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2011 NBA Playoff Prediction: Projecting the NBA Champ

Roberto PayneContributor IApril 15, 2011

2011 NBA Playoff Prediction: Projecting the NBA Champ

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The NBA Playoffs are almost here, so get ready for all the predictions, and lots of them.

    Playoffs are always the most exciting time of the year, and this year should be no different. There are several potentially entertaining series, and each one should be great.

    Will the Spurs regain their winning ways from the first half of the season and take the West? Or will the Lakers turn it on and show why they're the team to beat?

    Will the Heat find the recipe for success and shock the Bulls? Or will the Bulls show why they are the No. 1 seed and win the East? Read on for the answers to these questions and many more.

Western Conference First Round: 1. San Antonio Spurs vs. 8. Memphis Grizzlies

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    How the Spurs could win

    Since the playoffs are upon us, that means its Timmy Time. Tim Duncan will be in full force and will show why he is still a solid option at the power forward spot. Gregg Popovich has done a great job all year and should continue doing so.

    It's about time for the big three to dominate games and look for them to play significant minutes in the series. If some of the role players can step up and produce reliably, the Spurs will be very hard to beat.

    Memphis has played well against San Antonio, but the playoffs are completely different. On another note, things will be a little tougher if Manu Ginobili is out long-term with his elbow injury.

    How the Grizzlies could win

    The Grizzlies have beaten the Spurs twice this year and have played well against them all year. Memphis has been playing great basketball since the All-Star break, and that's with the absence of Rudy Gay.

    Memphis is still a dangerous team and should not be taken lightly by the Spurs. Look for the Zach Randolph/Tim Duncan matchup to be a huge factor in who wins. With the potential absence of Manu Ginobili, the Griz could be catching a break. If Ginobili is out, the series is a lot closer.

    Who will win

    The Spurs should be able to advance, but it could be interesting if the Grizzlies get considerable bench production. Honestly, though, even if Manu only plays a game or two, the Spurs are still deep enough to withstand the Grizzlies.

    Spurs win 4-2

Western Conference First Round: 4. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 5. Denver Nuggets

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    How the Thunder could win

    The Thunder made a huge deal at the trade deadline and acquired Kendrick Perkins from the Celtics. This could be the move that builds them into a winner.

    Perkins is one of the best defensive centers in the league and has brought an enforcer mentality to the Thunder. When you add Perkins to the nucleus of Durant and Westbrook, you get a solid core the team could build upon for years to come.

    The Thunder can send Durant and Westbrook at the Nuggets and should do so early and often. Look for Durant to oppose his will upon the multiple defenders the Nuggets will throw at him.

    If the Thunder are going to win, they need to play good defense above all. Denver is simply too good offensively for the Thunder to play bad defense and win.

    How the Nuggets could win

    I thought Denver would fall off the face of the map when Carmelo Anthony was traded but I, along with countless number of people, was wrong and I am terribly sorry, Denver. After watching the Nuggets and Lakers game a week or so ago, I am a believer that Denver could make some noise.

    The thing that makes the Nuggets so dangerous is their lack of a No. 1 player. No doubt you, the reader, are wondering how is this so? Well Denver is that much more dangerous because opposing teams have no idea who is going to dominate each game.

    It could be Wilson Chandler one game and then Ty Lawson the next and then Danilo Gallinari after. The Thunder will have to cover multiple players and it could cause significant problems.

    Who will win

    This is going to be an extremely entertaining series, and I really wish both teams could win because both could make serious noise if they advance. That being said, I think the Thunder simply have too much firepower with their duo of Durant and Westbrook. The Nuggets will put up a great fight, but in the end the Thunder win.

    Thunder win 4-3

Western Conference: 3. Dallas Mavericks vs. 6. Portland Trailblazers

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    How the Mavs could win

    The Mavericks have played well all year, except for one stretch where Dirk Nowitzki was injured. One wonders where the Mavs would be if Dirk had not gotten injured, because the Mavs were first in the West and looking like a force to be reckoned with.

