nba playoff predictions

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!

Eastern Conference

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.

Western Conference

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!

playoffs, round 2

Round 2 of the NBA playoffs have now begun with a couple of teams I was supporting having crashed out. To start off with, let’s see how I did with my predictions:

Eastern Conference
Cleveland (1) vs. Chicago (8): Cavs 4-1 (Prediction: Cavs 4-0)
Orlando (2) vs. Charlotte (7): Magic 4-0 (Prediction: Magic 4-1)
Atlanta (3) vs. Milwaukee (6): Series tied 3-3 (Prediction: Hawks 4-2)
Boston (4) vs. Miami (5): Celtics 4-1 (Prediction: Celtics 4-2)

So I’ve got 3 of the 4 series winners right (and could get the Hawks-Bucks match-up as well). Unfortunately, I didn’t get any of the scorelines right! Apart from the Hawks-Bucks tussle, everything really went as planned. Which is not really a surprise since the East was pretty segmented in terms of strong teams and weak teams.

Western Conference:
L.A. (1) vs. Oklahama City (8): Lakers 4-2 (Prediction: Lakers 4-1)
Dallas (2) vs. San Antonio (7): Spurs 4-2 (Prediction: Spurs 4-3)
Phoenix (3) vs. Portland (6): Suns 4-2 (Prediction: Suns 4-2)
Denver (4) vs. Utah (5): Jazz 4-2 (Prediction: Nuggets 4-1)

My predictions here were kind of all over the place. While I nailed down 3 of the series winners and even one scoreline, I predicted pretty badly on the Nuggets-Jazz match up. To my credit, the 4-5 seed match-up is always a bit harder to predict! But seriously, the Jazz surprised me with their performance. Boozer looked unstoppable and Nuggets were missing George Karl a lot more than I expected. Not particularly happy, either, since I hate the Jazz (and the Spurs).

Let’s take a look at Round 2, now, the conference semi-finals. These are a lot harder to predict, but I’ll take a swing, anyway.

Eastern Conference

Cleveland Cavaliers (1) vs. Boston Celtics (4) — Cleveland leads 1-0

Game 1 was pretty hotly contested with the Celtics leading most of the way before the Cavs took over down the stretch. LeBron had another good performance and the Cavs have taken the lead and maintained home-court advantage. This series is difficult to call because you never know how well the Celtics’ veterans are going to play. Ray Allen had an okay night and has had only an okay playoffs with bursts. LeBron, the regular-season MVP, has being gunning at full power. I think the Cavs will win this one and it won’t go the stretch, but I’m not sure how many games it will take.

PREDICTION: Cavaliers 4-2

Orlando Magic (2) vs. Atlanta Hawks (3)/Milwaukee Bucks (4) — TBD

Hard to call a series that hasn’t even had the opponents determined yet! The Bucks are challenging the Hawks well, and it seems that Atlanta has been suffering from at least some level of complacency. Brandon Jennings is aiming for a fairy-tale finish in his rookie playoff series. I think Orlando will win the series to set up an EC final clash with the Cavaliers, but the scoreline depends on who they are facing.

PREDICTION: Magic 4-2 (vs. Hawks); Magic 4-1 (vs. Bucks)

Now, the Western Conference…

Western Conference

L.A. Lakers (1) vs. Utah Jazz (5)

The Lakers are coming off a harder-than-expected battle against the inspiring Oklahoma City Thunder whereas the Jazz have polished up the Nuggets in the first round pretty easily. The Lakers bench has finally began to show signs of life, punching in 30 points in Game 6 against the Thunder. However, they are still dependent on their starters and with Bynum injured for potentially a few games, they could be in a bit of a hole. The Jazz have learned to play well without a few of their regulars, but I think the Lakers play far too good team basketball to be outdone in similar fashion to the Nuggets. Boozer will find it harder to score against the likes of Gasol and Bynum (provided he’s back). Deron Williams is likely to draw Artest as his defender and we all saw how poorly KD shot during the first-round match-up. I’m going with the Lakers in 6.

