Here we are folks! I was going to say that this is the best time of the year, but really it’s more like this is the best year of the year because the playoffs take so damn long. No complaints from me, though; the more basketball, the better.
As the 40 games in 40 days move forward, I’m going to offer analysis and predictions for each round’s matchups, but for now I’m not going to project things any further than the opening series. Just didn’t seem productive at this point to go past that.
So here we go. Here are my predictions and analysis for each first round playoff series:
Eastern Conference – AKA the “Let’s get this over with” Conference
Miami Heat (1) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (8)
Is this even necessary? Those poor Bucks. Miami is pretty much the Death Star at this point, which makes Milwaukee Alderaan. (Pat Riley = Emperor, Spoelstra = Grand Moff Tarkin, ‘Bron = Vader, Ray Allen = Boba Fett…wait what just happened?)
Prediction: Miami in 1. Oh it has to be 4? Fine, Miami in 4.
New York Knicks (2) vs. Boston Celtics (7)
This will probably be the most intriguing matchup in the first round of the Eastern Conference, which isn’t saying much, but still. If Boston steals a game in New York, things could get very interesting very quickly. Plus, the worrisome thing about the ‘Bockers is that they’re one bad shooting night from looking like they did in mid-February. With all that said, however, the difference between regular-season-Melo and playoff-Melo is like season one Walter-White and season four Walter White. Not to mention, a banged up KG makes Boston into a Sixers-esque defensive team, which is, you know, a bad thing.
Prediction: New York in 6, because they have one bad shooting night and KG forgets he’s hurt for a game or so.
Indiana Pacers (3) vs. Atlanta Hawks (6)
Unless New York shoots 50% from three for the entire playoffs, I still think Indiana is the biggest threat in the East to challenge Miami this year. They play a really mean, physical style of basketball, and they almost figured out the formula last year (break Chris Bosh’s fingernails, then pound the hell out of Miami inside). I think Al Horford and Josh Smith are still very good basketball players for Atlanta, but to be honest I’m not positive; I don’t think I’ve watched them in months. Either way, I’m picking Indiana because I refuse to believe that a Lance Stephenson-Lebron James fistfight won’t happen this year.
Prediction: Indiana in 5, but you’ll only see one or two of these games because they’ll be on NBATV.
Brooklyn Nets (4) vs. Chicago Bulls (5)
Brooklyn probably has the best player in the series (Deron Williams) and the second best player in the series (Brooke Lopez), but for some reason I don’t trust them to beat the Toros. Obviously Chicago isn’t the most talented bunch in the land, but I think these guys really seem to like playing with each other. Plus, think about this…
We haven’t really heard much talk about Derrick Rose in the last week or so, but as far as I know he hasn’t been officially ruled out for the playoffs yet. What if Chicago is slow-playing their hand here and is secretly planning on bringing back Rose as a surprise Game 1 starter? GUYS WHAT IF THIS HAPPENS? If I’m Miami, I’m secretly sending Jeff Gillooly to take out Rose’s knee again before it does.
Prediction: Chicago in 6 because I don’t want to be caught with my pants down if Rose comes back, and also because with Nate Robinson in the Barclay’s Center, someone is bound to have a 40-point game.
Western Conference – AKA the “There’s a reason they won the All Star Game” Conference
Oklahoma City Thunder (1) vs. Houston Rockets (8)
Is this the second most fun 1-8 playoff series ever? (If you’re curious, the Dallas vs. Golden St. matchup in 2007 would rank as the best.) I’m not predicting any sort of upset here, but these are both extremely entertaining teams to watch, and obviously the Harden-playing-his-old-friends drama is too good to ignore.
Although I doubt that Durant/Westbrook will be warm and fuzzy with The Beard, that doesn’t mean all of the old Thunder problems are going to go away. The Westbrook vs. Durant shot count is still the biggest storyline of this team, Ibaka has to be something inside offensively, and Scottie Brooks needs to prove that he is a playoff-worthy coach. These issues might not affect this particular series, but they’re going to show up eventually.
Prediction: OKC in 5. Houston will steal a game, either because Harden will have one giant performance, or the Rockets as a team will shoot the lights out to take one (much to Daryl Morey’s delight).
San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (7)
I call this the “even the best laid plans can go awry” series. The Spurs did a masterful job of limiting their stars’ minutes to gear up for the playoffs (as they always do), but alas, they’re so banged up that they had to go rescue Tracy McGrady from China. Similarly, the Lakers’ superfriends haven’t exactly worked out and grossly underperformed for their talent level this year.
But um, guys, the Lakers are 28-12 in their last 40 games. To compare, the Miami Heat were 29-14 before The Streak. Is it possible that this Lakers team has “figured it out,” so to speak? Obviously losing Kobe is huge because he’s Kobe, but if any team is built to withstand losing a guy like that, it’s the Lakers. No Kobe just means the team can operate through Pau and Dwight, which is really what they were put together to do best in the first place, especially if Nash gets healthy in time.
Historically, if you have a matchup of two teams, one trending violently downward, and another playing its best basketball of the year as the playoffs begin, who are you picking? Exactly.
Prediction: Lakers in 7. I might be wrong, but I’m going to be damned close.
Denver Nuggets (3) vs. Golden State Warriors (6)
The Nuggets are 38-3 at home this year. I couldn’t find a way to write “38-3” in all caps, so let me try again. THIRTY-EIGHT AND THREE AT HOME!!!! The Warriors fans at Oracle Arena are nuts too, but unless I’m mistaken the Nuggies are scheduled to play four home games in this playoff series while the Warriors play three. Besides this, the Nuggets are just too athletic across the board for Golden State to deal with. Advantage Nuggets in an extremely entertaining series.
PS: Golden State’s best chance to take a game in Denver is to hope for Andre Iguodala to miss late-game playoff free throws, which is something he’s an expert at (How depressing is it for Sixer fans that the only thing we have left to root for is ‘Dre missing playoff free throws? I HATE YOU BYNUM, I HATE YOU!!!).
Prediction: Nuggets in 6, but if if we all find out that playoff Steph Curry is anything like NCAA Tournament Steph Curry, this could go 7. Hell, it could go 9.
Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (5)
This is going to be a doozie. There are enticing matchups at almost every position. You get CP3 vs. Mike Conley (although “Pepperoni” Tony Allen will most likely be guarding Paul 94 feet for the entire game), Z-Bo/Marc vs. The Kia Optima/Brandon Knight’s Stepfather, and L.A.’s bench vs. Del Negro not knowing how to use them. Just dynamite.
I think the edge for now goes to the Clipshow because Randolph isn’t the same guy he was two years ago, and the L.A. subs are playoff-tested and deeper than Amour.
Prediction: Clippers in 6, and Chris Paul grows Freddy Kruger claws and starts haunting Russel Westbrook’s dreams before the second round.
I don’t know about you guys…
But I cannot wait for this year’s playoffs, especially all of the drama in the Western Conference. Besides the buzz saw that is Miami, any of these series could go either way. So cherish the little basketball we have left, because before you know it, SportsCenter’s Top 10 is going to be comprised completely of double plays and walk-off home runs for months (*shudder*).