The 2013-14 NBA regular season is over, and the eight first round series are set. The NBA champions Miami Heat, a second seed in the East, will be playing against the Charlotte Bobcats, while the top team in the conference, the Indiana Pacers, get the Atlanta Hawks as their first round hurdle.
In the West, the best team in the NBA this season, the San Antonio Spurs, will be facing a familiar foe, the Dallas Mavericks, in their best of seven series, while the Oklahoma City Thunder will face the Memphis Grizzlies who knocked them out of the playoffs a year ago.
#8 Atlanta Hawks vs #1 Indiana Pacers
The two teams have met in the first round of the playoffs last season as well, with the Pacers taking the series 4-2. They’ve met four times this season with a 2-2 record in those games. The Pacers are obvious favorites despite how badly they’ve been playing since the All-Star break because the Hawks have a very short roster, playing without Al Horford for a very long time, making it even a surprise they’ve made into the playoffs. Despite their recent problems with certain positions, the Pacers starting lineup, defense, and added quality on their bench should be enough to move on without having to play seven games.
#7 Charlotte Bobcats vs #2 Miami Heat
Four times the two teams have met this season, four times the Miami Heat have won. But there isn’t that aura of confidence heading into this postseason for the Miami Heat. Getting older, less healthy and mostly struggling in too many games, especially when they’re forced into half court offense for long stretches, make them less likely than before to win the East, not to mention no home court advantage. The Bobcats have a very good defense and a big man that has had an excellent second half to the season. Just making the playoffs for the second time in franchise history is probably enough for them.
#6 Brooklyn Nets vs #3 Toronto Raptors
Things get a bit more complicated in the middle of the pack of the Eastern conference. It’s really hard to decide on the Nets, who can play some excellent defense at times and some smart offense with patient off the ball movement. However, there’s a huge question mark about their ability to rebound, defend the paint and look good in consecutive games. The Raptors are for real, but will be carried as far as Kyle Lowry gets them, hoping that Jonas Valanciunas stops having off nights every two-three games. The teams split their four-game season series.
#5 Washington Wizards vs #4 Chicago Bulls
The Wizards have the edge in this three-game series, winning twice this season. However, Chicago are a team that can do more than just advance through the first round of the playoffs – they have a chance of actually upsetting the Pacers or the Heat in a best of seven series. Washington? John Wall has been wonderful this season, and there’s some surprising stories of guys like Al Harrington and Drew Gooden blossoming this season. It might be good enough in this series, but going against this defense four-to-seven times in two weeks is going to be very difficult.
#8 Dallas Mavericks vs #1 San Antonio Spurs
The Mavs wanted to avoid this, but it was meant to be. It’s been a while since the two teams have met in the playoffs, almost an automatic draw during most of the last 14 years. The Spurs didn’t just win the West: They looked like a team above the rest of the competition in the second half of the season. Their matchup problems with two other teams (Houston, OKC) might show up later on, but they won all four games against Dallas in the regular season.
#7 Memphis Grizzlies vs #2 Oklahoma City Thunder
The teams clash for the third time in four years during the postseason. Memphis won only once this season in the four encounters, but the Thunder weren’t too keen on meeting a team that gave them a lot of problems last season, knocking them out of the playoffs. This year it’s different: Russell Westbrook is playing, and the Thunder are done resting him. Memphis are a different team with Marc Gasol up and running, but unlikely to be good enough to beat the Thunder four times.
#6 Golden State Warriors vs #3 Los Angeles Clippers
Another season series that went 2-2, but there’s been something wrong for the Warriors lately. Their defense isn’t clicking, Andrew Bogut and David Lee aren’t completely healthy, and the Clippers have been looking great most of the time. There’s going to be a great battle between Chris Paul and Stephen Curry at point guard, but at some point, the presence of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan will decide this series.
#5 Portland Trail Blazers vs #4 Houston Rockets
There’s something very wild about the Blazers and all their games with the Rockets have given us plenty of points and drama, but when it comes down to it, they don’t have the firepower to outlast what the Rockets bring to the table, which begins with James Harden and Dwight Howard, but Jeremy Lin, Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons are all going to be problems as well. The Blazers can probably out-shoot Houston from three, but they have matchup problems that will probably cost them the series.