2011 NBA Playoff Predictions: Forecasting Winners For Every First-Round Matchup
The playoffs are just a few days away now folks, and I'm sure you're just as excited as I am to get things started!
Now that the standings are finally falling into place, it's time to start predicting who's going to make it out of the first round this year, and actually make a run toward this year's NBA Finals. Some teams have valid cause for concern going into the postseason, while others seem to have a firm grip of control on their game at exactly the right time. I'm positive that many of you have written off the Lakers, with their recent injuries and inconsistencies, but let me assure you that the moment you sleep on a killer, they kill you.
Just like the Lakers, the Celtics are not to be forgotten heading into the postseason. What some people can't seem to get their head around is that teams like Los Angeles and Boston become an entirely different animal when the playoffs begin. Both of these teams have had a rough ride to the finish line this year, but they did last year as well, and we all know how that turned out.
Apart from the favorites to return to the big show, there are many upcoming teams with something to prove this year. The Bulls would love to shock the world by taking out the other Eastern heavyweights, the Thunder would love to show the West that their more than a talented young team and the Pacers would love to get a few more paychecks before they are unavoidably sent packing.
With all of the juicy matchups looming just a few days ahead, it's time to see how things are going to shake out in the first round. So without further ado, the envelopes please..
Orlando Magic vs Atlanta Hawks
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Despite what this picture of Howard may suggest, this matchup is anything but a slam dunk for the Orlando Magic.
Dwight Howard may be having his best season in the league to date, but the fact here remains that this is not the Orlando Magic team that made it to the NBA Finals in 2009. This team has Gilbert Arenas, a not-so-effective Hedo Turkoglu and an older Jameer Nelson.
The team of 2009 seemed to complement each other in just about every way possible (plus they had a red-hot Rafer Alston), while this squad often appears meandering and unfocused. I will say they can shoot the three ball with the best of them, but when you live by the three, you often die by it.
Now the Magic will face the Hawks in the first round of this years playoffs, a team they are just 1-3 against this season. The Hawks will undoubtedly prove to be a tough matchup for them with their considerable size under the basket, and athletic swing men who love running the fast break.
If the Hawks want to see the second round, all they need to do is neutralize Dwight on the offensive end. Deny him deep post position and force the Magic to beat them from the perimeter. If the Magic want to see the second round, they are going to need to feed the beast. Work from the inside, out. Fully take advantage of their MVP-caliber player.
When all is said and done, the Magic will win the series in six games, due mostly to home-court advantage. This series will be interesting, however, if Atlanta can steal an early game or two away from home.
Boston Celtics vs New York Knicks
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If there is a first-round matchup that will get much crazier than most fans think, it's this one right here.
First, the facts: The Boston Celtics are not the same team that they were with Kendrick Perkins on the roster. It's not even debatable. They lost a lot of their toughness with that move, and no O'Neal is going to fix that. Second fact: The Knicks are not going to be the same team in the playoffs as they were in the regular season. This was a team that had to completely readjust to a new roster, and learn how to win with two superstars who both wanted a share of the spotlight.
The team you will see in the playoffs, will be one that's hell bent on making an impression with the rest of the league. They have a proven scorer in Carmelo Anthony, a veteran leader in Chauncey Billups and a stat machine down low in Amar'e Stoudemire. When they get on that floor with the Celtics, all they're going to want to do is prove everyone wrong. From the looks of it, they may have the stars and role players to do that.
The Celtics, however, will not exactly be relaxed either. They have heard the criticism and doubts of the last few months loud and clear, and I'm sure that they are just waiting for their chance to silence the doubters. They still have the Big Three that was so crucial to their run in 2008, and Rondo is no slouch himself, so I would bet good money that the C's have more in store for the postseason than most people think.
The winner of this series will be Boston, in seven games. I personally think that the Knicks will give them fits every game. The home-court advantage in Game 7, and the veteran resolve will win this series for the Celtics.
Miami Heat vs Philadelphia 76ers
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Bring out the broom ladies and gentleman, because this one will not even be close.
The Miami Heat sport a perfect 3-0 record against Philadelphia in the regular season, and this series will be no different. Who do the 76ers have to match up with LeBron and Dwyane Wade? Who is their closer? What is their game plan to stop the Miami onslaught? Andre Iguodala may be quite the on-ball defender, but one man alone cannot stop the barrage that is coming.
No team in the league is as eager to prove they can win in the playoffs as the Miami Heat, and that's exactly what they're going to do. They want to start off dominant, and give themselves enough rest for the second round. (which will prove to be far more difficult).
I really wish there was more to say about this series, but there just isn't. If the Philadelphia 76ers end up winning a game in this series, I will truly be shocked.
The Miami Heat win this series in a four-game sweep.
Chicago Bulls vs Indiana Pacers
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The outcome of this series is simple, because no one in Indiana can stop what's coming from Derrick Rose.
The obvious choice for league MVP will be out in full force against the Pacers, as he will look to continue off of his regular season dominance of other guards. My guess is that he will once again take his game to another gear, and put on quite a show for everyone involved. Let's not forget also that his supporting cast is more than a little impressive. Everyone is healthy rolling into the first round for Chicago, and their chemistry seems to be firing on all cylinders at just the right time.
