2011 NBA Playoff Predictions: The 10 Most Exciting Potential Playoff Matchups

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2011

2011 NBA Playoff Predictions: The 10 Most Exciting Potential Playoff Matchups

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    DALLAS, TX - MARCH 12:  Center Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers takes a shot against Brendan Haywood #33 of the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center on March 12, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agree
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    In the past few years, we have seen some thoroughly epic playoff matches, with the Celtics-Bulls series from 2009, the Lakers-Thunder series from last year and, of course, last year's Lakers-Celtics finals.

    This year, there are plenty of opportunities for more awesome playoff matchups with the creation of some stacked teams since the Celtics put their "Big Three" together back in 2007.

    While it is true that the creation of super-teams may end up killing the small-market teams throughout the league, the ultimate payoff should be the playoffs, which should boast some terrific series.

    This year, the tops of both conferences are stacked, with the East having Chicago, Boston, Miami, Orlando and Atlanta at the top and the West with San Antonio, Los Angeles, Dallas and Oklahoma City at the top.

    Any matchup between the top four teams on either side of the bracket should end up in a series that will give us a handful of amazing games at the very least.

    Given the potential for such amazing playoffs, I have compiled a list of the best potential non-championship playoff series that we could hope for this season.

    If you want a list of my dream finals series for this season, you can find it here, although a few of them are a bit whack at this point, as I wrote it back in December and I have Utah involved in two such series, which doesn't exactly seem probable at this point.

10. Boston Celtics vs. Orlando Magic

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    BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 06:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic heads for the basket as Kevin Garnett #5 and Glen Davis #11 of the Boston Celtics defend on February 6, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeated the Magic 91-80.
    Elsa/Getty Images

    The Orlando Magic are a team that I am having trouble putting a finger on at this point in the season.

    On one hand, they don't seem to be on the same level as the Celtics and Bulls at the top of the East and are an assemblage of jump shooters using Dwight Howard as a kind of nucleus down low.

    On the other hand, they have great shooters and the best center in the NBA, which has given them a great defense and an effective offense.

    There is very little that needs to be explained about the Celtics, as they are easily one of the best teams in the league with very few weaknesses (although trading Kendrick Perkins did open up the paint a bit).

    The season series is swayed in favor of Boston right now, 2-1, but their three games combine to only a difference of six points in favor of Boston.

    So with both the knowledge that they have been involved in the past three NBA Finals and that they have been two of the best teams in the East since 2007, this would end up being a great series.

9. Miami Heat vs. Orlando Magic

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    MIAMI, FL - MARCH 03:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat shoots over Hedo Turkoglu #15, Ryan Anderson #33, and Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic during a game at American Airlines Arena on March 3, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    A Heat-Magic series creates a handful of interesting mismatches that could make for a great series.

    The Magic would have the definite advantage at point guard and center, matching Jameer Nelson against Mike Bibby and Dwight Howard with Zydrunas Ilgauskas/Eric Dampier/Joel Anthony.

    Meanwhile, Miami would have the advantage with Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh going up against Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Brandon Bass.

    These mismatches would make for a terrific chess match between the two teams and should create an intense matchup, especially with Stan Van Gundy constantly sniping at Erik Spoelstra and the Heat.

    The season series was split 2-2, with the most recent game ending with a 40-9 Magic run leading to a three-point victory that made it one of the most compelling games of the season.

8. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Dallas Mavericks

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 30: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers glides to the basket against Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks during the NBA basketball game at Staples Center on October 30, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER:
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    If there is one thing I love about a potential Lakers-Mavs series, it is that there are two aging superstars both in search of NBA titles for completely different reasons.

    Dirk Nowitzki is attempting to win one so he can keep his name out of the dreaded "best player without a ring" conversation and solidify himself as the best European player ever to play in the NBA.

    Kobe Bryant is looking for a sixth ring in order to solidify himself as one of the top 10 players in NBA history (don't get all riled up now, Kobe-haters—he is at least in that conversation with a sixth ring).

