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NBA playoffs: a look at the games ahead

Published: April 15, 2011
Section: Sports


Eastern Conference:

1. Chicago Bulls (62-20) vs. 8. Indiana Pacers (37-45):

The Bulls have systematically dominated the Pacers this season, winning their head-to-head series 3-1 with the sole loss coming in a 115-108 shootout. The Bulls have won their games against the Pacers by an average of 18 points. The Bulls have the likely MVP in Derrick Rose and the likely Coach of the Year in Tom Thibodeau along with the best bench in the league. Meanwhile, the Pacers are arguably the worst playoff team in recent memory. Even with their lack of playoff experience, the Bulls should handle the Pacers with relative ease.

Bulls win in four games.

2. Miami Heat (58-24) vs. 7. Philadelphia 76ers (41-41):

Since starting the season 9-8 and garnering much ridicule, the Heat have come into form and become one of the most dominant teams in the NBA, led by their trio of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. While the 76ers are one of the feel-good stories of the league, having improved from 27 wins last season to a playoff team this year, their storybook turnaround will come to a crashing halt against the Heat. The 76ers just do not have the star-power or talent to compete with the Heat. While I don’t see a sweep here, the Heat will not have much trouble here.

Heat win in five games.

3. Boston Celtics (56-26) vs. 6. New York Knicks (42-40):

As has been typical with this Celtics team during the past two years, the Celtics raced out of the gate with the league’s second-best record before the all-star break. However, after the earth-shattering trade of Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics have stumbled towards the finish line, hovering around .500 since the all-star break with head scratching losses to teams like the Clippers and Bobcats. However, the Celtic’s defense is still elite, having actually slightly improved since the trade of Perkins. For all the talk of the loss of Perkins, the success of this team will hinge on the Big Four of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. The Knicks are returning to the playoffs for the first time in seven years with the additions of Amare Stoudemire, Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony. However, the style of play the Knicks employ is not suited for the playoffs. They do not play defense and their fast-paced style is not suited for the playoff enviroment. New York may be buzzing about the return of the Knicks, but the Knicks will be easily outmatched by the Celtics.

Celtics win in five games.

4. Orlando Magic (52-30) vs. 5. Atlanta Hawks (44-38):

Most people expect the Magic to sweep the Hawks as they did last year when they won each game by at least 10 points. However, this matchup has been drastically altered this year with the addition of a little-known center Jason Collins to the Hawks team. The Hawks won the regular season series against the Magic 3-1 due in large part to the play of Collins. Collins has been able to guard Magic superstar Dwight Howard by himself, frustrating Howard and limiting his impact on the game. The Magic’s game is predicated on Howard drawing a double-team and then kicking out the ball to their open three-point shooters. With Collins’ ability to cover Howard alone, the Hawks have fundamentally altered this matchup. I still do not believe the Hawks have enough talent to beat the Magic, but this series will be much closer than anyone is anticipating.

Magic win in seven games.

Western Conference:

1. San Antonio Spurs (61-21) vs. 8. Memphis Grizzlies (46-36):

While the number one seed hardly ever struggles in the first round against the eighth seed, this matchup could be very different. The Grizzlies and Spurs split the season series at two games apiece. San Antonio is an aging team that likes to play at a slower pace while Memphis is a young team that likes to run up and down the floor. Furthermore, Memphis has one of the best wing defenders in the league in Tony Allen, who will be able to drive San Antonio off the three-point line. However, while Memphis will definitely give San Antonio trouble, San Antonio’s Big Three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker will be too much for this young Grizzlies team to handle.

Spurs win in six games.

2. Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) vs. 7. New Orleans Hornets (46-36):

The Lakers absolutely dominated the Hornets in every facet of the game in the regular season. Hornets’ star Chris Paul no longer has the explosiveness he once had after being plagued by knee problems. Furthermore, after the loss of big-man David West, the Hornets have no one to match up against the Lakers dominating front line of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Oh, and there’s that guy named Kobe Bryant too. The Hornets were a feel-good story this season, but the Lakers will destroy them, sending the Hornets into the offseason with the franchise’s future in New Orleans in doubt as well as the future of all-star point guard Chris Paul, who is eligible for free agency after this season.

Lakers win in four games.

3. Dallas Mavericks (57-25) vs. 6. Portland Trail Blazers (48-34):

Since losing the NBA finals to the Miami Heat in 2006, the Mavericks have failed to advance out of the first round in three out of the past four years. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, I don’t see that trend reversing this year. The Mavericks are dependent on all-star Dirk Nowitzki and, since losing the 2006 NBA finals, many teams have developed an effective strategy to contain and limit Nowitzki’s impact on the game. Portland has been plagued by injuries all season; however, in the presence of these injuries, LaMarcus Aldridge has emerged as a bona fide superstar and Brandon Roy has slowly returned to his pre-injury all-star form. Portland is one of the few teams in the NBA that can match the Lakers’ size and this size will be too much for the Mavericks to handle.

Trail Blazers win in six games.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27) vs. 5. Denver Nuggets (50-32):

Since acquiring Kendrick Perkins at the trade deadline from the Boston Celtics, the Thunder have been infused with an interior toughness that had been lacking until that point. With all-stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, emerging star James Harden and a solid bench, the Thunder will make quick work of the Nuggets. The Nuggets have been one of the most effective offenses in the league since trading away their super-star Carmelo Anthony and have also developed a strong defense that they had lacked with Anthony. The Nuggets basically have two starting fives giving them one of the best benches in the league. However, the Nuggets don’t have any super-stars but rather a collection of B players, and in the league today, you need super-star talent to win.

Thunder win in five games.

Finals Prediction

Boston Celtics beat Oklahoma City Thunder in six games.