There are a ton of great matchups in this year’s first round of the playoffs. Instead of doing what everybody else is doing and giving all my predictions at once, I am going to break it down per round instead of per conference.
So what do I think is going to happen with these first round matchups?
We start our journey in the Western Conference. With so much depth, these games are going to be intense, even the No. 1 vs. No. 8 games are going to be fun to watch.
No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No 8 Denver Nuggets: Lakers in 5
I truly think that these are going to be all good, close games, but Kobe Bryant is not going to let this series go to the Nuggets.
I expect Kobe to just go off—I'm talking 30 on an average night. He is going to completely take over this series, and we will all be in awe.
With Bynum back and Pau healthy, this is possibly the best trio in the NBA. (Sorry Boston.)
No. 2 New Orleans Hornets vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks: Hornets in 5
Last season is a distant memory for both of these teams. The Hornets were struggling and not in the playoffs, and the Mavericks were in contention for an NBA Championship.
Now the tables have turned, and the Hornets are sitting pretty in this matchup. Sure the Mavs have Jason Kidd, but the Hornets have Kidd plus 15 points.
This series is, in my opinion, more lopsided than the Lakers first round series against the Nuggets. Look for the Hornets to dominate.
No. 3 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 6 Phoenix Suns: Suns in 7
The Spurs are a very good team, but the Suns actually match up with them very well. Shaq has showed up every game when Tim Duncan is on the other team.
Steve Nash beats out Tony Parker at PG, and Amare Stoudemire beats out Fabricio Roberto. (Although the matchups are technically Shaq vs. Roberto and Stoudemire vs. Duncan, the ones I outlined will be used more throughout the games.)
The Suns going 3-1 vs. the Spurs also helps me make this decision. This is the 2008 version of the Warriors over Mavs.
No. 4 Utah Jazz vs. No. 5 Houston Rockets: Jazz in 6
Sure, the Rockets won 22 in a row—that is an extremely impressive feat, but the Jazz are an extremely balanced team.
Mehmet Okur, Carlos Boozer, Andres Kirilenko, and Deron Williams round out a very strong starting lineup. The Rockets' starters, on the other hand, don't bring as much oomph.
The Rockets have more depth, but that goes only so far. The Jazz will be the victors in this series.
Now, it's on to the Eastern Conference. There is a lot of imbalance, but at the top these teams are as close as they come. Unfortunately, these first round matchups will mostly be cake walks.
No. 1 Boston Celtics vs. No. 8 Atlanta Hawks: Celtics in 4
The Boston Three Party is going to go crazy on the inferior Hawks. In fact, the Hawks should be happy that they made the playoffs after all these years of futility.
There isn't really much else to say besides, baring multiple major injuries, the Celts are going to roll into the second round.
No. 2 Detroit Pistons vs. No. 7 Philadelphia 76ers: Pistons in 4
This is basically a remake of my previous preview. (Just look up a few lines.)
However, the 76ers look like a team on the rise under the leadership of Andre Iguodala. They may not do much in this year's playoffs, but they will be good in a few years.
No. 3 Orlando Magic vs. No. 6 Toronto Raptors: Magic in 5
The Raptors were my surprise team this postseason, however, I was expecting a No. 5 seed instead of No. 6 seed. That one spot makes all the difference.
Now they will have to face the Magic—an extremely talented team. Dwight Howard vs. Chris Bosh is going to be a great battle that I'm sure everyone will enjoy watching.
The depth and talent of the Magic will overshadow the underdog Raptors.
No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 5 Washington Wizards: Cavaliers in 6
The Cavs are a team that I struggle to think is good. After the trade with Chicago and Seattle, I think they can beat the Wizards.
They will dominate the boards with Zydrunas Ilqauskas and Ben Wallace inside. Two true centers can grab rebounds better than most teams inside combo can.
With LeBron scoring points like he always does, this seems like an easy series, but the Wizards will come packing on the perimeter with Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas.
They will keep it close, but they can't win the series. It will be fun to watch though.
Well, those are my first round predictions. Feel free to comment with your own thoughts, predictions, and analysis.
I'm Joe W.