After a long, 82-game season for teams that began way back in late October, basketball’s second season is finally here. The NBA playoffs begin Saturday, and before they do, here’s a preview of all eight first-round matchups.
(1) Miami Heat vs. (8) Milwaukee Bucks
- Though the Bucks played Miami tough in the regular season, they will be no match for reigning MVP LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and the red-hot Heat, who enter the postseason having won an incredible 37 of their final 39 regular season games.
- Prediction- Heat in 4
(4) Brooklyn Nets vs. (5) Chicago Bulls
- This is an intriguing series to me. Brooklyn comes in as the presumptive favorite with the home-court and the absence (at the moment) of Bulls guard Derrick Rose, who is still recovering from his torn ACL last postseason against Philadelphia. But Chicago is a gritty bunch that will make you work for every basket. Tom Thibodeau is one of the best coaches in the NBA, and he will have his Chicago squad primed and ready for a possible upset. However, with Deron Williams getting healthier by the game and the consistent play of Brook Lopez, I think the Nets will get their first playoff series win in Brooklyn.
- Prediction- Nets in 6
(3) Indiana Pacers vs. (6) Atlanta Hawks
- Indiana basketball is back, and it’s not the Hoosiers or Butler. No, the Pacers are thinking about bringing the city it’s first NBA championship (they won 3 as part of the ABA). And why not? They challenged the eventual champion Heat in the semifinals last year in a tough 6-game series, and, despite the loss of scoring threat Danny Granger to a season-ending knee injury, have gotten better on both sides of the ball, especially defense. Paul George has made a case for the league’s Most Improved Player, and will likely impose his will on an inconsistent Atlanta Hawks squad. The Hawks really don’t have a backcourt scoring threat, and that will cost them against a squad that will probably give Al Horford and Josh Smith fits (Smith could be playing his final series as a Hawk, as he is an unrestricted free agent after the season).
- Prediction- Pacers in 5
(2) New York Knicks vs. (7) Boston Celtics
- Another installment of the New York-Boston sports rivalry will take place, this time in basketball with a spot in the second round on the line. Both sides will obviously be playing with heavy hearts, especially the Celtics, who are representing not just Boston but all of the American spirit with the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings still fresh in everyone’s minds. Despite the absence of Rajon Rondo (torn ACL), the underdog C’s will give New York everything they got. However, I think scoring champion Carmelo Anthony will carry the Knicks forward in what should be a great series.
- Prediction- Knicks in 7
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (8) Houston Rockets
- The defending Western Conference champion Thunder are looking to get back to the NBA Finals, with of course a different result from 2012 when they fell to Miami. They will first have to get by the Rockets and a familiar foe in James Harden, the former OKC Sixth Man of the Year who has quickly developed into an all-out superstar. Look for Harden to have his way with OKC, especially if he can get to the line like he did so often this season (he led the league in free throws attempted w/792). However, it still won’t be enough to topple Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and company.
- Prediction- Thunder in 6
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies
- In a rematch of last-year’s epic seven-game tilt, LA’s “other team” will now have the home-court advantage. In addition, despite being one of the best defensive teams in the league (led by Marc Gasol, who could possibly win Defensive Player of the Year), one can’t help but think that the Grizzlies will miss the scoring prowess of Rudy Gay come crunch time. Chris Paul is arguably the best point guard in the game, and Blake Griffin is slowly but surely improving his overall game. I think both will step it up, and “Lob City” will once again outlast Memphis in another first-round war.
- Prediction- Clippers in 7
(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Golden State Warriors
- A contrast of styles highlights this intriguing matchup. The Golden State Warriors, perhaps the surprise team of the NBA this year, enter the postseason as the league’s best 3-point shooting team (40.3%), led by sharpshooting point guard Stephen Curry, who set a new NBA record for 3-pointers made in a season (272). The Nuggets led the league in points in the paint, with 58 per game. Even though Denver lost star forward Danilo Gallinari to a torn ACL late in the season, they are still as deep as any team in the league. Think of Lawson. Iguodala. Faried. Andre Miller. I could go on all night. The Nuggets are just too deep not to win a playoff series, especially one against a team who simply relies on the three way too much. Did I mention that Denver has the home-court, where they went 38-3 (best home record in the NBA)?
- Prediction- Nuggets in 5
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Los Angeles Lakers
- If Kobe Bryant were able to even walk, you know he would be out on the court competing for his 6th title. But he can’t. And it’s a shame, because if not for tearing his Achilles, this would probably be the consensus upset special. The soap opera that has been the 2012-13 Lakers season, full of injuries, coaching changes/adjustments, and media controversies will likely come to an end without #24 in uniform. Though both teams come in dealing with injuries (clearly Spurs point guard Tony Parker still isn’t himself), there’s too much uncertainty surrounding the health of Steve Nash and what Dwight Howard we will see. Not to mention the Spurs are deeper and, right now, an overall better team than the Lake Show.
- Prediction- Spurs in 5.