NBA Playoffs 2013: Predicting the Entire First Round of the NBA Playoffs

John NizinskiAnalyst IIIApril 19, 2013

NBA Playoffs 2013: Predicting the Entire First Round of the NBA Playoffs

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    After an exciting 82-game season that featured unbelievable performances, devastating injuries and Honey Nut Cheerios discussion, the NBA playoffs are here.

    The eight first-round matchups are set and it looks to be a memorable and entertaining postseason. There are teams that are favorites and teams that could be dark horses.

    Here is a look at my predictions for the entire first round of the NBA playoffs.

No. 1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 8 Houston Rockets

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    After the San Antonio Spurs' miserable end to the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to grab the top seed in the Western Conference. They will face the Houston Rockets in the first round, who are being led by former Thunder James Harden.

    Because it will be Harden going up against his old team, that makes this series exciting. 

    Both teams can put a ton of points up on the scoreboard. They are two of the best offensive teams in the league. Actually, the Rockets averaged more points per game than the Thunder this season.

    The big difference is the defense. The Thunder have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and the Rockets don't have an answer on defense for them.

    Meanwhile, Harden has been pretty Jekyll and Hyde against his old team this season.

     

    James Harden's stats against the Thunder this season

    Nov. 28: 3-of-16 from the field, 17 points, three assists, two rebounds (LOSS)

    Dec. 29: 6-of-17 from the field, 25 points, one assists, three rebounds (LOSS)

    Feb. 20: 14-of-19 from the field, 46 points, six assists, seven rebounds (LOSS)

     

    In the end, the Rockets defense is going to allow the Thunder to win this series easily. But I see Harden and the Rockets offense taking two games in this series. Those two wins will be when the Rockets offense is clicking and the Thunder let up on the gas a little bit.

     

    Prediction: 4-2 Oklahoma City Thunder

No. 2 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers

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    After all the talk of whether or not the Los Angeles Lakers were going to make the playoffs, they were able to end up as the No. 7 seed and get a more favorable matchup for themselves. The San Antonio Spurs have been falling fast heading into the playoffs and the Lakers have a chance against them in my opinion.

    Unlike the Spurs, the Lakers are playing great heading into the playoffs. They have won five straight games and eight of their last 10.

    They are now Kobe-less, which puts the bulk of the responsibility on the shoulders of Dwight Howard. His matchup with Tim Duncan is going to be the key matchup to watch during this series. 

    The health of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili helps the Lakers a bit too.

    Ginobili played one game in April because of a hamstring issue and he was very ineffective in that game. Parker has an ankle injury that probably should be keeping him off the court.

    Parker being hindered by his ankles allows Steve Nash to have a chance to defend him. When healthy, Parker is able to penetrate and get to the basket at will. He hasn't been able to do that with this injury.

    Pau Gasol is going to have a big series. Tiago Splitter is a nice player, but he isn't going to be able to stop Gasol or Howard.

    I'm putting the Spurs on upset alert and I think this series is going to go seven games. In the end, the Lakers frontcourt is going to lead the Lakers past the Spurs in the first round.

     

    Prediction: 4-3 Los Angeles Lakers

No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors

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    The series between the Denver Nuggets and the Golden State Warriors is going to be a fast-paced matchup throughout. 

    The three biggest factors in this series is going to be Stephen Curry, the Nuggets' home-court advantage and injuries.

    Curry is the only true superstar in this series. He broke the single season three-point record and has developed into one of the best guards in basketball.

    Ty Lawson is a very good player and his matchup against Curry is very intriguing and a chance for Lawson to jump into the next level.

    The Nuggets don't truly have a superstar but they do have a balanced team. That team was also 38-3 at home this season. They are a scary team at home, for any one team to face.

    Between Danilo Gallinari's ACL sprain and the nagging injuries to Lawson and Kenneth Faried, the Nuggets aren't completely healthy going into the playoffs. That will help make this series go to six or seven games and I'm going Nuggets in six.

     

    Prediction: 4-2 Denver Nuggets

No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 5 Memphis Grizzlies

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    The Los Angeles Clippers versus the Memphis Grizzlies is a matchup between an offensive powerhouse and a shutdown defensive team. This is going to be another great matchup in the first round.

    This is a rematch from last year's postseason. In that series, the Clippers came out on top in seven games.

