We finally made it. The best playoffs in professional sports are finally here. I challenge you to show me another sport where you can definitively say that the best team wins the title year after year. That’s the beauty of the NBA. If you want randomness and fluke wins, look elsewhere. But if you want to see the best basketball the world has to offer, you’ve come to the right place. After the jump, I’ll preview the first round and give you our predictions. Let’s do this.
Let’s start in the East, where despite having the best first round series (Knicks vs. Celtics), we’re not going to get a lot of drama. Let’s face it, if anyone but Miami wins the Eastern Conference it will be nothing short of miraculous. That doesn’t mean we won’t get some great games though.
Miami (66-16) vs. Milwaukee (38-44)
The Heat are coming off the best season in franchise history. One that included an incredible 27 game winning streak, Lebron James elevating his play to an unworldly level and a resurgence of Dwayne Wade. James, Wade and Chris Bosh all shot over 50% from the floor this season and the chemistry of these guys has only gotten better in year three. Add in the sharp shooting from Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Mike Miller, the toughness and rebounding of Chris Anderson and the steady point guard play from Mario Chalmers and Miami will make short work of the over matched Bucks. If this series is anything but a sweep, Milwaukee should extend the contract of everyone in the organization by two years.
Brooklyn (49-33) vs. Chicago (45-37)
Amazingly, Tom Thibodeau still has a few players healthy enough to play in this thing. I imagine his starters will all see 40+ mins/gm and everyone will have stress fractures by the end of this series. The Nets’ first season in Brooklyn saw a coaching change, Jay-Z give up his ownership stake, and Deron Williams finally remember how to play point guard just in time for the playoffs.
Indiana (49-32) vs. Atlanta (44-38)
The Pacers have been hard to figure out this season. They were able to still secure the 3 seed in the East, despite losing Danny Granger for the season. This team can defend and has the experience of a devastating loss to Miami last year to draw upon. The Hawks ability to consistently underachieve is truly remarkable. They ended the season looking as though they were not aware they would even make the playoffs. Their athletic talent and ability is mitigated by an incredible desire to do get to their summer vacation plans as quickly as possible.
New York (54-28) vs. Boston (41-40)
Don’t let these records fool you. This will be the best series in the first round of the playoffs. The Celtics come limping into the playoffs against a red-hot Knicks teams. Sounds like the recipe for a 4-5 game series. Don’t be fooled though friends. The Knicks got here on the back on hot three point shooting and Carmelo Anthony gunning for a scoring title. The Boston defense will take care of both of those anomalies and make this a grind it out series. The Celtics can win that way, the Knicks cannot.
Now for the Western Conference, where the top 6 seeds are better than 2-8 in the East. Yes, I’m saying Golden State is better than the Knicks.
Oklahoma City (60-22) vs. Houston (45-37)
Before this season started I was worried about how the Thunder would replace the loss of James Harden. Kevin Martin is a good player, but Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook picked up a majority of the slack themselves and this team has not suffered the setback I thought they would. Ironically, they face their former teammate in the first round but this will not be a competitive series. I think Harden is capable of stealing a game, but anything more than a 4-1 victory should be disappointing.
San Antonio (58-24) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (45-37)
Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant both had absolutely incredible seasons considering their ages. Unfortunately, Mr. Bean won’t be around for this series. The Spurs have been a model of consistency this year, while the Lakers have been the exact opposite. Despite having four future hall of fame players, just making the playoffs was a struggle. Now they’re here and two of those four might not even play. If the Lakers want to have any chance of advancing, Dwight Howard has to remember how to be the dominating presence on both sides of the floor he used to be. And even that might not be enough with the makeup of this team.
Denver (57-25) vs. Golden State (47-35)
The Nuggets have been a real surprise this season. Despite not having an All-Star, they find themselves as the 3 seed in the West. George Karl is deserving of Coach of the Year honors for the job he’s done. These guys will run you to death, and there’s no single player you can game plan for. At any moment they can hit you with a haymaker, but you’ll never know where its coming from. The Warriors want to play a similar style to the Nuggets, but they just can’t do it as well. I expect this to be an extremely entertaining series with a lot of high-scoring and energetic games. Stay up late, and check them out. It will be worth your time.
