NBA Playoff Predictions 2013: Picking Winners for Sunday's Series Openers

Brian MaziqueCorrespondent IIIApril 21, 2013

MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 21:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat shoots over Brandon Jennings #3 of the Milwaukee Bucks during a game  at American Airlines Arena on November 21, 2012 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The NBA playoffs got underway on Saturday, but the top seeds in both conferences will begin play on Sunday.

While some may have a few dark horses in both conferences, it is totally logical to predict we'll see another Miami Heat-Oklahoma City Thunder matchup in the NBA Finals.

They proved to be the best two teams during the regular season, but there is a long road of postseason play ahead before a rematch can happen.

The Heat will take on the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, and the Thunder will host the Houston Rockets. Here is my prediction for those two games as well as the other two series openers on tap for Sunday.


Miami Will Maul Milwaukee (7 p.m. ET)

Thanks to Brandon Jennings' prediction, any chance of catching the Heat sleeping in Game 1 is gone.

If the Bucks plan to knock off Miami, they will have to do it with the full attention of LeBron James and Co.

That simply won't happen.

Jennings is a streaky shooter with the ability to get hot from distance, but if he does catch fire, LeBron will be called upon to become the fire extinguisher.

We've seen Erik Spoelstra call LeBron's number in the past to take away a team's best scorer, and if need be, I believe we'll see that again.

I love Monta Ellis, but I think a mixture of Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade is sufficient in assuring he doesn't go off against the Heat. He's accepted a secondary role to Jennings in Milwaukee.

We probably won't see him display his old scoring explosiveness until he moves on from the organization. The Heat will win convincingly on Sunday, 101-86.


OKC Will Win Convincingly vs. Houston (9:30 p.m. ET)

This could be one of the most entertaining series in the first round. The Rockets scored 106 points per game during the regular season, and the Thunder put up 105.7.

With that much scoring prowess on both sides, the team that shows the ability to lock down defensively could win the series.

It is clear to me that will be the Thunder, and we'll see a good example of that in Game 1. 

OKC will look to establish itself on the defensive end early in this series. The Rockets were second in the NBA in three-pointers made, so if they get hot, they can make it tough on any opponent.

But look for Russell Westbrook to apply enough pressure on Jeremy Lin to slow the development of their offense. By Game 2, the Rockets point guard's confidence may be shot.

Patrick Beverley could very well be their best option in this series against Westbrook.

But overall, it won't matter. The Thunder are headed for a sweep, and it starts on Sunday with a 105-94 win.


Los Angeles Will Stun San Antonio (3:30 p.m. ET)

If I were starting a team and had to pick the temperament of my franchise player, would I take a player with Pau Gasol or Dwight Howard's disposition over Kobe Bryant's?

That's easy, I'd take Kobe's ruthless, justified confidence every time.

But that said, these Lakers are still a better team without Bryant. As great as Kobe was all season, his style of play took the team away from the advantage they hold over every team in the NBA: two dominant forces in the paint. 

The team is finally running its offense from the inside-out, and by doing that, its big men are more engaged on both ends of the floor.

Since Kobe went down, the Lakers have held the Rockets and Spurs—two of the highest-scoring teams in the NBA—to just 38 percent shooting from the field and no more than 95 points per game.

Howard and Gasol's play in the paint is the main reason.

Between them, they have averaged 26 defensive rebounds and six blocked shots in those two games. It is no coincidence that the two bigs have shot exactly 32 shots in those contests as well, 10 shots more than they averaged during the season.

Gasol and Howard are plugged in and determined. The Spurs don't have an answer for the Lakers big men. Prepare to be shocked—the Lakers will win Game 1 99-96 and take this series in six games.


Indiana Will Take Down Atlanta (1 p.m. ET)

Under Frank Vogel, the Pacers have been a more physical team. That has gone to the next level in the last two postseasons.

During the 2011 playoffs, the Pacers' physical style pushed the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in almost every game of a competitive five-game series. In 2012, Danny Granger and Co. surprised the Miami Heat and pushed the eventual champions to six games.

The Hawks can't handle a series like that.

Josh Smith is likely jumping ship in the offseason, so no matter how much of a gamer he is, it would be hard to see him totally committed.

I love Al Horford, but the other members of this team are not the type of players who will rise to the occasion.

The Pacers' physical brand of basketball will tame the Hawks tonight and in this series. Indiana will win an ugly game, 90-82.


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