The 2011 NBA Playoffs have arrived, and with them comes predictable first-round matchups and the impatient waiting for the next round to begin.
Truly, the first round of the NBA Playoffs is rarely filled with excitement, and the majority of the time the higher-seeded team escapes into the second round.
However, this year's first round crop isn't without a few interesting matchups and, while many may lead you to believe otherwise, there is actually some upset potential here.
We've gone ahead and made our first-round writer picks over at NBA Soup, so take a gander and tell us why we're right or wrong, and then read on here for a full breakdown of each series, along with our writer panel's consensus pick for each series:
1. Chicago Bulls vs. 8. Indiana Pacers
The Chicago Bulls have the likely MVP of the league in point guard Derrick Rose, and are backed by an impressive slew of big men in Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson. Chicago is easily one of the most balanced teams in the league, and they play relentless team defense and execute at a high rate.
Indiana, on the other hand, has made some solid strides since kicking former head coach Jim O'Brien and his crazy roster shake-up tendencies to the curb. The team has also seen tremendous growth out of big men Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough, while their top scorer, Danny Granger, leads an, at times, potent offensive attack.
Indiana matches up quite well inside with the Bulls, but ultimately has no answer for Rose, and doesn't play good enough defense to put the locks on Luol Deng. Indiana's suspect defense will keep them from really being a player in this series.
Bulls sweep it, 4-0.
2. Miami Heat vs. 7. Philadelphia 76ers
The "new big three" has faced a ton of adversity in their first season. Yet despite all the turmoil, they landed the second seed in the East and get an apparent cakewalk matchup with the Sixers.
Even if the 76ers bring their "A" game, even the most flexible of NBA experts would have to be tripping on something out of their grandma's medicine cabinet to give Philly a real chance in this series.
However, that doesn't mean this supposed breeze fest will be as easy as it looks. Truth be told, the 76ers started 3-13 this year, and have since turned into a very competitive team that executes well and plays hard on defense. On paper, they have the necessary tools to give Miami a run for their money, and shouldn't be ruled out as a potential upset bid.
With Andre Iguodala covering LeBron James and Elton Brand banging inside against Miami's no-name big men (other than the soft Chris Bosh), Philly may just have enough muscle to hang around and make it a series. Maybe, but we wouldn't bet on it.
3. Boston Celtics vs. 6. New York Knicks
The Celtics look old, tired and on the brink of self-elimination. Sure, we all said the same thing about this team last season before they shocked everyone and ran their way into the NBA Finals. Then again, they don't have Kendrick Perkins this time. In fact, they really don't have anyone inside.
Jermaine O'Neal and Shaquille O'Neal really shouldn't be counted on to deliver at this point in their careers, while Nenad Krstic and Troy Murphy are too soft to make a major difference. Still, with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, are you willing to bet against the reigning Eastern champs?
Some say no, but with the New York Knicks on the docket for Boston, there is reason for concern. Amar'e Stoudemire's ankle may not be completely healthy, but it's probably good enough for him to cause major problems inside for Boston's biggest weakness at the moment. On the flip side, Carmelo Anthony provides instant go-to offense, while the savvy Chauncey Billups brings tough defense and clutch ability.
Boston is still the more talented and experience squad, but time is obviously running out on their aging stars. The Knicks will give it a go, but they're still a year or two away from being serious title contenders, while the Celtics may have one last run in them.
Celtics take it, 4-2.
4. Orlando Magic vs. 5. Atlanta Hawks
This is a hugely popular upset pick for the playoffs, largely due to Orlando being a fairly mediocre "elite" team, as they cracked 50 wins but looked either lethargic or out of place in doing so.
That, and the fact that the Hawks owned the Magic in the regular season in taking the season series three games to one, makes this a chic pick.
But this isn't the regular season. No one in Atlanta can stop Dwight Howard, and everyone knows it. The Hawks have enough talent and athleticism to compete with anyone on any given night. But in a series? Forget about it.
Howard will control the paint for as long as this series lasts, while Hedo Turkoglu's presence in the playoffs will become more meaningful that it could ever be in the regular season.
This writer is calling Orlando in five, but we ended with a push on the site.
1. San Antonio Spurs vs. 8. Memphis Grizzlies
The Spurs took the NBA by storm and held onto the league's best record until the final game of the season. Due to injuries and inconsistent play, however, they really backed their way into the playoffs. Still, they have one of the craftiest and experienced lineups in this tournament, and shouldn't have much trouble disposing of the Grizzlies.
Memphis would possibly have a shot at making this a series if star forward Rudy Gay was still around, but he's injured and won't be playing. So, Memphis is going to have to be over-reliant on inside man Zach Randolph. Randolph can help power Memphis to one or two wins, but nothing he does will be enough to pull off the upset.
Spurs take it, 4-1.
2. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 7. New Orleans Hornets
The Lakers had a chance at the top seed in the final two weeks and really blew it, going on a six-game skid and barely holding on for the No. 2 seed. They're here, though, and if they get Andrew Bynum back and healthy for the remainder of the playoffs, they should still be the favorite to get to the Finals.
New Orleans is a solid squad, but without big man David West to bang inside, they've been stripped of any kind of a favorable matchup in the post game. Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor don't stand a chance against Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and a healthy Andrew Bynum.
Lakers roll, 4-1.
3. Dallas Mavericks vs. 6. Portland Trail Blazers
Dallas lost out on the second seed, and even had a realistic shot at the top seed out west for a while. Instead of getting a favorable matchup, they will go toe to toe with the pesky Trail Blazers, who have the talent and manpower to rumble with the best the West has to offer.
Dirk Nowitzki is a man possessed, but he will need Tyson Chandler to be huge inside, as Portland's main meal ticket in these playoffs will have to be the continued stellar play of LaMarcus Aldridge. If Dallas can contain Aldridge and play the solid overall defense they've shown they can do, they should get out of the first round. However, with defensive stalwart Gerald Wallace playing some of the best basketball of his life lately, it could end up being a full series.
This writer takes Dallas, even despite their recent playoff history, but we've got another push overall at NBA Soup.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 5. Denver Nuggets
The Thunder made a name for themselves last year when they went toe to toe with the Lakers in the playoffs, and this year could be the year they take the next step. With a strong reinforcement inside in Kendrick Perkins, they now have the inside power to battle with the bigger, stronger teams in the Western Conference.
For Denver, life has been just fine post-Carmelo Anthony, as the team is playing solid defense and scoring the ball as well as they ever have. Health is the main concern for a Denver team that remains poised to shock some people, as they have injuries across the board. If Denver isn't fully healthy for this series, they could be in some major trouble.
Ultimately, Kevin Durant and co. won't be denied in their quest to gain a rematch with the Lakers. Thunder take it, 4-2.
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