Whether it was Kevin Durant putting the Oklahoma City Thunder on his back, the Indiana Pacers roller coaster ride of a season, or the San Antonio Spurs looking like ageless wonders yet again, the 2013-14 regular season was a special one.
Now, it's time for the second season and more memories for an already spectacular year.
While franchises like the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are all missing out on the postseason for the first time ever, a plethora of teams now have a chance to shine on the biggest stage in the sport.
As ludicrous as it sounds, every team entering the second season has a chance to take the crown. But with a handful of clear favorites like the aforementioned Spurs, Pacers and two-time, defending-champion Miami Heat, both conferences have clear-cut horses expected to run the table.
But before the playoffs officially get underway on Saturday, let's take a look at the playoff odds and predictions for some of the top series.
|San Antonio Spurs||3-1|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||19-5|
|Los Angeles Clippers||10-1|
|Golden State Warriors||60-1|
|Team 1||Team 2||Pick|
|No. 8 Atlanta Hawks||No. 1 Indiana Pacers||Pacers|
|No. 7 Charlotte Bobcats||No. 2 Miami Heat||Heat|
|No. 6 Brooklyn Nets||No. 3 Toronto Raptors||Raptors|
|No. 5 Washington Wizards||No. 4 Chicago Bulls||Bulls|
|No. 8 Dallas Mavericks||No. 1 San Antonio Spurs||Spurs|
|No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies||No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder||Thunder|
|No. 6 Golden State Warriors||No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers||Clippers|
|No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers||No. 4 Houston Rockets||Trail Blazers|
Brooklyn Nets vs. Toronto Raptors (-3.5)
At the start of the season, these two teams seemed so far separated that the likelihood of them facing off in the playoffs would never be imaginable, mostly because the Toronto Raptors looked nothing like a playoff team. Now, they are the No. 3 seed playing the No. 6 Brooklyn Nets, who are in the playoffs thanks to a resurgence midway through the season.
No matter how these two teams wound up facing each other, both have the confidence to run the gauntlet in the Eastern Conference. Terrence Ross of the Raptors has so much bravado that he admitted he wanted to face Brooklyn in the playoffs, a statement that Andray Blatche believes he might live to regret, per Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
S---, you better be careful what tree you bark up. He better be careful. He’s probably just saying that because he had a good game against us. But I don’t think that’s really what he meant or what he really, really wants.
To me, personally, I feel like it doesn’t even matter (who we play). I feel like we can beat any team right now in a 7-game series. Right now, honestly, I think we’re playing the best basketball right now in the Eastern Conference as of lately. Our defense has been on point -- other than (Monday’s overtime loss to the Pelicans), when we had a (22-point) lead and we let it slip.
Simply put: Them's fightin' words. And with a roster to back up Blatche's words, look for the Nets to live up to their preseason billing against the Raptors.
With an elite cast including the likes of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, Brooklyn has the offensive firepower to get passed just about any team. Thanks to the toughness that they show on both sides of the court, the Nets will win a hard-fought Game 1 in Toronto.
Prediction: Nets 108, Raptors 106
Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Clippers (-6.5)
One team is finally healthy at the right time. The other is hobbling into the postseason without huge offensive and defensive commodities.
What the Los Angeles Clippers bring into the playoffs is a plethora of amazing players inside and outside of the paint, with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. And with another high-flying player in DeAndre Jordan and a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year in Jamal Crawford, the Clippers have a wealth of talent.
Griffin may have put together a great season, but Klay Thompson doesn't understand one aspect of his game, as SportsCenter points out:
Warriors G Klay Thompson says Blake Griffin tends to flop a little bit & reminds him of a "bull in a china shop." » pic.twitter.com/I4ss8pJ12d— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 17, 2014
While the Golden State Warriors still have a talented backcourt, their presence inside the paint leaves a few questions. David Lee is finally back for the team, but now Golden State has to cope with the loss of Andrew Bogut.
The big man has been known as a decent offensive performer, but is a huge threat on the defensive end. Jimmy Spencer of Fox Sports notes that the loss dealt a huge blow to the Warriors hopes in the playoffs:
The season isn't riding on this game. It's riding on those x-rays of Andrew Bogut's ribs.— Jimmy Spencer (@JimmySpencerNBA) April 14, 2014
With one big man out, the Warriors will have a difficult time stopping the offensive firepower of both Griffin and Jordan. Taking that into account, look for the Clippers to take a huge win in the opener at home.
Prediction: Clippers 103, Warriors 95
Washington Wizards vs. Chicago Bulls (-2.5)
In a season of unpredictability in the NBA, no one could have predicted this path for the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls came into the 2013-14 season with dreams of reclaiming the No. 1 seed they earned years ago, but the loss of Derrick Rose put a damper on things.
But with the resurgence of Carlos Boozer and leadership of Joakim Noah, Chicago has a chance to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals with the Pacers stumbling into the playoffs.
And while the Washington Wizards have the likes of John Wall leading the team, the Bulls are battle tested and have played all season with a chip on their shoulder. The scenario works out perfectly for Chicago, as K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune notes:
It's official: Bulls vs. Wizards. Pretty much dream scenario transpired for Bulls, who would face Pacers in 2nd round if they advance.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) April 17, 2014
Fitting into that dream scenario is playing a team like the Wizards, which rely heavily on one player to call the shots. What the Bulls do well is shut down star players with their elite defense and find ways to get it done on offense.
Perhaps one of the best defensive teams in the league, the Bulls will suffocate the Wizards in a close game, and pull away at the end.
Prediction: Bulls 94, Wizards 89
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