    It matches teams with terrific players on both sides of the floor, multiple seven-footers and highly intelligent, aging point guards.

    They are pretty similar teams who are both smart offensively and defensively, can shoot well and have the ability to spread the floor with shooting big men and pound the ball down low with efficiently scoring big men.

    This looks like it would be a great matchup on paper, but honestly, I think it would end up being disappointing. I felt that I had to include it nonetheless.

7. Miami Heat vs. New York Knicks

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    MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks posts up Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat during a game at American Airlines Arena on February 27, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by d
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    If you want to see a series full of long runs, superstar stat lines, thunderous dunks and sweet alley-oops, then this is the one for you.

    In the four games that they have played this season, the Knicks have seemingly figured out the Heat. They lost the first two games by large margins, only to come back in the second two games and beat the Heat, with the most recent game featuring a 15-point comeback by the Knicks.

    The star power alone is enough to make this a titillating game, with Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade populating the court.

    This game would inevitably feature those five players accounting for somewhere between 100-140 points combined.

    Then, if the Heat decide to lapse in their defense and the game becomes up-tempo, this could be a very high-scoring series with every other play being a fast-break dunk.

6. San Antonio Spurs vs. Dallas Mavericks

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    SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 25:  Forward Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks dribbles the ball past Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 25, 2010 in
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    This is another game featuring a court full of wily veterans who know how to get the job done when it counts.

    Dirk Nowitzki has been saddled with overpaid big men playing alongside him for the longest time, and now that he has Tyson Chandler down low with him, the Mavericks finally have a good chance of not bowing out of the playoffs early, as they have done far too often in the past.

    On the other side of the court stand the San Antonio Spurs, the team that was supposed to be too old to threaten for another title this season, only to run to the best record in the NBA.

    Tim Duncan has had a mediocre regular season and is probably done for much of the rest of the regular season, but I wholeheartedly expect him to explode this postseason, so long as his injury isn't more serious than expected.

    This would likely be a slowed-down, methodical, fundamentally sound basketball game, even though the Spurs have shaken off their reputation of being a slow and boring team.

    A Spurs-Mavericks series, so long as Duncan is back at full health, would be a basketball fan's dream come true.

5. Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets

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    DENVER - DECEMBER 28:  LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the Portland Trail Blazers takes a shot over Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on December 28, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The circumstances from which these two would end up meeting would be something to talk about by itself.

    As it stands, the Nuggets would have to upset the Thunder and the Spurs, while the Blazers would have to take out the Mavericks followed by the Lakers, as long as the Spurs and Lakers weren't upset in the first round.

    This Western Conference Finals would have David Stern weeping, as the top four teams, and the top four draws in the West, would have been eliminated, while the superstar-less Blazers or Nuggets would be on the way to the finals.

    This would be my dream series, but I know much of the rest of the country wouldn't find it nearly as compelling as some of the others, so I left it at No. 5, which still may be a bit too high to some of you out there.

    Nonetheless, these two would play in a "something's got to give" series—which is one of my favorites (see: 2009 Lakers-Rockets or 2010 Suns-Blazers)—where an excellent offensive team meets an excellent defensive team.

    The Nuggets are posting 107 points a game (same since Carmelo left), while the Blazers are allowing only 94 points per game (90.75 since acquiring Gerald Wallace).

    These contests usually end up going the way of the better defensive team, but they usually stretch out into long, exciting, back-and-forth series.

4. Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics

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    BOSTON - FEBRUARY 13:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat and Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics take a breather at TD Garden on February 13, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or
    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    This series would send David Stern into a series of fits where the only thing that can be seen in his eyes would be dollar signs.

    The Boston Celtics have owned the Miami Heat this season, but that was during the regular season, and things can go completely awry or absolutely right for any team during the playoffs.

    Aside from the obvious Paul Pierce-against-LeBron James matchup, we have Kevin Garnett against Chris Bosh (I'm hoping for a repeat of the Charlie Villanueva incident, wherein Garnett calls Bosh "A dinosaur to his team and to the league" which brings me to my favorite Photoshop moment ever) and Dwyane Wade running around the court alongside Ray Allen; there is bad blood between the teams.

