NBA Playoffs: Eastern Conference 1st Round Predictions

Jonathan MaurerCorrespondent IIApril 19, 2013

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 25:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat waits for play to resume against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center on March 25, 2013 in Orlando, Florida. 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 Gary Bogdon/Getty Images)
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There is something in the air. It smells like spring. But in actuality, it's the NBA playoffs. These playoffs, should be interesting.     

It may seem that some matchups aren't even in question. But that's why they play the game. Remember when the Dallas Mavericks had the No. 1 seed in the West in the '06-'07 season? They were a lock to win against the Warriors who were the No. 8 seed at the time. Six took six games for the Warriors to eliminate the Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs.  

Is it likely to happen this year? Probably not. But like I said, that's why they play the game.   

I would like to take my time (and yours) to analyze each matchup in the East and explain to you who I believe will win each series and why.   

No. 1 Miami Heat vs. No. 8 Milwaukee Bucks 

The Miami Heat had a great regular season. No, they didn't win the 70 games that some might have predicted. But they were four games away and they still have the best record in the NBA.  

Although it hasn't been officially announced yet, we can pretty much assume that LeBron James has won the MVP award.  

Can you name someone who's had a better season? No. This team is favored to win it all. And it's mostly because of the play of LeBron.       

The Milwaukee Bucks have had an up and down season. Fortunately, they were the best among the lower tier teams in the East.   

After 32 games, head coach Scott Skiles resigned from his position. The Bucks have a starting backcourt of two small scoring guards and a head coach who has only had experience as an interim. The argument could be made that the Bucks' problems should've been kept them from making the playoffs. 

But I have to commend the Bucks for playing well enough through adversity and being able to make the playoffs.  

Key Player: Chris Bosh 

Why: One of the reasons I believe the Bucks were able to make the playoffs is because they have a very good front court. Larry Sanders, who is the starting center for the Bucks, is a swat machine. He averages 2.8 blocks per game and is a very tough player to deal with when your playing offense.

Could James and Dwayne Wade carry the team? They could. But they shouldn't have to, especially when you have the best third scoring option in the league. Chris Bosh doesn't have to be spectacular, but he does need to be consistent.  

The Heat shouldn't have too many problems with the Bucks. I'll put it like this: For the Heat to have a smooth ride, Bosh needs to make sure that there is enough air in the car's tires.  

Who Wins: Miami Heat 

Why: It is plain and simple, the Heat are the better team. If James has an off night, then you still have to deal with Wade, Bosh and an arsenal of shooters. The Bucks just have too many issues to deal with on their own team. They are going to have too much on their hands with a mid-level team. So there is no way they can beat the best team in the NBA.  

Prediction: Heat win in five.

No. 2 New York Knicks vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics 

Everybody knew before the season started that the Knicks had enough talent to become a really good basketball team. But the fact is that the Knicks have disappointed before. This is was the first full season for Mike Woodson as the head coach of the Knicks, and he has done a great job of balancing the Knicks. They are still an up-tempo team, but they can play some defense.     

The Knicks have arguably the best scorer in the league in Carmelo Anthony and arguably the best sixth man in the league in J.R. Smith. The talent on this Knicks team has come together nicely, and they look like the biggest threat to those guys down in South Beach at the moment. 

The Celtics have fallen. They are still a very formidable team, but it seems each year I watch this team play, the more I think about that one Danny Glover line in Lethal Weapon—they are just getting too old. 

This team does have very good players. They have a lot of depth. And they have it, arguably (yeah that word again), in Doc Rivers.  

Despite their age, you can't sleep on the Celtics. They can be a very dangerous team and they are probably the most experienced in the playoffs, which helps when you're facing a younger, more inexperienced team such as the Knicks.   

Key Player: Carmelo Anthony  

Why: The Knicks wouldn't be where they are without Anthony. The biggest accomplishment the Knicks would have without Anthony would be that they beat out the Bucks for the eighth seed in the East.     

Without Anthony, this team would be average. These playoffs will be huge for Anthony's career, because now that LeBron has his ring, all the haters' attention will be going toward the next biggest star.  

I believe we will be in for one heck of a series. Anthony will give it his all and he will deliver a historic performance in this series.  

Who Wins: The Knicks 

Why: The Knicks can run...the Celtics can run for a short while. Melo is going to give a performance for the ages, I believe. And unless the Celtics get Paul Pierce at age 26 via time machine, then there is little hope for the Celtics winning this series.  

Prediction: Knicks win in six  

No. 3 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 6 Atlanta Hawks 

The Pacers have had a really good season. Not too surprising, considering how they played in last year's playoffs against the Heat. The Pacers lost Danny Granger, but Paul George has come out of nowhere and has become a star for the Pacers. 

Combine George's play with the play of one of the best frontcourts in the NBA in Roy Hibbert and David West, with solid guard play from George Hill, and you have the No. 3 seed in the East. 

I have been surprised by the play of the Atlanta Hawks. I thought once Joe Johnson left, they were going to go downhill faster then Val Kilmer's acting career. But they have basically been the same team record-wise that they've always been.  

They have a good core with constant All-Star snubs Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Jeff Teague.  

Key Player: Jeff Teague

Why: I believe that Smith and Horford will be the same players they were in the regular season, but I don't know about Teague. He has had really good numbers, but he's not at that elite level. If he plays up to that level, I would find it hard to believe that the Pacers wouldn't have trouble keeping up with the Hawks on the scoreboard. 

But if Jeff Teague just plays average, there is no chance for the Hawks unless the Pacers play like garbage, which I don't foresee that happening.  

Who Wins: Indiana Pacers 

Why: There is a reason the Pacers are the No. 3 seed, just like there is a reason the Hawks are No. 6 seed. I do not believe the Hawks are tough enough to match the Pacers. And Josh Smith is great, but he isn't Carmelo Anthony. This will be a close series because of the talent, but I just can't see the Hawks pulling the first round upset.

Prediction: Pacers in seven. 

No. 4 Brooklyn Nets vs. No. 5 Chicago Bulls  

The Brooklyn Nets didn't meet up to the fans' expectations, but they are still a top five team in their conference. Deron Williams has been the main scorer for the Nets, and Brook Lopez has been asserting himself as possibly the second best center in the game.

Joe Johnson has struggled to adjust to his role in the starting lineup. Gerald Wallace's confidence has been diminished and he recently has had an injury that may affect him in these playoffs. Those are a few problems for the Nets.

Very few teams can function without their superstar and the Bulls are one of those few teams. I am amazed at how well they have functioned as a team. Their play speaks volumes as to how good of a coach Tom Thibodeau is.    

Part of their success is their front court play. Carlos Boozer isn't the same 20 points, 10 rebounds player that he was with the Jazz, but I think the Bulls can live with the 16 points and 10 rebounds player that he is now.        

At first, I wondered why Joakim Noah was an All-Star, but when I looked his stats, I was amazed to see how well he was playing. He currently averages 11 points, 11 rebounds, with two blocks per game. No wonder why the Bulls are one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA. 

Key Player: Luol Deng

Why: The Bulls are a very good defensive team, but one thing they struggle with is scoring. The Nets can score. Lopez, Williams and even Johnson could go for 20 in one night. The Bulls can contain them to some extent, but they will need to score, and they have to look to one player to step up and take over the scoring load. That player is Luol Deng. 

Who Wins: Chicago Bulls  

Why: The Bulls operate much better as a team then the Nets do. The Nets are far too inconsistent, and sometimes you never know what you're gonna get. 

Prediction: Bulls in four.


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