With the 2011 NBA Playoffs rapidly approaching, one can't help but wonder how the postseason will ultimately play out.
So, assuming that the playoff seedings stay as they are now, there will certainly be some very intriguing matchups.
And moreover, with a number of new-look teams making their first postseason appearances together, there are many unknowns.
There is also a relatively large number of teams that could realistically be in the hunt for the NBA Championship.
To try and provide some insight into what looks like it will be a very up-for-grabs postseason, here are 25 bold predictions for the 2011 NBA playoffs.
First, let's take a look at the Eastern Conference.
Here, the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat and Boston Celtics should be able to make short work of the Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers, respectively.
The Bulls, who sport the NBA's second-best record, are obviously better than the Pacers, who are currently eight games below .500.
Consequently, Chicago will likely sweep Indiana.
Now the Heat, who have actually split their season series against the Knicks so far this year, have really begun to play well down the stretch while New York has struggled.
Therefore, Miami should find it easy to bypass the Knicks.
And the Celtics, who have not played the best ball lately, should still be talented enough to overcome the Sixers, even though the Philadelphia franchise has been playing at a high level in the second half of the year.
The Orlando Magic, behind a heavy dose of Dwight Howard, will prove to be too much for the Atlanta Hawks.
Moreover, as the Hawks shift their focus inside in an effort to stymie Howard, all of the three-point shooters on the Magic will start to get open looks.
And when their shooters get going, there will be no stopping the Magic.
Nevertheless, this should very well be the most entertaining and tightly fought first-round matchup in the East.
In knocking off the Atlanta Hawks in a hotly contested first-round series, the Orlando Magic will have gained some confidence and momentum.
As a result, the many of the team's outside shooters will get hot and begin to perform at a high level.
And this streaky shooting performance should carry over into their next matchup, giving them a much better chance against the Chicago Bulls.
Despite sporting a frontcourt duo of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, the Bulls will still have no answer for Dwight Howard.
And with the Magic also raining down threes, they will be difficult to stop.
So when the Bulls call upon Derrick Rose to carry them through the series, the pressure will prove to be too much for the 22-year-old guard.
Consequently, although he will have earned his first victory in a playoff series in the first round, Rose will still be sent home early, as the Magic advance to their third straight Eastern Conference Finals.
The Boston Celtics have a roster full of future Hall of Famers.
However, these players are all past their prime.
Therefore, after playing an entire season and a playoff series, the bodies of the 35-year-old Ray Allen, 34-year-old Kevin Garnett and 33-year-old Paul Pierce will wear down much more than their opponents.
And if their levels of play even drop slightly, then the Celtics will certainly have an uphill battle fighting through the postseason.
The Boston Celtics have not been the same team since trading away center Kendrick Perkins, as they have only went 12-9 and fallen to the third spot in the Eastern Conference.
The most obviously explanation for this is that the team lost their starting center, defensive enforcer and a core part of their team.
However, the team has also struggled because Rajon Rondo has not played well, which occurred due to the psychological effects of his good friend Perkins leaving.
So although Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic haven't exactly struggled, they have still not been enough for the team to overcome the loss of Perk.
And with Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal constantly dealing with injuries, the team is severely lacking at the center position.
Therefore, the Celtics appear to have made a big mistake in sending away Perkins.
Despite their well-publicized struggles throughout the 2010-11 season, the Miami Heat have really begun to get it going down the stretch.
And led by the All-Star trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, it was only a matter of time before this occurred.
Consequently, now that their stars have gained enough experience to be properly acclimated playing with one another, they will be a very dangerous team in the playoffs.
The Miami Heat are 0-3 against the Boston Celtics on the season.
However, the two teams last met on February 12th, and their respective fortunes have drastically changed since that date.
So with the Heat finally playing up to their potential and the Celtics struggling with age, injuries and other concerns, there is no reason not to expect Miami to knock off Boston, signaling a changing of the guard in the Eastern Conference.