    This is proof that everything runs through Dirk. If Dirk plays well, then the team has a great chance of winning. If not, then someone else needs to step up and make plays.

    Specifically the Dirk Nowitzki vs. LaMarcus Aldridge matchup will be very interesting. If one gets into foul trouble, then the other team will look to capitalize.

    Look for the Mavs to utilize their great depth against the Blazers. Also, the Mavs have considerable size over the Blazers and will no doubt use it to their advantage.

    How the Trailblazers could win

    The Trailblazers were once again hit with the injury bug and it affected their best player, Brandon Roy. Roy has been forced into a sixth man role and has taken it in stride.

    The Blazers seem to always have a key player injured and somehow they pull through every time. LaMarcus Aldridge is now the leader of the team and the team will go where he goes.

    If the Mavs send multiple bigs at Aldridge and he can't score consistently, then the Blazers will not fare well. Look for the Blazers to take advantage of their depth of the backcourt and at small forward.

    It will be interesting to see how the Mavs play Brandon Roy because even though he is in a bench role, he could easily have a big game.

    Who will win

    The Mavs simply have too much depth on the frontcourt for the Blazers to take the series. The only way the Blazers could stand a solid chance was if there were injuries on the Dallas frontcourt, hopefully there will be no such thing, though.

    Mavericks win 4-1

Western Conference: 2. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 7. New Orleans Hornets

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    How the Lakers could win

    The Lakers have, arguably, the deepest team in the league and should show so against the Hornets. The back-to-back champs are hungry to prove they can do it again.

    Kobe should step his game up another notch and expect Pau Gasol to be huge. With that being said, the X-Factor for the Lakers is Andrew Bynum and his knees.

    Once again, Bynum injured his knee, but it looks like he should be able to play. The Hornets should really be pressured down low with the size of the Lakers.

    How the Hornets could win

    The Hornets played very well early in the season and faded as the season went on. They come into this series having lost their second-best player (David West) and have to face the two-time defending champ in the first round. I'm guessing this isn't the situation the Hornets envisioned earlier in the year.

    The Hornets need to have a monster series from Chris Paul and solid production from everyone else or this could get ugly.

    Specifically, Emeka Okafor will be the X-Factor for the Hornets. If he could get Bynum and/or Gasol in foul trouble, it could change the game.

    Who will win

    The Hornets are going to try, but honestly, they are no competition for the Lakers. The Lakers will take the series rather with ease. The only thing keeping the Lakers from sweeping the series is Chris Paul.

    Lakers win 4-1

Western Conference First Round Recap

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Spurs win 4-1, face Thunder in next round

    Thunder win 4-3, face Spurs in next round

    Mavericks win 4-1, face Lakers in next round

    Lakers win 4-2, face Mavericks in next round

Eastern Conference First Round: 1. Chicago Bulls vs. 8. Indiana Pacers

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    How the Bulls could win

    The Bulls impressed everyone this season and grabbed the No. 1 seed in the East. Now they have the MVP front-runner in Derrick Rose and a supporting class that is very solid.

    The Bulls shouldn't have much trouble against the Indiana Pacers, and Derrick Rose will make sure the team does not become the second No. 1 seed to be upset in the first round.

    If Luol Deng and Joakim Noah can limit the production of Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert, then the Bulls will win easily. If not, it will be an interesting series.

    How the Pacers could win

    The Pacers have surprised everyone (just like the Bulls) and have made the playoffs. The Pacers have a couple solid players (Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, Daren Collison) and if they can get those three going, it could be a completely different series.

    If the Pacers could get production from role players, then their big three could be even more effective. If one or two players other than the big three can score more than 10 points a game, then the series will be a little tougher.

    Who will win

    The Bulls have simply too much firepower and too much Derrick Rose to lose this series. The Pacers could make it interesting, but there is little to no chance they win this series.

    Bulls win 4-0

Eastern Conference First Round: 4. Orlando Magic vs. 5. Atlanta Hawks

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    How the Magic could win

    Dwight Howard is the heart and soul of the Orlando Magic, there's really no other way to put it. If Derrick Rose was not doing so well, then Dwight would be my MVP vote. He means so much to the Magic and without him, they are average.

