. Celtics in 6
#1 San Antonio vs #8 Utah
Gregg Popovich did a great job resting his big 3 during the regular season, so the Spurs should have fresh legs for what could be the last title run this core makes together. Utah defeated Phoenix tuesday night to clinch a spot and should be happy just to be here. San Antonio will win this series easily. Very easily. Spurs in 4.
#2 Oklahoma City vs #7 Dallas
The defending NBA champions are a shadow of the team they were last year. The loss of Tyson Chandler was huge and chemistry seemed to be a big problem (*cough, cough, Lamar Odom*). Still, any team with Dirk Nowitzki has a chance. Look for the prideful Maverick’s to make a series out of it, but don’t expect them to win. Oklahoma in 6.
# 3 LA Lakers vs #6 Denver
It’s hard to imagine the Nuggets being better off without Carmelo Anthony, but it’s not an entirely crazy notion. Denver played well this year, despite the loss of their superstar. That being said, they have their hands full in this matchup. Even without Metta World Peace, the Lakers will be heavy favorites. They have a huge size advantage down low, so look for them to exploit that. Unless Kobe Bryant goes into solo mode, LA should roll. Lakers in 5.
#4 Memphis vs #5 LA Clippers
This will be the most entertaining matchup in the first round. Memphis plays a physical brand of basketball and will try to frustrate the high flying Clippers. Chris Paul takes his game to another level during the playoffs and is very capabale of taking over this series by himself. Last year, Memphis made a great post-season run thanks in large part to Zach Randolph. If he plays to that level again, we could be in for an amazing series. Grizzlies in 7.
ROUND TWO PREDICTIONS:
Miami over Indiana, Boston over Chicago, Oklahoma City over LA Lakers, Memhpis over San Antonio.
CONFERENCE FINALS PREDICTIOS:
Oklahoma City over Memphis, Miami over Boston.
Miami over Oklahoma City
Heat/Knicks and Clippers/Grizzlies are must watch matchups in the first round. Also, don’t sleep on the Hawks. It won’t surprise me at all if they give Boston trouble. I’ll be recapping and previewing games during my weekly ‘Big Game Preview and Recaps’ posts, so keep checking by.