Here we go – Saturday it starts, the 2011 NBA playoffs. The Chicago Bulls, grabbing the best record in the league on the last day are entering the playoffs scorching hot, with Derrick Rose primed and ready looking to enter Bulls’ lore alongside Jordan, Pippen and the 90’s dynasty. Miami, despite losing all the games to the Bulls in the regular season, and the Celtics, with all of their problems, can’t be counted out. With four All-Star champions on one team and LeBron-Wade on the Heat, you just can’t count any of them out.
The West looks wide open. The Spurs have the best record, but they don’t seem like the best team. Too many things need to click there so they can reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007. The Lakers, despite Bynum out right now, look like the cream of the crop. Kobe, Gasol, Odom and don’t forget, they’re the champions. The Thunder look at times like the best team in the West. Still, Durant needs to win his first playoff series against a very dangerous Denver Nuggets.
Indiana Pacers (#8) – Chicago Bulls (#1)
The Indiana Pacers did beat the Chicago Bulls the last time they’ve met about a month ago, 115-108. Derrick Rose scored 42 but didn’t have enough help while Tyler Hansbrough scored 29. Still, that was the Pacers only win over the Bulls this year (3-1). Chicago are entering the series in amazing form, going undefeated in April, winning 9 straight games and are 22-3 in March-April and finishing with the best record in the league. Their defense is incredible, allowing only two teams in the last 18 games to reach 100 points against them. Derrick Rose? MVP for sure and coming in high on confidence and swagger (25 points, 7.1 assists per game). He averaged 27 points per game this season against the Pacers.
Indiana, mediocre across the board in offense and defense are a very good rebounding team, but not as good as Chicago. Danny Granger (20.5 points per game) won’t be enough to tickle the Bulls.
Prediction – 4-0 Chicago Sweep.
Miami Heat (#2) – Philadelphia 76ers (#7)
In the first playoff meeting ever between the two franchises, the Sixers don’t seem to stand much of a chance. Miami are entering the playoffs hot, winning the number 2 seed and finally beating the Celtics with a 12-2 in the final month. They also beat the Sixers three times this season, most recently on March 25 (111-99). The Sixers don’t have the defense and size to handle the Heat, led by LeBron James (26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7 assists), Dwyane Wade (25.5 points) and Bosh (18.7 points and 8.3 rebounds). The guys also got to rest the last day of the season, meaning they’ll be entering the Philly series with 5 days of rest behind them.
Prediction – Heat in 4.
Boston Celtics (#3) – New York Knicks (#7)
Another season series that ended with a sweep – The Celtics won all four games against the Knicks, including a second string match to end the season on Wednesday. Still, Boston, despite the huge advantage over the Knicks on paper are entering the series after losing their number two Eastern spot, going 10-11 since March 9. They had that kind of funk last season, but I’m not sure they’ll be turning things so easily around this time. Luckily it’s the Knicks. The Knicks did give a decent push as the season came to an end, winning seven straight games before meeting the Bulls and Celtics. Still, Despite Carmelo playing better recently, it’s mostly up to Amar’e and the small chance this team decided to play defense (3rd worst in the league, allowing over 105 points per game).
Prediction – Celtics in 5. Despite the funk, they Knicks just don’t have enough to handle the experienced and much better Celtics.
Orlando Magic (#4) – Atlanta Hawks (#5)
Last season the Magic Swept the Hawks as Atlanta fans booed mercilessly, especially at Joe Johnson. The regular season series between the two teams went quite differently this year, as the Hawks won it 3-1, winning the last three games, including an 85-82 win two weeks ago. The Hawks have Josh Smith and Al Horford to really trouble Dwight Howard. Howard needs to be quicker and faster with his release to the outside – Orlando tend to go crazy from three and rely heavily on their outside shooting. Hawks do well here too – fourth in the NBA (33.8%) in 3-point field goal defense. Dwight Howard (22.9 points, 14.1 rebounds) will to avoid the technicals haunting him this season and carry this team on his back. Will he get enough help? Luckily for him and the Magic, the Hawks are entering the playoffs losing their last six games.
Prediction – Magic in six or seven.
San Antonio Spurs (#1) – Memphis Grizzlies (#8)
Funny thing being the number one seed in the West but not really being considered the favorites. It seems like the Spurs gave their best this season too early and age, injuries and their switching to a offense focused team will hurt them in the playoffs. The news of Ginobili being doubtful for the opener just makes it worse. Without Manu, I’m not sure they can even get by the Grizzlies. The season series between the two teams is 2-2, with both teams winning the home games. Defensively the numbers are very similar, the Spurs just dominate on offense. Memphis are without Rudy Gay, but they’ve gotten used to it. Still, in a slower playoff series type of game, I don’t see them out running the Spurs.
Prediction – Spurs in 5.
Los Angeles Lakers (#2) – New Orleans Hornets (#7)
The enemy of gays is entering this series with 100k missing from his pockets. Still, despite the Lakers’ problems (losing 5 of their last 7) which include Andrew Bynum’s knees again, I just don’t see the Hornets having enough to trouble them. LA swept the regular season series, winning comfortable just over two weeks ago. Chris Paul played well against the Lakers this season but will have to take more scoring assignments on himself if his team is to have any kind of hope in the first playoff clash between the two teams.
Prediction – Lakers in 5.
Dallas Mavericks (#3) – Portland Trail Blazers (#6)
Another series that split 2-2, with both teams keeping the wins at home. Portland won the last two games. You never know what you get with the Blazers – can beat any team in the league when they’re good. They can also be awful, like home losses to Golden State and such. Still, they’ve been fantastic at home the last couple of months, losing to the Rockets on March 1 and since keeping it clean at home. LaMarcus Aldridge, carrying this team on his back all season, needs to find help in scoring around him. Brandon Roy has been struggling since returning. Gerald Wallace, Wesley Matthews, that’s where his best chances lay. Dallas? Solid all over, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost this one. Every year it seems they have what it takes for a long playoff push. Every year they falter somewhere.
Prediction – Blazers in Seven. When they’re good, they’re better than the Mavs. I don’t think Dallas will win a game in Portland. I do think the Blazers can steal one game in Dallas.
Oklahoma City Thunder (#4) – Denver Nuggets (#5)
Series I’m looking forward the most in the first round. Nene fighting Perkins, the non stop energy of the Nuggets against a suddenly very complete looking Thunder. They paid their dues last year against the Lakers, and this time, with Durant suddenly not as hyped making him just as or even more dangerous (top scorer in the league, don’t forget) along with a monsterish Russell Westbrook. Oklahoma took the two April games, and despite Denver’s depth and relentless play, the Thunder are too good for them.
Prediction – Tunder in six.