    If Dwight can continue to dominate opponents like he has been doing and someone not named Jason Richardson or Jameer Nelson can step up, the Magic could be very good. They match up fairly well against the Hawks and should be fine against them.

    How the Hawks could win

    The Hawks have been the only team to limit Dwight Howard's production and there is one man responsible for that: Jason Collins. Dwight has struggled particularly in his last two match-ups with Collins.

    The last time Dwight faced Collins, he made four field goals. To hold Dwight to 31 percent shooting when he averages 59 percent is unbelievable.

    Dwight ended up with 17 points and nine of them came from the free throw line. Not surprisingly, the Hawks won the game.

    Atlanta could be very dangerous if they could add the defense of Jason Collins with the offense from Joe Johnson, Al Horford, and Josh Smith.

    Who will win

    Magic win 4-2

Eastern Conference First Round: 3. Boston Celtics vs. 6. New York Knicks

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    How the Celtics could win

    The Celtics were first in the East for a large portion of the year but faded away after trading away Kendrick Perkins. They now face the fast-paced New York Knicks team in what could be an extremely entertaining series.

    If the Celtics are to win, they need to play old-fashioned Celtic defense. No doubt Amare and Carmelo will get their points but the Celtics need to make sure no one else gets considerable points.

    If the Celtics can stop the supporting cast of New York, then the Celtics should be able to advance.

    How the Knicks could win

    The Knicks made the blockbuster acquisition of Carmelo Anthony and are looking to make a splash this postseason. The Knicks have two of the top players in the league (Anthony and Stoudemire) and will utilize them to their full potential.

    The key for the Knicks is to get production from someone not named Amare, Carmelo, or Chauncey Billups.

    If Landry Fields, Toney Douglas, or Shawne Williams can step up, then the Knicks will be very difficult to defend. The problem is, can they defend the Celtics?

    Who will win

    While the Celtics are struggling, they still have plenty of firepower and should be able to beat the Knicks. Look for a seven-game series and a lot of excitement.

    Celtics win 4-3

Eastern Conference First Round: 2. Miami Heat vs. 7. Philadelphia 76ers

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    How the Heat could win

    The Heat crowned themselves the champs this summer and they should try very hard to live up to that. This Heat team has been the most scrutinized team in NBA history, and anything short of a title will be a failure.

    Miami really is much more talented than the 76ers, and if they stick to their game plan, they should have no problem with Philadelphia. Look for the big three to be solid and someone like Bibby to have a good series.

    How the 76ers could win

    The 76ers are in a tough spot in the first round. They go against the three super friends and even if they do upset the Heat, they'll have either the Celtics or Knicks waiting in the next round.

    For the 76ers to stand a chance, they need to play flawless basketball. They need to get big production from Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand, and that's just to stay in the game.

    The Sixers could make it interesting by winning a game, but don't expect more than that.

    Heat win 4-1

Eastern Conference First Round Recap

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Bulls win 4-0, face Magic in next round

    Magic win 4-2, face Bulls in next round

    Celtics win 4-3, face Heat in next round

    Heat win 4-1, face Celtics in next round

Western Conference Semifinals: 1. San Antonio Spurs vs. 4. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    How the Spurs could win

    The Spurs are going to have their hands full with the up and coming Oklahoma City Thunder. The Spurs will have a hard time guarding the quickness of Russell Westbrook.

    The Spurs could possibly double Westbrook when he drives and force him to be a facilitator. The Spurs are absolutely going to need Manu Ginobili to be healthy for this series and if he isn't 100 percent healthy, then they at least need his presence on the floor.

    The Spurs are going to need big contributions from others to replace the potential loss of Ginobili.

    How the Thunder could win

    The Thunder have several favorable match-ups with this Spurs team and should look to exploit them. This is a series where the acquisition of Kendrick Perkins could really play a big part.

