Full 2012-13 NBA Playoff Predictions, Opening Week Edition
With the NBA season finally arriving, games will soon start to count. Of course, those games will only count until the postseason comes. Then everything starts fresh for 16 teams and the other 14 pack up their lottery balls and go home.
Will the Heat repeat as champs? Will the new-look Lakers be enough to unseat Miami and get Kobe his sixth ring? How much will Andrew Bynum help the 76ers? Who will finish with the NBA's best record.
The answers to all these questions are here, in our opening week playoff predictions.
Eastern Conference, First Round: Heat (1) vs. Raptors (8)
In the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat will win the top overall seed, surprising no one.
LeBron James has his most dominating season yet as he takes on more and more time at power forward. Dwyane Wade, healthy for the season, has a resurgent year. Chris Bosh grows comfortable filling in more minutes at center. Mike Miller stays healthy for once as he and Allen drop threes like it's a hobby.
And the swarming defense is as intense as ever. The Heat, as a result, become just the second team in history to win 70 games, as they finish the season 70-12.
They face a team that surprises many in the Toronto Raptors who, after a bit of a choppy start, finish the season strong, winning 28 of their last 41 to push their way past the dismayed Atlanta Hawks into the final playoff spot.
This comes behind the strength of new addition Jonas Valanciunas and his complementary play to Andrea Bargnani. New shooting guard Landry Fields adds much improved defense from the wing play.
However, once they get to the postseason they find out that earning a playoff spot and winning a playoff series are two entirely different matters. The Heat make short work of them, dismantling the Raptors in four successive double-digit wins.
Prediction: Heat in four
Eastern Conference, First Round: Celtics (2) vs. Knicks (7)
The Boston Celtics' revamped roster escalates their offense to something almost unrecognizable from the previous versions. Rajon Rondo leading Courtney Lee, Paul Pierce, Jeff Green and Kevin Garnett up and down the court in a small-ball lineup is positively explosive.
They manage this without giving up anything on the other end of the court, as the Celtics finish second in the NBA in defensive rating.
Jeff Green is the unofficial winner of the defunct "Comeback Player of the Year" award and finishes second for the Sixth Man of the Year, exploding for his most efficient season ever. The Celtics finish a decisive-though-distant second in the Eastern Conference, winning 61 games.
The Knicks aren't so exciting and have another disappointing season, as Amar'e Stoudemire is on and off the court all season.
The media is perpetually scratching their heads as to why a team which was dogged with injuries the previous year went out and signed three players totaling 120 years of age. New York Denny's restaurants rename their Senior Citizens menu the Knicks menu.
The Knicks end up finishing the season with a hugely disappointing 46-36 record and enter the postseason nicked up. While Anthony has two heroic games in Madison Square Garden, it's not enough.
Prediction: Celtics in six
Eastern Conference, First Round: 76ers (3) vs. Nets (6)
The 76ers have a new cast of characters, but great coaching brings new teammates together quickly, and Doug Collins' great coaching does just that. The 76ers' first season with Andrew Bynum is a success. Jason Richardson gives them the ability to stretch the court and make things easier for Bynum,
Beyond that, the returning players excel as well. Evan Turner finally has his breakout season. Thadeus Young shocks most people who live outside of Philly with a great season. Nick Young makes a run for Sixth Man of the Year.
Were it not for the two weeks that Bynum had to take off to rest his knee, the Sixers might have taken the Atlantic Division from Boston.
Their opponents, the Brooklyn Nets, take a little longer to jell, but Deron Williams reminds the world that he is a top-five point guard and leads the Nets on a second-half charge. The only problem is that they play in the tough Atlantic Division and there are just too many good teams to face night after night.
Still, there is no question this is the best performance by a pro sports team in Brooklyn in over 50 years.
Philadelphia, though, is the worst opponent they could face in the first round, as they just don't have the inside presence to contend with Bynum, who has a monster series. They do get one in Brooklyn, but that's it for the series.
Prediction: Philadelphia in five
Eastern Conference, First Round: Pacers (4) vs. Bulls (5)
The Indiana Pacers have a somewhat disappointing season. While they finally win the Central Division, it's a bittersweet title as they finish further back in the Eastern Conference than they did in the 2011-12 season.
What's more, it's clear that they are not on the same level as the three teams that finish ahead of them, and the Bulls, whom they just beat out for the Central Division title, are favored to beat them in their first-round series.
Danny Granger has another inefficient season. Roy Hibbert is again inconsistent, playing like an All-Star one minute and like an overpaid center who milked the Pacers for all they were worth the next.
