We Are the Champions: Potential Winners in Each Round of the NBA Playoffs

Lorne SmiloviciContributor IMarch 11, 2011

We Are the Champions: Potential Winners in Each Round of the NBA Playoffs

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    With approximately 80 percent of the NBA regular season behind us, it's now the perfect time to make concrete predictions of which teams look poised to make a deep run this year in the playoffs.

    Although many of the teams in the playoff hunt are still fighting for position, as an avid NBA fan I am anxious to see playoff basketball.

    Since I don't see many drastic changes in the standings from today onward, these are my predictions of which teams I think will win each round in the playoffs if the playoffs were to start today.

Western Conference: (1) Spurs vs (8) Grizzlies

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    Many people are saying that the Spurs vs the Grizzlies should be a cake walk for San Antonio and frankly I disagree.

    The Grizzlies have been playing some of their best basketball of the season and doing this all without the injured Rudy Gay. Gay is scheduled to return in the next week or two and should help the Grizzlies on both the offensive and defensive end of the court.

    On the other hand the Spurs have the best record in the league and they have this for a reason. Simply put they are the most cohesive squad in the league and in order to win a championship you need a full "team" effort to do so.

    Final Prediction: Spurs win four games to two over the Grizzlies.

Eastern Conference: (1) Celtics vs (8) Pacers

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    Although the Pacers have improved drastically from last year and seem as if they are coming in to their own as a team, this series is the most lopsided round one match-up favoring the Celtics.

    Indiana is still a few years a way from from being anything more than a team who is barely squeaking in the playoffs. They have a really promising core of young talent in Hibbert, Hansbrough, Collison and Granger but they're not ready yet to make any noise come playoff time.

    The Boston Celtics are playing right now as if this year is their last real shot at winning another NBA championship with this roster. Whether or not this is true, the Celtics are hungry for another deep run and should have no problem destroying the Pacers in the process.

    Final Prediction: Celtics sweep the Pacers.

Western Conference: (2) Mavericks vs (7) Hornets

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    The Mavericks and Hornets series should be another run away series dominated by the Mavericks.

    For the first time in a while the Mavericks actually look like a team on a mission and will not fizzle in the early stages of the playoffs and they should have no trouble boosting their confidence while steamrolling over the Hornets. Outside of the Celtics, the Mavericks probably have the deepest bench in the league and this will prove to be an important factor throughout the grind of the playoffs.

    New Orleans should pat themselves on the back for even having a shot to make the playoffs this late in the season and with the decline of talent in teams such as the Nuggets and Jazz, the Hornets should have no problem holding on to their spot or potentially moving up one. Whether the Hornets face the Mavericks or not, they are not making it past the first round.

    Final Prediction: Mavericks win the series four games to one over the Hornets.

Eastern Conference: (2) Bulls vs (7) Sixers

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    The Chicago Bulls versus the Philadelphia 76ers is one of the more intriguing first round match-ups. Both teams are stacked with young athletic talent and should make for great television.

    The Chicago Bulls have quickly turned into one of the most feared teams in the league and their success has escalated with the growth of Derrick Rose as a franchise player. Although Rose is putting together an MVP type caliber season, the Bulls tight-knit unit of players and phenomenal coach are major reasons why this team is ready to make a splash in the playoffs. 

    The Sixers had a very disappointing start to the season and seemed destined to be lottery bound come seasons end but they have really flipped the switch. With a healthy Elton Brand, a potential star in Jrue Holiday and an all-around player in Andre Iguodala the Sixers look like a  promising bunch. The Sixers are a good center positioned player away from taking the next step as a franchise.

    Final Prediction: Bulls win series four game to two over the Sixers.

Western Conference: (3) Lakers vs (6) Blazers

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    If Brandon Roy's knees somehow stay intact ready for the playoffs then this will be an interesting series.

    The Blazers remind me of an injury rattled version of the Thunder, because this team was built from the ground up and has boatloads of talent. I can't imagine the pain a fan of the Blazers must endure when watching almost their entire roster get attacked by the injury bug each year. When healthy this team has contender written all over them but when is the last time the Blazers played a game with their entire roster intact. If Roy doesn't play inspired basketball against the Lakers, I doubt the whole team can keep relying solely on LaMarcus Aldridge to carry them on his back.

    Kobe and company are looking for a three-peat and anything less of a championship is considered a major disappointment. This team is built to win in the playoffs and if their current eight game winning streak this late in the year isn't any indication that they are getting ready to get back to the finals then I don't know what is. As much as I despise the Lakers I have to admit they mean business.

    Final Prediction: Lakers win series four games to two over Blazers.

