Round-by-Round NBA Playoff Projections at Season's Halfway Point

Brendan Bowers@@BowersCLEContributor IIJanuary 30, 2013

Round-by-Round NBA Playoff Projections at Season's Halfway Point

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    These playoff projections seed each team according to its record at the halfway point of the season.

    For example, the Boston Celtics—despite the loss of Rajon Rondo—are still projected as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. 

    These predictions are not attempting to suggest that a team currently outside of the playoffs, like the Los Angeles Lakers, either will or won't qualify for postseason play.

    I am only selecting who I believe will advance in each matchup based on where each team is seeded at the halfway mark of the season.

    Regardless of which teams will eventually occupy each of the 16 playoff spots, however, these projections include the eight squads I believe will advance from the opening round.  

    While I did not assume that any key players would be injured between now and the start of the playoffs, I tried to account for the possible returns of players such as Derrick Rose and Danny Granger.

    I stopped short, however, of suggesting a player like Rose would return to his MVP form immediately and change the face of the 2012-13 season.

Round 1: Miami Heat (1) vs. Boston Celtics (8)

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    Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

    With Rajon Rondo sidelined for the postseason, the Boston Celtics' chances of winning even one game against the Eastern Conference's best team are minimal.

    If Rondo were healthy, this matchup could present a number of intriguing storylines. Since he isn't, though, it doesn't. 

    LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat will hit the opening round of the playoffs at full speed and overwhelm the shorthanded Celtics on their way to the second round.

    There will be one game that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce manage to keep close—at home in Boston—but in the end, the Heat will advance with relative ease.  

    Series Winner: Miami Heat, 4-0

Round 1: San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Houston Rockets (8)

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    Western Conference Quarterfinals

    A season filled with overachievement and recalibrated expectations for the Houston Rockets franchise will end against Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs.

    While James Harden may manage to score well enough to steal a victory for the underdog Rockets, in the end, the Spurs will be too much.

    Duncan is playing well enough on defense to limit any production from Omer Asik, and the San Antonio bench is simply better than the Houston reserves.

    At point guard specifically, Parker will present serious problems for Jeremy Lin.

    Houston's general lack of defense may turn this series into a Tony Parker-led instructional video on how to dictate offense in the NBA.  

    Series Winner: San Antonio Spurs, 4-1 

Round 1: New York Knicks (2) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (7)

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    Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

    Congratulations to the Milwaukee Bucks.

    You avoided the draft lottery by making the playoffs, only to be eliminated in the first round by the New York Knicks.

    We can expect Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to provide enough offense to make this series watchable at times, but that's about it.

    In the end, Carmelo Anthony will begin his postseason tear with the same offensive explosion he used to open the 2012-13 regular season.

    Alongside Anthony, J.R. Smith, Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton make this New York team simply too much for the Bucks to handle.

    There will be no fire extinguishers punched in the Knicks locker room this year, at least not during the first round of the playoffs. 

    Series Winner: New York Knicks, 4-0

Round 1: Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs. Utah Jazz (7)

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    Western Conference Quarterfinals

    The biggest strength of the Utah Jazz is their frontline led by Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.

    For as good as that duo is, however, it will not provide enough of an advantage matched up with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka to make much of a difference in deciding this series.

    Or maybe more directly, it won't make a big enough impact t to overcome the damage that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will do to the Jazz at the point of attack. 

    The Thunder have been playing like a team with something to prove all season. That intensity will only elevate as the playoffs begin.

    The Jazz will be abused by the NBA's most prolific offense in Round 1.

    Series Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder, 4-0

Round 1: Chicago Bulls (3) vs. Atlanta Hawks (6)

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    Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

    The Chicago Bulls will defend their way past the Atlanta Hawks as a collective unit in Round 1.

    Whether Derrick Rose is back playing at 100 percent or not available at all, the Bulls will have enough to advance past the Hawks.

    Led by Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer up front, the Bulls will have the scoring necessary to complement the elite brand of defense they will extend into the postseason.

    Josh Smith and Al Horford will make this task challenging at times—and do enough for Atlanta to win two games—but the Bulls' relentless approach at both ends will inevitably wrap up this series in six.

    Series Winner: Chicago Bulls, 4-2

Round. 1: Los Angeles Clippers (3) vs. Denver Nuggets (6)

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    Western Conference Quarterfinals

    There is a whole lot of firepower in this opening-round series.

    From Ty Lawson to Kenneth Faried, expect the Denver Nuggets to present a serious challenge for the team with the NBA's third-best record. 

    From top to bottom, these teams are as deep as anyone in the league. 

    At the top end of each roster, however, the Los Angeles Clippers are markedly better.

    For as many talented rotation players as George Karl can throw out there, there is only one Chris Paul in this series.

    In the end, it's the Clippers' MVP candidate who wills his team out of a difficult draw to begin the postseason. 

    Series Winner: Los Angeles Clippers, 4-2

Round 1: Brooklyn Nets (4) vs. Indiana Pacers (5)

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    Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

    The Danny Granger factor could decide this series. 

    The Indiana Pacers have been offensively challenged all season, but Granger's eventual return figures to improve that side of the ball.

    Regardless of what Granger is able to bring, though, I'm just not a believer in the Brooklyn Nets quite yet.

    Brook Lopez has been great, but Joe Johnson and Deron Williams haven't. Neither has earned an All-Star berth this season, while the Pacers' Paul George has.

    I expect his Pacers to win this series with defense and rebounding. If Granger is 100 percent, they could wrap things up in fewer than seven games.

