Round 1 of the NBA playoffs kicked off Saturday. Coming off of one the craziest NBA seasons in years, the playoffs will be no different. We can definitely expect some craziness, excitement, and some surprises.
Looking at the uncertainty surrounding the 2011-2012 season, I'm sure we're all happy we got to watch really great basketball on Christmas, a big tradition in my family. We're Jewish, so there aren't many other options, and my 88 year old grandmother's birthday is on Christmas Day, and she's a basketball fan, so it works out well for everyone. We were happy enough basketball was back at all, but I don't think anyone was prepared for a Kobe-less Lakers team dominating their opponents or the Utah Jazz playing in OT, 2T, 3T, and 4T games. Or Linsanity. Or Ben Gordon finding his former Bulls self and getting 45 points or....ok, you get the idea. This season, the one we thought might not even happen, was fun and unpredictable.
In the introduction I wrote there may be a few surprises, but isn't that a bit relative? For instance, I'm predicting the Denver Nuggets will win in 6 over the Lakers, but would this really be a surprise? Metta World Peace is suspended for elbowing James Harden, so fans have to be aware that losing him could hurt the Lakers chances.
Head to head: The Lakers are 41-25 this season while the Nuggets are 38-28, and the Lakers are 3-1 against the Nuggets this season, but history tells us that regular season match-ups often mean nothing.
Truth be told when Chauncey and Melo left I didn't have much faith in the Nuggets. I'm sure I'm not in the only one, but they managed to secure the 6th seed in the 2012 Western Conference playoffs. The Knicks are in 7th place in the east. Not like anyone's keeping score.George Karl's hard work and determination in keeping his team together despite all the uncertainty and turmoil must be commended.
The Lakes season hasn't been free of craziness either. Phil Jackson, who coached them to titles in 2000-2002 and 2009-2010, retired. Mike Brown who failed to get Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to a title, took over. They signed Ramon Sessions, and their star player, Kobe Bryant missed 7 games due to an injury. Kobe's back and he's healthy, but in his absence, his team, most notably Andrew Bynum, World Peace, and Pau Gasol, dominated. The Lakers are still one of the best teams in the West. They finished third in the Western Conference but I'm still predicting the upset. I predict Mike Brown will be out-coached by Karl, and may subsequently be fired. Maybe the Lakers need more time adjusting, but I'll just go ahead and say it, I don't like Mike Brown. Anyway, Nuggets in 6. If you're keeping score, that's before World Peace's suspension officially ends.
Looking at the Memphis/Clippers match-up, I predict Memphis will win in 5. The records are close. Memphis finished in 4th with a 41-25 record, and the Clippers finished in 5th at 40-26. The Clippers lead the regular season series at 2-1.
Honestly, this one was tough. I changed the number of the games the series would go to from 4 to 7 to 5. I still don't know for sure. I do believe the Grizzlies will win. I know experience doesn't always matter. Ironically enough, the Grizzlies proved that to all of us last year, but last year, even without Rudy Gay, the 8th seeded Memphis team blew the top seeded San Antonio team out of the playoffs in the 1st round. This time, the Grizzlies will have Rudy Gay, but they will also have to figure out how Zach Randolph, who missed most of the season with a torn MCL, will factor into all this. If the Z-Bo we saw during the 2011 playoffs emerges, then yes. This will be a short series. We've seen how dangerous the Grizzlies can be.
Up next, we have the reigning champions the 7th seeded Dallas Mavericks playing the Oklahoma City Thunder. I love these teams, and I am really looking forward to this match up. It's hard, though because I seriously wish both teams could win. I'm giving this one to the Thunder in 6. I'm also giving the title to the Thunder, but we'll discuss that later.
According to ESPN, the Mavericks are 19th in the league in scoring. Umm. YIKES! The NBA champions are in a bit of trouble. Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki both had a pretty miserable season. Their scoring and shooting percentages were sad. The entire Mavs season was sad, though. Between losing Chandler, Stojakovich, and Barrea, and whatever all that Lamar Odom business was...
The Thunder are just better. On paper, it would look like this would be a total sweep, but I'm taking it to 6 because I do believe Dirk and Jason still have some fight in them. Plus, the Thunder aren't perfect. As ESPN notes, they don't move the ball around as well as they should, but they shoot and defend better than the Mavs. I've said before the regular season isn't always the best indication for what happens in the playoffs, but I believe it is the Thunder's time to win. They're young, strong, passionate, and just plain awesome.
I've saved the Spurs/Utah series for last in the Western Conference portion because this is the one I've been most torn about. We have a top seeded team that lost to an 8th seeded team last year. We have an 8th seeded team that's just as young, ravenous, and resilient as that 8th seeded team that won last year. Experience and wisdom vs. youth, hunger, and resiliency.
The Spurs have even more to prove than just any first place team. Last year, they were ravaged by the 8th seeded Grizzlies in the first round.
Honestly, I don't even want to look at the regular season match-up between the Spurs and Jazz. In this case, it really doesn't seem to matter. If we are keeping score, the Spurs are 3-1 against the Jazz this season.
