It's that time of year again. The time when some of the most exciting games imaginable become reality. The time when stars we all know and love shine their brightest, and new stars are discovered. The time when one team wins 16 games and hoists the trophy up high. The NBA Playoffs. This year, we've got some great story lines and some even better match-ups. To kick it all off, let's see who's got the upper hand in the first-round matchups.
The Pacers are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2006. But the celebration may be short-lived for the loyal fans in Indianapolis. They face the team with the second best record in the league and, most likely, the MVP. The Bulls are going to be a tough team to beat for anyone in the playoffs, especially the eighth seed in the pathetic bottom half of the Eastern Conference.
PG - Derrick Rose vs. Darren Collison
This one's obvious. Collison is a great prospect for the future, but Derrick Rose is one of the league's best players right now. Advantage Bulls.
SG - Ronnie Brewer vs. Mike Dunleavy
Neither of these players are anything special. I wouldn't really want either of them on my team, but if I had to choose one I'd take Dunleavy. He has 11 PPG and 4.5 RPG compared to Brewer's 6 PPG and 3.3 RPG. Advantage Pacers.
SF - Luol Deng vs. Danny Granger
Luol Deng is a fairly good player, but Granger is a star. I'd take Granger over Deng any day. Advantage Pacers.
PF - Carlos Boozer vs. Josh McRoberts
Boozer hasn't had a very good first year with the Bulls, but I expect him to get on track in the playoffs. McRoberts hasn't been good for quite a while, and I don't expect that to change come Saturday. Advantage Bulls.
C - Joakim Noah vs. Roy Hibbert
I like both these players a lot, but Noah has the slight edge. Hibbert still has some work to do to get as good as he is expected to be. Noah hasn't reached his prime quite yet, but he's a quality center. Advantage Bulls.
Bench - Gibson, Korver, and Scalabrine vs. Foster, Rush, and Hansbrough
The Bulls' bench isn't very good. In fact, all the good bench players on Chicago are listed above, in the three-player sample of the bench. The Pacers' bench is a little better. They've got a solid second five to back up the starters. Advantage Pacers.
Prediction: Bulls in four. The Pacers are still too young to go deep into the playoffs, especially facing Chi Town in round one. Don't sleep on Indiana next season, though.
The Heat didn't blow away the competition and get the first seed like they were expected to, but they did get the two seed. The Sixers took advantage of the weak bottom three in the East to make the playoffs again, but do they have a chance to beat the Heat?
PG - Mike Bibby vs. Jrue Holiday
The Heat took a big step forward at the PG position when they bought out Bibby from the Wizards towards the end of the season. Jrue Holiday is a promising young PG, but isn't at Bibby's level yet. Advantage Heat.
SG - Dwayne Wade vs. Jodie Meeks
Meeks is also a good young prospect, but Wade is a superstar. No contest. Advantage Heat.
SF - LeBron James vs. Andre Igoudala
The second AI to be the star in Philly is a great player, and an all-star in my mind, but LeBron, of course, is simply the best. Advantage Heat.
PF - Chris Bosh vs. Elton Brand
This is a close one. Bosh has exploded since the Heat's five-game losing slump a while back, with double-doubles galore. Elton Brand has been falling off a little bit since his prime, but he is a great player nonetheless. I'd give the slight edge to Bosh simply because he has been playing better as of late. Advantage Heat.
C - Zydrunas Ilgauskas vs. Spencer Hawes
Spencer Hawes has been pretty good for his entire career, but he's never been great. Ilgauskus is similar to Hawes, but he's always been slightly better than Hawes. Ilgauskas also has much more playoff experience than Hawes, who, like two other Philadelphia starters, has never played a playoff game in his career. Advantage Heat.
Bench: Jones, Chalmers, Dampier vs. Young, Turner, and Kapono
The Philly bench is like their starters; young and inexperienced. The Miami bench, as was expected when the big three came together, is shallow. Since the Sixers' bench is more consistent with the starters, I give their bench the edge. Advantage Sixers.
Prediction: Miami in four. Much like Indiana, Philadelphia is too young and inexperienced to beat a team like the Heat or Bulls. Another sweep in the East.
The Knicks haven't been perfect since the 'Melo trade, but they got the job done. They're in the playoffs for the first time in a long time, and the fans in New York are loving it. Fans of the NBA are going to love this first round matchup against the Boston Celtics; it's going to be a good one. The Celtics have been in a slump for the last few weeks, but they managed to take down the Knicks in a preview of round one on Wednesday.
PG - Rajon Rondo vs. Chauncey Billups
Although I'd rather have Billups take the clutch shot as time expires, I would favor Rondo in just about any other situation. Advantage Celtics.
