NBA Playoff Predictions: Heat vs. Celtics and Dream Conference Finals Matchups

Perry SchwartzCorrespondent IIIMarch 9, 2011

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 26:  Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics defends against LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat at the TD Banknorth Garden on October 26, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The NBA is notorious for star players and great teams in big cities, but perhaps never more so than this season. 

Several of the top media markets like Los Angeles, New YorkChicago, Boston, Miami and Dallas consist of competitive NBA teams. Meanwhile, many of these teams have one, two or even three superstars.  

With so many star players, big cities and historic franchises expected to hang around deep into the playoffs, we are bound to see the kinds of matchups a fan dreams of, particularly in the Conference Finals.

Boston vs. Miami 

This is the matchup everyone has anticipated, as the two teams combined for seven All-Stars this season. 

On opening night, television ratings were sky high as we got our first taste of the new-look Miami Heat. Fittingly, TNT scheduled Miami against the defending Eastern conference champs Boston Celtics.

The Celtics won that game and have beaten the Heat all three times the two teams have played since, frustrating Miami like no other and reminding them that the East goes through Boston 

Despite Boston's success against Miami this season, the two teams were neck and neck at top of the East standings for much of the season. That is, until a current five game Heat losing streak now has Boston with a comfortable 4.5 lead at the top of the East.

But with so many exciting teams at the top of the East, there are several other potential intriguing matchups. 

Heat vs. Bulls 

Chicago, like Boston, has had its way with Miami through their first three meetings of the season.

Ironically, there was strong talk of LeBron James or Dwyane Wade signing with Chicago this past offseason. Instead, Miami re-signed Wade and added both LeBron and Chris Bosh, while Chicago signed Carlos Boozer and took its chances with the rest of the roster in tact, which has worked out very well for the Bulls.

Miami and Chicago are two of the most improved teams in the league, and they figure to play each other deep in the playoffs many times over the next decade, no matter what happens over the first two rounds this season. 

Bulls vs Celtics  

As the NBA gained enormous popularity from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, there was a clear power shift at the top of the East from Boston to Chicago, with Detroit enjoying success during the transition period. 

Overall, Boston and Chicago are the top two franchises in the East in terms of championships, and currently are the conferences top two seeds.

Knicks vs Heat

From 1997-2000, there was no bigger rivalry in the NBA than New York versus Miami. The teams faced one another in the playoffs each of those four seasons, with every series going down to a deciding game, and in some cases, the last possession.

But as recent as last season, a game between the Knicks and the Heat would be relatively uneventful. After all, New York has finished under .500 for nine consecutive seasons, while only Dwyane Wade has provided excitement for Miami.

However, over the last nine months, each team has added not one, but two superstars in their prime, setting up a renewed rivalry between the two franchises that should provide many entertaining moments over the next five to eight seasons.

The Knicks will likely enter this years postseason as the No. 6 or the No. 7 seed, so it would take a few upsets for them to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. However, with Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups on their squad, you shouldn't discount it.

Celtics vs Magic

In what would be a rematch of last seasons Eastern Conference Finals, Boston and Orlando are the only two teams in the East that have been competitive each of the last four seasons.

Boston beat Orlando in six games last season, in big part because the Celtics were able to contain Dwight Howard. In two of Orlando's losses, Howard was 3-10 shooting, combining for just 20 points in those two games.

However, much of Howard's struggles could be attributed to the defense of center Kendrick Perkins, who was traded a few weeks ago to Oklahoma City. Thus, a rematch of these two teams could yield different results.

Lakers vs Spurs

Since 1999, either the Lakers or the Spurs have been to the Finals every year except one, and the two teams have combined for nine of the last 12 O'Brien trophies. 

Although the teams have only met twice in the Conference Finals over that span, one of these proud franchises always find their way to the top of the Western Conference by seasons end.

Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan are arguably the greatest players of the last 15 years, and each player is still going strong in 2011.

Mavericks vs Spurs. 

This Texas-sized matchup would feature the two longest active 50-win streak teams in the NBA. 

Dallas power forward Dirk Nowitzki has been a top player year after year, but he has yet to win a championship, in big part because of key losses to San Antonio in the postseason. 

In the last decade, Dallas has lost three playoff series to San Antonio and has found ways to come up short on several other occasions. The Mavericks have only sniffed the Finals once, losing to Miami in six games in 2006.

In fact, Dallas is the only team in NBA history to win at least 50 games in nine consecutive seasons without winning at least three championships during that span.

This season, Dallas is the No. 2 seed in the West and once again feels like they have the means to win a title. 

Lakers vs Oklahoma City 

Oklahoma City made things tough for the Lakers in last seasons divisional playoffs, but the Thunder lost two heartbreaking games and ended up going down in six.

Any series featuring superstars Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant is exciting in itself, but the Thunder's recent acquisition of center Kendrick Perkins should make things even more interesting this season. Perkins is one of the best post defenders in the NBA and could wreak havoc for Lakers center Andrew Bynum. 


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