    The Clippers have the best point guard in the league, Chris Paul. However, they also have one of the worst defenses and more specifically, defensive frontcourts. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol could dominate inside and be a pain in the neck for the Clips.

    One thing that is clearly in the favor of the Clippers is that they are on fire heading into the playoffs. They are riding a winning streak that reached seven games when the season ended. 

    I expect another seven-game series. But because the Clippers are going to rely so heavily on Paul and the Grizzlies have been playing great physical basketball, I am picking the Grizzlies to win the series this year.

     

    Prediction: 4-3 Memphis Grizzlies

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

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    There is no bigger one-sided series in the first round than the Miami Heat versus the Milwaukee Bucks. The Heat are the favorites to win the NBA Finals and the Bucks are barely a speed bump in their way.

    LeBron James is on another level and playing the best basketball of his career. As long as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are healthy, the Heat should sweep the Bucks.

    Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis could potentially help the Bucks grab one game in this series, if they both are clicking offensively. But whether the Heat sweep the Bucks or not will probably depend on whether the Heat want to make a big statement in the first round, or if they relax after going up 2-0 or 3-0.

    I can see the Bucks winning one game in this series, probably after the Heat win the first three.

     

    Prediction: 4-1 Miami Heat

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

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    All eyes will be on this series because of all the chaos and horrible events that are taking place in Boston.

    The New York Knicks haven't won a playoff series, but the general feeling among their fanbase is Eastern Conference Finals appearance or bust. After Carmelo Anthony won the scoring title this season, they are going to rely heavily on him to carry them throughout the postseason.

    The Boston Celtics look like a worn down old team. But history has proven not to bet against the Celtics and their two future Hall of Famers, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett

    The Knicks were 3-1 against the Celtics this season and also ended the season winning 16 of their last 18 games. They have a ton of momentum heading into the playoffs.

    They count on the three-ball and long jumpers, which usually isn't a recipe for success, but has worked very well for the Knicks this season. 

    The mental game could be the X-factor in this series. It is no surprise that Garnett is able to get inside the heads of his opponents. We saw him throw Anthony off his game earlier in the season.

    If the Celtics are able to get inside the Knicks' heads, that could change the outcome of this season.

    I'm trying hard not to pick the Celtics to upset the Knicks in the first round. The Celtics will not go down without a tough fight, but ultimately, I think Anthony and J.R. Smith will lift the Knicks over the Celtics in Game 7.

     

    Prediction: 4-3 New York Knicks

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

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    The Atlanta Hawks seemed to pretty much choose to face the Indiana Pacers over the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round. They had a one-game lead over the Bulls for the No. 5 seed, with two games left to play. They decided to rest their starters and pretty much throw away the last two games.

    But the Pacers are no walk in the park. They play a very physical and tough style of basketball. They try to wear you down defensively, and because of their personnel, they can.

    Paul George emerged as a star this season.

    The Pacers are led by David West, who is a nice scoring threat, and Roy Hibbert who is the biggest player on the court in this series.

    The battle between the two frontcourts is going to be fun to watch. Josh Smith and Al Horford are a tough tandem to matchup against, but the Pacers are going to dominate this series.

     

    Prediction: 4-1 Indiana Pacers

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

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    This season, the Chicago Bulls ended the Miami Heat's 27-game winning streak and the New York Knicks' 13-game winning streak. This has caused many people to be very high on the Bulls heading into the playoffs.

    But what is overlooked is how poorly the Bulls have played against lesser competition and how incompetent they are offensively. They are able to get up for one big game, but can they stay up for an entire playoff series?

    They also have some key injuries. Derrick Rose has missed the entire season. He is cleared to play, but likely won't return in this series. Also Joakim Noah, who is probably the most valuable player on the Bulls after Rose, is suffering from plantar fasciitis in his right foot that has left his status uncertain.

    Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets are one of the most balanced and one of the deepest teams in the postseason. They have started to come into their own and play more consistently.

    Deron Williams has turned his season around and reemerged as a superstar and top point guard in the NBA. Combine him with Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson, and the Nets are a dangerous team.

    This series has the potential to be the most entertaining because of how intense and physical both teams are. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson will lead the Nets to a win in this series.

     

    Prediction: 4-3 Brooklyn Nets