2011 NBA Playoff Predictions: First-Round Upsets and Sure Bets

Kwame Fisher-JonesContributor IIIApril 16, 2011

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 07: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics goes up for a shot past Joakim Noah #13 and against Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls at United Center on April 7, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agress that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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When the regular season begins each team has a set of goals. Reaching the playoffs is always one of them, but while some teams aspire to just get to the playoffs, others have much loftier goals.

For those teams, the first round can be a tuneup for bigger and better, or a wake-up call from reality. 


Western Conference

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

The Grizzles will make this series more entertaining than most people think, but the Spurs should roll.

Spurs in five.

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

The Lakers have been struggling of late, losing five of their last seven after appearing invincible post-All-Star break. The Hornets will provide little resistance, and this should be a nice tuneup for the Lakers as they gear up for a difficult second round.

Lakers in five.

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

This is the flavor of the week, as far as upsets go; the masses believe this is where an upset is most likely to occur. They say Portland is a tough matchup for Dallas and the Mavericks' playoffs history says they can be beat.

The problem with that theory: the Blazers' own playoffs history does not suggest they can win. Portland has not made it to the second round of the postseason since 1999–2000.

Mavs in six.

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

Denver matches up extremely well with the Thunder and should be able to pull off this upset. The Nuggets were the highest-scoring team in the NBA this year; OKC was in the middle of the pack defensively.

Kenyon Martin and Al Harrington will be extremely physical with Kevin Durant, making things as difficult as possible for the mercurial scorer. For the Thunder to win, Russell Westbrook will have to control this series on both sides of the court and announce his presence as the next NBA superstar.

However, Denver is deep and the Thunder do not play enough defense. That fact should thrust the Nuggets into the second round.

Nuggets in seven.


Eastern Conference

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

The Bulls were 15–1 in their division and the Pacers are a below-.500 team.

Bulls in five.

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

The Sixers will be competitive, but the Heat are focused on big things.

Heat in four.

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

The Celtics were one of the top defensive teams all year, yet now they're getting no respect. Doc Rivers is one of the best coaches in the NBA, yet now he too is being disrespected.

The Knicks were inconsistent prior to the Melo trade and have been bipolar since. Chauncey Billups is a big-time playoff performer, but is beginning to look old. Rajon Rondo sees that, and Coach Rivers knows that.

Do not expect the Knicks to be as competitive as people would have you believe.

Celtics in five.

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

The least talked-about series of them all, simply because nothing suggests the Hawks have a chance.

In keeping with that pattern, the Magic win in five.