    Perkins will probably play Tim Duncan on defense and he has all the tools to shut Timmy down. The Thunder will utilize their speed and will try to outrun the older Spurs.

    Who will win

    This will be a great series and will definitely go seven games. The winner will be the team that can limit the other team's star players.

    It will come down to the wire in several games and the team that can roll with the punches will advance.

    Thunder win 4-3

Western Conference Semifinals: 2. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 3. Dallas Mavericks

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    How the Lakers could win

    The strength of the Lakers is their size, but they should have their hands full with the size of the Mavs. The Lakers will be very thankful that Andrew Bynum was not seriously injured.

    The big matchup will be Kobe vs. whoever guards him. I think he'll probably see a mixture of DeShawn Stevenson and Corey Brewer.

    If Kobe could dominate the matchup, then the Mavs will have to focus more on him and when that happens, Kobe will be happy to pass to open shooters or bigs. 

    If the Lakers can play like they did for the majority of the second half of the season, then they should be able to contend with the Mavs.

    How the Mavericks could win

    Most people think the Mavs are the team most likely to be upset but in my opinion, the Mavericks are one of the deepest teams in the league. They have depth at each position and can contend with the best.

    It will be interesting to see who wins the battle down low. The Mavs can throw Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler, Brendan Haywood and Brian Cardinal at the Lakers big men and should hold their own.

    If the Mavs could win the points in the paint, the series could be very different.

    Who will win

    This is going to be another great series and should go six games. The Lakers are the two-time defending champs and will show they aren't done yet.

    Lakers win 4-2

Western Conference Semifinals Recap

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Thunder win 4-3, face Lakers in next round.

    Lakers win 4-2, face Thunder in next round.

Eastern Conference Semifinals: 1. Chicago Bulls vs. 4. Orlando Magic

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    How the Bulls could win

    The Bulls went 3-1 against the Magic in the regular season and would love to continue the dominance. The Bulls have all the tools to beat the Magic again. They have the defense, size, rebounding, scoring, and they have D-Rose (which always helps!).

    Most people talk about how good Rose is, but they forget who else is on the team. Boozer, Deng, and Noah are very good second, third, and fourth options!

    How the Magic could win

    This could be a rare series between the MVP (D-Rose) and the MVP runner-up (Dwight Howard). The Magic have been a confusing team, in my opinion, all year. There is one constant on the team and that's Dwight Howard.

    Nothing else is set in stone, there could be nights were someone like Ryan Anderson can't miss and then nights were Gilbert Arenas can't make anything (more nights than not, actually). The team has so many streaky players, which is a blessing and a curse.

    If their streaky players are playing well, then they are very difficult to beat. If their streaky players are playing poorly, they are not so tough to beat. The Magic will need consistent efforts from their shooters and the same consistent play of Dwight.

    Who will win

    The Magic are streaky and could get on fire in a hurry but the Bulls are just too steady. Bulls are simply too good to lose four out of seven games against the Magic.

    Bulls win 4-2

Eastern Conference Semifinals: 2. Miami Heat vs. 3. Boston Celtics

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    How the Heat could win

    The Heat were 1-3 against the Celtics this season and couldn't really size them up all season. The Heat will have plenty of time to watch film and see all the things they did wrong.

    If you give LeBron and Dwyane several days to plan, they should be even better than usual. The Heat just need to get some bench production and they could be so much better.

    The Heat matchup rather well with the Celtics at every position except point guard. If they can limit Rajon Rondo's assists, this could be a very different series.

    How the Celtics could win

    The Celtics were very good until they traded away Kendrick Perkins and they haven't been the same team since then. They are still trying to incorporate the new players in to the system. They have the potential to be such a good team but players not in the big four are too inconsistent.

    They have all the right pieces on the team and I think they'll get it going in this round. They match up well with the Heat and have had their number all season. If Rondo can dominate his personal match-up with Mike Bibby, then the Celtics could have a good chance of pulling off the minor upset.

    Who will win

    The Heat destroyed the Celtics in their last meeting and it was the only meeting with the current rosters. This is a big problem for the Celtics. The Heat are going to feel confident after the last win and they should pull out the series win.

