2011 NBA Playoff Predictions: Every Round Until a Champ Is Crowned
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Every year, I pen my NBA playoff picks on the eve of the postseason. Over the past three seasons, I have accurately picked the winner every year in which Paul Pierce wasn’t wheelchaired back into the arena during the Finals.
I have watched a lot of NBA basketball this season. More than should be allowed by law.
I blame NBA League Pass.
At any rate, and without further ado, I give you my 2011 NBA Playoff Predictions:
WESTERN CONFERENCE ROUND 1:
San Antonio Spurs OVER Memphis Grizzlies: five games
This would be a completely different series if Rudy Gay wasn’t injured.
The Spurs look like they may have peaked early this year, considering their failure to lock up home-court throughout the playoffs, despite an enormous cushion just a couple of weeks ago.
Home-court advantage is not something lost on Gregg Popovich.
Speaking of Pop, he’s the real reason the Spurs will buck the Grizz really quickly. He will be 100 percent prepared to shut down Zach Randolph. No Z-Bo, no Grizzlies.
I do think that most of the games will be competitive, and I can count on OJ Mayo to get hot at least once in the series (game three seems to be the most likely candidate).
In the end, it will be the Spurs who overcome and send the Grizz packing in five.
Los Angeles Lakers OVER New Orleans Hornets: four games
Game one and Game three are the Hornets’ only chances to steal a game from the defending champs.
I just don’t see it happening.
This could be a different series without David West, but I really doubt that, too. The Hornets don’t have the length to bother the Lakers. It’s just that simple.
Portland Trailblazers OVER Dallas Mavericks: seven games
Picking a 6-seed to close out on the road in a game seven? Yes I am.
This is the most interesting matchup of the first round, and the pick I’m least sure of.
All I know is that Portland has looked much more fiery since adding do-it-all Gerald Wallace to the mix. Dirk Nowitzki’s legacy as a perennial all-star and zero time NBA champion is creeping up. Which is unfortunate, considering how Tim Donaghy and his gang single-handedly sabotaged Dirk’s 2006 ring and Finals MVP trophy.
Seriously, how many times did Dwyane Wade get and-1’s without drawing any contact at all in that series? Nowitzki should be the one with Wade’s free pass from the media. Shame.
At any rate, I think the Blazers just match up really well with the Mavs. This will be a slugfest, and I don’t intend to miss any of it.
Oklahoma City Thunder OVER Denver Nuggets: five games
It’s one thing to sneak up on teams during the regular season. It’s another to do it in the playoffs against a team that has been studying you for days.
Denver’s mid-season trade of Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks rearranged the chemistry of this team, and George Karl submitted a coach of the year-esque performance to make his new and old players commit to his system.
But that Cinderella story is about to end. Denver does not have the werewithal to hang with the Thunder.
The most interesting aspect of this series will be seeing who gets the ball in crunch time between Westbrook and Durant.
EASTERN CONFERENCE ROUND 1:
NOTE: It’s ridiculous that half of the Eastern Conference playoff teams wouldn’t qualify for the playoffs if they were in the West. I am a fan of disregarding conferences for the postseason and ranking everyone 1-16. It’ll never happen, but it's still a travesty.
Chicago Bulls OVER Indiana Pacers: four games
Too much defense for Indiana to break through even one game.
This is going to be a tough series to watch if you’re a Pacers fan. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Bulls held them under 60 points in game one.
Rose should post some MVP-worthy numbers, Boozer will average 20-10, and Noah will have one carnal-scream-post-block that will be replayed in every NBA 2011 Playoffs montage.
Miami Heat OVER Philadelphia 76ers: six games
The Heat are simply not built for the playoffs.
They don’t have a quality center, their two best players are just different sized versions of each other, and Mike Bibby is their point guard. It’s not a recipe for success.
That being said, they will crush Philly in games one and two.
The 76ers will exhibit some pride and bounce back for games three and four, but in the end, talent will win out. Look for Iguodala to put up some monster stats, and look for the “TIME TO FIRE ERIK SPOELSTRA???” headlines after game four.
Side note: I love that the playoffs magnify the mass media’s super-over-reactions times 100. Every loss means you will never win again. Every victory means you are unbeatable.
Boston Celtics OVER New York Knicks: five games
Speaking of not being built for the playoffs—
Okay, the Knicks actually have better-defined roles for their players than the Heat do, but they are missing a behemoth center to cover Amar’e Stoudemire up on defense.
The Knicks will fold early and often under Boston’s pressure.
By the way, the reports of the Celtics’ demise have been greatly exaggerated. They are built for the playoffs. Put their regular season stats and record away, because they’re about to roll some teams.
Atlanta Hawks OVER Orlando Magic: six games
When Atlanta traded Mike Bibby’s carcass for Kirk Hinrich, I thought this team was going to take off. And maybe they still will.
This is the second biggest enigma in the first round for me. Game one will decide the series.
I think Atlanta will display flashes of the toughness they have been missing; partly because Josh Smith will be returning, partly because Zaza Pachulia tries to fight everyone he can in the playoffs, and partly because Hinrich is going to make life miserable for Jameer Nelson and Gilbert Arenas by hounding them the second they cross half court.
If Atlanta steals game one, which they’re quite capable of doing against the Orlando Chuckers (as Sir Charles is so fond of saying, “you don’t live by the three, you just die by it.”), then the monkey on Dwight Howard’s back gets a lot bigger.