SG - Ray Allen vs. Landy Fields
Ray Allen may be getting old, but he can still knock down the three ball all day long. Fields has a promising career ahead of him, but he'll never be as good as Allen, especially at this point in his career. Advantage Celtics.
SF - Paul Pierce vs. Carmelo Anthony
Pierce is definitely a better leader than 'Melo, but Anthony is just too good in the clutch to say Pierce is better. Advantage Knicks.
PF - Kevin Garnett vs. Amare Stoudemire
There's a reason that Stoudemire beat out Garnett for the starting PF spot in the East. KG is past his prime, and Amare is just getting into it. Advantage Knicks.
C - Shaquille O'Neal / Jermaine O'Neal vs. Ronny Turiaf
The C's have a lot of questions at the center position, but whether it be Shaq, Kristic, or O'Neal, I'd take Boston's center ahead of Turiaf. Advantage Celtics.
Bench - Davis, Green, and Wafer vs. Brewer, Walker, and Douglas
The Celtics have a completely different bench from last year, but the Knicks, much like the Heat, have a very shallow team, and thus a bad bench. I'd still take Boston's bench over NY's. Advantage Celtics.
Prediction: Knicks in seven. This will be a close series all the way. The Celtics are deeper, but the Knicks have two of the top 10 players in the league as their starters. It will be a good one, but the Knicks live to fight another day in the end.
This rematch of last year's first round will be a much better one than last year. Orlando has lost a bit of their magic (no pun intended) since last year, while the Hawks have gotten better since the Bibby/Hinrich trade. This will be a very close one, but who has the upper hand?
PG - Jameer Nelson vs. Kirk Hinrich
Hinrich has helped the Hawks get together since his arrival, but he's no match to Nelson, who hit a game-winning bucket as time expired against the Nuggets a few games ago. Advantage Magic.
SG - Jason Richardson vs. Joe Johnson
Richardson is great at hitting the three, but useless otherwise. Johnson, however, is great all around. Advantage Hawks.
SF - Marvin Williams vs. Hedo Turkoglu
Turkoglu isn't what he used to be, but he's still a solid player. Williams, however, is a little inconsistent and streaky. Advantage Magic.
PF - Brandon Bass vs. Josh Smith
No contest. Advantage Hawks.
C - Dwight Howard vs. Al Horford
Even though these are the two all-star centers for the East, it's not really a close race. Howard is the most dominant center in the NBA, no question. Advantage Magic.
Bench - Richardson, Reddick, and Arenas vs. Teague, Crawford, and Armstrong
Atlanta's bench is a young one, but surprisingly strong. The Magic lost a lot of their bench's strength when they got rid of Gortat and Pietrus, and sent Rashard Lewis away, forcing Bass into the starting position. Advantage Hawks.
Prediction: Hawks in seven. Atlanta hasn't had much playoff success in the last few years, but I believe they'll pull it all together this year and make a run, at least past the first round.
The Griz are another team that is back in the playoffs for the first time in a while. They've got an impressive team, but can they take down the Spurs? The Manu injury will make it a little easier for them, assuming he misses at least a few games, but it's still going be tough.
PG - Tony Parker vs. Mike Conley Jr.
Conley is promising, but nothing compared to Parker. Advantage Spurs.
SG - Manu Ginobili/Gary Neal vs. O.J. Mayo
The injury to Manu changes everything in this category. I'll take Mayo over Neal, who will most likely be playing most of the series, despite the young rookie's success. Advantage Grizzlies.
SF - Richard Jefferson vs. Rudy Gay/Shane Battier
Gay is injured as well, which causes a problem for Memphis. Because of his injury, I'll take Jefferson over Battier. Advantage Spurs.
PF - Tim Duncan vs. Zach Randolph
Duncan is a hall-of-famer for sure, but I can't say no to Randolph the way he's been playing. Advantage Grizzlies.
C - Antonio McDyess vs. Marc Gasol
The lesser known Gasol is a talented player, as is McDeyess. It's a hard decision, but Gasol has the slight edge. Advantage Grizzlies.
Bench: Bonner, Blair, and Splitter vs. Allen, Arthur, and Powe
Bonner, of course, is the league leader in three percentage, and is accompanied by two solid big men and other good backups. Allen and Powe were both part of the Celtics' championship team a few years back, so they have experience in the post-season. It's a tight race but, in my mind, Memphis has a slight edge in this department. Advantage Grizzlies.
Prediction: Grizzlies in seven. Yeah, you heard me right. Memphis shocks the world by pulling off one of the greatest first round upsets in recent history. Hopefully, Gay can join them in the coming rounds.
