(1) Miami Heat vs.
(8) Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings predicted that his team would defeat LeBron James and the Heat in six games. Jennings may be a little too optimistic, however. I would be incredibly surprised, as would many NBA fans, if the Bucks even prove to be more than a slight bump on the Heat’s road to the Finals. Milwaukee doesn’t have anyone to guard Dwyane Wade or LeBron, and they will thoroughly dominate the entire series. Although Larry Sanders has been playing outstandingly for the Bucks this season, he, Jennings, and Monta Ellis will not be able to keep up with the speed and quickness of Miami. Among all the potentially great match-ups in the first round, this is definitely not one. The Heat should win easily.
Prediction: Heat in 4
The Miami Heat are the top team in the NBA and for a good reason. LeBron James has been his usual dominant self on pace to claim his fourth MVP award in five years. Accompanied by All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who are top ten talents in the NBA, many have already crowned the Heat as this year’s champions. The only way I see this not being a sweep is if for some reason or another, the Big Three come out complacent; however, with Jennings’s recent comments, I doubt this will happen. Look for LeBron and company to crush the Bucks in blowout fashion on an easy trip to the second round.
Prediction: Heat in 4
(2) New York Knicks vs.
(7) Boston Celtics
While the Celtics enter this series as a 7th seed, don’t let that fool you. They have a legitimate chance to win this series against the Knicks and they will make it one of the most competitive match-ups of the 1st round. Even without Rajon Rondo, Boston has enough talent in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jeff Green to compete with any team in the league. Avery Bradley will do his best to fill in for Rondo, and he should be serviceable for the playoffs. He plays outstanding perimeter defense, so the Knicks’ J.R. Smith will struggle to take over games the way he has so far this season. The key to the series will be how well Jeff Green and Brandon Bass can hold Carmelo Anthony. Anthony was the league’s leading scorer this season, so they simply cannot allow him to score at will if they want to have a chance. With all that said, in a Game 7, loser-goes-home situation, I have to bet on the veterans every time.
Prediction: Celtics in 7
The Celtics are playing well without their superstar Rajon Rondo. Game 1 was close until the end, when Carmelo Anthony continued his scoring display while the Celtics missed their late fourth quarter shots. The Celtics should be able to win some nail-biters in Boston, but the Knicks’ scoring will be too difficult to keep up with. Knicks shooting guard JR Smith should heat up from behind the arc in the next couple of games, and Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin will dominate on the defensive end. Paul Pierce went 1/7 from three in Game 1, and his shooting will improve, but that will only be enough to win a couple of games against the second-seeded Knicks.
Prediction: Knicks in 6
(3) Indiana Pacers vs.
(6) Atlanta Hawks
This match-up was more intriguing three weeks ago, before Atlanta began to come apart at the seams. The Hawks are led by explosive power forward Josh Smith and center Al Horford, but they don’t have much else. Their offseason signing of Lou Williams won’t help them in this series, as he tore his ACL earlier this season. This really hurts their scoring output and they’ll need all the offense that they can get against the stout Indiana defense. Paul George has emerged into a legitimate NBA superstar this season, so the loss of Danny Granger won’t be as detrimental to their success as one may think. Although Roy Hibbert has regressed from his All- Star season of last year, he will still be a defensive force down low and make it difficult for Smith and Horford to make a meaningful impact in the series. Indiana shouldn’t have a problem advancing to Round 2.
Prediction: Pacers in 4
(4) Brooklyn Nets vs.
(5) Chicago Bulls
This will definitely be one of the closer series, even without Derrick Rose. Chicago is famous for their incredibly tough brand of defense and Brooklyn made waves in the offseason with the acquisition of shooting guard Joe Johnson and Portland swingman Gerald Wallace. The team didn’t quite reach their lofty preseason expectations, although they did have a quite successful season. Depending on how perennial All-Star Deron Williams plays this series, the Nets could definitely be upset by the Bulls. They should struggle to score, especially after the emergence of Chicago forward Jimmy Butler. Butler has proven to be instrumental in Chicago’s defensive success, and he should be a key in the series. The Bulls also need Joakim Noah on the floor to contain Nets’ center Brook Lopez. The games should be low scoring and competitive, but Chicago’s defense should prove to be too much, and they’ll pull off the upset.
