2011 NBA Playoff Predictions: 25 Burning Questions Heading into the NBA Playoffs

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistMarch 30, 2011

2011 NBA Playoff Predictions: 25 Burning Questions Heading into the NBA Playoffs

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    CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 25: Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls rubs his head after being fouled and hitting it on the floor against the Memphis Grizzlies at the United Center on March 25, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Grizzlies 99-96. NO
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Can you feel it?  The NBA playoffs are just around the corner.

    Over several weeks of top-notch basketball the league's 16 best teams will be reduced to one.

    The Los Angeles Lakers have emerged as the last team standing in each of the previous two seasons, but they're not a lock to win it all again.

    The question of who will win the title isn't the only one on my mind as the playoffs approach.  Here are 25 more that I can't wait to have answered...

25: Can Either No. 8 Seed Upset a No. 1 Seed?

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    BOSTON, MA - MARCH 16:  Danny Granger #33 is pulled away from the referee by teamamte Tyler Hansbrough #50 of the Indiana Pacers on March 16, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Granger was called for a techical foul. The Celtics defeated the
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Based on current standings, the No. 8/No. 1 matchups feature the Bulls and Pacers in the East and the Spurs and Grizzlies in the West.

    Of the two No. 8 seeds, I'd have to give the Grizzlies a better chance at pulling off the huge first-round upset, but I'm certainly not predicting that will happen.

    The Spurs will advance in five or six games.  The Bulls should sweep the Pacers. 

24: Can Doug Collins Engineer a First-Round Upset?

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    MIAMI, FL - MARCH 25:  Guard Andr Iguodala #9 of the Philadelphia Sixers brings up the ball against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on March 25, 2011 in Miami, Florida. The Heat defeated the Sixers 111-99. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledg
    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Veteran coach Doug Collins has done a great job with a not-so-great roster in Philadelphia.

    At the start of the year, a lot of people thought most of the pieces on this team didn't fit together.  

    But in the last couple months, Collins has found a rotation that works and the team has surged into sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

    If the seeding stays the same, Philadelphia will play Miami in the first round.  On the year, they're 0-3 against the Heat.  The chances of a first-round upset are slim.

23: Who Really Got the Better End of the Kendrick Perkins Trade?

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    WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 14: Kendrick Perkins #5 of the Oklahoma City Thunder puts up a shot in front of JaVale McGee #34 of the Washington Wizards during the first half at the Verizon Center on March 14, 2011 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    The Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder made one of the biggest deadline trades of 2011.  The main pieces involved were Kendrick Perkins, Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic.

    While the Thunder have been better than the Celtics since the deal, this is the regular season.  We all know the Celtics will pick things up when the playoffs start.

    Both teams have a legitimate shot at winning their conferences.  Seeing which teams perform better in the playoffs will do a lot to help us determine who truly won this trade.

22: Who Will Break Out in the Playoffs?

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 5:   Wilson Chandler #21 of the Denver Nuggets waits in the game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on March 5, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloa
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The playoffs can often be a setting for lesser-known players to emerge as stars.  This year, there are plenty of guys who could make that happen.

    Jodie Meeks, Landry Fields, Rodrigue Beaubois, Gary Neal and several others could make themselves known in the postseason.

    Then there are the Denver Nuggets.  Half of their roster could break out in the playoffs.  Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari may all get some serious attention if they win a series or two. 

21: Will the Atlanta Hawks Ever Be Consequential?

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    ATLANTA - JANUARY 29:  Josh Smith #5 and Joe Johnson #2 of the Atlanta Hawks against the Boston Celtics at Philips Arena on January 29, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    It's been the same story with the Hawks for the last few years.  They have plenty of individual talent.  They can manage a good record in the regular season.  They are not legitimate contenders.

    They managed to pull off a slight point guard upgrade at this year's trade deadline when they acquired Kirk Hinrich, but this team looks about the same as it always has.

    The Hawks have a real shot to beat the often-inconsistent Magic in the first round, but their chances of taking down the Bulls in Round 2 are extremely slim.

20: Can the New York Knicks Score a First-Round Upset?