The Lakers dominated this matchup in the regular season, but will Bynum's injury change that? He might miss a few games, or he might be on the court and no where near as effective. Either way, NOLA is thanking their lucky stars that he got hurt. Otherwise, they wouldn't have had a prayer.
PG - Derek Fisher vs. Chris Paul
Fisher is talented, but come on. It's Chris Paul. Advantage Hornets.
SG - Kobe Bryant vs. Marco Bellineli
I've never even heard of Bellineli. Enough said. Advantage Lakers.
SF - Ron Artest vs. Trevor Ariza
The former Laker Ariza is a good player, but Artest will use his overall competitiveness and grit to own this matchup. Advantage Lakers.
PF - Pau Gasol vs. David West
West is good, Gasol is great. Advantage Lakers.
C - Andrew Bynum/ Lamar Odom vs. Emeka Okafor
It's not certain who will play for the Lakers in this series, but no matter if it's Odom or Bynum, I'll take L.A. Advantage Lakers.
Bench - Barnes, Brown, and Blake vs. Landry, Jack, and Pondexter
L.A. all the way. Advantage Lakers.
Prediction: Lakers in five. New Orleans steals one, but L.A. rolls nonetheless. Better luck next year, CP3, no matter what team you're on.
Everyone wanted to face the Mavs in the first round. It seemed they were getting more vulnerable by the game. But now that Portland got their wish, it's time to follow through and beat them. It won't be as easy as everyone is making it out to be, that's for sure.
PG - Jason Kidd vs. Andre Miller
Miller's alright, but Kidd is a star. Advantage Mavericks.
SG - Jason Terry vs. Brandon Roy
Roy's back, and he's not going to be stopped. Advantage Blazers.
SF - Shawn Marion vs. Gerald Wallace
Wallace was the missing piece for Portland. Advantage Blazers.
PF - Dirk Knowitzki vs. LaMarcus Aldridge
The All-Star vs. the All-Star snub. This is a tough decision, but Dirk's just too good. Advantage Mavericks.
C - Tyson Chandler vs. Marcus Camby
Chandler was the missing piece for Dallas. Advantage Mavericks.
Bench: Stojakovic, Haywood, and Stevenson vs. Mathews, Fernandez, and Batum
They're both solid benches. I'd have to give Portland the slight edge because of how much their fans love every player on the roster. Dallas is going to hit on all cylinders if they're going to win any games in Portland. Advantage Blazers.
Prediction: Trail Blazers in six. Like I said, Dallas isn't winning anything in Portland. The Blazers win one or two in Dallas, and they're home free.
This is the last matchup Denver wanted. OKC has proved to be their kryptonite since the 'Melo trade. They can beat Dallas, they can beat L.A., but can they beat the Thunder?
PG - Russell Westbrook vs. Ty Lawson
Lawson has had a breakout season, but you have to be a superstar to be better than Westbrook. Advantage Thunder.
SG - Thebo Sefolosha vs. Aaron Afflalo
Sefolosha is a good player who's under the radar, but Afflalo is a better player who's well above the radar. Advantage Nuggets.
SF - Kevin Durant vs. Danilo Gallinari
Gallo is one of the Nugs' best, but Durant is one of the league's best. Advantage Thunder.
PF - Serge Ibaka vs. Kenyon Martin
Ibaka blew the crowd away at the dunk contest, but Martin is a better all-around player hands down. Advantage Nuggets.
C - Kendrick Perkins vs. Nene Hilario
Perkins has added a highly needed level of toughness to the Thunder, but Nene is too good to pass up. Advantage Nuggets.
Bench - Harden, Robinson, and Mohammed vs. Smith, Felton, and Harrington
I confined myself to a three-player sample of the bench throughout this article, but the truth is you can't sample the Nuggets' bench in three players. Their entire roster is solid. There are absolutely no holes in it. No contest. Advantage Nuggets.
Prediction: Thunder in six. It's really a shame that Denver didn't have a different first round. They're so good, but somehow OKC is built in such a way to completely destroy them. Denver will find a way to win a couple, but in the end, KD and the Thunder move on.
East Round Two:
1. Bulls over 5. Hawks, 4-1
2. Heat over 6. Knicks, 4-2
West Round Two:
2. Lakers over 8. Grizzlies, 4-1
4. Thunder over 6. Blazers, 4-3
2. Heat over 1. Bulls, 4-3
4. Thunder over 2. Lakers, 4-3
2E. Miami Heat over 4W. Oklahoma City Thunder, 4-3
Finals MVP: SF 6 LeBron James