Prediction: Bulls in 6
The Brooklyn Nets blew out the Chicago Bulls in Game 1, thanks to a combined scoring effort from point guard Deron Williams, shooting guard Joe Johnson, and center Brook Lopez. The Bulls defense gave up too many easy points in the paint, as Brooklyn’s starting five tore them apart with their penetration offense. The Bulls’ defense should improve as the series progresses and they figure out how to defend Brook Lopez in the paint as a team. Although the Bulls don’t expect Derrick Rose to play anytime soon, Luol Deng and Nate Robinson could step up to boost their scoring. Deng scored only 6 in 38 minutes of play, going 3/11 in Game 1, and he will improve during the series. Bulls forward Joakim Noah is hindered by his foot injury (plantar fasciitis), but the Bulls should still be able to win this series in 7. After all, during the regular season, this Bulls team managed to beat the Miami Heat to end their 27-game win streak, and the New York Knicks to end their 13-game win streak.
Prediction: Bulls in 7
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (8) Houston Rockets
Even though it is a battle of a top seeded team against an 8th seed, Houston should challenge the Thunder and make the series competitive. James Harden is now the face of the Rockets and he provides a dynamic scorer beside Omer Asik’s dominant post defense. Jeremy Lin has had a good year for Houston, and Chandler Parsons has emerged as a dangerous player on both sides of the ball. OKC will create huge match-up problems however, as outside of Asik, the Rockets don’t have much to speak of on defense. They will struggle trying to stop Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Martin, which will prove to be their demise.
Prediction: Thunder in 5
This series has arguably the best storyline of all the first round match-ups, with All-Star James Harden facing off against the team that traded him 5 months ago. Because of that, everyone will be waiting to see how Harden responds in this series. Oklahoma City is the top team in the West and rightfully so. They have one of the greatest players in the NBA in Kevin Durant, and another top ten talent in point guard Russell Westbrook. The Rockets, on the other hand, were not expected to make the playoffs in many preseason predictions, but have performed well beyond even the most generous of predictions. They are young, and for many of them, this will be their first playoff appearance with a prominent role on the team. Harden will be spectacular this series, but one spectacular player cannot beat one spectacular team. I believe the Rockets will steal one game from the Thunder, a game in which Harden goes off for 40-50 points; however the Thunder will ultimately prove to be to much for the young Rockets to handle.
Prediction: Thunder in 5
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Los Angeles Lakers
The San Antonio Spurs lost to the Bryant-less Los Angeles Lakers in one of the final games of the regular season. But during this game, post-proficient Pau Gasol managed to score 17 points and gather 20 rebounds, while Dwight Howard scored 16 and gathered 18 rebounds. Expect the Spurs to tighten up their defense during the playoffs and perform in the paint, in both scoring and rebounding. Tim Duncan’s post presence and improved free throw shooting, along with Tony Parker’s playmaking and penetration should lead the Spurs to comfortable victories. Without Bryant, the Lakers will need to step up their team defense, but even this will not be enough to defeat the veteran Spurs in a seven-game series.
Prediction: Spurs in 6
With Kobe Bryant sidelined for the Lakers’ playoff run with an injured Achilles’ tendon, many might conclude the Lakers have no chance against the methodical and machine-like Spurs, but the Lakers are still dangerous. Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard form one of the most talented and formidable post tandem in the NBA, one that the Spurs might have trouble guarding against at times. One large question surrounds this series, and that is how will the Lakers recreate Kobe’s 30 ppg? Besides Pau and Dwight, who will score? One person will not miraculously appear for the Lakers and start scoring 20 points a game out of the blue; that doesn’t happen in playoff basketball. But if every player on the roster scores 4 more points a game, only 2 baskets, then losing Kobe won’t hurt too badly from a strictly scoring aspect. Where it does hurt is in late-game clutch situations, which is how many of these contests will end.