For the Eastern Conference Finals, the Miami Heat will face off against the Orlando Magic.
The Heat's big three will be performing at a level which inspired people to expect an all-time great season.
The Magic will be on fire from outside, while also being led by Dwight Howard's dominance in the interior.
So what will be the outcome?
Well, despite Miami's seemingly endless line of big bodies, they will not be able to contain Howard.
However, their perimeter defense will more than make up for that, as the Heat will generate loads of turnovers and fast-break baskets.
Consequently, behind solid defense and timely performances from their stars, the Miami Heat will prove all of their doubters wrong and advance to the NBA Finals.
Now on to the Western Conference...
With all of their experience and talent, the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers should have no problems in their matchups against the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets.
Consequently, both the Spurs and Lakers will advance to the second round of the playoffs unscathed.
During the past four years, the Dallas Mavericks have only made it out of the first round once.
And this year won't be the one to buck the trend.
The Mavs have worn down as the season nears its end, and they will be matched up against the young and talented Portland Trail Blazers, who look even more dangerous with since acquiring Gerald Wallace.
And with a deep, athletic and gritty roster, the Blazers will have what it takes to throw Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and company off of their game, ultimately pulling off an upset against the third-seeded Mavs.
Since moving the Oklahoma City, the Thunder have yet to advance past the first round.
However, this will finally be their year.
Behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder should be able to match the efficient scoring punch of the Denver Nuggets
Moreover, their defensive studs Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha should help to swing the balance in their favor, and Oklahoma City will move on to the second round.
Despite sporting a league-leading record, the San Antonio Spurs have sputtered down the stretch, dealing with injuries and a drastic drop in production.
And with Tim Duncan now 34 and Manu Ginobili 33, one if forced to wonder how much they have left in the tank.
Moreover, if they don't wear down, one of them—even Tony Parker—could easily fall to another injury—something that the team would be hard-pressed to overcome.
Therefore, San Antonio has much to be concerned about as they head deeper into the playoffs.
After earning a decisive victory in their series against the Denver Nuggets, the Oklahoma City Thunder will move on the faceoff against the much-more-experienced San Antonio Spurs.
However, because of nagging injuries and an aging roster, they won't appear to be the same Spurs team that dominated during much of the regular season.
Consequently, there will be a window of opportunity for the Thunder to step up and pull the upset.
And even though they have dropped all three games against the Spurs this season, their acquisition of Kendrick Perkins should help OKC to match up better against San Antonio's tough frontcourt.
So, by once again being propelled by the play of young stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder will be able to complete a shocking upset against the Spurs.
With their talented, well-rounded and experienced roster, the Los Angeles Lakers have been unstoppable since the All-Star break.
And in their series against the Portland Trail Blazers, one can expect that to continue.
So although the Blazers have a good deal of talent and depth of their own, they are still a few years away from being able to compete with the likes of the Lakers in the postseason.
Therefore, Los Angeles will keep rolling and make its fourth consecutive Western Conference Finals.
The Los Angeles Lakers will meet the Oklahoma City Thunder in a rematch of last season's epic first-round playoff matchup.
Seeing as though both teams seem to be improved from last season, this battle could be even better.
But behind Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum, the Lakers are deeper and much more talented in the frontcourt.
Moreover, with Ron Artest and Matt Barnes D'ing up Kevin Durant, while Kobe is free to do his thing, the Lakers appear to have the edge.
Therefore, they will win and advance to their fourth consecutive NBA Finals.
After both teams fought hard and had to overcome some obstacles to get here, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat will face off in the 2011 NBA Finals.
The sports media could not be happier with this NBA Finals pairing, as it puts some of the biggest, brightest and most polarizing figures in the league against each other.
First, for the Miami Heat there is the LeBron James, who has constantly been in the spotlight since entering the league.
However, his profile managed to somehow rise after he ditched the Cleveland Cavaliers over the summer to join up with his All-Star buddies in Miami.
