It is once again that time of year when I make playoff predictions. Last year, I went 7-1 in the first round, but only picked one upset (Spurs over Mavs). I only got one series absolutely right from a scoreline perspective (the Suns 4-2 against Portland). This year is going to be significantly harder, especially in the West where the top teams are split within just a few games and there have been a lot of regular season upsets. Anyhow, let’s get going!
Chicago Bulls (1, 62-20) vs. Indian Pacers (8, 37-45)
This one’s the easiest pick, in my opinion. I’m still not quite comprehending the fact that the Bulls actually ended up with the best record in the NBA. About a month ago, one would think it would definitely be the Spurs grabbing homecourt advantage for the duration of the playoffs. Derrick Rose has been in beast mode for pretty much all of the season, and his complementary players are really stepping up. Boozer has been big for them and even Korver has stepped in nicely into a “big-Hinrich” role. This is a hard team not to like, even though it is full of ex-Jazz players. The Pacers scraped through the playoffs, 8 games below .500. They’ve got some good young talent but I just don’t see them having the firepower to stop a rampaging Bulls team. 4-0 to the Bulls.
Miami Heat (2, 58-24) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (7, 41-41)
The Heat made a good late-season push to oust the Celtics from that second spot in the East. Their livelihood in the second round may be more questionable, but they’ve set themselves up for success going into the first round of the playoffs. Barring any injuries, I don’t think this team will be stopped in this round. Even though Philly has been playing some really good basketball, in the end I think they will lose simply because they will rely a little too much on team basketball, which doesn’t work as well in the postseason. Igoudala has been good and Holiday is having a career year, but the Heat will probably take care of business. 4-1 to the Heat, with the Sixers winning one of their home games.
Boston Celtics (3, 56-26) vs. New York Knicks (6, 42-40)
This is probably the series to watch in the first round of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics will be mighty annoyed that they couldn’t take care of business the last couple of weeks and fell down to the third seed to face a challenging Knicks team that has done well to finish above .500. Amar’e has missed a couple of games in the stretch, but Carmelo has been filling in effortlessly. I still think the Knicks traded away too many assets in the Melo deal and will have a tough time closing this series down. That said, the Celtics offense has been sputtering ridiculously in the last few weeks, with Allen having lost his touch and Pierce being in a shooting slump. They’ve also lost some of their paint presence, so I expect Melo and Amar’e will have a field day in the paint and at the line. Still think the Celtics will pull it out, but they’ll have to work overtime to do it. I’m going to call it 4-2 to the Celtics but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Knicks won the series by the same margin.
Orlando Magic (4, 52-30) vs. Atlanta Hawks (5, 44-38)
The Hawks are the most underwhelming team in the playoffs, which is strange considering they’re a 5-seed. They’ve been at the wrong end of some of the worst losses this season and are in fact entering the postseason on the back of 6 straight losses. However, right before that, they also beat the Magic and Celtics in the span of 3 days. They have the players to get it done, but come on, this team lost to the Wizards by 32 points just about a week ago. They may just be one of those teams that plays to their opponent’s level. I think the Magic roll this one. 4-1 to the Magic.
San Antonio Spurs (1, 61-21) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (8, 46-36)
Ah, here is the fun stuff. Divisional rivals taking on each other in the first round of the playoffs. The Spurs, who have traditionally been a very defense-oriented league made a major change this season by going to the completely opposite side of the spectrum–becoming an offensive-minded team. They play with great pace and still have the ability to shut down teams in the 4th quarter. They are obviously still a contender, although the window is closing rapidly for Ginobili, Parker and Duncan. The season series between these teams was split 2-2, with the home team winning all of the games. The Grizzlies have been coping well without Rudy Gay, but I think they’ll find it tough to overcome the Spurs. I’m going slightly left-field with this scoreline, but that’s because I’ll have to see if the Spurs can slow down the pace during the playoffs, essentially re-tooling their game. 4-2 to the Spurs.
Los Angeles Lakers (2, 57-25) vs. New Orleans Hornets (7, 46-36)
Everyone has been talking about the Lakers the last few weeks as they went on a rabid run post all-star break before simmering down considerably. The Lakers would be disappointed on missing out on the top seed, as they failed to take advantage of a Spurs slump. However, I don’t think the Lakers will have too much of an issue dispatching the Hornets. Maybe with D-West, they’d have a chance, but I think they’ll fail to make an impact here. Lakers swept the season series, too. 4-1 to the Lakers.
Dallas Mavericks (3, 57-25) vs. Portland Trailblazers (6, 48-34)
This is a match-up to watch out for. I still don’t understand how the Trailblazers manage to stay competitive after going through injury after injury every season. Kinda wish the Rockets could replicate that effort. The Mavs have been blowing hot and cold the last few weeks and split the season series between these two teams 2-2, with the home team winning every game. I have a feeling Rip City could pull off an upset here, depending on if Dirk’s teammates decide to show up. Going to go with my first upset. 4-3 to the Blazers.
Oklahoma City Thunder (4, 55-27) vs. Denver Nuggets (5, 50-32)
The Denver Nuggets have been playing some solid basketball since they got rid of their whiny star. The main reason for this is that they got a massive package from the Knicks and a bunch of players who play well with each other. OKC, meanwhile, was at one point threatening to slip down into the bottom seeds, but they did a good job to revive their season and almost go up as high as the 2nd seed. The Thunder won the season series between these two teams 3-1 and I think they’ll win here, but it will be tight. 4-3 to the Thunder.
That’s it. Can’t wait for some postseason basketball, even though I wish I had a chance to cheer for the Rockets!