Most importantly, the much-hyped Paul George simply does not break out the way that many anticipated. He isn't horrible, averaging 15.2 points and 6.7 boards a game, but he's not the superstar candidate that the Pacers were anticipating.
The Bulls, meanwhile, surprise people by faring better than expected while Derrick Rose is on the mend. They do it the same way they did the previous two seasons—playing hard night after night and shutting down opponents with their defense.
Derrick Rose returns the first home game after the All-Star break against the Heat. Fans are literally crying in the stands as he takes the court for the first time. The energy is absolutely palpable and the Bulls hand the Heat one of their few losses of the season.
After that, Rose is up and down as he regains his footing and gains confidence in his knee. His improved jumper is evident though, and shows more reliance on his teammates. His scoring drops a bit to 21 points per game, but he's more efficient and he averages almost 10 assists per game.
The Bulls make a late-season push to win the Central, but the Pacers earn it based on the tie-breaker. Still the Bulls' strong finish makes them the favorites to win the series, and they do so fairly easily. They take Game 1 in Indiana, and the fifth to seal it.
Prediction: Bulls in five
Western Conference, First Round: Warriors (8) at Nuggets (1)
The Denver Nuggets stun the prognosticating world with the best record in the Western Conference. Andre Iguodala proves to be the reason. He meshes perfectly with the Nuggets' fast-breaking style of play and he adds a level of defense that the Nuggets haven't had previously.
In addition, the Nuggets' depth seems exhaustless as they just bring in a second layer of starters. Wilson Chandler, Anthony Randolph and Corey Brewer bring a constant energy of running and scoring that other teams just can't contend with, especially in Denver.
Meanwhile the other two favorites, the LA Lakers and Oklahoma City have more of a process in integrating their new players. That ends up being the difference in a close race for the first seed.
Their opponents, the Golden State Warriors, finally start getting it together with a team that Don Nelson wouldn't recognize. They win through traditional offense and defense. That's right, defense. In Golden State. Really.
They beat out the stunned Memphis Grizzlies for the final playoff spot by beating the Lakers and Thunder on back-to-back nights on April 11 and 12.
The result is an incredibly loud series as two of the most rabid fanbases play host. In a tough, hard-fought and hugely entertaining series the Warriors, try as they might, simply don't have the guns to keep up with the Nuggets. The Golden Nuggets beat the Golden State in six.
Prediction Denver in six
Western Conference, First Round: Lakers (2) vs. Timberwolves (7)
The bad news is the Los Angeles Lakers start off the season slowly as they still search for chemistry. The good news is they find it, and when they do, wow!
Once their offense starts rolling, does it ever start rolling. Steve Nash keys the whole thing, and they don't run but score on seemingly every possession. The Lakers lead the NBA in offensive rating.
Whether it's Dwight Howard dunking, Pau Gasol stopping and popping, Kobe Bryant stepping back, or Nash shooting the three everything is beautiful as long as Metta World Peace doesn't try getting in on the action.
The Lakers seem almost unbeatable over the second half of the season, and even if they don't have the top seed, they are the favorites to make it out of the West entering the postseason.
They face off against their original home, Minnesota, for the third time in franchise history.
The Timberwolves overcome early-season injuries to power their way into the posteason behind the productive passing of Ricky Rubio and the MVP-caliber performance of Kevin Love. And the new veterans add what they need—that experience of winning.
Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko bring leadership, and that matters more than the stats they provide. The stats are nice though. When the five finally come together it's a team that is very difficult to defend, as Rubio is surrounded by multi-dimensional weapons.
When the other weapons fail, Nikola Pekovic is plenty sufficient to bring home the thunder down low. The other side of the ball shows Kevin Love's defense is tremendously improved. After the break the 'Wolves have the fourth-best record in the Association.
The playoff matchup features the "old Nash" versus the "new Nash," and it's a thrilling series, though a short one. The Lakers win it in five, but all five games are tightly contested.
In the end the 'Wolves are overwhelmed by their first playoff foray.
Prediction: Lakers in five
Western Conference, First Round: Thunder (3) vs. Jazz (6)
The defending Western Conference champs are a disappointing third as they struggle to replace the departed James Harden.
The Thunder, already over-reliant on three players for the bulk of their scoring, rely increasingly on just two, as Kevin Marin is in and out of the rotation with a plethora of injuries.
As the season progresses though, it appears the Thunder might have won the lottery when they weren't even in it. Perry Jones III plays a bigger and bigger role coming off the bench and the player once many projected as a lotter pick looks like he should have been as the season draws to a close.
Their opponents, the Utah Jazz, win games by dominating the inside game with their foursome of starting low-post players, Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors.