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    DALLAS, TX - MARCH 10:  Forward Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks at American Airlines Center on March 10, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is cons
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    It sure doesn't look like it right now.  The Knicks managed to beat the Magic in overtime last night, but Orlando was shorthanded and one win doesn't erase how bad New York has been since acquiring 'Melo.

    The Knicks are 8-12 since the trade and they've lost to teams like Milwaukee, Detroit, Indiana and Cleveland.

    The games of 'Melo and Amar'e don't seem to complement each other very well, and I think they need a premier distributing point guard to make this work.  

    Of course, they may have to wait until the offseason of 2012 to make that acquisition.

    With as much firepower as New York's two superstars are capable of providing, they do have a slight chance to get out of the first round.

19: Can Any Teams Out of the Playoff Picture Still Sneak In?

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - FEBRUARY 25:  Shaun Livingston #2 of the Charlotte Bobcats reacts after a play during their game against the Sacramento Kings at Time Warner Cable Arena on February 25, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknow
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    With each passing day, the playoff hopes of teams on the outside looking in become dimmer (at least in the Western Conference).

    In the East, there are three teams fighting over one spot.  The race between the Pacers, Bobcats and Bucks could come down to the last day of the season.

18: Will Kevin Durant Become the West's Best?

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 27:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands next to Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on April 27, 2010 in Los
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    The Lakers are not a lock to win the title and give Phil Jackson the fourth three-peat of his career.  In fact, they're not even a lock to win the Western Conference.

    One team in LA's way is the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    If these two meet, and Durant outplays Kobe, we may look back on such a series as a passing of the torch.

17: Are the Nuggets More Likely To Win a Title Without Melo?

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    DENVER, CO - MARCH 23:  (L-R) Al Harrington #7, Raymond Felton #20, J.R. Smith #5, Nene #31 and Wilson Chandler #21 of the Denver Nuggets head back to the court after a time out against the San Antonio Spurs at the Pepsi Center on March 23, 2011 in Denver
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The Denver Nuggets look like a different (and better) team without Carmelo Anthony.

    They play hard on both ends of the floor.  They look like they're having fun.  And most importantly, they now play as a team.

    They won't win a title this year, but with a loaded-with-potential core of Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, they could win one before the 'Melo-era Knicks.

16: Does Brandon Roy Still Have a Future?

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 20:  Brandon Roy #7 of the Portland Trail Blazers dribbles as he is defended by Matt Barnes #9 of the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center on March 20, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
    Harry How/Getty Images

    It always saddens me to see great, young players suffer career-threatening injuries.

    Brandon Roy and the Blazers were well on their way to becoming one of the NBA's elite teams as recently as a couple years ago.

    Multiple knee surgeries later, and the futures of both the team and the player are up in the air.

    Roy's performance in the playoffs could tell us a lot about what kind of player he can be for the rest of his career.

15: Will Orlando Be Able To Keep Dwight Howard?

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    MIAMI, FL - MARCH 03:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic points to a heckler after winning a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on March 3, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by down
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Dwight Howard is saying all the right things as rumors of an impending departure are swirling around the Orlando superstar.

    But you have to think that the Magic need to make a real run at a title this year to convince Howard to stick around for a few more years.

    The only way a chance at playing with Kobe Bryant or Deron Williams wouldn't be enticing is if he's certain he can win a title where he is.

14: Will Marc Gasol Get the Best of His Brother?

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 02:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers is boxed out by Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzlies during the second half at Staples Center on January 2, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Grizzlies defeated the Lakers 104-85
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    It could be interesting to see the Gasol brothers face off.  If the Spurs keep sliding and the Lakers snag the top seed they would meet.  

    Memphis can still overtake New Orleans for the seven seed too (for a two/seven matchup between the Grizzlies and Lakers).

    I'm not looking for a No. 8 over No. 1 upset here, but Pau Gasol has been known to take games off and his brother might make him pay for that in the first round.

13: Why Can't Turner Sports Cover Every Game?

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    DENVER - FEBRUARY 18:  Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and guest arrive at Kenny Smith's 2005 All-Star Party on February 18, 2005 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo By Mark Mainz/Getty Images)
    Mark Mainz/Getty Images

    ESPN's NBA coverage has become nearly unbearable.  Meanwhile, watching games on TNT is a blast (despite having to occasionally listen to Reggie Miller).