Los Angeles Clippers (56-26) vs. Memphis (56-26)
That’s right, the 5 seed in the West won 56 games. This matchup is the only one capable of matching the drama of the Knicks/Celtics series. These two teams could not play any differently. The Clips are free flowing and high flying, while the Grizzlies want to punch you and your mother directly in the face. They also don’t really like each other, so we are likely to see a lot of cheap shots, nut shots and flops galore. Buckle up folks, this one will be fun. I would also be remiss, if I didn’t link this article here.
Now, it’s prediction time!
-Heat over Bucks 4-0, The Bucks are going to be rolled and the Heat will sweep.
-Knicks over Celtics 4-2, Going to be a physical series, but the Knicks will score easier than Boston.
-Pacers over Hawks 4-1, Pacers have the game to get to the Eastern Conference Finals
-Bulls over Nets 4-3, Bulls slow it down and force the Nets to panic.
-Thunder over Rockets 4-1, Harden and the Rockets get one at home, but the Thunder move on.
-Nuggets over Warriors 4-2, The best home team in the league moves on.
-Grizzlies over Clippers 4-3, The Grizz gets the upset and send the Clippers home.
-Lakers over Spurs 4-2, A Kobe led Lakers team would not win this series, but a Howard led Lakers team will.
-Heat over Bucks 4-0. They’ll try to get a break before the second round by sweeping the Bucks.
-Knicks over Celtics 4-3. The Celtics have a lot of fight in them and it will show but Melo will bring the Manhattan their first playoff series victory since 2000.
-Hawks over Pacers 4-2. Surprise! There will be at least one, right? Vegas has started moving the line slightly (it’s still not good) but I trust their uneasiness.
-Nets over Bulls 4-1. The Bulls are a fun story and all but Deron Williams is going to tear these guys up. This is where they finally miss DRose. BONUS PREDICTION: Gerald Wallace gets a flopping fine within the first two games.
-Thunder over Rockets 4-2. Harden will shoot the Rockets to a couple victories and OKC will remember that they are going to really miss him during the playoffs.
-Warriors over Nuggets 4-3. Stephen Curry shoots better from 3 than he does from 2. Stick to that and the Warriors can win. If Andrew Bogut gets hurt again I think this swings the series to the Nuggets.
-Grizzlies over Clippers 4-2. All Grizz, All the time. Since I will be absent of bias for the other LA team I will employ this bias here. Let’s hear those “BEAT LA” chants in Memphis!
-Spurs over Lakers 4-2. As a Laker fan, I hope they lose because I don’t think I can stand the “they are better without Kobe” talk. It’s already bad enough from some people. I do think they are playing much better defense and will win a couple games in this series. Interesting note, the last six times these teams faced in the playoffs, the winner went to the NBA Finals.
-Miami over Milwaukee, 4-0. I’m not typing any more about this series.
-Boston over New York, 4-3. The Celtics are mentally tougher and better coached. Good enough to beat the Knicks.
-Indiana over Atlanta, 4-1. The Hawks can’t even get swept right.
-Chicago over Brooklyn, 4-3. I just can’t trust the Nets yet. I think Noah comes back and makes the difference in this series.
-Oklahoma City over Houston, 4-1. Harden goes for 40+ in OKC just to remember the home crowd he really is worth the max.
-San Antonio over LA, 4-0. Spare me this, “The Lakers are the team no one wants to play!” nonsense. The Spurs are simply a far superior team and will carve up the Lakers “defense”.
-Denver over Golden State, 4-2. The loss of Gallinari hurts the Nuggets, but it won’t show up too much in this series. The young warriors are still a year or two away.
-Memphis over LA, 4-3. This series will feel like it lasted for 15 games. Ultimately, Randolph and Gasol are just too much for the Clippers to handle and we’re all robbed of Playoff Chris Paul far too soon.
Come back in a few weeks and we’ll preview Round 2. Enjoy the games.