Maurice Williams has a career year as well, scoring 17 points a game and averaging seven assists.
The Jazz have the hometown faithful believing when they split their opening series with the Thunder. They have them downright feverish when they take Game 3 at home.
However, the Thunder, down in Game 4, come back in the fourth quarter and go on to win the next two games as well to clinch the series.
Prediction: Oklahoma City in six
Western Conference, First Round: Spurs (4) vs. Clippers (5)
The San Antonio Spurs' aging roster finally starts catching up to them. The regression is slow but apparent, as the team simply doesn't have the same ability to close out games.
Kawhi Leonard does have a remarkable sophomore campaign and gives the Spurs hope for the future. The Spurs win the division, but the irony of a historical rule change nips them in the heels.
In 2006 they finished with the best record in the Western Conference, and Dallas, who was in the same division, finished with the second-best record in the West. However, because the rules stipulated that the three division champions won the three best seeds, the Spurs faced the fourth-seeded Mavericks in the second round.
Dallas won the series and went on to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Miami Heat. That offseason the rules were amended in two ways. First, the three division champs and the next-best team were assigned the top four seeds in order of record, regardless of who the champions were.
Additionally, the team with the better record gets the home court advantage, regardless of seeding. As a result, the fifth-seeded Clippers, who finish the 2012-13 season with a better record than the Spurs, will host the fourth-seeded Spurs.
The Clippers are a better team in 2013 mostly because of the improvement of Blake Griffin, who elevates himself into the MVP conversation with his improved jump shot. He, along with Andrew Bynum and Kevin Love, make the first trio of players to average 25 points and 10 rebounds for a season since the 1995-96 season when it was accomplished by David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O'Neal.
The Spurs swept the Clippers in the 2012, but this year the Clippers turn things around as they have the Chauncey Billups to help them out. That, combined with stellar performances by Blake Griffin and Chris Paul propel the Clippers past the Spurs in spite of the fact that Vinny Del Negro is hopelessly over-matched by Gregg Popovich.
It's an incredibly tight, back-and-forth series and isn't sealed until Billups clinches the last game on a last-second three in Game 7.
Prediction: Clippers in seven
Eastern Conference Semis: Heat (1) vs. Bulls (5)
No team has played the "Big Three" better than the Bulls who, combined with the season split in the 2012-13 season, have won seven of the 14 total games. With Derrick Rose playing as well as he ever has, the Bulls are the last team the Heat want to face.
The series is as hard-fought as the games always go between the two teams, with each team stealing a game from the other team's home court.
Initially the Heat find success playing LeBron James at power forward against Carlos Boozer, who is helpless against the stronger and more athletic James.
The Bulls respond by going small, though, and putting Taj Gibson on James, who does an admirable defensive job. While he doesn't shut him down, he does bring him down to the level of mortality.
Meanwhile, offensively, the Bulls run Nate Robinson and Derrick Rose together in a way that is stunningly effective.
The series is absolutely epic, as two heavyweights trade massive blows. In the end the Heat win, but the Bulls look like a team that can pass the Heat in 2013-14.
Prediction: Heat in seven
Eastern Conference Semis: Celtics (2) Vs.76ers (3)
Boston and Philadelphia have a rivalry that goes back as far as the birth of the nation itself, when they bickered over the rights to claim Benjamin Franklin as their own.
In the NBA, the two franchises have collided for some of the great series of all-time, whether it was with the days of Syracuse or Philadelphia. In all they've played 95 playoff games, with the Celtics holding a surprisingly slim 50-45 edge in wins.
The Sixers ask, why not the best out of 101?
This series becomes a chess match as each game brings the brilliant coaching adjustments from Doc Rivers and Doug Collins to counter the last game.
The series swings back and forth with different stars emerging each night. Andrew Bynum dominates Game 1 and Rajon Rondo Game 2. Evan Turner has a career playoff high 32 in Game 3, and Paul Pierce explodes for 40 Game 4.
The series progresses so.
In the end, the Sixers overcome the Celtics in Boston in a virtually violent Game 7 in a game physical enough for the 70s.
Prediction: 76ers in seven
Western Conference Semis: Nuggets (1) vs. Clippers (5)
The Nuggets and Clippers face off in a series that promises more than just a little high-flying action, and this one doesn't disappoint.
Blake Griffin has his postseason coming-out party, as the Nuggets' athletic bigs just don't have the strength to contend with the power and size of Griffin.
Paul keeps feeding the beast down low and the beast keeps devouring the Nuggets as Griffin posts 31 points and 12 rebounds for the series. The Clippers take a 3-2 series lead and they seem on the verge of clinching.