The Lakers will stay close with the Spurs for the majority of the games, but when the clock starts ticking down and the Lakers are facing the best-coached team in the League without a clutch scorer such as Kobe Bryant, they are going to struggle, and they are going to lose.
Prediction: Spurs in 5
(3) Denver Nuggets vs.
(6) Golden State Warriors
The Warriors make up for their lackluster defense with their dangerous shooters: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee, and even Jarrett Jack off the bench. This was not enough to sustain them in Game 1, but it should be enough to win the seven-game series. Andre Miller, backup point guard for the Denver Nuggets, had a stellar Game 1, scoring 28 and leading his team to victory on a game-winning layup. However, Miller probably will not have a repeat performance, and the Warriors should only get better as the series moves to Golden State.
Prediction: Warriors in 7
This is a match-up of two of the highest scoring, fastest playing teams in the NBA. Both teams averaged over 100 ppg this year, with Denver leading the league with 106 ppg. Both teams run a fast break oriented offense, looking to attack after every defensive rebound, so scoring in this series will not be a problem. The Warriors’ primary means of scoring are three pointers, particularly in transition. They were the top three point shooting team in the league this season, and their point guard Stephen Curry recently set an NBA record for most threes in a season with 272. Denver uses a balanced scoring attack, with 8 players averaging at least 9 points a game. This balanced scoring is very difficult to defend against, because a defense cannot simply tune into one or two star players. The Nuggets will just use different players to score. By using a team offense, Denver forces you to defend them as a team. Defense is what this series will come down to. Both teams have very similar defensive stats, allowing approximately the same opponent field goal percentage and exactly the same points per shot attempt. Denver’s offense will be much more difficult for the Warriors to defend against than the Warriors offense will be for the Nuggets; therefore the Nuggets will win this series after a number of hard-fought victories.
Prediction: Nuggets in 6
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies
This series is a rematch of the exciting, seven game battle of last year’s playoffs. This year’s version should be just as exciting, if not more. Even though this series is a match-up of the same two teams as last year, the teams themselves have changed drastically since then. The Grizzlies traded their star forward Rudy Gay in the middle of the season, shifting their offense from a post-perimeter hybrid mess into a purely post-cewwntric offense led by Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
The Clippers strengthened their bench this offseason with the acquesitions of Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, and Matt Barnes. This series will come down to the Grizzlies’ post scoring versus the Clippers’ bench scoring. In the past, big men DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin of the Clippers have had trouble with physical big men, and Randolph and Gasol play very physically. In particular, Blake has trouble scoring when he cannot overpower the opposing big men as he is so accustomed to doing. The Grizzles bench is solid, but inferior to the Clippers’ vast array of energy players that make up the second unit.
Eric Bledsoe, Matt Barnes, and Ronny Turiaf each have an incredible drive to win every single loose ball, and it shows, since they do win almost every single loose ball. This hustle is unmatched by any other bench in the league, and then when you add Crawford’s scoring to that, is easy to see why this bench unit can be considered best in the league. Like last year, the Clippers will edge out the Grizzles in seven.
Prediction: Clippers in 7
After a hot start to the season by Memphis, they fell back in the Western Conference standings by the end of the year and are matched up against the 4th seeded Clippers in a rematch of last year’s Round 1 series. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol will be huge in the series and the Grizzlies will need to run their offense through those two if they want to have a chance. The Clippers are led by All-Star point guard Chris Paul and he will not let L.A. go down without a fight. Jamal Crawford has provided a much-needed scoring boost off the bench this season, and he is one of the major reasons why the Clippers have one of the top 2nd units in the NBA. This series will undoubtedly go to 7 games, and it is definitely a must-watch.
Prediction: Grizzlies in 7