It took several months and 1,215 of games, but the NBA regular season has finally come to an end. On Wednesday, the final night of the regular season, not only were playoff seedings yet to be determined, but so too was the top overall record in the NBA. There’s nothing quite like watching meaningful basketball on the final night of the season.
I figured that since I’ve been writing about the NBA since as far back as the Eisenhower administration — well, at least it seems like it’s been that long — I’d put together a brief NBA Playoffs preview for those of you out there who consider yourselves “NBA fans, but only when the playoffs start.” This should help you get caught up a little. Of course, you can’t have a preview without predictions!
No. 1 Chicago Bulls (62-20) vs. No. 8 Indiana Pacers (37-45)
Here you have the NBA’s best team against an Indiana team that, by default, played their way into the playoffs. In fact, if the Pacers were in the Western Conference they would have finished 12th and missed the playoffs by 9 games.
The Bulls boast the league’s soon-to-be MVP in Derrick Rose and a strong interior presence in Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. The Pacers have, well, Danny Granger and a few nice pieces. Dr. Roto and I talked about this matchup during our podcast on Thursday afternoon and both felt that it’s no so easy to sweep a team in a 7-game series, no matter how mismatched the series may be. That said, the Bulls are too good on both ends of the floor and too deep for the Pacers to make any noise.
Prediction: Bulls in 5
No. 2 Miami Heat (58-24) vs. No. 7 Philadelphia 76ers (41-41)
This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. It’s put-up or shut-up time for LeBron James and the Miami Thrice. On the season the Heat have taken care of the 76ers, beating them all three times they’ve lined up against each other. And as much as we love to hate the Heat, they’re just far too strong for the 76ers to compete with.
I credit Doug Collins and the job he’s done this season, especially considering that Philadelphia started the season 3-13 and seemed well on their way toward the NBA Lottery. The truth is, the 76ers have no way of stopping Dwyane Wade. Andre Iguodala will do his best to lock down LeBron, but D-Wade will have his way with the 76ers. On the year he averaged 30.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 2.7 steals and 2.0 blocks per game against Philadelphia. Simply, he’ll remain dominant in this series.
Prediction: Miami in 5
No. 3 Boston Celtics (56-26) vs. No. 6 New York Knicks (42-40)
Sure the Knicks boast one of the league’s top scoring combos in Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, but they also lack the size and post defensive presence to slow down a veteran Celtics team. Really, it’s no surprise that the Celtics were 4-0 against the Knicks this season.
I do think that Melo will have a big series and can probably pull out a dramatic win at home, maybe combining with Stoudemire in another game to silence the Celtics in Boston, but don’t expect them to go much beyond that. The Celtics are just too good for this Knicks team as currently constructed. There’s no reason why Sheldon Williams should be starting for any serious playoff contender.
Prediction: Celtics in 6
No. 4 Orlando Magic (52-30) vs. No. 5 Atlanta Hawks (44-38)
I do like this Hawks team, especially what they can do in the post with Josh Smith and Al Horford. That said, if there is one team who can counter with size in the post it’s the Orlando Magic. Yes, simply because they have Dwight Howard.
On the season Atlanta has actually won 3-of-4 against Orlando, but the Hawks are stumbling into the playoffs having lost six straight games. The Magic, on the other hand, are playing well, having won four of their last five (with the only loss coming against the Bulls, while playing without Dwight Howard). Stan Van Gundy will have this Orlando team ready and hungry to advance in the playoffs.
Prediction: Magic in 6
No. 1 San Antonio Spurs (61-21) vs. No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies (46-36)
I’ll admit at the top, I cover the Grizzlies and have seen just about every minute of basketball they’ve played this season, so I’ll speak to what I know. It’s no surprise that Memphis wanted to play the Spurs in the first round, which is why they essentially tanked the final two games of the season. And can you blame them? The Grizzlies believe that can beat the Spurs in a 7-game series. On the year they split their four games, with each home team winning their respective matchup.
The Grizzlies are 30-11 at home, while the Spurs sit at 36-5 in their home gym. The Grizzlies feel that if they can pick off Game One in San Antonio they can win this series. You may think that’s a mighty task, but not with the Spurs best player, Manu Ginobili, questionable for Sunday’s matchup. The Grizzlies have the ability to counter the Spurs with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in the paint, and with Tony Allen playing some great basketball, they have a real shot at taking down the mighty Spurs. My heart and my head want to pick the Grizzlies, but I realize that is a tall task — a giant, even.
Prediction: Spurs in 7
No. 2 Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) vs. No. 7 New Orleans Hornets (46-36)
Nobody wanted to face the Lakers in the first round. That’s a fact. And I think that if you asked the playoff teams in the West, most would tell you that they’d want the Hornets as their first-round draw. This series shouldn’t be close at all.
I give Chris Paul all the credit in the world and think he’ll have a fantastic series, since Derek Fisher can’t guard anyone, but the Hornet have no chance here. I hate to predict a sweep, but…
Prediction: Lakers in 4
No. 3 Dallas Mavericks (57-25) vs. No. 7 Portland Trail Blazers (48-34)
I think it’s also safe to say that the Blazers were a team no one wanted to face in the first round. At least that can be said for the Dallas Mavericks who don’t have the horses to run with Portland. The Blazers are extremely athletic and one of the longest teams in the league.
The Mavs counter with an all-world talent in Dirk Nowitzki, but they’re also old at point guard (Jason Kidd) and on the wing (Shawn Marion). Watching Tervor Ariza chase down Marion in a wide-open fast break on Wednesday night almost seemed sad. I don’t think the Mavs have the legs to contend with the Blazers in this series. Especially now that Gerald Wallace is playing some of his best basketball of the year.
Prediction: Blazers in 6
No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder (57-27) vs. No. 5 Denver Nuggets (50-32)
This series will be fun to watch, but it won’t necessarily be competitive. Credit the Nuggets for surging once they got rid of Carmelo Anthony, but they won’t be able to keep pace with the Thunder.
Denver has no chance of countering the dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. And what the Thunder may lack, in post offense and interior defense, the Nuggets won’t be able to exploit. They themselves have little size and no lockdown defenders to disrupt Westbrook and Durant. Again, this series should be a fast, high-scoring affair, but it’ll be over before Nuggets fans can ask themselves, “What would it have been like if we had Melo?”