Just last month we witnessed the massacring of the chalk bracket in the NCAA tournament. While it is highly unlikely there will be the same upheaval in the 2011 NBA playoffs, there are a few interesting matchups that can really end either way.
Let's highlight the three most likely first-round upsets:
No. 6 Portland Trailblazers over No. 3 Dallas Mavericks
The Blazers let out a sigh of relief by escaping a first-round pairing with the Oklahoma City Thunder and will instead head to Dallas. On the season, Portland is 2-2 against the Mavericks, both wins coming at home.
That is just one of the reasons the Trailblazers have become a trendy upset pick.
It is hard to deny the intensity LaMarcus Aldridge has played with this season. When Oden and Roy went down with knee injuries early in the year, it looked like it was going to be another long season in Portland. But Aldridge did not sit back and let another year of his prime pass. Posting 22 points and nine rebounds per game for the season, Aldridge certainly made his statement for MVP consideration.
It looked like Portland just might sneak into the playoffs at the All-Star break when the front office traded for former All-Star Gerald Wallace.
Now they're barging into the postseason and looking to burst someone's bubble.
Isn't it just fitting that they face the Mavs, who are notorious for coming up short in the spring. They have lost in the first round three of their last six playoff appearances and have gained a pretty bad reputation for it.
If Portland can bring the desire and energy they have been playing with recently, they definitely have the weapons to take down an over-achieving Dallas squad.
Just about everybody in Boston wishes they had a time machine so they could stop Danny Ainge from ruining the Celtics' chemistry and trading away Kendrick Perkins. It is something the Celtics have struggled with, and it is something the Knicks are looking to exploit.
This season, teams with dominant—even decent—big men have stomped all over the Knicks on the boards. Compared to what other teams can bring, a combination of Glen Davis, Nenad Krstic and the skeleton of Jermaine O'Neal does not seem so imposing.
That being said, Amar'e Stoudemire is going to be the key in this series for the Knicks. We all know what Carmelo Anthony can do with the ball, partly because he has it so much.
D'Antoni's system is all about offensive flow and ball movement, and Anthony is a ball-stopper. The Celtics' defense weakens with heavy ball movement, which means 'Melo may have to pass on a step-back jumper a few times and find Amar'e down low. If Stoudemire can become more involved in the offense again, the Knicks will have a real shot.
Another thing the Knicks have going for them is hunger. As an avid Nets fan living in New York, I cannot escape the constant hype surrounding the "new" Knicks and the confidence this town is carrying into the playoffs. As cocky as he may seem at times, 'Melo really feeds off the crowd, and there is nothing more intense than a playoff atmosphere at Madison Square Garden.
Even if the Knicks seem overmatched on paper, this is a team that thrives against stronger squads. Don't be surprised if this series comes down to the wire.
But the Thunder were highly-touted entering the season, and the Nuggets were just a team surrounded by question marks.
Now, the question marks have turned into exclamation points, and the Nuggets have perhaps the deepest team in the league. Denver's 10-game winning streak following the Carmelo Anthony trade was one of the feel-good stories of the season. And in many people's eyes, they are the Little Engine that Could.
The Thunder don't think so though.
The addition of Perkins in the middle transformed this team into a serious contender that presents difficult matchups across the board. Yet, it may just be Denver's depth that will allow them to overcome Oklahoma City's jaw-dropping talent and athleticism.
If the Nuggets can contain their opponent's lethal scoring attack and continue running the floor the way they have been in recent months, they may just have enough in the tank to spoil Kevin Durant's party.