    Heat win 4-3

Eastern Conference Semifinals Recap

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Bulls win 4-2, face Heat in next round.

    Heat win 4-3, face Bulls in next round.

Western Conference Finals: 2. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 4. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    How the Lakers could win

    The Lakers won the season series 2-1 and should be content knowing that. Overall they match-up well with the Thunder except for one position, point guard. Russell Westbrook is way too fast and athletic for Derek Fisher.

    This is one thing the Lakers will have trouble with. I could see the Lakers using Matt Barnes on Westbrook when Fisher isn't in the game.

    When Fish is in the game, the Lakers will have to play excellent help defense so that Westbrook doesn't score or kick it out to an open man. If they stop Westbrook, it could be a much different series.

    How the Thunder could win

    The Thunder are one of the quickest teams in the league and have two of the top young players in the league in Westbrook and Kevin Durant. They can score with the best of teams and they can now defend with the best of teams.

    The Thunder took the Lakers to six games last year and they will equal that at least. The Thunder have the potential to upset the Lakers because of the acquisition of Kendrick Perkins and the continued development of Serge Ibaka. The Thunder will give the Lakers all they can handle.

    Who will win

    The Lakers are on a mission to repeat and an up-and-coming team like the Thunder will not get in the way of Kobe Bryant and company.

    Lakers win 4-3

Eastern Conference Finals: 1. Chicago Bulls vs. 2. Miami Heat

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    How the Bulls could win

    The Bulls are the No. 1 seed in the entire NBA and they have the target on their back. They match up well with the Heat and swept the season series (3-0). They played considerably well against the Heat but the stakes were never this large.

    LeBron and D-Wade are going to be in top form and the Bulls will need to play with the same consistency and focus to win. If Derrick Rose plays exactly like he has been playing all year, the Bulls will have a very good chance to win.

    How the Heat could win

    The Heat have two of the best players in the league (LeBron and D-Wade) and Chris Bosh, these three should keep them in most games. But in order to win most games, they need considerable production from others.

    Mike Bibby and Mike Miller are going to have to be huge. There is one thing that might motivate the Heat to do better, and that's all the people that want to see them fail.

    Most people who aren't in Miami want the Heat to lose and no doubt if they lose a game, people will start talking. If LeBron and D-Wade take their words to heart, the Bulls could be in for one crazy series.

    Who will win

    This is going to be yet another great series and the winner will get the chance to win an NBA title. Sorry Heat fans, maybe next year.

    Bulls win 4-3

Western and Eastern Conference Finals Recap

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Lakers win 4-2, face the Bulls in the NBA Finals.

    Bulls win 4-3, face the Lakers in the NBA Finals.

NBA Finals: Chicago Bulls vs. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    How the Bulls could win

    The Bulls have all the tools to win, except a starting shooting guard. They have it all and they are going to put it on display for the world to see. Derrick Rose has to continue his great play and someone off the bench will have to play well.

    The Bulls have the talent to match up with the Lakers and, unlike many teams, the size to match-up with the Lakers. The Bulls can throw Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Omer Asik, Taj Gibson, and Kurt Thomas at the Lakers.

    How many teams can go toe to toe with the front line of the Lakers? Not many. How many can say they went toe to toe with the Lakers and beat them? Even less.

    How the Lakers could win

    The Lakers are the two-time defending champs and their experience will help them a lot. The roster is one of the most talented in the league and they should have a noticeable advantage at the shooting guard position.

    Kobe is the best shooting guard in the game and it's almost impossible to stop him, he is going to give them absolute fits. That being said, the Lakers will need to take advantage of Kobe whenever they can.

    If Kobe shoots like he shot in the finals last year, the Lakers could be in for a tough series. I wouldn't bank on him doing that, though.

    Who will win

    The Lakers and Bulls is a classic rivalry and it will be officially back in June. The Bulls are about to show the world that they are back and a force to be reckoned with.

    Chicago wins 4-3

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