And because of this, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have garnered their fair share of attention as well—but especially Bosh, who has been routinely ridiculed because he is not the same caliber of a performer as James or Wade.
Now the Los Angeles Lakers are led by Kobe Bryant, an accomplished veteran and one of the faces of the NBA who has managed to be a polarizing figure as well.
And with other interesting personalities such as Ron Artest, Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes on the team, the Lakers are also the media's dream come true.
Therefore, with some of the most loved and hated, the most successful and the most entertaining players in the league, a Heat-Lakers Finals should create basketball coverage to the highest degree imaginable.
A Los Angeles Lakers-Miami Heat NBA Finals matchup would undoubtedly be billed as a matchup between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
And seeing as though they are two individuals who have a legitimate claim to being the best player in the league, that seems somewhat reasonable.
However, as we all know, it takes more than one great player to win a championship.
Consequently, since both Kobe and LeBron will perform at a high level, the 2011 NBA Finals will come down to the performances of each team's supporting casts.
There are a few reasons the Los Angeles Lakers will win the 2011 NBA Finals over the Miami Heat.
First of those is the Lakers frontcourt.
With only Chris Bosh and a few other average big bodies inside, the Heat can't match up with the Lakers trio of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.
The Lakers also will benefit from the wing defense provided by Ron Artest, Matt Barnes and Kobe Bryant—who will combine to make the lives of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade much tougher.
Moreover, given that Los Angeles has a much superior second unit with Shannon Brown, Barnes, Odom and Steve Blake, the Heat will not be able to keep up if their starters suffer from injury or fatigue, or if they get into any type of foul trouble.
And finally, when one factors in all of the Lakers' playoff experience, it seems as if there is no way that they could lose.
Therefore, your 2011 NBA champions will be—for the third consecutive season—the Los Angeles Lakers.
Throughout the 2011 NBA Finals, Kobe Bryant will once again step up to the plate and produce at a high level.
After leading his Los Angeles Lakers to yet another victory, Kobe Bryant will be named the 2011 NBA Finals MVP for the third season in a row.
Despite ultimately falling short in the Finals, the Miami Heat's run at the title will still prove they are clearly one of the NBA's best teams.
Moreover, it will provide the team with much-needed experience and a solid foundation to build upon heading forward.
And seeing as though the big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will be in Miami for another five years, they have plenty of time to deliver on their promise of multiple championships.
Last year's NBA Finals achieved the highest series ratings since 2004.
What's more, 2010's Game 7 was the highest-rated single game since 1998, when Michael Jordan hit his now-infamous Finals winning shot over Bryon Russell.
Consequently, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh added into the mix, the 2011 NBA Finals will surpass the ratings achieved the previous year, helping to illustrate that the NBA is back as a television force (albeit only temporarily if a lockout occurs next season).
The Los Angeles Lakers' victory in the 2011 NBA Finals will have historical significance for a number of reasons.
First of all, it will be the Lakers' 17th NBA championship, which would tie them with the Boston Celtics for the most all time.
Moreover, it would represent the team's second three-peat, and only the fourth since the NBA-ABA merger.
However, more impressive, Phil Jackson will have been a part of all four of those three-peats, giving him 12 total NBA titles—a full three more than the next best head coach.
Kobe Bryant, on the other hand, would not be at the top of the list for players, but he would certainly be moving up, as it would mark his sixth ring—tying him with the likes of Bob Cousy, Jim Loscutoff, Scottie Pippen, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan.
Additionally, by taking home his third Finals MVP award, Bryant would rank second all-time, tied with Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan.
So given all of that, the Los Angeles Lakers 2011 NBA championship will definitely be one of the most historically significant Finals victories ever.
Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson entered the 2010-11 season as the most accomplished coach in NBA history.
And after the further distances himself from the competition, what better ending could there be than for the league's second-oldest coach to go out on top.
After all, that would be a storybook ending to one of the most storied NBA careers of all time.