2011 NBA Playoffs: First Round Breakdown

Robert C BinyonContributor IIApril 16, 2011

The Bulls look to make a deep run in this year's playoffs.
The Bulls look to make a deep run in this year's playoffs.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 8 Indiana Pacers

The Bulls handled the season series 3-1. In the three games they won, they did it by an average of 17.6 points. The game they lost was the most recent overtime meeting between the two, which went into overtime. Chicago was down by 16 going into the fourth, but made a furious comeback to send the game into overtime.

I want to go out on a limb and say that Chicago will take the sweep over Indiana, but I think that Indiana has the firepower (Granger, Hibbert, Collison) to steal a game at home. Chicago in 5.

No. 2 Miami Heat vs. No. 7 Philadelphia 76ers

This series is very close to being a sweep, based primarily on the fact that Philadelphia shares the same strength that Miami does: Perimeter athleticism. The season series shows this too. Miami won each game by nine points or more (9, 10, 12). Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday aren't close to being LeBron and Dwyane. Elton Brand has been having a good season, and he's definitely more of a banger than Bosh, but that's not enough for me. I say at most this series goes five games, but I can definitely see a sweep. Miami in 4.

No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 6 New York Knicks

The Celtics swept the season series 4-0, and the two games the Knicks came closer to winning were before they acquired Carmelo.

I'm a big supporter of Carmelo. He's my favorite non-Laker and he always has been. Still, it's hard to figure out which Knicks team will show up in the playoffs. If the team that has gelled down the stretch shows up, I see the Knicks making this a six or seven-game series. They have the firepower but they can't play defense. Boston could get the sweep if they slow the offense down and rely on their half-court execution. New York thrives on outscoring its opponent, not on getting stops down the stretch.

I would love to see Carmelo make a run in the playoffs, but I don't think this is the year it happens. In the end they will give the Celtics a good, hard-fought battle, but will bow out after six. Boston in 6. 

No. 4 Orlando Magic vs. No. 5 Atlanta Hawks

I know that many will want to call this a slam-dunk series for the Magic. I want to say otherwise. I think the fact that Atlanta has struggled down the stretch is definitely something to take note of, but another thing to take note of is the fact that Atlanta owns the season series 3-1.

The secret to Atlanta's success is their ability to keep Dwight Howard contained, and keep the scores of the games down. Al Horford has always done a good job on Dwight, but in addition to his defense, he has upped his scoring on Orlando's big man by eight points per game this season. In addition to Horford, the Hawks have Jason Collins, who can come in and play hard-nosed and physical defense on Howard.

I think the Hawks are going to give us the East's most entertaining first-round series, but ultimately Orlando will come out on top. Orlando in 7.

Western Conference 

No. 1 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies

This matchup is intriguing on many fronts, but none are more interesting than the rumor that the Grizzlies tanked in order to play the Spurs rather than the Lakers in round one. The Spurs are a team you don't want to give extra motivation to, but the potential loss of Manu Ginobili is a huge blow.

The Grizzlies were very hot in the second half of the season, going 32-16. The season series was split at two games a piece, with both team holding down their home floors. Something that can give Memphis fans a little hope is the fact that of their wins came in the second half of the season, where they were playing better basketball. If they could somehow grab a game in San Antonio, the Grizz have a legitimate chance of taking this series far. Especially if Manu is out.

But ultimately, I think the Spurs playoff experience and talent will prove to be too much for Memphis to overcome. San Antonio in 6. 

No. 2 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 7 New Orleans Hornets

I'm going to have a more in-depth analysis of this game up before the first game tips off, but I'll give my quick thoughts here. A lot of people are excited for the Lakers to take on the Hornets in the first round because there really is no viable way for the Hornets to win the series. Its basically Chris Paul, and as great as he is, that's not enough against LA. The Lakers hold a sizable advantage down low with Andrew, Pau and Lamar. If they play smart, they will exploit that advantage early, often and consistently throughout the series.

I'm happy the Lakers take on New Orleans because it means they can work guys like Blake, Barnes and Bynum.

Assuming Bynum is healthy and plays his normal minutes, the Lakers take this series handily. I know the Lakers too well to predict a sweep. Los Angeles in 5. 

No. 3 Dallas Mavericks vs. No. 6 Portland Trail Blazers

This is the matchup I would have liked to see for the Lakers because I know it would have jumpstarted them into playoff mode. Regardless, I think this is the best series for an upset. Portland has played great basketball since acquiring Gerald Wallace, and Brandon Roy seems to be learning how to play basketball without knees.

The season series was split 2-2 with both teams winning the games on their home court. Portland won the two most recent games in March and April. I really like the Trail Blazers' defensive abilities. Their long athletic defenders really give players hell.

I'm really torn, because in my gut I want to take the Blazers in seven, but then I remember how well the Mavericks played earlier in the season and the fact that they're more experienced. Portland doesn't have anyone who has made a deep playoff run, whereas the Mavs have quite a few. However, I won't be surprised if Portland pulls off the upset. Dallas in 7.

No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 5 Denver Nuggets

This could be the most fun series to watch. Both teams have the ability to score in bunches, but oddly enough both can settle in and play defense. Since making the deal that saw them lose their franchise player, Denver has been one of the best teams in the league.

Oklahoma City's deal for Kendrick Perkins is one of the biggest reasons that they can slow it down and play good defense. They now have a dominant presence inside that can alter shots and shut down any opposing big man. It took a bit of time for him to gel, but Perk seems to have things down and the team has been playing well. The Thunder hold the season series 3-1, but they won both games against the Nuggets without Melo (by 7 and 15).

Denver doesn't have that guy who can take the final shot in a clutch situation. They have a lot of guys who can hit shots, but no one who has ice in their veins. The Thunder have Durant and the possibility of Westbrook as well. I think that tips the scales in Oklahoma City's favor. Oklahoma City in 6. 

Be sure to be on the lookout for my in-depth preview of the Lakers/Hornets series at www.lasportsminute.com. If you have any comments, questions or concerns, please feel free to e-mail me at lasportsminute@gmail.com. Also, please follow me on twitter (@rcbinyon), I interact with all my fans!