NBA Playoffs: First-Round Predictions

Marcel SmithSenior Analyst IApril 16, 2009

AN ANTONIO - MAY 09: Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs moves the ball against Dirk Nowitzki #41 in Game two of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Dallas Mavericks during the 2006 NBA Playoffs on May 9, 2006 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. The Mavericks won 113-91 to tie the series 1-1. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Eastern Conference:

No. 1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 8 Detroit Pistons - Cavs In 4

The Cavaliers are the best team in the East and they will have no problem with the sinking Pistons, who just aren't close to the team of the last several years, when they were legitimate championship contenders with Billups leading the team. The only question is whether Detroit will win a game, which they can, but I think Lebron is too good and the Cavs will rest after their sweep and await their second-round opponent. 

No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 7 Chicago Bulls - Celtics In 5

The defending champs will have an easier first-round series than last year, when they were forced to seven games against the Hawks. Even though KG's health is uncertain and he will not be 100 percent, the Celtics are simply too good defensively and experienced enough to beat the Bulls with ease. The young Bulls will gain some playoff experience, but they will learn that defense is the key to winning in the postseason when the tempo is often much slower. 

No. 3 Orlando Magic vs. No. 6 Philadelphia 76ers - Magic In 5

I thought the Bulls wouldn't given the Magic a long and tough series, but they lost to the Raptors at home today and the 76ers were able to move up to the sixth seed instead. However, unfortunately for the Sixers, this was a terrible matchup for them, as they have no one to contain Dwight Howard in the middle and they have very little experience with the exception of Andre Miller. 

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No. 4 Atlanta Hawks vs. No. 5 Miami Heat - Hawks In 7

This is without a doubt the best first-round series in the East as either team has a realistic shot of winning. The Hawks are more experienced from last year's seven game series with the Celtics and will have home court, which I think will be the difference in the series, as I think the Hawks will win each home game.

However, I will not be surprised if the Heat win as Wade is the best player in the series and he has shown he can dominate a series before, but I just don't think he has a good enough supporting cast to win the series without home court advantage. I also think that there will be too much pressure on rookie Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley to perform big, and they will not play good enough for Miami to win. 

Western Conference:

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 8 Utah Jazz - Lakers in 5

The Lakers are simply the most talented and deepest team in the league, and it will be a major disappointment if they don't win it all this year. The Jazz won't be able to defend the Lakers well enough to win, especially inside where they can't handle Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and then Lamar Odom off the bench. Also, Boozer isn't playing like his normal self since he has returned from his injury and Kirilenko has lost it mentally.

Kobe will dominate as the Jazz don't have a great perimeter defender to guard him and while Deron Williams is a terrible matchup for the Lakers as both Fisher and Farmar can't contain him at all. If needed, Trevor Ariza could defend Deron for a few important possessions late in the game and bother him with his size, speed, and length.

No. 2 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 7 New Orleans Hornets - Hornets In 7

This was the most difficult series for me to predict as while I think the Hornets are better, mostly because they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul, I was concerned about Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic's injuries and how healthy they will be for the series.

However, I think the Hornets will win in seven extremely tough games as Chris Paul will severely outplay Billups in the point guard matchup, and because I think David West will have a monster series as the Nuggets don't have anyone to defend him well. Overall, while the Nuggets are deeper and have home court advantage, I simply think Chris Paul will win the series for the Hornets pretty much by himself—with a little help from West inside.

#3 San Antonio Spurs vs. #6 Dallas Mavericks - Spurs In 6

The Spurs are still the Spurs and they still have the great Tim Duncan (even if he's not 100 percent) and head coach Gregg Poppovich, and that is why they will win the series over Dallas. First off, Tony Parker will dominate Jason Kidd, as Kidd is way too slow and old to guard the extremely quick Parker from not driving in the lane to score and create for his teammates.

I also think Roger Mason and Drew Gooden will be important role players for the Spurs as Gooden is a solid low-post player offensively that the Spurs haven't had with Duncan since David Robinson's retirement. Mason has been extremely clutch so far in the season, and that will continue in the postseason as he will be the replacement for Robert Horry's big shots. 

No. 4 Portland Trailblazers vs. No. 5 Houston Rockets - Blazers In 7

The young and relatively inexperienced Blazers will be able to squeeze by past the Rockets thanks to their great home court advantage, where they were 34-7 during the regular season. The Blazers have two centers who could guard and bother Yao in the middle with Oden and Przybilla, both of whom are solid defensively.

However, the x-factor for Portland is LaMarcus Aldridge, who is too big and talented for the under-sized Luis Scola or Carl Landry to defend. Aldridge will have a huge series as he has a 3" to 4" height advantage over his defender. Overall, while the Rockets are more experienced, the majority of their key players still haven't advance past the first round, such as Yao, Scola, Brooks, Battier, and Landry. 


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