Predicting the First Round of the NBA Playoffs
Ah, the NBA playoffs are here. Anything can happen. The Warriors showed us that with their domination of the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of their memorable 2007 first round series. Who knows? Maybe the Bulls ignore the basketball gods and beat Cleveland in the first round, but that won't happen.
In the West, the Lakers are still the team to beat despite all the questions being raised about them. The Mavericks, Suns, Jazz, and Spurs appear to be the biggest threats to the Lakers, although the Nuggets could be included if George Karl returns.
In the East, the Cavaliers look to get past the conference finals for the first time since 2007, but they will have to get past an Orlando Magic team that is playing spectacular basketball as of late. Those appear to be the only contenders, as the Celtics are aging and the Hawks are still a year away.
1. Cavaliers vs. 8. Bulls
LeBron James is hungry. Joakim Noah thinks the Bulls will shock the world in the playoffs after they needed a late season rally to even make here. Do you really think that these Cavaliers will lose to a team that didn't even finish a game over .500?
Cavs in 4.
2. Orlando Magic vs. 7. Charlotte Bobcats
At first, I figured the Orlando Magic made a huge mistake when they let Hedo Turkoglu go. Vince Carter didn't seem like a good fit. I figured the Mgic would take a step back this year. Man was I wrong. Carter has been great since March and the Magic are primed for a deep playoff run and possible rematch with the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
That being said, they are facing a very dangerous team in the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats are very athletic and have great defensive wings in Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson. Tyrus Thomas has played well since coming over from Chicago. The question for the Bobcats is: How do they defend Dwight Howard? I'm not sure Tyson Chandler can guard him one on one, which could cause lots of problems for the Bobcats.
I think the Bobcats could've have given anybody they faced a problem, except for the Magic.
Magic in 5.
3. Atlanta Hawks vs. 6. Milwaukee Bucks
The Hawks have been a big surprise this year. Jamal Crawford is the undisputed Sixth Man of the Year. Al Horford has been excellent down on the block. Let's not forget about this dude named Joe Johnson. He's an absolute beast and the reason why the Hawks are where they are today.
The Bucks have also been a surprise this year. Brandon Jennings deserves to be in Rookie of the Year talk, as he has been a key component in their run. John Salmons has been a nice fit after he was acquired at the trade deadline. But, the Buck will be without Andrew Bogut, who was playing like terrific before he went down with an injury. The loss of him wil too much for the Bucks to overcome.
Hawks in 6.
4. Boston Celtics vs. 5. Miami Heat
The Celtics are not the team they once were. KG hasn't played like himself this year. Neither has Ray Allen. Neither has Paul Pierce. The one bright spot is point guard Rajon Rondo. He has played exceptionally well this year and is the key to the Celtics' playoff success.
Dwayne Wade and the Heat are in the playoffs once again. The Heat have the perfect opportunity to take advantage of an aging team that is likely in its last title run. But, outside of Dwayne Wade, this team has nobody else who can score the ball consistently. That's too bad for the Heat.
C's in 6.
1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 8. Oklahoma City Thunder
This series is already interesting because of the Phil Jackson- Kevin Durant feud, if you want to call it that. Some are expecting the Thunder to pull an upset. Those people have a good point. There are questions surrounding the Lakers right now. The Thunder are young and have a pretty good coach in Scott Brooks. Kevin Durant has had 47, yes 47, 30-point performances this year. The Thunder are a dangerous team.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Lakers still have the Zen Master and Kobe Bryant. Did I mention they have arguably one of the best perimeter defensive specialists in the game in Ron Artest? The Thunder are weak on the front line, where the Lakers have the clear advantage with Bynum (if he's healthy), Gasol, and Odom.
Don't expect an upset.
Lakers in 6.
2. Dallas Mavericks vs. 7. San Antonio Spurs
This seems to happen every year now. The Mavs and Spurs hook up once again. Both these teams have played very well since the All-Star Break. The Mavs playing great since acquiring Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and DeShawn Stevenson. This gives them a shot blocker around the rim and another scorer to aid Dirk. With Dirk, Butler, Marion, Terry, and even Jason Kidd, the Mavs have plenty of firepower on the offensive end to go deep. The problem is their defense. They aren't consistent night in night out like they need to be. They have two guys (Haywood, Dampier) who can guard Duncan and three guys (Marion, Butler, Stevenson) who can guard Ginobili and Jefferson. Kidd may not be as quick as he once was but he can play good defense on Parker. On paper, the Mavs should win this series easy.
But, they're playing the Spurs. Manu has been on a tear and will cause problems for the Mavs. Dejaun Blair and Antonio McDyess provide good depth for the Spurs' front line. If Jefferson can score in this series, the Spurs will have a good shot at getting to the second round. If he can't, it will be tough for the Spurs to advance.
All in all, this series should be one of, if not the most, entertaining series of the first round. Expect great coaching from Pop and Carlisle and another great chapter in the Spurs-Mavs rivalry.
Mavs in 7.
3. Phoenix Suns vs. 6. Portland Trail Blazers
The hottest team in the NBA will face the most resilient team in the NBA. With Brandon Roy's status up in the air, this could a series all about the Phoenix Suns. Nash and Stoudemire have been leading these red hot suns. They were able to secure a three seed and look to have the advantage in this series.
The Blazers' success will greatly depend on Andre Miller and LaMarcus Aldridge. Miller has proved he can score, as evidenced by his 52-point game against the Mavericks. He's the guy who needs to run this offense efficiently. Aldridge has a deadly mid-range jumper. If he can get his shot going, the Blazers will have a chance to advance to the second round.
Although the Blazers have overcome several key injuries this year, Roy's injury will prove too much for them to overcome. However, I do think they can push this series to six or seven games.
Suns in 6.
4. Denver Nuggets vs. 5. Utah Jazz
Who would've though that the Jazz and Nuggets would see each other in the first round? It's an interesting match-up. In my eyes, the teams, i terms of depth and position, are almost identical. This series will depend on the play of the point guards. Chauncey Billups, former Finals MVP and savvy veteran, against Deron Williams,a young, physical star point guard.
The biggest match-up is down low. Nene, Andersen, and Petro for the Nuggets is a nice trio to have in the post. But, Millsap, Boozer, and Okur is a better trio to have. The Jazz will have a tough time slowing down Nene, but outside of him, the Nuggets' two other big men won't generate much offense.
In what could go down as one of the best first round series ever, coaching will be key as Jerry Sloan will find a way for his team to advance.
Jazz in 7.