Both the Spurs and the Jazz are very impressive defensively. The Jazz are younger and they've proven they can play like an hour beyond regulation. The Spurs are such an amazing regular season team, and I believe they will fight to be champions again. Their "big 3" of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker may be up there in age, but they're all healthy for the first since 2008, and we've seen how scary a healthy Spurs team can be to contend with.
On the other hand, you have a Jazz team with 7 of their 14 players under 26 years old, and 4 of those players under 21.
The Spurs will win this one in 7. The Jazz will push them almost to their breaking point. I'm predicting a couple 2OT or even 3OT games, but the Spurs have a lot to prove. They're older, yes, but when they're good, there's virtually no stopping them.
Moving onto the Eastern Conference. The top-seeded Chicago Bulls are playing the 8th seeded Philadelphia 76ers. Chicago was 2-1 against the Sixers in the regular season.
According to Fox News , The Bulls' Derrick Rose missed 27 games of the shortened 2011-2012 season, but the Bulls still finished at 50-16. Chicago is looking to avenge last year's Eastern Conference Finals loss against the Miami Heat. If Rose's new injury is serious enough, I may have to rethink my Bulls/Thunder finals prediction. USA Today reports that Rose injured his left leg late in the 4th quarter against the Sixers in game 1 Saturday. The Bulls still won, but the victory is a bit overshadowed by the uncertainty surrounding Rose's health. The way he jumped and fell and landed was just plain creepy. It was scary and sad to watch.
Both the Sixers and Bulls have extremely strong benches in Lou Williams, Evan Turner, and Thaddeus Young for Philly, and CJ Watson, Kyle Korver, and Taj Gibson for Chicago. ESPN predicts that any possibility of an upset will depend on Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday. I'm inclined to agree.
I had the Bulls taking this one in 6, but I think that depends on the severity of Rose's injury. I believe the Bulls can win this series without him, but this one isn't as easy to predict anymore. The series may go to 7.
The next series match-up is the Miami Heat vs. The New York Knicks. You have no idea how much I would love to say that the Knicks will somehow get the upset and come out on top. As much as I really believe it's time for OKC to win the title ,I'm one of those "anyone but the Heat" fans. With all that said, this won't be a sweep by any means. The Knicks have been great at 3-point shooting, the Heat, not so much.
So, 3 point shooting will be key for the Knicks this series. With Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, and Steve Novak shooting as well as they have been, this is going to be a very interesting series. On NBATV Friday, Sam Mitchell predicted a Bulls/Knicks Eastern Conference Finals. IF the Knicks can somehow get past the Heat in the first round, who can't they beat? The answer: the Bulls.
I predict a very fun, competitive series. The Heat won't win easily. Two of their "big 3" aren't totally healthy. According to ESPN, Wade has a dislocated index finger, and Chris Bosh's hamstring has been giving him trouble, so Lebron James has a huge job ahead of him. I believe he's up to the task, though.
The Heat will take this one in 6.
Next we have the 3rd seeded Indiana Pacers vs. the 6th seeded Orlando Magic. Let me just say first that I have no idea how Dwight Howard is still even on the Magic's roster! He could've gotten traded or decided to become a free agent. He hates Stan Van Gundy, who I'm going to guess will have to be fired this off-season. Anyway, that's neither here nor there. Howard is out with a back injury and won't be there to help his teammates against the Pacers. I'm excited to see what the masked hero Hedo Turkoglu will do for the Magic. Most Improved Player Candidate Ryan Anderson is also one to watch out for.
The Magic aren't exactly hopeless without Howard, but this entire situation couldn't have helped team morale. I predict the Pacers in 4, and even though they have the advantage in this series, that has to be deemed an upset. The Magic are a good team, but I just think this season has been emotionally exhausting for everyone involved.
Finally, we have the Celtics against the Hawks. The days of the Celtics 'big 3" are coming to an end as Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce are relatively old and sore. And Garnett will become a free agent this summer. So, the Celtics are a bit impatient to win another title, but I don't believe it's in the cards for them. This is the end of an era. The big 3 is about to come apart, but let's not count out Rajon Rondo who has been incredible this season. If there's a new "big 3," he needs to be considered part of it.
The Celtics are 2-1 against the Hawks in the regular season, the
Huff Post reports.
The Hawks have home-court advantage this series, but the Celtics have Rondo and a very impatient and eager big 3. According to ESPN, Ray Allen, who has missed 2 weeks with an ankle injury, is still uncertain for game 1 in Atlanta Sunday. He did travel to Atlanta with his team, but as far as playing, the all-star veteran said "I can't say. It's still day to day."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers predicts that Allen won't play Sunday, but Horford and Pachulia are both out for the Hawks, so this one is really tough to predict.
It won't be an easy series for either team, but I'm picking the Hawks to win this one in 7.
In the end, this has been a difficult first round to predict, which is actually a really good thing. It means we can look forward to some amazing match-ups. Expect fun, competitive match-ups and possible upsets and surprises. Expect to see the underdogs push their opponents to the limit.
I don't know about you, but pretty excited for this! It's going to be a great series overall.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com