Indiana may have slid into the final playoff spot this year, but they really don't deserve to be there. While they have many talented players, they lack a true enforcer on either end of the ball. Danny Granger has proven to be a good scorer, but he has also shown that he can disappear faster than most magicians.
I'm guessing the Bulls' suffocating defense will force them into a poor shot selection, and make it easy for Chicago to control the tempo and cruise to relatively easy victories.
The Bulls will win this series in five games. I expect Granger and Hansbrough to go off at least one game a piece, so a sweep is unlikely.
Oklahoma Thunder vs Denver Nuggets
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In my opinion this has to be one of the most evenly-matched series of this or any year.
On the one hand you have the Thunder. They have the now two-time scoring champion Kevin Durant, the tenacious point guard Russell Westbrook and the emerging talents of Ibaka and co. They thrive on the fast break, play excellent defense and have more than enough offense to snuff out the best of them. They want nothing more than to improve on their playoff performance last year (which just slipped through their fingers), and improved play from Kevin Durant should do the trick.
Now on the other hand you have the Denver Nuggets. The team that everyone thought would wither away without their star Carmelo Anthony, that has evolved into a far more efficient and exciting team to behold. This team takes the term "depth" to an all new level, as they possess players who can all do a little bit of everything for the team. They have the scoring prowess of Afflalo and Chandler, the vision of Lawson and Felton, the outside scoring of Smith and Gallinari and the size of Nene and Martin.
What's better? They play very well together, and have been on quite a roll since the All-Star break. Oklahoma has won the series in the regular season 3-1, but something tells me it will not be so easy in a few days time.
I'm taking the Oklahoma Thunder to win in six games, but I would not be surprised if it went seven. Denver will excel playing like a true team, but the star power and defense of Oklahoma will eventually overwhelm them.
Dallas Mavericks vs Portland Trailblazers
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When these two teams meet in a few days time, it's going to be a dog fight.
These two teams could not be more different from each other, and the winner of the series will be the one who best exploits the other team's differences.
The Mavericks are a half-court-oriented team that possesses both size, and talented shooters. The Trailblazers, on the other hand, are a hyper-athletic youthful squad that relies on pounding teams into submission on the fast break. They have an endless supply of wing players with a penchant for scoring, with their only real weakness being a lack of size under the rim.
Something will have to give when these two teams meet. One of their styles of play will prove to be more effective.
The regular season series between them is tied at two games a piece, and only serves as more proof that this first-round series is basically a crap-shoot. Both teams are also pretty healthy heading into the playoffs, and have enjoyed success closing out big games toward the end of the season.
I'm taking the Mavericks to win in seven long, painful games. It won't be the home-court advantage as much as the veteran leadership that will see them past the Blazers. In the end, the Blazers downfall will be a lack of size to compete with Tyson Chandler and Dirk Nowitzki under the boards.
Los Angeles Lakers vs New Orleans Hornets
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Andrew Bynum is down (AGAIN), Steve Blake has the chicken pox, Matt Barnes also has a knee issue and Kobe Bryant has brought yet another bad press storm upon himself.
It must be time for the playoffs again!
Am I slightly more skeptical that the Lakers can win it all this year? Maybe.
Am I skeptical that the Lakers can still dismantle the Hornets in the first round? No. Not at all.
The facts are these:
1. Bynum is always a little hurt going into the playoffs. Always.
2. The Lakers owned the Hornets in the regular season 4-0.
3. Kobe seems more agitated than ever with...well everything. A mad Kobe is a dangerous Kobe.
4. The Lakers went into last year's playoffs finishing 3-6. Do you remember the result?
The Hornets don't have the size, the home court, the closer or the coach to beat the Lakers. They know it, the Lakers know it and now even you know it.
The Lakers have a long, long road to get back to the finals, but it could be made easier if they get their mojo back by slamming the Hornets into oblivion.
I'm taking the Lakers to win in a four-game sweep. The Hornets could always win a game if LA falls asleep at the wheel, but I don't see it. My guess is that LA will want to shut everyone up about all the end of the season drama and questions.
San Antonio Spurs vs Memphis Grizzlies
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The Spurs may have dominated the regular season, but they are not going to be dominating the first round of the playoffs.
The reason? The Memphis Grizzlies are a lot better than people have been giving them credit for. they have good size in Z-Bo and Gasol, good perimeter scorers in Mayo and Gay, and even Mike Conley is starting to get in on the fun. This squad gobbles up rebounds on the glass, they excel in transition and play pretty tight defense thanks to the wing span of their wing players.
The Spurs are the superior team, obviously. I was never suggesting they weren't. They have the wise veterans (Duncan, Ginobili, Parker), the new blood (Neal, Hill, Blair), and one of the league's best coaches in Greg Popovich. They win because they excel in all areas of the game. They have plenty of scorers, they all want to play defense and they are all unselfish players.
This will be a tough series for the Spurs however, because this Memphis team has a lot of heart. They know that no one believes in them, and that has been giving them the strength to beat some of the best teams in the NBA. Memphis will pull out all the stops in this series, and they will find a way to get wins against an obviously superior team.
If course I'm taking the Spurs to win, and in six games. I would like to add the bold prediction however that in the sixth game, the Grizzlies will come within inches of pushing it to a Game 7. The Spurs will however find a way to spoil it, and move on just in time.