Eastern Conference: (3) Heat vs (6) Knicks

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    The Miami Heat versus the New York Knicks should be a star-studded affair, and will be the most entertaining first round match-up to watch, as well as the most promoted and most watched by basketball fans around the globe.

    With all of the pressure on the self-proclaimed "Heatles" you would have to imagine that the Heat will try their best to shut up all of the critics who write them off after every loss. Ever since LeBron packed his bags and moved to sunny Miami he has heard an earful from fans all across the nation. Other than the city of Cleveland, New York has had the most angst towards James because they thought he was coming to New York as a free agent last summer.

    Now that the Melo-drama is finally over the Knicks have two legitimate scoring threats in Stoudemire and Anthony and have a prolific point guard in Billups. Ever since joining the Knicks, Anthony is thriving in the run-and-gun style of play that coach Mike D'Antoni runs and should have no problem getting buckets against the Heat defense. For the Knicks' sake let's just hope that James doesn't become the next Reggie Miller and destroy the dreams of Knick's fans around the country. 

    Final Prediction: Heat wins the series four games to three over the Knicks.

Western Conference: (4) Thunder vs (5) Nuggets

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    The very young and talented Thunder meet the Melo-less Nuggets in what looks like another lopsided affair.

    Although the Nuggets lost their franchise player in Carmelo Anthony they still hold what would be the fifth seed in the playoffs if the season ended today. They may have lost their superstar but they still have a young talented core. The only problem is they are facing an even younger and more talented core in the Thunder.

    Last year when the Lakers barely squeezed by the Thunder, the whole basketball world knew that this team was for real. Today the Thunder are ready to take the next step and prove that they are potential NBA champions. With two star caliber players on the team in Durant and Westbrook and many talented rotation players the Thunder look like a possible dark horse team this year in the playoffs.

    Final Prediction: Thunder win the series four games to one over the Nuggets.

Eastern Conference: (4) Orlando vs (5) Atlanta

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    The final first round match-up looks like it will be a very tight affair between the Orlando Magic and the Atlanta Hawks.

    Ever since the 2008 NBA season the Atlanta Hawks have become a playoff caliber team. They have done well in the draft, made some good trades and resigned Joe Johnson (overpaid for him) but no matter what strides the Hawks continuously take, they are still seen as an easy opponent in the playoffs. Last year Atlanta faced the Magic and got swept in the second round of the playoffs. Don't think the Hawks have forgotten.

    The Magic team as a whole has seen some drastic changes throughout the year. Players have both come and gone which has resulted in a weak front-court outside of Howard. Luckily for the Magic Howard is currently playing some of the best ball of his career. Howard maybe able to carry the load against the Hawks but they have definitely regressed as a team and are not the same.

    Final Prediction: Magic win the series four games to two over the Hawks.

Western Conference Semifinals: (1) Spurs vs (4) Thunder

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    The Spurs will be in a tough battle in this series, as the Thunder will look to out-run this aging team and chase after a rematch versus the Lakers in the conference finals.

    Fresh off their win against the Grizzlies the Spurs will be on a high as they look to repeat with a win against the Thunder. The problem is the Spurs will find out why the Lakers had so much trouble against this feisty young Thunder roster. The only way the Spurs can beat the Thunder is if they return back to past championship form and become the best defensive team in the playoffs.

    Durant and company look to knock off the team with the best regular season record in the Spurs and should be able to do so. Durant looks ready to start his playoff legacy by bringing his "A" game against the veteran Spurs team and proving that he can become one of the few legends in this league.

    Final Prediction: Thunder win series four games to two over the Spurs.

Eastern Conference Semifinals: (1) Celtics vs (4) Orlando

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    The Celtics look to be on cruise-control as they take on the new look Orlando Magic in what should be one of the more clear-cut outcomes.

    As stated before the Celtics are aging and know what needs to be done as they take on a softer Magic team than years past. Last year the Celtics were fortunate to have Kendrick Perkins guard the Magic's number one option Dwight Howard in the paint and this year the dubious task is on Shaquille O'Neal. Howard was able to out muscle Perkins but he will have trouble doing the same against O'Neal.

    Howard does have the advantage in speed against O'Neal which should come in handy but Howard like's to use his body as his primary weapon which should be tough to do against the taller and heftier O'neal.

    When the Celtics shutdown Howard that should shutdown their team as a whole. The Celtics defense will prove to be to strong for Howard's post moves and the Magic's love for jacking the three. Since Howard won't get double teamed as much with O'Neal guarding him there won't be as many open looks as usual for his teammates.

    Final Prediction: Celtics win the series four games to one over the Magic.

Western Conference Semifinals: (2) Mavericks vs (3) Lakers

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    The Mavericks versus the Lakers is one of the toughest series to call. Both teams are amazing and should create one of the hardest fought round match-ups in years.

