The grueling 82 game regular season is finally over and playoff time is upon us. Most casual fans do not invest a heavy interest in the regular season, but come playoff time, the NBA takes center stage. There is no questioning the effort of these amazing basketball players at this time of year. It is all or nothing. This is where the men are separated from the boys. As promised, I am going to provide my predictions on how this year’s postseason will play out.
Just a couple of key storylines to note:
-The East is extremely top-heavy and will not get exciting until Round 2. But the Conference Semi-Finals and Finals will not disappoint by any means. I am expecting some upsets in the later rounds.
-The West is much more balanced and should be very competitive from the first tip. Every team is capable of winning any series.
-Will Miami get to have a championship celebration like they did back in July? Lebron is looking for the first title of his illustrious career and finally has no excuses about his supporting cast.
-Will Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls continue to shock the world and show that they in fact made the best offseason acquisitions contrary to popular belief?
-Can Kobe and Phil bring another 3-peat to LA? This title would give Phil the 4th 3-peat of his legendary coaching career and tie Kobe with Michael Jordan with 6 career titles.
-Can Boston live up to the preseason hype and quite their recent critics? It would be an awesome way to end the current “Big 3″ era in Beantown.
If you have any interest in my preseason predictions from back in October, here they are: http://sportskraze.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/nba-preview-2010-2011/
Indiana Pacers vs Chicago Bulls: The Pacer have pieced together a nice little run down the stretch to bring this franchise back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2005-2006 season. Danny Granger is a silky smooth player who is one of the best players in the League that many have not heard of. Also, Roy Hibbert is developing into a solid pro. Maybe the time spent in the Developmental League helped the big fellah. But I digress. The Pacers went 8 games under 500 this year. Chicago, my sleeper pick from the preseason, went 42 games over 500. The Bulls possess wasy too much talent and team chemistry for this series to even be a question. I am taking the Bulls in 5. Indiana could get lucky one night at home. Because they have no prayer of stealing a game in Chicago.
Philadelphia 76ers vs Miami Heat: Philadelphia surprised many this year in not only making the playoffs, but securing the 7th seed. Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala are a very nice little inside/out combo. But do they seriously have the horses to match up with the Big 3 of Miami? Now the 76ers are very deserving of making the playoffs, and look to have a shot to make some noise in the future, but this year is not the future. I fully expect Miami to nab this series in 5.
Atlanta Hawks vs Orlando Magic: This is by far the most intriguing matchup in the very top-heavy Eastern Conference. Typically the 4/5 is a toss-up every year. There is one major stat to look at when analyzing this series between 2 of the most talented teams in basketball. Atlanta has lost 6 straight games. Something is not right in Hotlanta, and sadly, Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu, and Jameer Nelson are not a group to sit and wait around for their opponent to right their ship. Expect Atlanta to show glimpses, but it will not be enough in a series where Orlando abuses the Hawks in the paint. I am going Orlando in 6.
New York Knicks vs Boston Celtics: This is an intriguing matchup simply because it is New York versus Boston. Who does not love to see these two goliath cities go to war in any type of athletic forum? I will admit, Boston has struggled a bit as of late, going just 5 and 5 down the stretch. But they have won the Eastern Conference 2 of the past 3 years for a reason. They were just minutes away from a championship last year. Plus this is in all likelihood the last hoorah for the Big 3. The Knicks will make it exciting with their electric offensive attack and ultra clutch point guard Chauncey Billups, but New York is missing a lock down defender or 2 to match up with the big boys. I will take Boston in 6.
Memphis Grizzlies vs San Antonio Spurs: The Grizzlies are a very good team that has some of the best young talent in the entire League. Not to mention, their star, Zach Randolph, has been one of the most consistent performers in the NBA for 9 years now. But the Spurs are the Spurs. They know how to win in the playoffs. Now the loss of Manu would really hurt, and at this point, I have not heard an official diagnosis on his playoff prospects. But I cannot pick against the Spurs, especially with home court advantage. The Spurs tied for the best home record in the League while the Grizzlies struggled on the road. Too much playoff experience in San Antonio. But keep an eye on Memphis if they can keep this core group together. Spurs in 6.
New Orleans Hornets vs Los Angeles Lakers: The Hornets were a very unpredictable team all year-long. They started out like they were on their way to a very deep playoff run. Then they had some lulls. But eventually picked it back up in time for the playoffs. Sadly for New Orleans though, they have struggled against LA for years now. The Lakers are the Yankees of the NBA. A team that always finds their way into the postseason and typically goes very far. Plus New Orleans cannot keep up with the blazing scoring pace that LA will set. Lakers in 5.
Portland Trailblazers vs Dallas Mavericks: This in my opinion could be the best series of the entire first round. Portland has dealt with injuries better than any team in the NBA this year and is truly a remarkable story. LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews have both emerged into All Star caliber players and will make sure that this series is no walk in the park for a Dallas team that closed the year on a 4 game winning streak. Sadly for Portland, Dallas is just too deep, and has way more playoff experience. When the Trailblazers get healthy, which could be as early as next year, expect a deep playoff run. Mavericks win a thrilling 7 games series.
Denver Nuggets vs Oklahoma City Thunder: This is the matchup that many are declaring the “best” of the first round. I would beg to differ in that I feel the Blazers/Mavericks series will be amazing. But this one will not be lacking in excitement by any means. Dino Gallinari has found an amazing home in Denver, and has turned into their go to scorer. But who would you rather have, Gallinari or Durant? This may be the best coaching job of George Karl’s career, but he just does not have the horses to matchup with a Thunder team that has unfinished business. I will state this though. This will be the highest scoring series of the first round. I am taking the Thunder in 6. Too much Durant and Westbrook.
Eastern Conference Finals:
Orlando Magic vs Boston Celtics: Yes, I am taking upsets in both of the Eastern Conference Semi-Final matchups and sticking with my preseason pick. A rematch of last year’s conference finals matchup. This is the end of an era for Boston, and possibly even Orlando for that matter. Depending on what happens with Superman. But I feel both Chicago and Miami are a year away. These are the 2 teams (Magic and Celtics) in the East with the most playoff experience. And I am going with experience. Boston will take this series in a thrilling 7 game set, and head back to the finals for the 3rd time in 4 years.
Western Conference Finals:
Oklahoma City Thunder vs Los Angeles Lakers: I think you can tell there is a common theme to my logic. I am sticking with my preseason predictions. These are the two most talented teams in the West. The Thunder are finally ready to break out of their shell and make some noise. They will do that in the Conference Semi-Finals when they shock the Spurs. But they will not have enough left in the tank to take down LA. I am going with the Lakers to take down the Thunder in a series very similar to last year’s thrilling first round matchup. Lakers in 6, as they head back to the Finals for a 4th consecutive year.
Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers: A familiar matchup pitting the most storied rivalry in the sport for a second consecutive year (and 3rd time in the past 4 years). Whether you like either team, you still enjoy watching this rivalry unfold. It continues to get better and better every year. And this year, I expect a similar result to last year’s epic series. The Lakers will bring home their 3rd consecutive title in a thrilling 7 game set.
Let the Kobe versus Jordan comparisons begin. Now the argument, will finally be a reality.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.