April 15, 2011
The Playoffs are here! My first round predictions
Aah... Mid-April. Springtime, mostly wherever I've spent my life. And NBA Playoffs are in the air. All year round, I watch NBA games with a certain astrix: Could Team X be as good as they are right now in the Playoffs? Is Player Y only waiting for the playoffs to start to show his true colours? As far as I'm concerned, the regular season is like the qualifying round of the F1 race - it helps to decide how each racer starts, but then the real work has to be done on Race Day itself.
So now, Race Day is finally here. The NBA playoffs are set to at 1 PM on Saturday, April 16 EST (equivalent to 10:30 PM Indian Standard Time), with the Pacers visiting the league-best Chicago Bulls. And then, the action begins.
This is also going to be an important year for me since, after seven years in the waiting, the Knicks are finally back in the post-season. I'm ready with my playoff beard to support them as long as possible - let's see how long before they go fishing and I go to the barber.
Here are my predictions for the first round:
(1) Bulls vs (8) Pacers: Fairytale, indeed. Chicago has gone from young pups, finishing 8th in the East last season to number one in the conference and the league. Derrick Rose is the legit MVP of the league, and with a brilliant coach Thibodeau, and a deep supporting cast featuring Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, and Luol Deng, this team definitely has what it takes to go far. They focus on defense first, and as we all know, defense wins playoff series (and eventually, championships). Indiana, on the other hand, won only 37 games this season, and are walking into the fire. This series will be a feast. Chicago Bulls win 4-0.
(2) Heat vs (7) 76ers: 76ers have indeed done an amazing job under Coach Collins this season - going .500 even when none of their players averaged over 15 points a game. Unfortunately, their depth and team-play is going to face its toughest challenge in the first round against the LeBron and Wade show. Yes, Miami have had their question marks, mostly about their lack of depth and lack of tougher big players, but 76ers are just the kind of team that Miami needs to get their momentum back in a big way. I expect LeBron and Wade to dominate easily in this series, and Bosh to get a little done too, for good measure. In 1 game, I'm sure the Philly home crowd and their deeper bench will lead them to victory, something that will help Miami stay on their toes for Round 2. Miami Heat win 4-1
(3) Celtics vs (6) Knicks: In my view, the toughest first round series in the East. The Celtics have been going through a bad stretch of identity crisis since the Perkins trade, and haven't really been convincing. The Knicks started off terribly with Carmelo Anthony mid-season, but ended with a strong streak to get prepared for the post-season. Melo will have to have the biggest possible series to keep New York alive, and Amare will somehow (although unlikely) regain his early season form against the Celtics' talented frontline. The X-Factor for Knicks is Billups, the only player experienced with the toughness required for this matchup. There will be a couple of very close games, but in the end, I think Boston are way too experienced and sound defensively to lose this series. Plus, Knicks don't play defense. Refer to what I said earlier about that. Boston Celtics win 4-2
(4) Magic vs (5) Hawks: Will the real Atlanta Hawks please stand up? A perennial mid-tabler, it's hard to take Atlanta too seriously but its hard to ignore them either. I think Orlando have been saving energy for a big post-season run, and they will be too good for the Hawks in this series behind Dwight Howard. Expect Magic shooters to rain down threes like there's no tomorrow, and this will be a good time for Gilbert Arenas to remind us that he's alive. Orlando Magic win 4-1
(1) Spurs vs (8) Grizzlies: San Antonio were definitely a surprise this season; no one expected this older, fading team to redefine itself and come strong this year, but that's exactly what Coach Popovich has done. Memphis will throw athletes and they'll throw big men like Randolph and Marc Gasol in Spurs' way, but I don't think that it's going to hurt the old men much. Duncan's leadership and this team's great depth should be enough. Ginobili's injury is a question mark, but he should return in time to see his team win a relatively easy series. San Antonio Spurs win 4-1
(2) Lakers vs (7) Hornets: Oh, LA! A team that starts off as the best, loses to easy teams a lot, then goes on an unstoppable run, and then loses to easy teams a lot again. What's going on with the champions? Is Kobe going crazy? Is Artest too worried about his rap career? Is Gasol too soft? Will Bynum even play? So many questions. But luckily for them, they have received the perfect opponent to regain their groove in the post-season. Bynum is expected to return as Lakers play Hornets. New Orleans have had their own struggles this season with injury, as David West is done for the year. They have stayed afloat behind Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry in the post, but it will take a dominating Chris Paul performance from stopping this from becoming a sweep. It will still be one, though. LA Lakers win 4-0
(3) Mavericks vs (6) Blazers: These teams are a lot closely matched than their record may indicate. Mavs started the season well, but Portland finished it better, and for the playoffs, its the finish that matters. Both teams are deep: for Nowitzki there's Aldridge, for Marion there's Gerald Wallace, for Jason Kidd there's Andre Miller. And both have stacked benches. Tyson Chandler will be the X-factor for the Mavericks, but the Blazers have the 'X-est' factor of them all.. Brandon Roy of the bench! The intensity of Portland's combined effort and its home support may be too much for Mavs, who are of course, perennial chokers in my eyes. I predict an upset. Portland Trailblazers win 4-2
(4) Thunder vs (5) Nuggets: This is perhaps the easiest-on-the-eyes match-up there is: young teams, determined basketball, and unpredictability. Nuggets have been a force since trading away Carmelo Anthony, and without a face to their franchise, have been one of the few teams that no one has wanted to cross after the all star break. But OKC are on a different planet altogether. They have improved dramatically this season, and even more since getting their tough man in Kendrick Perkins. What works most is that OKC do have a face to their franchise, the NBA's leading scorer Kevin Durant, and I expect him to lead his team through this slightly difficult series. OKC Thunder win 4-2
So - those are my predictions above. There are about 31 and a hour hours left (and counting) before the playoffs begin. What do you think its gonna happen?