NBA Playoff Predictions 2013: Underdogs Most Likely to Upset 1st-Round Favorites

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 15, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 12:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets brings the ball up court during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at the Toyota Center on April 12, 2013 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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Don't think the 2013 NBA playoffs are merely a formality.

So what if everyone's expecting the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder to meet in the NBA Finals? That doesn't mean the early rounds will lack unpredictability.

There are plenty of potential matchups that could go down to the wire or, at the very least, provide great entertainment for four or five games.

The last two years have featured a No. 8 seed knocking off a No. 1 seed. Last year also saw two great series go the full seven games.

You can count on at least one lower-seeded team advancing to the conference semifinals once again this year. Here are three teams with the best chance to do that.


Chicago Bulls

Even without Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls are a very good basketball team. At this point, no one should be expecting the star to return. The team needs to plan on a playoff run without him.

Facing the Indiana Pacers in the first round doesn't look very good for Chicago based on how their season series has gone. The Bulls lost three of their four matchups during the regular season.

Still, Chicago has plenty of talent to get through to the next round, with Joakim Noah and Luol Deng leading the charge. Carlos Boozer might have been the subject of trade rumors, but this has been a good season for him as well. Also, Nate Robinson brings that X-factor that could result in him being the best scorer on the floor.

When Rose went down, the Bulls essentially wrote this season off in terms of contending for a title. However, that doesn't mean the team can't make some noise this postseason.


Memphis Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies could very well earn themselves home-court advantage in the first round. As the playoff picture stands now, though, the Grizzlies are a No. 5 seed, with the Los Angeles Clippers as their first-round opponent.

This would be one of the best matchups to watch. These two played a fantastic series in the first round last year.

Memphis lost the season series 3-1, but that regular-season record goes out the window come playoff time. The Clippers have also fallen off a bit since looking like one of the best teams in the league earlier in the year.

The Grizzlies are allowing the fewest amount of points of any team. Marc Gasol is one of the best defensive players in the league and, along with Zach Randolph, presents a tough matchup for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Mike Conley is averaging 2.22 steals a game. He has enough skill to at least try to neutralize Chris Paul.


Houston Rockets

Prior to the season, the Houston Rockets looked like one of the worst teams in the league. They were probably overpaying Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, giving them the poison pill contracts. Then Houston went and got James Harden.

There were some questions as to whether Harden could become a top star, or if he was just a very good player whose talent was inflated by playing with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. However, Harden has made the jump to become one of the league's best players.

The Rockets' defense scares the heck out of you because the team is giving up 102.3 points a game.

Regardless, the Denver Nuggets might actually be the most favorable matchup Houston could hope for. Although Denver has a fast-paced offense, it's giving up 101 points a game. Not having Danilo Gallinari is also a huge loss for the Nuggets.

Here's to hoping these two match up because this would be the most entertaining series to watch in the playoffs.