With the playoffs finally upon us, it’s time to make some predictions. In the East, it seems inevitable that the Heat will come out and get a chance to repeat, but the West isn’t as obvious. Injuries this year have decimated many teams’ chances in both conferences. This might be the year that handed the title to the Heat. In the West, Kobe’s season-ending (and career? just kidding, Kobe) injury has been a hot topic, Manu has been hurt, Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL, and David Lee just injured his hip and is out for the playoffs. In the East, most notably Derrick Rose hasn’t played all season, Danny Granger is out for the playoffs, Rondo tore his ACL, and Amare Stoudemire hasn’t been 100% all year. Injuries happen every year, but this year is worse–key starters and go-to-guys are missing from this year’s playoffs.
In the East…
(1) Miami Heat vs. (8) Milwaukee Bucks
This is one of those rare first round matchups between an overwhelming favorite and a lowly underdog, where you’re actually kind of rooting for the underdog to get embarrassed. Of course, that is a very atypical situation. If not for Brandon Jennings being clinically insane, many people would be rooting for the Bucks. Actually, most people will still pull for the Bucks, despite knowing they have no chance. However, plenty of people will love watching Jennings and the Bucks get pummeled mercilessly by the Heat. Maybe Jennings and Monta Ellis can get really hot one game and pull off a stunner, but aside from that, this will be a short and sweet series.
Prediction: Miami 4-0
(4) Brooklyn Nets vs. (5) Chicago Bulls
This series almost seems pointless, and the winner will be served on a platter to face the Heat and be promptly kicked out of the playoffs. The winner here stands no chance in the next round. Though to remain consistent with protocol, we still have to make a call here. The success of the Nets in this year’s playoffs will hinge on the play of Deron Williams who’s had a down year, though he’s still playing at an All Star level this year. Brooklyn should probably win this series, but beyond that, it looks like they’d stand little chance against the Heat. But don’t tell Reggie Evans that. For the Bulls, without Rose it’s hard to get excited about the playoffs. This season has been a moral victory for the Bulls, breaking the Heat’s 27 game winning streak and the Knick’s 13 game winning streaks, but Rose is the type of player who can carry a team in the playoffs. Without Rose, the Bulls don’t have a player who can carry them offensively.
Prediction: Brooklyn 4-2
(3) Indiana Pacers vs. (6) Atlanta Hawks
This Pacers team, even without Granger, has experience from last year in the playoffs, where they had the Heat on the ropes in the second round. The Pacers should’ve been the two seed, until the Knicks went on a tear, but they still have an elite defense. The problem with the Pacers is their offense, and without Granger, they can struggle to score the ball. They need Hibbert, West, and Paul George to put up the majority of their points in this series. The Hawks are one of the more boring teams in this year’s playoffs. They have a little bit of talent in Horford and Josh Smith, but without Lou Williams on the perimeter, their backcourt struggles offensively. If someone tells Josh Smith that he could trick a dumb team into giving him a max deal if he has a great series, then maybe the Hawks could make this series interesting. Other than that, Horford needs to get Hibbert in foul trouble, and make it that much harder for the Pacers to score. If that happens, the Hawks have a chance. But I’m not buying it.
Prediction: Pacers 4-2
(2) New York Knicks vs. (7) Boston Celtics
This is easily the most intriguing series in the East in the first round. This may even be the best first round series period. The Knicks weren’t playing great Basketball until Carmelo went crazy in the last month and a half of the season and won the scoring title. This is Carmelo’s chance to prove himself as more than just a selfish scorer. MSG will be the loudest it’s been in years, as they’ll be the favorites in a playoff series for the first time in over a decade. But anyone who thinks this series won’t be close is crazy. We all know how KG’s Celtics teams rise in the playoffs and hit another gear no one knew they had. If KG is completely healthy, then there’s a chance the Celtics could win this series. We know Paul Pierce will carry a heavy load, but the key for the Celtics will be Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, and Jason Terry. All three of these guys are hit or miss. Green has been the Celtics’ best player since the Rondo injury. In fact, he’s been the fifth most efficient player in the league offensively! Lastly, we have to mention the tragic things that happened in Boston in the past week. With the city of Boston looking for some distraction and hope in light of the terrible events lately, I wouldn’t put my money against Pierce and KG playing. Those guys will rise to the occasion. Still, it’s hard to pick against the red-hot Knicks.
Prediction: Knicks 4-3
In the West… (note: these predictions are being done one day after Nuggets-Warriors Game 2)
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (8) Houston Rockets
This is the series everyone wanted to see in the West. We all know it’s about James Harden playing against his old team. We remember what he did against them earlier in the year, but the Thunder did beat the Rockets by 22 and 30 points in their other two matchups. The Thunder should dominate this series, but no one would be surprised if Harden takes over one of the games with a 40 point performance and the Rockets steal a game. Jeremy Lin has had a decent season so far, but Russell Westbrook is one of the best players in the league and should dominate this series. This series shouldn’t be close.
Prediction: Thunder 4-1
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies
This is a rematch of the 7 game series between these teams in last year’s playoffs, which the Clippers won. This season feels different for the Clippers, who looked like the favorite in the West for a while. The Grizzlies will need Gasol and Z-Bo to carry them in this series if they’re to move on. Even with the Grizzlies having the advantage in the frontcourt, and Z-Bo trying to prove he’s better than Blake Griffin, I’m not sure if the Grizzlies have enough in their backcourt to win the series. They rely too much on Mike Conley, especially late in games.
Prediction: Clippers 4-2
(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Golden State Warriors
This series is all about injuries. Before Gallinari went down with a torn ACL, the Nuggets were a popular sleeper pick to come out of the West. After he went down, the Warriors were a popular upset pick in the first round. After David Lee went down with a torn hip flexor though, the odds swung back in favor of the Nuggets. This series should still be close because Steph Curry and Klay Thompson can go off any given night, but it’s tough to see the Warriors winning this series now. Playing Carl Landry and Festus Ezeli in place of All Star David Lee will have a huge impact on the Warriors, who now have no scoring presence down low. This series should still be a close up and down series.
Prediction: Nuggets 4-3
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Los Angeles Lakers
Everyone thinks this will be the most entertaining series and that with Nash back, the Lakers will have a chance. I’m not buying it. The Lakers don’t have a single scorer on the wing without Kobe healthy. Who’s supposed to consistently score for them? Jodie Meeks? Steve Blake? Darius Morris???? Unless Dwight Howard becomes 2001 Shaq, there’s no chance this is a close series. The Spurs are too good. Last time I checked they still have Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili and that’s all they need. Plus more experience for Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Gary Neal, and Tiago Splitter will only help.
Prediction: Spurs 4-1