PREDICTION: Lakers 4-2

Phoenix Suns (3) vs. San Antonio Spurs (7)

The Suns will be happy to have landed home-court advantage here, since at the beginning of the playoffs they would have undoubtedly been preparing for a second-round match-up with the hot Dallas Mavericks. The Suns ended up cleaning the heavily-injured Trailblazers in 6, probably a game or two longer than they would have liked. Phoenix cannot afford to lose home-court advantage to the Spurs in this series, especially not as early as the Mavericks lost it. The Spurs are playing some really hot basketball right now with George Hill on absolute fire. The big three of Ginobili, Parker and Duncan haven’t really been firing on all cylinders, either, so it would be scary to think of the possibilities if all four of those guys are playing well. I’m supporting the Suns, as usual, but I think the Spurs will take this. I will be very disappointed if they do so, since they would effectively have taken out 3 of the teams I do support in the West (Houston couldn’t make a playoff spot, Dallas in the first round and now, Phoenix).

PREDICTION: Spurs 4-3

Bring on the second round!

it’s playoff time

Finally the only playoffs I actually care about have started–the NBA Playoffs. This weekend featured 8 games in two sets of quadruple-header action. Interestingly, there were no upsets whatsoever, with all the higher seeds getting the victory except for Phoenix. It will be interesting to see if this will continue being the case as we progress through the playoffs. I’m going to take a look at each of the series and give a slight prediction as to what I expect to happen, as well as who I’d rather see winning:

Eastern Conference

Cleveland (1) vs. Chicago (8) — Cleveland leads 1-0

This one’s a no-brainer for me. The Cavs have far too much offense for the Bulls to be anything more than a blip on their radar. This showed in Game 1, where Derrick Rose was the only guy who could really put up points for the Bulls, and even he scored 28 points off 28 shot attempts. The Bulls will need Hinrich to score to cause any upsets in this series. Personally, I want to see the Cavaliers win because I think a Kobe vs. LeBron final would be interesting.

PREDICTION: Cavaliers 4-0

Orlando (2) vs. Charlotte (7) — Orlando leads 1-0

Again, this seems to be a competition between high-powered versus low-octane offense. In Game 1, Orlando got off to a huge lead before Charlotte clawed back. The Magic hung on for the win, however. I’m pretty neutral about this match-up–I don’t care for either team. Charlotte is a mix between young, inexperienced players (like Gerald Wallace) and veterans (like Stephen Jackson). Jackson sat out a portion of the game due to injury, though, so it’s probably going to be a Magic roll. I’ll go ahead and give the Bobcats a game, but that is a very optimistic prediction.

PREDICTION: Orlando 4-1

Atlanta (3) vs. Milwaukee (6) — Atlanta leads 1-0

This is a match-up that I think could get really close, especially if Brandon Jennings gets some help from his team. Both these teams are young and inexperienced, relatively speaking. If Andrew Bogut wasn’t injured, I wouldn’t be surprised if this went down to 7 games. Atlanta has secured their highest playoff seed in the last few seasons (right?) so they can consider themselves a tad unlucky for drawing a relatively hot Bucks team. I think the Hawks will hang on, though. I’m supporting them.

PREDICTION: Atlanta 4-2

Boston (4) vs. Miami (5) — Boston leads 1-0

The 4-5 match-up is always the one most likely to throw up an upset, but it seems Miami’s offense has been a bit stagnant of late. This is probably going to be a pretty low-scoring series, with an emphasis on defense. Ray Allen continued to struggle in Game 1 as the Celtics hung on to a scrappy victory. D-Wade was sublime and questionable in equal measures in the first game. For example, I couldn’t understand why he picked up his dribble outside the three point line over and over again in the 4th quarter whereas he had been getting to the hoop at will in the previous 3 periods. With Garnett’s suspension, Miami has a chance to steal one on the road. I want to see this series go down to 7 and for Miami to win, but I think Boston will hold on–as they’ve managed to in the last couple of seasons.

