Buckle up: The 2014 NBA playoffs aren't the typical romp that sees top teams breeze through the first round.
Parity is rampant in the Western Conference, where eight of the league's top 10 records reside. In the East, the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat have seemingly fallen off a cliff despite clutching the top seeds.
It's a recipe for some of the most entertaining first-round ball fans have seen in many years. Really, it's a poetic way to follow up what was a superb NCAA tournament, so enjoy it while it lasts. Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy concurs:
I can't wait for the NBA playoffs to start. These series are going to be really, really entertaining. Saturday can't get here soon enough.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) April 17, 2014
Here's a look at the full first-round bracket, followed by a few bold predictions for good measure.
|4/20||(8) Mavericks vs. (1) Spurs||12 p.m.||TNT|
|4/23||(8) Mavericks vs. (1) Spurs||7 p.m.||NBATV|
|4/26||(1) Spurs vs. (8) Mavericks||3:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/28||(1) Spurs vs. (8) Mavericks||8:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/30||(8) Mavericks vs. (1) Spurs||TBD||TBD|
|5/2||(1) Spurs vs. (8) Mavericks||TBD||TBD|
|5/4||(8) Mavericks vs. (1) Spurs||TBD||TBD|
|4/19||(7) Grizzlies vs. (2) Thunder||9:30 p.m,||ESPN|
|4/21||(7) Grizzlies vs. (2) Thunder||8 p.m.||TNT|
|4/24||(2) Thunder vs. (7) Grizzlies||8 p.m.||TNT|
|4/26||(2) Thunder vs. (7) Grizzlies||9:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|4/29||(7) Grizzlies vs. (2) Thunder||TBD||TBD|
|5/1||(2) Thunder vs. (7) Grizzlies||TBD||TBD|
|5/3||(7) Grizzlies vs. (2) Thunder||TBD||TNT|
|4/19||(6) Warriors vs. (3) Clippers||3:30 p.m.||ABC|
|4/21||(6) Warriors vs. (3) Clippers||10:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/24||(3) Clippers vs. (6) Warriors||10:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/27||(3) Clippers vs. (6) Warriors||3:30 p.m.||ABC|
|4/29||(6) Warriors vs. (3) Clippers||TBD||TBD|
|5/1||(3) Clippers vs. (6) Warriors||TBD||TBD|
|5/3||(6) Warriors vs. (3) Clippers||TBD||TNT|
|4/20||(5) Trail Blazers vs. (4) Rockets||9:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/23||(5) Trail Blazers vs. (4) Rockets||9:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/25||(4) Rockets vs. (5) Trail Blazers||10:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|4/27||(4) Rockets vs. (5) Trail Blazers||9:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/30||(5) Trail Blazers vs. (4) Rockets||TBD||TBD|
|5/2||(4) Rockets vs. (5) Trail Blazers||TBD||TBD|
|5/4||(5) Trail Blazers vs. (4) Rockets||TBD||TBD|
|4/19||(8) Hawks vs. (1) Pacers||7 p.m.||ESPN|
|4/22||(8) Hawks vs. (1) Pacers||7 p.m.||TNT|
|4/24||(1) Pacers vs. (8) Hawks||7 p.m.||NBATV|
|4/26||(1) Pacers vs. (8) Hawks||2 p.m.||TNT|
|4/28||(8) Hawks vs. (1) Pacers||8 p.m.||NBATV|
|5/1||(1) Pacers vs. (8) Hawks||TBD||TBD|
|5/3||(8) Hawks vs. (1) Pacers||TBD||TNT|
|4/20||(7) Bobcats vs. (2) Heat||3:30 p.m.||ABC|
|4/23||(7) Bobcats vs. (2) Heat||7 p.m.||TNT|
|4/26||(2) Heat vs. (7) Bobcats||7 p.m.||ESPN|
|4/28||(2) Heat vs. (7) Bobcats||7 p.m.||TNT|
|4/30||(7) Bobcats vs. (2) Heat||TBD||TBD|
|5/2||(2) Heat vs. (7) Bobcats||TBD||TBD|
|5/4||(7) Bobcats vs. (2) Heat||TBD||ABC|
|4/19||(6) Nets vs. (3) Raptors||12:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|4/22||(6) Nets vs. (3) Raptors||8 p.m.||NBATV|
|4/25||(3) Raptors vs. (6) Nets||7 p.m.||ESPN 2|
|4/27||(3) Raptors vs. (6) Nets||7 p.m.||TNT|
