The 2014 NBA playoffs mark a serious chance for some new blood to hoist the title.
As SportsCenter points out, notable dominant franchises of old have missed the cut:
Crazy stat of the day: This NBA postseason will be 1st time ever the Lakers, Knicks and Celtics will all miss playoffs.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 14, 2014
Of course, hungry franchises will still have to maneuver around LeBron James and the Miami Heat, but fans get the idea: The league may get freshened up a bit for once.
Here's a look at how the playoff matchups line up if the postseason started today, with predictions after the jump.
|Eastern Conference||Predicted Winner|
|Pacers (1) vs. Hawks (8)||Pacers|
|Heat (2) vs. Bobcats (7)||Heat|
|Raptors (3) vs. Wizards (6)||Raptors|
|Bulls (4) vs. Nets (5)||Nets|
|Spurs (1) vs. Grizzlies (8)||Spurs|
|Thunder (2) vs. Mavericks (7)||Thunder|
|Clippers (3) vs. Warriors (6)||Warriors|
|Rockets (4) vs. Trail Blazers (5)||Trail Blazers|
Chicago Bulls (4) vs. Brooklyn Nets (5)
The Chicago Bulls took care of business against the Brooklyn Nets last year in the opening round of the playoffs, but times have drastically changed.
Infused with playoff veterans like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Bulls should want no part of the Nets this time around. ESPN's Scoop Jackson put it best when asked if Brooklyn is a bigger threat this time around:
Yes. They've found their flow and to be honest, it's a little scary. Since the day 2014 began (or since Kidd stopped wearing ties), they are 30-13, playing like one of the best teams in the NBA. And they've been doing it for the most part with Kevin Garnett "resting" with an injury that, come playoff time, might be a blessing in disguise.
Throw out the playoff series a year ago. Ditto for the 2-1 advantage the Bulls held in head-to-head matchups this past season. As the recent hot streak for the Nets confirms, the roster was specifically built for a playoff run.
Which team wins?
Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are playing the best ball of their careers, but it may not be enough to bang down low with Brook Lopez and Garnett. Chicago's biggest issue is the lack of an elite scorer, while Brooklyn can turn to the likes of Joe Johnson or Deron Williams.
In a seven-game series, the Nets are simply a deeper team with more experience. Chicago lacks that one player who truly gives the team an edge.
Prediction: Nets in seven
Los Angeles Clippers (3) vs. Golden State Warriors (6)
It truly doesn't get any better than this in the first round of the postseason.
The matchup simply feels like fate. In fact, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers says he has been prepping for the showdown for weeks, per ESPN's Arash Markazi:
We’ve already started. We pretty much, in our opinion, felt like that's who we were going to play for the last week or two. But I don't know how much more attention you can pay to a team than you already do anyway. It is nice. You're preparing and I'm sure they're preparing for us. It's not anything with the players. It's more the looks and the film stuff that you can start cutting and getting ready.
Smart move by Rivers, because his team is going to need all the prep time it can get.
The Clippers aren't an easy out by any means, but Rivers and Co. could not ask for a worse matchup than the Warriors. Golden State actually touts a defense that can stop Chris Paul, and David Lee has a chip on his shoulder as he seeks to emerge from Blake Griffin's shadow out West.
Utah's radio broadcaster David Locke summarized the mismatches well:
If I am the Clippers I am rooting hard for Warriors to get #5 seed. Who guards Curry/Thompson for LAC? Flipside Thompson/Iggy guard CP3.— David Locke (@Lockedonsports) April 14, 2014
Brian Geltzeiler of Hoops Critic echoed these sentiments:
The biggest factor? Steph Curry. Los Angeles doesn't have anyone on the perimeter who can shut down Curry when he's on, which is essentially all the time at this stage of his career. The same goes for Klay Thompson.
Known for offense, the Warriors will get theirs against the Clippers. But it's stout defense from the likes of Andre Iguodala and Lee that will give the Clippers fits in a seven-game series.
Prediction: Warriors in seven