In Game 6 the Nuggets counter by sending their bigs to fouling him and Griffin spends a lot of time at the line, missing free throws. For a time it serves the Nuggets purposes as they work their way back into the series.
In Game 7 though, Paul simply doesn't allow that to happen. He takes over the reigns and scores 14 points in the final quarter to send the Clippers to the finals for the first time in franchise history.
Prediction: Clippers in seven
Western Conference Semis: Lakers (2) vs. Thunder (3)
The Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder will meet in a much-anticipated battle of titans. Unfortunately, this one will not live up to the hype as the Lakers will dismantle the Thunder in an easy five-game win.
The reason is simple. While the Thunder have terrific perimeter scoring, the Lakers have pretty good perimeter defenders in Metta World Peace and Kobe Bryant, particularly when they focus on defense. World Peace will focus on slowing down Kevin Durant and Bryant, not having to concern himself with the offense, will focus on Russell Westbrook.
For those occasions when they get around World Peace or Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol will be waiting with the help defense.
While both Durant and Westbrook will still get some points, the Thunder just won't have enough scoring beyond the pair.
Nor do they have the bodies in the middle to slow down Howard and Gasol. Kendrick Perkins isn't quick enough and Serge Ibaka isn't strong enough, and when they try doubling him up Gasol shreds them with the pick-and-pop.
The Thunder have no answers for the Lakers on offense, and as a result the Thunder lose.
Predictions: Lakers in five
Eastern Conference Finals: Heat (1) vs. 76ers (3)
The Miami Heat have struggled against teams with gifted centers, and with Andrew Bynum having a sensational postseason there is plenty of reason to believe that the Sixers will give them a run for their money.
It sounds great in theory, but in practice it doesn't work so well. The Heat keep pulling Spencer Hawes out to the perimeter with Chris Bosh, leaving Andrew Bynum to guard the paint by himself, and he's just not quick enough to get in front of the charging LeBron James.
As a result, Bynum finds himself in frequent foul trouble, and doing more watching than playing.
Left with their wings to contend with the Heat, the Sixers find that they are just not in the same class from the perimeter. As fine a season as Evan Turner and company had, they aren't there yet.
The series seems to be over just as soon as it began, as the Heat sweep into the NBA Finals.
Prediction: Heat in four
Western Conference Finals: Lakers (2) vs. Clippers (5)
In a Western Conference finals that is everything that David Stern couldn't have wished for Los Angeles takes on Los Angeles in the first conference final ever where every game takes place in the same building.
Literally every dollar bet is on LA.
The Clippers keep trying to push the pace, hoping that they can wear down the older Lakers, but Steve Nash makes it impossible. He keeps the tempo under control and surprises many by playing even with Chris Paul.
(Stepping away from prediction mode momentarily, I know this sounds crazy but it's historically sound. Paul has averaged 21.8 points and 9.0 assists on .460 shooting to Nash's 14.3, 10 and .462. Nash has a 10-9 edge in wins.)
Kobe Bryant, smelling the trophy, steps into the fountain of youth and has a terrific series, averaging 28 points, five assists and four rebounds.
While the Clippers take two games, the series is never in doubt as the Clippers seem to be playing catchup most of the time.
In spite of making it to the finals, rumors run rampant that Del Negro, who was clearly out-coached in every series, has to go in order for the Clips to retain Chris Paul.
Prediction: Lakers in six
NBA Finals: Heat (1) vs. Lakers (2)
The NBA Finals aren't just the NBA Finals this year, they are the NBA Finals. It's the finals everyone wants to see. It's Kobe Bryant versus LeBron James. It's mega-team versus mega-team.
In all, there are potentially eight future Hall of Fame players in the series, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash with the Lakers and LeBorn James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen with the Heat.
This is what NBA Finals are made of, and this series does not disappoint. The difference in this one is that both LeBron James and Kobe Bryant take over when it comes down to crunch time, but LeBron James just does it better during the series.
Troll wars set the Internet on fire as the entire "clutch" argument is redefined forever.
Skip Bayless is humiliated repeatedly, but clings to the fact that Kobe Bryant has a better field-goal percentage between 11 and 14 feet with the shot clock winding down and between one and two minutes on the game clock.
James just dominates the games during the last half of the fourth quarter. He repeatedly gets Howard in foul trouble. He guards whoever is getting hot for the Lakers, and he scores, scores and scores.
His performance is nothing short of "Jordanian" as he averages 31 points, 11 boards and 10 assists for the series en route to winning his second consecutive Finals MVP to go with his second consecutive NBA MVP award.
Prediction: Heat in six