    I actually wish the NBA could work out the same arrangement that we've all enjoyed during the NCAA tournament.

    Use all the same announcing crews and put the games on TNT, TBS, CBS and TruTV.  And of course, give us EJ, Kenny and Charles during halftime and postgame shows.

12: Can the Spurs Contend Without Tim Duncan at 100 Percent?

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    MIAMI - MARCH 14:  Center Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on March 14, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph
    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    The Spurs looked nearly invincible as they coasted through most of the regular season.  And they were doing that with Tim Duncan having one of the least productive seasons of his career.

    He's taken on a lesser role this year, and it seemed like he might not be as integral to their success as he was in the past.

    But since Duncan went down with an ankle injury, the Spurs have been a much different team.  In an answer to the question posed on this slide, it doesn't look like the Spurs can win without Duncan at 100 percent.

11: Which Lower-Seeded Teams Have the Best Shot at an Upset?

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    DENVER, CO - MARCH 23:  J.R. Smith #5 of the Denver Nuggets celebrates after scoring against the San Antonio Spurs to give the Nuggets their first lead of the game 99-98 in the fourth quarter at the Pepsi Center on March 23, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The two No. 5 seeds in this year's playoffs have the best shot at a first-round upset.

    The Nuggets have been great since they traded Carmelo Anthony.  They have at least eight players that can put up 20 points on any given night, and they play good defense now too.

    As for the Hawks, they have a lot of talent on the roster.  If they can force the Magic to miss some of those threes they love to shoot, they have a chance.

10: Is This Chris Paul's Last Playoff Run with the Hornets?

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 19:  NBA player for the New Orleans Hornets (L) and director Spike Lee hug during NBA All-Star Saturday night presented by State Farm at Staples Center on February 19, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Get
    Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

    If the Hornets make the playoffs, it could be CP3's last run with the team.

    The team is fading, while others in the West are rising (Grizzlies, Clippers, Rockets, Warriors).  

    Next season is the last on Paul's current contract.  If they miss the playoffs he'll probably explore free agency and I can think of at least one East Coast team that would be interested in him.

9: Which Playoff Coaches Could Be on the Hot Seat with a Bad Showing?

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    PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 13:  Head coach Stan Van Gundy of the Orlando Magic reacts during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on March 13, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Magic defeated the Suns 111-88.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly ackn
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    There are at least a couple playoff coaches who could be in danger of losing their job if their team doesn't perform well.

    The Orlando Magic have had title aspirations for years with their solid team built around Dwight Howard.  But they've only made the NBA Finals once under Stan Van Gundy and they got rolled by the Lakers.

    If they lose in the first round (or even the second), Van Gundy could be done.

    Another playoff-bound coach in danger is also on the East Coast (just further north).  The Knicks have been terrible since they acquired Carmelo Anthony, and many people are pointing fingers at Mike D'Antoni.

    If their woes continue through an early playoff exit, D'Antoni could be replaced by a more defensive-minded coach.

8: Which Players Could Be Moved Because of Poor Playoff Performance?

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    MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 27: Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat drives during a game gainst the New York Knicks at American Airlines Arena on February 27, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or us
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Yes, I am going to suggest Chris Bosh could be traded if the Heat don't play well in the postseason.  Of the Big Three, Bosh is the only one that is possibly expendable.

    Miami has no depth after LeBron, D-Wade or Bosh, but they may be able to acquire two or three solid players in exchange for their power forward.

    Others who could be moved include Gilbert Arenas, Andre Iguodala, Chauncey Billups, Danny Granger, Tony Parker, Andrew Bynum and Chris Paul.

7: Are the Celtics Too Old to Make One More Run?

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    BOSTON, MA - MARCH 16:  Nenad Krstic #4 of the Boston Celtics is congratulated by teammate Kevin Garnett #5 after Krstic drew the foul in the second half against the Indiana Pacers on March 16, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics d
    Elsa/Getty Images

    The Celtics have been up and down at best since they traded Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder in exchange for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic.

    Considering their roster, you have to wonder if this late-season mini-meltdown has more to do with age than the loss of Perkins.

    I have a feeling they'll be able to conveniently right the ship at the start of the first round of the playoffs (as they always do).