    The consensus around the battle between the Mavericks and Lakers looks like they are both destined for a seventh game. It seems likely that each game will come down to the last few minutes and whichever team has a more clutch performance will win.

    Dallas maybe one of the only teams strong enough to dethrone this championship Lakers team and having homecourt advantage will help their cause. Remember I am basing these predictions if the playoffs started today!

    Since each game will be decided by late-game heroics, it would be impossible to count out any team anchored by Kobe. Since Phil Jackson will retire sooner than later, expect Kobe to be "Mr. Clutch" and try and get Phil another ring.

    Final Prediction: Lakers barely win the series four games to three over the Mavericks.

Eastern Conference Semifinals: (2) Bulls vs (3) Heat

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    Chicago Bulls versus Miami Heat should be another epic blood bath and will personally be my favorite match-up to watch come playoff time.

    If the regular season is any indication of things to come than the Bulls will sweep the Heat right? I don't think so! No matter what the outcome was in the past you can never count out LeBron James. He doesn't have the title as the best basketball player in the world for no reason, and should give the Heat a fighting chance no matter what stage in the series.

    Now on the flip-side there is Derrick Rose for the Bulls. He is not only the best point guard in the game, but is neck-and-neck with King James in the regular season MVP race. Expect Rose to give it all and try to reign supreme over James.

    In addition to the Rose/James debate, there is also the bad blood that James and Noah both share. Don't think for one minute that tempers won't flair between the two.

    The Heat are favored to win this series but the only way they can accomplish this feat is if the make a conscious decision and figure out who should have the ball in crunch time. Whether it's James or Wade with the ball, this choice must happen in order to beat the team oriented Bulls squad.

    Although the Heat are favored I don't think they will pull through.

    Final Prediction: Bulls win series four games to three over the Heat.

Western Conference Final: (3) Lakers vs (4) Thunder

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    The Lakers versus Thunder series should be another up-tempo style match-up with both teams eyeing championship glory.

    Last round the Thunder triumphantly beat the heavily favored Spurs team and look to pull off another upset against the Lakers. The only problem is the Lakers will be in top form at this time in the playoffs and should win the series.

    Although the Thunder will most likely lose this series, another loss to the Lakers will yet again help the growth of this quickly improving franchise. It will be tough for this young squad to lose another tight series against the champs but it will only make them stronger.

    The Thunder are realistically one year away from being one of the top threats coming out of the Western Conference.

    The Lakers maybe very close to a three-peat this year in the finals but they should be wary of the Thunder next year.

    Final Prediction: Lakers win the series four games to two over the Thunder.

Eastern Conference Final: (1) Celtics vs (2) Bulls

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    The Celtics versus Bulls series mirrors the Lakers and Thunder series because you have one team that has an urgency to win right now and another that is "oh so close."

    Whatever I said about the Lakers and Thunder is pretty much what bodes for the Celtics and Bulls. Again the Celtics are as deep as it gets and are more than ready to have revenge on the Lakers.

    The Bulls on the other hand can also pat themselves on the back. They went from the kids with loads of potential squeaking into the eight seed last year to legitimate threats this year. Like the Thunder, the Bulls time will come.

    With the likely decline in the aging Lakers and Celtics, I am looking forward to the potential of a Bulls and Thunder final which may occur on more than one occasion in the future.

    Final Prediction: Celtics win the series four games to two over the Bulls.

NBA Finals: (1) Celtics vs (3) Lakers

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    Deja vu occurs when the Celtics take on the Lakers in a repeat of last years finals.

    Last year was one of the best finals ever and the outcome could have gone either way. The Lakers pulled off the game seven win in dramatic fashion coming back from being down as much as 13 points and winning with a final score of 83-79.

    There were two factors which may have lead to this epic comeback. Firstly the Celtics went into poor foul trouble which lead to Rasheed Wallace fouling out late in the game. Secondly the absence of the injured Kendrick Perkins may have been the difference maker for a Celtics win.

    Although Perkins doesn't play for the Celtics anymore, they do have another monster in the paint in O'Neal. This former Laker champion will look to do whatever it takes and make sure the Lakers do not win another title.

    Also the Celtics will have homecourt advantage against the Lakers which has proven to be the difference maker in both of these teams last two finals appearances against each other. The first team to steal a game on the road will be the most likely victor come series end.

    Plain and simple this should be another legendary final. Both the Celtics and Lakers are the most storied franchises in the NBA and will not disappoint. Although it would be nice to see some other teams make it to the finals, any true NBA fan can live with both these goliath's facing off.

    Final Prediction: Celtics win the series four games to three over the Lakers.