The 2013-14 NBA season has featured a thrilling MVP race between super-humans LeBron James and Kevin Durant, a back-and-forth tussle for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat and a loaded Western Conference that brings quality basketball every single night.
We haven’t even gotten to the playoffs yet.
Fortunately for basketball fans, those playoffs are just around the corner. Here is a look at some key dates to keep in mind:
- April 19: 2014 NBA Playoffs begin
- May 5: Conference Semifinals begin (possible move-up to May 3 or 4)
- May 20: Conference Finals begin (possible move-up to May 18 or 19)
- June 5: The NBA Finals begin
Whether we will see a rematch between the Heat and the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals remains to be seen, but teams must navigate their way through the first round before dreaming of the Larry O’Brien Trophy. NBA.com gave fans an updated look at the first-round picture with games through Sunday included:
Perhaps of more interest to a certain sector of fans is what the odds are for each team to win the title. As of Monday, the following odds were given, courtesy of Oddsshark.com:
|Odds to win the NBA championship as of Monday, April 14|
|Team||5 Dimes||Bovada||Top Bet|
|Golden State Warriors||+2800||+2800||+4000|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||+415||+450||+375|
|Portland Trail Blazers||+3500||+4000||+4500|
|San Antonio Spurs||+390||+300||+250|
Now that we know what the key dates are on the playoffs schedule and what the odds are for each team to take home the championship trophy, let’s dig into a couple of predictions for potential first-round matchups.
Chicago Bulls vs. Brooklyn Nets
There has been a lot of discussion about the Brooklyn Nets' role in the Eastern Conference playoffs recently because they swept the season series with the Miami Heat. In fact, ESPN’s Mike Greenberg even tweeted out the following hypothetical, even if it was perhaps done in a tongue-in-cheek manner:
While the Nets deserve some recognition for their accomplishments this year, they would be wise not to overlook the Chicago Bulls.
After all, it was a Chicago team that was playing without Derrick Rose for the entire series and Luol Deng for part of the series that knocked the Nets out of the playoffs last year. While the pieces are significantly different on both sides, the Bulls won seven of eight games heading into Monday’s contest with the Orlando Magic and have received an All-NBA type season from Joakim Noah.
They are also focused on the task at hand, as evidenced by these comments from Taj Gibson, according to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com:
Right now, we're just focused on basketball and making plays for each other, moving forward and getting better. That's the only thing we're focused on right now. Everything that's gonna come with success is gonna come. But right now, we remember how nobody was on our bandwagon at the beginning of the year, how that felt.
The Bulls beat the Nets in two of the three head-to-head matchups and would have home-court advantage in this potential matchup. The support of the home fans and their top-ranked defense in terms of points allowed per game would be enough to carry the Bulls over the hump against Brooklyn for the second straight year.
Postseason basketball often becomes a series of half-court, grind-it-out games, and that is exactly what the Bulls are built for.
Prediction: Chicago in six
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Dallas Mavericks
On paper, there may be more intriguing first-round matchups in the loaded Western Conference, but the Dallas Mavericks knocked off the Oklahoma City Thunder in two of the three head-to-head matchups this season.
The Mavericks have one of the better offenses in the league and rank in the top 10 in the league in points per game.
The Thunder are going to score points with Durant and Russell Westbrook, so the only way to knock them off is by keeping pace throughout the game and then winning at the end. Dirk Nowitzki has proven throughout his career that he is capable of putting the team on his back in the clutch moments, so as long as Dallas keeps these games close, it should have a chance.
That’s not to suggest that the Mavericks would upset the Thunder in a seven-game series, only that it would be closer than many would anticipate.
Durant is having a historically special season and will almost assuredly win the MVP award. It is difficult to imagine any team outside of the Spurs or Heat knocking him and the Thunder off in the postseason.
Still, this will not be a pushover series for Durant and company.
Prediction: Oklahoma City in six
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