PREDICTION: Boston 4-2

Now for the conference that matters… the Western Conference. 🙂

Western Conference

L.A. Lakers (1) vs. Oklahoma City (8) — Lakers lead 1-0

OkC would be disappointed with falling to the 8th seed in the West after having such a strong season and drawing a match-up with the Lakers. Luckily for them, the Lakers have been in questionable form for the last month or so. In their first playoff appearance, the Thunder, led by Kevin Durant, seemed overawed by the occasion. KD never really got going and the Thunder followed suit. They pulled close to the Lakers a couple of time, but even with Bryant shooting horribly, weren’t able to pull out the rare win in Lakerland. The Lakers will benefit mightily from having Bynum back and Odom will bolster up a very shallow and weak bench. If a Laker starter gets injured over the course of this series, I think the Thunder may get close, but as it stands, I think L.A.’s post presence is going to be enough to pull off the win. I’ll give the Thunder 1 win at home. I’m supporting the Lakers in this one.

PREDICTION: Los Angeles 4-1

Dallas (2) vs. San Antonio (7) — Mavericks lead 1-0

The Spurs are playing with their worst playoff seed since the 90’s or something like that. With many of their key players injured this season, I suppose they’ll take a low playoff spot rather than none. In Game 1, the game stayed tight for a long time but the Mavericks managed to hold on. Dirk Nowitzki was nearly perfect, yesterday, missing just 3 shots from the field and making all his free throws. Caron Butler provided a spark that was much-needed given Jason Terry’s lackluster performance off the bench (though Terry did nail some clutch jumpers at the end). The Mavericks have had a propensity to choke in the playoffs, though. Parker is still working his way into the rotation (he’s lost his starting job to Ginobili) and Duncan is still consistent but not phenomenal. I’m going to predict an upset here and say San Antonio will win in 7. I hope to hell that I’m wrong because there isn’t a team I despise more than the Spurs.

PREDICTION: San Antonio 4-3

Phoenix (3) vs. Portland (6) — Blazers lead 1-0

Phoenix were the only home team to lose on opening weekend and hence squandered their homecourt advantage to the perennially-injured Trail Blazers. With Brandon Roy recovering from injury for at least 2 weeks, the Suns were probably expecting a first round walkover. The Blazers have learned to play without their best players throughout the season, though, going through a bizarre sequence of injuries that affected everyone from Greg Oden to Pryzbilla to Aldridge to Roy over the regular season. They managed to get healthy to secure up a playoff spot, but lost Roy almost immediately. Andre Miller has played some inspired basketball of late, and the Blazers have snapped up the homecourt advantage to set up an intriguing contest. I’m supporting Phoenix in this match-up and I think Nash and Amare will eventually be able to get the away game back. In fact, unless Roy returns earlier than scheduled, I think the Suns will win with a game to spare.

PREDICTION: Phoenix 4-2

Denver (4) vs. Utah (5) — Nuggets lead 1-0

Denver would be disappointed at falling down to the fourth seed and possibly meeting the Lakers as early as the 2nd round. However, they’ve got to concentrate on the series at hand. Unfortunately for the Jazz, it looks like they’ve been hit by the injury bug at the worst possible time. Their offense has been severely dented by the loss of Kirilenko leading into the playoffs and now Okur, whose out of the rest of the postseason following Game 1. Boozer is not at 100% either, so that puts the burden of offense squarely on the shoulders of Deron Williams, with some help from the likes of Korver and Brewer. The Nuggets looked pretty strong on Saturday night, with Carmelo looking in great rhythm. I actually think that the Nuggs will take this series pretty easily. If the Jazz had been a bit healthier, my money was on them causing the upset, but this is just too many chips to overcome.

PREDICTION: Nuggets 4-1