The NBA playoffs have been full of drama and great basketball already, and many teams are only playing their second game tonight.
The first few games of the playoffs can speak the most about a team’s character.
A variety of factors, including injuries, suspensions or a lack of intensity can reveal whether a team has the right players and toughness to make a deep run in the playoffs. It is also important to recognize which teams will turn it around after a poor start, and which teams will find themselves watching the playoffs on television like the rest of us.
Here are five bold predictions based on the first wave of games in these playoffs, which are shaping up to be more exciting than ever.
The Memphis Grizzlies suffered a historic loss to the Clippers in Game 1 of the series, but the Grizzlies dominated for most of the game and are still the clear favorites.
The Clippers were struggling in several facets of the game before their improbable run. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were getting out-rebounded by Marreese Speights, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay all night, and gave up plenty of second-chance points through the first three quarters.
The Grizzlies have more depth and size than the Clippers, and have too many ways to score for the Clips to handle defensively. It may seem like Lob City is destined for the upset after the dramatic way they took Game 1, but Zach Randolph will not miss 10 of 13 shots every night. The Grizzlies will get it together and take the series.
Derrick Rose’s torn ACL is one of the worst things to happen to the NBA this season, but it will not affect how the Bulls handle business against the 76ers in round one.
The team was 18-9 during the 27 games Rose missed in the regular season. That time without their star forced them to adapt their offensive strategies. Rip Hamilton and Kyle Korver, in particular, have replaced Rose as the focal points of the offense, and it has kept the Bulls competitive.
As Sebastian Pruiti at Grantland wrote, "Hamilton is one of the best in the league at working off screens and getting open shots through the flow of the offense," and Korver does many of the same things off the bench. The Bulls will continue to exploit this strength and use it to set up other plays in their offense.
The Bulls will struggle to score for stretches at a time without someone who can create their own shot, but they are still a tough defensive squad and should handle the 76ers with ease.
The most shocking thing about Game 1 is the fact that the Celtics stayed in it despite their poor performance.
Paul Pierce scored only 12 points on 5-of-19 shooting and made none of his six three-point attempts in one of his worst offensive games of the season. Avery Bradley was a 49.8 percent shooter during the season, but missed eight of his twelve shots from the field. Even Garnett, who scored 20 points and grabbed 12 boards, shot below his 50.3 average.
The Celtics will miss Rondo’s energy in Game 2, but don’t expect them to roll over with Bradley in the starting lineup—even if the Hawks do take Game 2, Rondo will come back for both games at the Garden and even up the series from there.
The Hawks are a talented team, but they do not have the grit or experience to beat the Celtics in a series.
Andrew Bynum’s triple-double in game one against the sixth-seeded Denver Nuggets confirms what Kobe Bryant has been saying all season long—the Lakers are a force to be reckoned with.
Bynum’s performance included 10 points on seven shots, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks, and it seemed to remind everyone that if Bynum is protecting the rim, the Lakers are incredibly dangerous.
There is no team that can match what Bynum and Pau Gasol bring on both sides of the ball.
The Thunder have great post defenders, but do not provide enough of a threat offensively to draw Bynum away from the rim. When Bynum is entrenched down low on defense and commits to protecting the basket, the Lakers are one of the best defensive teams in the league.
Oh, and there’s Kobe Bryant, who is pretty good too.
If they continue to handle the Nuggets as they should, the Lakers will come out of the first round poised to make a run at a championship.
The Knicks suffered two tough blows last night, losing Game 2 of the series as well as Amare Stoudemire for an undetermined amount of time.
Stoudemire will join rookie standouts Iman Shumpert and Jeremy Lin on the sideline for game three, forming a trio of important players that the Knicks will be without.
The Knicks are headed home to Madison Square Garden, however, and will be fighting hard to show their fans that they can compete with the league’s best.
Shumpert may actually hurt the Knicks the most in this series, since it leaves Landry Fields guarding Dwayne Wade. This tends to end poorly for Fields and the Knicks.
J.R. Smith should take some of Fields’s minutes next game, however, as head coach Mike Woodson adjusts the matchups after the injuries, and Anthony will need to shoot higher-percentage shots if the Knicks want to make this series.
Anthony will get the job done at home, and force the Heat to close it out in Miami.