|4/30||(6) Nets vs. (3) Raptors||TBD||TBD|
|5/2||(3) Raptors vs. (6) Nets||TBD||TBD|
|5/4||(6) Nets vs. (3) Raptors||TBD||TBD|
|4/20||(5) Wizards vs. (4) Bulls||7 p.m.||TNT|
|4/22||(5) Wizards vs. (4) Bulls||9:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/25||(4) Bulls vs. (5) Wizards||8 p.m.||ESPN|
|4/27||(4) Bulls vs. (5) Wizards||1 p.m.||ABC|
|4/29||(5) Wizards vs. (4) Bulls||TBD||TBD|
|5/1||(4) Bulls vs. (5) Wizards||TBD||TBD|
|5/3||(5) Wizards vs. (4) Bulls||TBD||TBD|
The NBA Playoffs have finally arrived. Here's a helpful guide for your next two months. pic.twitter.com/MEgJYK0aVs— ESPN (@espn) April 17, 2014
No. 6 Brooklyn Nets Will Down No. 3 Toronto Raptors
Did the Brooklyn Nets tank to end the season and get a matchup with Toronto?
It's certainly within the realm of possibility. The Nets lost four of five to close the season, and Jason Kidd let his starters rest in a 29-point loss to Cleveland.
The Raptors and coach Dwane Casey took the apparent disrespect in stride, per Lori Ewing of the Canadian Press:
"It would tick me off if that was the case. ... If they did, sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for," Casey said. "For us, we were going to take whoever came to us, whether it was Brooklyn or Washington or Charlotte. We were prepared for all three teams."
On the court, DeMar DeRozan feels his team has an advantage, per Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
DeMar DeRozan on Nets: "We've got our advantages. We can kind of put the speed on them."— Stefan Bondy (@NYDNInterNets) April 17, 2014
Which team wins?
Here's the problem: Experience does trump youthful energy in the playoffs. The two sides split the regular-season series at two games apiece with three of the four decided by four points or fewer, but Brooklyn is built for the playoffs.
The Nets flipped the postseason switch at the start of the calendar year and have since posted the second-best winning percentage in the East. They have Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce, the latter of which has played at the 4 and has given teams—including the Raptors (15 points in a 101-97 win in their last meeting)—absolute fits.
Prediction: Nets in seven
No. 5 Wizards Slip Past No. 4 Bulls
It's easy to just point out that the Chicago Bulls rank No. 1 in total defense and call it a day.
That would be a huge mistake.
John Wall and Bradley Beal lack playoff experience, but Washington won the regular-season series 2-1 for a reason. In fact, the Wizards rank better than the Bulls in most offensive categories:
Chicago undoubtedly touts a suffocating defense, but the Wizards can score on the outside and inside efficiently thanks to Nene and Marcin Gortat. The latter scored 19 and 13 points respectively in the first two meetings with the Bulls, while Nene posted 10 and 19 in the final two matchups.
Which team wins?
Wall? Over the course of all three games he averaged 20 points and eight assists—on 50 percent shooting from the field.
Flip the script. Who will do the scoring for the Bulls and their 30th-ranked offense? The Bulls don't have that lights-out shooter to trust in the clutch, as D.J. Augustin leads the team with 14.9 points per game.
For the Chicago defenders in this matchup, just understand that the victory in the third meeting during the season was a result of Washington simply not hitting shots, as Wall and Co. shot 39.5 percent from the field, 18.8 from behind the arc and 58.3 from the line. That won't consistently occur in a seven-game series.
Prediction: Wizards in seven