This has been one of the most eventful regular seasons I can remember with the Heats 27 game winning streak, Melo vs. Durant scoring race, the long list of injuries and of course the Lakers drama. Round 1 starts Saturday and the Western Conference will be where all the action takes place. Most people think Miami has a cakewalk to the Finals and I completely agree. There is only one other 50 win team in the East and that team has Carmelo Anthony, who has only got out of the first round ONCE in his career. If the Bulls had Derrick Rose then maybe they could give the Heat a challenge but Rose isn’t coming back this season (hate to admit it). The West is filled with storylines and intrigue even with the top seeded Thunder which is where we begin.
#1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #8 Houston Rockets
James Harden’s team against the team he used to play for. James Harden was dealt before the season in a controversial trade that seemes to benefit both sides. Harden was the 3rd option in Oklahoma City but now the Rockets are his team. The Thunder are one of a handful of teams that can contend for the title and will be flexing their muscle in this series. Defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha will make an emotional series for Harden, physically tough. The Rockets have no one to contain Kevin Durant and Jeremy Lin will have his hands full on the defensive end guarding Russell Westbrook. I’ll give the Rockets one game because Harden is capable of dropping 40 especially when he gets to the free throw line.
Thunder in 5
#2 San Antonio Spurs vs. #7 Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers got into the playoffs. SHOCKER! The team that started the season with 4 future Hall of Famers in their starting lineup didn’t get into the playoffs to the last day of the regular season. Lakers fans wanted the Spurs because it appears that there is a chink in the armor with injuries to Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Don’t you think that Spurs fans were hoping the exact thing of wanting to face the Kobe Bryantless Lakers? Yes the Lakers beat the Spurs Sunday but Tony Parker went 1-10 and Steve Blake had 23 POINTS!!!! That isn’t happening again. Steve Nash might be back for the Lakers but that will only make matters worse because Greg Popovich will be exposing Nash on defense especially in the pick and rolls or Tony Parker off the dribble. The Lakers have looked better since Kobe Bryant ruptured his Achilles especially Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard but this is the playoffs and their horrendous defense will be exposed. The one thing going for the Lakers though, the Spurs just signed Tracy McGrady notorious for failing to get out of the 1st round. McGrady won’t be carrying a team on his back though, expect him to play 10-15 minutes off the bench to come in and make some shots filling the void of Ginobili. Popovich is in Mike D’Antoni’s head while the word defense isn’t. Expect the “We Want Phil” chants to appear in Los Angeles two weeks from now.
Spurs in 5
#3 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Golden State Warriors
If you like basketball then this is the series for you. This series will contain everything but defense. The Nuggets are entering the playoffs without Danilo Gallinari (ACL Tear) and Kenneth Faried’s status is up in the air with an ankle injury. The Warriors need to steal Game 1 to have hope of winning this series which will be tought because the Nuggets had the best home record in the NBA going an amazing 38-3. Steph Curry is capable of lighting it up and if he gets hot then who knows what will happen as long as Jarret Jack doesn’t go Carlton Banks on him like what happened in New York.
This series seems like one to go the distance. Both teams have great home courts and I don’t see a team winning on the road. The Nuggets are deep but benches shorten in the playoffs and their playing style isn’t exactly built for May and June.
Nuggets in 7
#4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #5 Memphis Grizzlies
This series is a rematch of last year’s best series. The series in 2012 went 7 games including an unforgettable Game 1 where the Clippers stormed back from 27 down. The Grizzlies lost Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo from last year’s team whom they will miss in late game situations. Zach Randolph isn’t producing like he used to but he sure can tussle with Blake Griffin. Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol are better though but the Clippers seem to have the Grizzlies number. The Clippers won both games in Memphis this year including last Saturday in a game where the winner would have the road to home court. Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league and is one of the best players come crunch time. If the Clippers can close out on shooters then this series should be quicker than the experts think. Last year only one game was decided by more than 10 points and I think that trend will continue but the Grizzlies losing Mayo and Gay will hurt them. The Clippers 2nd unit won’t see the playing time they saw during the regular season but the stretches they do play will be important. The Clippers need to figure out their closing lineup but if they still healthy then they should control the series.
Clippers in 5
#1 Miami Heat vs. #8 Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks took the Heat to overtime in their first matchup and then beat the Heat in Milwaukee in their second matchup. This is me trying to make the series interesting but the truth is…… it won’t. The Heat are clearly the better team and I don’t see them even dropping a game unless Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings and JJ Redick go off in the SAME game. The Heat are too good and will turn the notch up especially on the defensive end. This series can get ugly fast with Miami winning by double digits in every game. LeBron James has the monkey off his back by winning the title last year and will look to continue his MVP season in the playoffs. Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh are pretty good too.
Heat in 4
#2 New York Knicks vs. #7 Boston Celtics
The Knicks are the Dallas Cowboys of the NBA. Every year they get all the press how this year is different from the previous 10 and then the same things happen. The Knicks and Cowboys each have ONE playoff win over the past decade! Yes the KNICKS have won only ONE game in the postseason since 2001. In the NBA you have a far better chance to win playoff games since each series is best of seven and over 50% of the league gets in. This year I’m not drinking the Knicks Kool-Aid. I think the Celtics matchup fantastically with this Knicks team even without Rajon Rondo. The Knicks have a terrible backcourt themselves and I think Avery Bradley will be the difference. The Celtics lead the league in 3 point defense since Bradley returned in January. Carmelo Anthony will probably average 35 points a game on 28 shots but where are the Knicks getting 55 more points other than JR Smith. Doc Rivers is the Tom Izzo of the NBA, when the calendar flips for the postseason he knows what to do. Rivers he did a great job managing his players in the regular season and getting the matchup they wanted: The KNICKS. Also how can you bet against Boston right now? #BostonStrong
Celtics in 6
#3 Indiana Pacers vs. #6 Atlanta Hawks
In the least sexy series of them all we have the Pacers against the Hawks. Its closing time and its 2AM and there is a 3 sitting alone and you say “ehhh, why not?”, that is this series to me. The teams split in the regular season but it still screams ILL BE ON NBA TV BECAUSE OF RATINGS. The Charlotte Bobcats have HIGHER ATTENDANCES than BOTH of these two teams. The Pacers have played poorly down the stretch of the season but they really had nothing to play for. They were essentially locked into the #3 seed and would have rather played the Hawks then their rival Bulls. Paul George should continue his breakout season in the postseason because the Hawks don’t have anyone to match up with his length and athleticism. Frankly I don’t think the Atlanta Hawks are very good and the Pacers will expose them.
Pacers in 5
#4 Brooklyn Nets vs. #5 Chicago Bulls
Sad to think that this postseason will be missing Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose. Rose isn’t playing even 10 minutes to motivate the city of Chicago. The Bulls are a great defensive team but they are going to have a tough time getting points of their own without Rose. The Bulls have been bitten by the injury bug and their health will be the determining factor of the series. Chicago is good enough to win this series without Rose but they can’t do it without Noah, Hamilton & Gibson too. The Nets have home court and Deron Williams has been fantastic since the All-Star break. Every game in this series should be close in the fourth quarter but there will also be some stagnant stretches of offense. Noah’s health is an underlying factor and by the sounds of it, he is still in severe pain with plantar fasciitis. With a healthy Noah the Bulls would win in 6 but with a 70% Noah, I like the Nets.
Nets in 6