    No one will be surprised if they make the conference finals, but the days of legitimate championship contention may be behind them.

6: Will Dirk Nowitzki Finally Win a Title?

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    WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 26: Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks shoots a free throw against the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center on February 26, 2011 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by download
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Their chances are slim, but the Mavericks are legitimate.

    Rick Carlisle has transformed them into a much different team then we've seen in the past.  Their calling card is now defense.

    They are 10th in the league in points allowed, and eighth in field-goal percentage against.  Players like Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd have helped cultivate this new identity.

    Plus, they still have plenty of offensive weapons—that of course includes the greatest player in franchise history, Dirk Nowitzki.

5: Will LeBron Finally Silence His Critics?

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    MIAMI, FL - MARCH 25:  Forward LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat is introduced against the Philadelphia Sixers at American Airlines Arena on March 25, 2011 in Miami, Florida. The Heat defeated the Sixers 111-99. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges a
    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    LeBron unintentionally invited his villain status, then intentionally embraced it.  

    With the possible exception of Kobe Bryant, no player in the league is as polarizing as the Miami Heat superstar.

    His fans praise his phenomenal regular-season production, while his critics are always quick to point out his postseason failures.

    The only thing that will silence LeBron's doubters, haters and critics is an NBA championship.  Will he win one this year?

4: Can the Chicago Bulls Win an NBA Championship?

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    CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 25: Members of the Chicago Bulls including (L-R) Carlos Boozer #5, Kyle Korver #26, Taj Gibson #22, Omer Asik #3, Kurt Thomas #40, Derrick Rose #1, Loul Deng #9 and Keith Bogans #6 huddle before a game against the Memphis Grizzlies at
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Yes, they can.

    Tom Thibodeau has transformed the Bulls into one of the best defensive teams in the NBA (if not the best).  Plus, they have two elite rebounders in the frontcourt in Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah.

    How does the old saying go?   Defense and rebounding win championships.

    It doesn't hurt to have Derrick Rose either.  He'll almost certainly win the league MVP this year and he absolutely deserves it.

    He's seventh in the league in scoring at 24.8 points per game, 10th in assists at 7.8 a game and eighth in assist percentage at 39.2 percent.

    That combination of scoring and distributing has been a huge part of Chicago's success.

    The Bulls are currently in first place in the Eastern Conference standings and Derrick Rose is the biggest reason for that.

    He's carried the team all year (through substantial injuries to Boozer and Noah).  If he keeps that up through the playoffs (and he can), they have a legitimate shot at a title.

3: Will the Heatles Implode in the Playoffs?

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    MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 25:  LeBron James #6, Dwyane Wade #3 and Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat talk during a game against the Washington Wizards at American Airlines Arena on February 25, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges an
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Miami has been written off more than once this season, but the Heat keep bouncing back.

    They've had losing streaks of three, four and five games.  During each one of those three streaks, countless people pounded the panic button.

    As I said before, they've found a way to get back on track each time.  

    The season has certainly been up and down.  During each of the down periods, James, Wade and Bosh have looked like pieces from three different puzzles.

    If they go into one of those funks during the playoffs, there are three or four teams in the Eastern Conference that can bury them.

    If that happens, people inside and out of the organization will start pointing fingers.  And with egos like LeBron's in place, an implosion could certainly happen.

2: Can the Lakers Three-Peat (Again)?

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    DALLAS, TX - MARCH 12:  Guard Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers at American Airlines Center on March 12, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consen
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    With the way the Lakers have been playing since the All-Star break, they have to be considered favorites to take home the title in 2011.

    They have a great size advantage over every team but Dallas and Oklahoma City with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol down low.

    They have versatility, toughness and energy off the bench with Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown, and veteran leadership with Derek Fisher.

    But of course the biggest reason the Lakers still have as good a shot as anyone at the title is Kobe Bryant.  He embodies what it means to be a winner.

1: Will There Be a Lockout Next Season?

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 19:  NBA Commissioner David Stern addresses the media before the start of NBA All-Star Saturday Night at Staples Center on February 19, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)
    Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

    This question has been at the back of every NBA fan's mind all year (or at least since the NFL lockout became official).

    Please let there be NBA basketball next year...