(1) Los Angeles vs. (8) Utah
This series appears to be a classic mismatch, and it should be. The Lakers
have been nothing if not consistent all season long, storming out to a 21-3 record to start, and finishing by winning 12 of their final 15.
Utah, on the other hand, has faded fast, losing seven of their last nine, and winning just four of their last 12 road games. The Wall Street Journal, however, points out that Utah has been very good in games following at least a day’s break, which would threaten to prolong the series. I’ll be charitable and give the Jazz one.
Prediction: Lakers 4, Jazz 1
vs. (7) New Orleans
Since the rather one-sided trade that sent Chauncey Billups to the Mile High City for Allen Iverson, the Nuggets have played well over their heads, winning a division title for only the second time since the 1980’s and tying the franchise (NBA
) record for regular season wins.
They’ve yet to prove, however, that they can win a playoff series without George Karl on the opposing bench.
Last year’s overachievers, the New Orleans Hornets, are back in the playoffs, and Chris Paul is still one of the premier players in the league.
The Nuggets won a single game in each of their four previous playoff appearances before being swept by the Lakers last year. This year they’ll do better: they’ll win two.
Prediction: Hornets 4, Nuggets 2
(3) San Antonio
vs. (6) Dallas
The Spurs were given up for dead just weeks ago when Manu Ginobili was injured and knocked out of the playoffs. Instead, the oldest team in the league won the most competitive division in basketball—and lucked out by drawing a weaker team of Mavericks than the Republican presidential ticket.
Few would consider the Mavs a serious contender this season, and they ultimately won’t put up much of a fight against the battle-hardened Spurs. All things considered, a deep playoff run this year under these circumstances might be almost as big an accomplishment as their NBA titles.
Prediction: Spurs 4, Mavericks 2
vs. (5) Houston
Few teams are as hot right now as the Portland Trail Blazers
. The team is back in the playoffs for the first time in six seasons and is led by an exciting nucleus of young talent. Add onto that eight-straight Rose Garden wins against the Lakers, and you have the makings of what could be a dangerous team.
Conventional wisdom, however, suggests the Blazers are a year away, but that won’t stop them from making a playoff run this season.
They couldn’t ask for a better opponent either, the Houston TMac’s, who have a well-known history of first round chokes. The Rockets have, however, dominated the Blazers at home this season. Assuming Portland holds serve, a lone road win will be all they need.
Prediction: Blazers 4, Rockets 2
vs. (8) Detroit
Proving they’ve jumped yet another shark, the Pistons traded away Chauncey Billups this year for Allen Iverson and have played mediocre basketball at best. It wasn’t that long ago the Bad Boys had returned to Detroit, winning games with physical defense.
Since losing to the Spurs in the ’05 Finals, the Heat
, Cavaliers, and Celtics
have passed them by, and left the Pistons standing still.
This year, they get the top-seeded eastern juggernaut, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who set the franchise regular season win record and have home court advantage throughout the playoffs. If they’re lucky, the Pistons will win one game.
Prediction: Cavaliers 4, Pistons 0
(2) Boston vs. (7) Chicago
After surviving two seven-game struggles last season en route to the NBA title, the Celtics may yet again be in for a tough fight this season. One would figure the seventh-seeded Bulls are a bit better than last year’s Hawks
, who also took the C’s to seven games.
To make matters worse, Kevin Garnett is out, and could very well miss the entire playoffs, however long that may be. Boston should survive a tough challenge from Chicago, but it may take a win at home in game seven to do the job.
Prediction: Celtics 4, Bulls 3
vs. (6) Philadelphia
Another classic mismatch in the east. In one corner, a Magic team willing and able to show they belong among the elite teams in the Eastern Conference, if not the league.
In the other, a Sixer team that won exactly half their games and stayed off just about everyone’s radar in doing it. Orlando swept the season series, and they should sweep the Sixers in the playoffs as well. Superman won’t even muss his hair.
Prediction: Magic 4, Sixers 0
(4) Atlanta vs. (5) Miami
To contrast the San Antonio Spurs—the luckiest team in basketball—the Atlanta Hawks might be this season’s most cursed. Forty-seven wins, a fourth-place finish, and home court in the first round, and what do the Hawks have to show for it? A likely first-round exit.
Dwayne Wade, no worse than the third-best player in the NBA, literally carried a mediocre Miami Heat squad in to the playoffs with an MVP-calibre season. It really isn’t fair that one superstar player will be all a 43-win Miami team needs to punch their ticket to the second round. They could even make this upset look easy.
Prediction: Heat 4, Hawks 2