    Bosh has said he hates losing to the Celtics, which gives them motivation to give it everything they've got in the playoffs, and of course, there was Pierce's tweet mocking LeBron's "Taking my talents to South Beach" comment.

    There are plenty of storylines to make this series exciting through the media, plus there are some good basketball players that will be on the court and there's the possibility that Pat Riley comes out of his office during the game, fires Erik Spoelstra during a timeout and takes over coaching duties in the middle of a game.

3. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 27:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder posts up Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers during Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on April 27, 2010 in Los Ange
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Everyone was talking about a rematch of last year's terrific matchup in which the Thunder threw everything they had as an eighth seed at the top-seeded Lakers.

    Even with Kevin Durant struggling during the series (he had 25 points and seven rebounds per game, but he shot 35 percent from the field and 28 percent from downtown) the Thunder were able to come out and nearly had the Lakers shaking in their boots.

    If not for a late shot by Pau Gasol, which put the Lakers up, 95-94, with less than a second remaining, the Thunder would have pushed it to a Game 7 and had all the confidence in the world.

    That series was the coming-out party for both Serge Ibaka, who was a defensive monster, and Russell Westbrook, who averaged 20 points on nearly 50-percent shooting.

    This year, the Thunder are even better, and the Lakers are just as good, which would make for a terrific series.

    Oklahoma City also acquired Kendrick Perkins, who should see his production rise as he gets into the flow of the team.

    This matchup would feature all of the greatness of last year's, only it would be expected, and it could possibly exceed how good last year's was.

2. Los Angeles Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 25:  Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts to a foul next to Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the forth quarter at the Staples Center on January 25, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers defeated t
    Harry How/Getty Images

    This is the ultimate Western Conference playoff series that we, as basketball fans, could ask for.

    First of all, it would be a Western Conference Finals series, meaning that either Kobe Bryant and the Lakers would be going back to the finals to try for a three-peat or the Spurs would be going back to try to get Tim Duncan his fifth ring.

    Here we have the top two teams in the West, with the Lakers exploding down the stretch, and the Spurs trying to get into the playoffs healthy.

    San Antonio averages two more points per game than the Lakers, but the Lakers allow two fewer points per game than the Spurs.

    The Spurs lead the season series 2-1, with one more game coming as both teams' second-to-last game of the season.

    This matchup would have so many implications, not only for this season, but historically, that we would be bombarded with so much information prior to the games that it would be nearly overwhelming, but I think the series could live up to the hype.

    It would also spark the debate over who was the best superstar of the 2000s, Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan (I'm a Duncan man myself), which would give us something more interesting to talk about than Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James, wherein each side inevitably ends up calling the other "haters" and walks off.

1. Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls

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    BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 05:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics takes a shot as Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls defends on November 5, 2010 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by down
    Elsa/Getty Images

    If we were to have a Bulls-Celtics Eastern Conference Finals, I would absolutely lose my mind. I seriously think my head might explode with joy.

    Many of you will remember the epic seven-game series that these two teams had back in the 2009 playoffs, in which the veteran Celtics eventually came out on top over the youthful Bulls.

    If the Bulls were to take this one, it would establish them as the premier team in the East and set up talks about whether or not they can outrun the Heat and Knicks in the years to come. It would also start overzealous Bulls fans with the proclamation that not only is Derrick Rose the NBA's MVP, but he is as good as Michael Jordan.

    So I guess you take the good with the bad there.

    Were Boston to win such a series, it would make it so they were still a threat for the East next season, and possibly longer if Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are to stay (my money says they're staying, so long as there is no hard cap implemented this summer).

    I could go into this series much more deeply, and I did here, but I don't really want to fill up a single slide with 1,000 words.

    I honestly believe that this series could live up to the hype, and possibly out-awesome the 2009 series, with the way that each of these teams play all-out when there is something like a trip to the finals on the line.

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