The NBA playoffs are about to kick off in an hour (as I'm writing this) with the Knicks hosting the Celtics at the Garden. I'm very excited, especially because I finally get to see the Knicks make a serious push to get to the Eastern Conference Finals. The rest of the Eastern Conference isn't very intriguing, but the West looks great all around. Of course, I'll cap off this season like I did last year, with one post per day throughout the Finals known as the NBA Finals Chronicles. For now, let's just get on with the predictions, and I'll be breaking down the first round series.
1 Miami Heat vs. 8 Milwaukee Bucks. Best team in basketball against the sub-.500 Bucks. Simply put, the Heat are good, the Bucks are not. Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings both have the ability to have a great game scoring the ball, but both are capable of shooting the team into a hole. They have a bunch of good players, but the Heat's suffocating defense won't allow much of anything. The only way the Bucks win a game is if Larry Sanders can dominate the rim defensively, which he has shown he can do, but not every night can be a a 10 block night for him. Otherwise, I don't think that Bucks have any way to guard LeBron James or the many shooters on the team. I'm going with Sweep City here. Heat in 4.
2 New York Knicks vs. 7 Boston Celtics. Probably the most interesting series in the first round features Carmelo Anthony, who has been the hottest player in all of basketball since mid-March. In April, Melo averages 36.9 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, earning himself Eastern Conference Player of the Month. J.R. Smith will be there to shoulder the scoring load with Anthony. Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin will probably be at full strength after sitting out a few games towards the end of the season. They key to this series on both ends of the floor, is Jeff Green. Green is notoriously inconsistent, but he will be relied upon to keep Carmelo in check most of the time. On the offensive end, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett cannot be expected to carry this team with their scoring. Green has the ability to go off on any given night, but also has a tendency to check out of games when he has a bad start. Other than Green, nothing the Celtics can do will particularly scare the Knicks defense. The teams know each other well, so it should be a good one. I'm going with my Knicks here, though I do expect Boston to (almost inexplicably) pull out some tough ones. Knicks in 6.
3 Indiana Pacers vs. 6 Atlanta Hawks. The Pacers have done well without Danny Granger, maintaining a very good defensive mindset and allowing Paul George to mature as a basketball player. One glaring issue all season has been Roy Hibbert's offensive ineptitude. That will need to change if the Pacers want to beat the Heat or Knicks. Another problem is that the Pacers have backed into the playoffs, losing 5 of their last 6. They haven't played well recently, but there is one salvation, they're facing the Hawks. As much as I love Josh Smith and Al Horford (and boy do I love them), they will not be able to consistently contend with this Pacers defense. There still is a chance that they win this series, and it will be because of three specific players: Smith and Horford must win the matchup down low with Hibbert and David "Post-Efficient" West. Also, Jeff Teague must be the primary perimeter scorer. This can certainly happen, but I can't predict this to occur 4 times. Pacers in 7.
4 Brooklyn Nets vs. 5 Chicago Bulls. I will say this, the Brooklyn Nets have exceeded my expectations and for that I must give them credit. Deron Williams looks to have returned to his old form and has carried this team into the playoffs. The Bulls have surprised me as well this season. I thought that sans Derrick Rose, this team would be dead. In fact, they're still a very good team, led by their very good defense. Joakim Noah's foot will be the deciding factor in who wins this, but if he does play, he'll cause problems for the Nets. Bulls in 7.
1 Miami Heat vs. 5 Chicago Bulls. Heat in 6.
2 New York Knicks vs. 3 Indiana Pacers. Knicks in 7.
Eastern Conference Finals
1 Miami Heat vs. 2 New York Knicks. Heat in 7
1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 8 Houston Rockets. The James Harden trade allowed him to thrive as the top option in Houston, helping them to be one of the highest scoring teams in the league. The Rockets, and Harden specifically, do not play enough defense to challenge OKC. Durant and Westbrook will take over. The Rockets score a ton of points, so they could actually pull out a game or two. Though the Thunder are clearly better, this is going to be a super fun series to watch. Thunder in 5.
2 San Antonio Spurs vs. 7 Los Angeles Lakers. Even without Ginobili, who is a a diminished player, the Spurs will roll over the Lakers. The reason, the Lakers don't play defense. Spurs in 5.
3 Denver Nuggets vs. Golden State Warriors. The Nuggets are the league's best team at home, and that's the reason why I feel comfortable taking them here. Danilo Gallinari's absence will not be as big as people are making it out to be, because I feel that Wilson Chandler can step in and sort of replace him. My boy Andre Iguodala will make up whatever else they're missing from Gallo. Two more injuries that could be major issues; my boys Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried. Lawson is playing, but looks somewhat hampered by his foot injury. Faried has an ankle problem and as of now I don't know what's going on with him. As I'm writing this, he's in uniform but won't play in Game 1. If those two can stay healthy, this team can surprise people. Steph Curry will shoot the lights out a couple of times during this series, but the rest of the team is too inconsistent for me to have faith in their chances. Nuggets in 6.
4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. 5 Memphis Grizzlies. In a rematch of last year, I think that both teams have gotten better. The Clippers have upgraded their bench, while the Grizzlies got rid of Rudy Gay's poor shooting, while Marc Gasol has been a star center this year. Do I expect Zach Randolph to show up in this series and provide some scoring? Yes I do. This is more of a hunch than anything, I feel that the Memphis defense will cause trouble for the Clippers. Grizzlies in 7.
1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 5 Memphis Grizzlies. Thunder in 7.
2 San Antonio Spurs vs. 3 Denver Nuggets. Nuggets in 6.
Western Conference Finals
1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 3 Denver Nuggets. Thunder in 7
Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder. Heat in 6.
I'll be breaking down these matchups as they happen, so I'll have a second round preview out once everything is set.