And then it eats him alive.
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS:
San Antonio Spurs OVER Oklahoma City Thunder: seven games
Now that the horrific first round matchups have passed, the real games can begin.
A Thunder pick is tantalizing. It just seems like it’s their time. But I don’t think it is.
I think this is the series that the unspoken Westbrook-Durant squabbles over the ball at the end of games rears its ugly head. The Spurs know how to win in the playoffs. Every Spur knows his role on that team.
It’s an odd-numbered year.
When you’ve got experience vs. youth, it’s a toss-up. But I’m going with Popovich’s ability to get every last bit of talent from his guys in what could easily be Tim Duncan’s last shot at ring number five.
Los Angeles Lakers OVER Portland Trailblazers: five games
Whoever emerges from that Mavs-Blazers series is going to be wasted.
Unfortunately for that team, the Lakers will be extremely well rested.
I don’t expect the Blazers to be much of a problem for the Lakers, considering their matchup issues. The Lakers may be the only team with a PF that can not only guard Gerald Wallace’s versatility, but exceed it.
Lamar Odom will be the unsung hero of this series.
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS:
Chicago Bulls OVER Atlanta Hawks: five games
This is where the magic ends for the Hawks.
Too much Derrick Rose. Too much Luol Deng. Too much defense.
The Bulls will own the paint, and most of the games will be Bulls blowouts. The Hawks will decide that they need a new coach, not new players (did you know Larry Drew is their coach? Have you ever heard of Larry Drew? I didn’t think so).
Enter Larry Brown.
Boston Celtics OVER Miami Heat: six games
The series that will live on in infamy. There is just too much pride on the line for this thing to not be a crazy affair.
The Celtics’ defense will return to its old form. Based on how Doc Rivers has handled these things in the past, he’s going to let LeBron get his points and shut everyone else down.
He has the personnel to single-cover James, as long as Paul Pierce can stay out of foul trouble early in games. It’ll be interesting to see how former NBA cast-off James Jones fares when his threes aren’t wide open anymore.
The Heat have no answer for Rondo. Or even a semblance of an answer.
And if Shaq can give the Celtics anything at all, they will crush the Heat faster than six. This is another series you simply cancel your plans to watch. We’re in for a treat.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS:
Los Angeles Lakers OVER San Antonio Spurs: six games
The two greatest coaches in the league. Two players who have combined for nine rings in the last 12 years.
Plenty of history between these teams (0.4 seconds, anyone?).
In the end, I think this will come down to Kobe taking over. I don’t know if Duncan has it in him anymore to go this deep into the postseason.
Ginobli will be largely mitigated by Artest’s defense. Gasol can match Duncan’s numbers. Parker will get his points, but Steve Blake will make him work hard to get them.
The Spurs have no answers for Kobe, Bynum, or Odom. At least no answers that I’ve seen. If anyone can come up with those answers, it’s Popovich.
Perhaps more than anything, I look forward to the pregame shenanigans of both coaches. Phil, in particular, is the master of mind games and changing the subject.
There will be some memorable moments in this series. Maybe even a 0.3 buzzer-beater.
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS:
Boston Celtics OVER Chicago Bulls: six games
Experience. Experience, experience, experience.
The Celtics have it, the Bulls don’t. This is where the Bulls’ magical run comes to an end. Abruptly, too—much like the James-led Cavalier teams of yore (remember when they went 8-0 before the Magic promptly bounced them?).
The best part of this matchup is that Rose and Rondo may legitimately hate each other.
The 2008 Round One series between these teams was epic. Blood, headbands, taunting, fights—that’s what makes the NBA fun.
I expect Rose to continue his dominance of Rondo, but this is where Carlos Boozer rears his ugly playoff head.
The Celtics are going to shut him down, and then the ship will go down with him. Expect a slow, nasty grudge match. Expect low scores. Expect blood. And expect green to be the Eastern Conference’s favorite color come June—yet again.
Los Angeles Lakers OVER Boston Celtics: five games
The media will, of course, have a field day with this.
Much will be made of the history between these teams, and particularly the recent history.
The pressure will be entirely upon Kobe to finish strong. ESPN’s Bill Simmons and other sportswriters made a lot of fuss about Kobe’s 6-for-24 shooting night in Game seven of the 2010 Finals.
Oddly, not as much is made about Kobe’s career high—and he’s had a lot of games in his career—15 rebounds. Or the fact that Paul Pierce and Ray Allen shot a combined 8-for-29 in the same game, three percent more accurately than Kobe’s 25 percent shooting. Kobe doesn’t forget anything.
Not only does Kobe not forget the past, but he thinks a lot about the future. As in his legacy. As in six rings.
As in matching Michael Jordan.
Without Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics will be alternately punished by Gasol and Bynum down low. Without Tony Allen, the Celtics won’t even have a warm body to put in Kobe’s way.
Of course, Lamar Odom will disappear again in this series. Something about the Celtics does that to him. And the Lakers won’t be able to stop Rondo, even though they added Steve Blake for that very purpose.
Pierce and Artest will get into it, Ray Allen will nail some gigantic threes, Glen Davis will drool a lot, and Kevin Garnett will shatter a backboard while doing his pregame head-butts.
In other words, the Celtics will give it their best shot.
But Kobe will not be denied this year.
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