    Series Winner: Indiana Pacers, 4-3

Round 1: Memphis Grizzlies (4) vs. Golden State Warriors (5)

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    Western Conference Quarterfinals

    This is the best projected matchup of the first round.

    When the Golden State Warriors collide with the Memphis Grizzlies, one really, really good team is going to lose.

    On the strength of David Lee, Stephen Curry and the culture of winning built by coach Mark Jackson, the Warriors will advance in an electric opening-round series.

    The Grizzlies' ball-handling woes will be highlighted by the tempo Curry and the Warriors force upon Memphis.

    Up front, Lee will battle to a near-stalemate with Zach Randolph.

    Klay Thompson's propensity to knock down shots from the perimeter, along with Curry's ability from long range, will be too much offense for the grit-and-grind Grizzlies.

    One or two plays will decide this series. The Warriors will make those plays.  

    Series Winner: Golden State Warriors, 4-3

Round 2: Miami Heat (1) vs. Indiana Pacers (5)

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    Eastern Conference Semifinals

    The defending NBA champion Miami Heat are not concerned with proving anything during the 2012-13 regular season.

    As the second round of the playoffs open against the Indiana Pacers, however, we will see a completely different Heat team in that regard.

    LeBron James is playing well enough to win his fourth MVP. And now that he has won a title, he will be even better in the playoffs.

    Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade will still be the second- and third-best players on the court in this series, whether Danny Granger is healthy or not.

    No offense, of course, to the All-Star Paul George.

    The Pacers will show up and fight, but there is only so much you can do with James. The Heat may slip up once, but will eventually roll into the conference finals.  

    Series Winner: Miami Heat, 4-1

Round 2: San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Golden State Warriors (5)

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    Western Conference Semifinals

    In a matchup of veteran vs. up-and-comer, the Golden State Warriors will fall one game short of advancing to the Western Conference Finals.

    Mark Jackson has done a fantastic job with the Warriors this season, but he will be out-coached by Gregg Popovich at least a couple of times before this series is decided. 

    That Tony Parker and Tim Duncan have spent their entire adult lives in playoff series like this will be a critical factor as well.

    In the 2014 playoffs, Stephen Curry and David Lee might be ready to help eliminate a team like the Spurs.

    This year, however, their season will end in San Antonio.

    Series Winner: San Antonio Spurs, 4-3

Round 2: New York Knicks (2) vs. Chicago Bulls (3)

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    Eastern Conference Semifinals

    It's going to be exciting at Madison Square Garden this summer.

    The New York Knicks are not just a talented team that will stumble into the postseason. They are a veteran group led by past NBA champions Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler.

    That steadying influence will calm any concerns for the Knicks in Round 2, as Carmelo Anthony will continue to be the best player on the floor.

    If Derrick Rose is anything like his old self by this time, maybe the Bulls will be able to spring the upset.

    I don't see how that's possible, though, and expect the Knicks to advance in six.

    Series Winner: New York Knicks, 4-2

Round 2: Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (3)

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    Western Conference Semifinals

    The premier semifinal matchup will be played between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers.

    This projects to be the most entertaining and hard-fought series of the 2013 postseason thus far.

    Chris Paul will give Russell Westbrook fits in this matchup. The Clippers' depth will provide Los Angeles a slight advantage in that department as well.

    But there is still no stopping Kevin Durant in this series.

    I expect the NBA's leading scorer at the halfway point to score as many points as the Thunder needs to punch their ticket back to the Western Conference Finals.

    There will be huge shots and epic moments in this series, but the Thunder will use their home-court advantage to outlast the Clippers. 

    Series Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder, 4-3 

Round 3: Miami Heat (1) vs. New York Knicks (2)

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    Eastern Conference Finals

    The storybook ride for Carmelo Anthony and New York Knicks fans will end in a heavyweight matchup between the Eastern Conference teams with the best records at the regular season's halfway point.

    The Knicks will have a decided advantage rebounding in this series, but there will be too much LeBron James.

    Carmelo Anthony will lead his team to multiple victories, but while he'll be great, James will simply be better.

    I also expect Dwyane Wade to outplay J.R. Smith and any other Knicks player in this series, while Chris Bosh plays Amar'e Stoudemire and company to a stalemate.

    This will be a fun series to be sure, but the Heat will advance.  

    Series Winner: Miami Heat, 4-2

Round 3: San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (2)

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    Western Conference Finals 

    The Oklahoma City Thunder will defeat the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference playoffs for the second year in a row on their way back to the NBA Finals. 

    While Tony Parker is still capable of pushing tempo, the Thunder from top to bottom will be too fast for the Spurs. 

    When the game slows down, Tim Duncan will dominate Kendrick Perkins in the painted area. But the games won't slow down long enough for San Antonio to edge past OKC.

    Kevin Martin and the Thunder bench will need to play critical minutes in this series, and they provide enough support for Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to allow the Thunder to survive and advance.  

    Series Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder, 4-3

Round 4: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Miami Heat

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    NBA Finals

    Call me unoriginal, but the 2013 NBA Finals will inevitably be a rematch of last season's NBA championship. 

    Kevin Durant and LeBron James are the two best players in the league.

    Despite the loss of James Harden, the Oklahoma City Thunder are an improved team after accomplishing what they did a year ago.

    The Miami Heat are as well despite their record at the halfway point of the season.

    The Thunder will win two more games in the NBA Finals than it did a season ago. On the road, however, in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat will accomplish their goal.

    LeBron James will be named the Finals MVP for a second straight season and complete his team's quest for back-to-back titles.

    Series Winner: Miami Heat, 4-3