Eastern Conference First Round
1. Chicago vs. 8. Indiana
Chicago put together a great season and a nice final run to secure the top spot in the East. They are my favorites to win the title. Indiana squeaked in the final spot while Charlotte crumbled; they are the only playoff team with a sub-.500 record, so I think they’ll be lucky to pull out a game against Chicago. Prediction: 4-0 Bulls.
2. Miami vs. 7. Philadelphia
In a decisive game Sunday, Miami pulled ahead of Boston in the playoff seeding and absolutely dominated them in a physical contest. Philadelphia is a really scrappy team, so I see them stealing a game (possibly two), but Miami is still too loaded. Prediction: 4-1 Heat.
3. Boston vs. 6. New York
This series should be more competitive than the first two I listed. After slumping for awhile after the Melo deal, New York surged during the final few games and probably have secured the sixth spot (they are 41-38 while Philly is 41-39). Still, Boston has too much defense and poise for New York to handle right now. Prediction: 4-2 Celtics.
4. Orlando vs. 5. Atlanta
Atlanta has been rather inconsistent this season, lacking a strong leader as coach (no offense to Larry Drew, but when one of your players calls your strategizing a “f*cking joke,” there’s clearly a huge problem). Though Orlando and Atlanta are closer in record than Miami and New York are, I don’t see this series being that close. Prediction: 4-1 Magic.
Eastern Conference Semi-Finals
1. Chicago vs. 4. Orlando
I see this being a fun series, but one where Chicago still asserts their dominance. As their Sunday game proved, Orlando has no one who can keep up with Derrick Rose. Dwight Howard and their shooting will bring them a couple of home wins, but in the end, Rose and Chicago’s home court advantage will be too much to overcome. Prediction: 4-2 Bulls.
2. Miami vs. 3. Boston
Everyone wants to see how this series plays out no matter how much some people hate Boston and LeBron James. If James and the Heat lose, the detractors (especially Cleveland Cavaliers fans) will exult joyfully in the streets with burning effigies. However, based on Miami’s recent rout of Boston, and given they have home court advantage now here, I think they will prevail in a close series, and the parade of vengeful Cleveland fans will have to wait until the next series. Prediction: 4-3 Heat.
Eastern Conference Finals
1. Chicago vs. 2. Miami
This is going to be an interesting series without a doubt. Unfortunately for Miami, they are going to have no answer for Derrick Rose and Chicago’s excellent depth. James will play well, but no one is going to care because Miami will fall short of a title and the hatchets are going to come out in full force. Prediction: 4-2 Bulls.
(Western Conference predictions after the jump)
Western Conference First Round
1. San Antonio vs. 8. Memphis
As long as Tim Duncan doesn’t get hurt (even for a few games, the Spurs sure collapsed epically when he went down!), San Antonio should have no problem dispatching an inexperienced Memphis team. Prediction: 4-0 Spurs.
2. Los Angeles vs. 7. New Orleans
Los Angeles is sure hoping they face New Orleans here instead of Portland because Portland recently beat them whereas New Orleans posed no threat at all to them, losing all four games in the season. This isn’t to say Portland would beat Los Angeles in a series, but they could easily tire out Los Angeles a little and steal a game or two. New Orleans, on the other hand, would just get swept again. Prediction: 4-0 Lakers.
3. Dallas vs. 6. Portland
I see this as being by far the most competitive of all the first round match-ups. Portland has surprised people in dealing so well with injuries; Dallas, though having the better record overall, was absolute crap by contrast when Dirk Nowitzki missed some time, so the mental toughness advantage goes to Portland by a mile. Portland is going to give Dallas all they can handle, but without home court, I don’t think it will be quite enough. Prediction: 4-3 Mavericks.
4. Oklahoma City vs. 5. Denver
No series will be more fun for fans who love up-and-down, high-scoring fests. Denver, to the surprise of many, has played admirably since losing Melo. They have a nice mix of veterans and youth. However, they don’t have anyone who will really be able to make up for the damage that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will inflict on them. As in the Eastern Conference, the best first round match-ups will be in the third and sixth seed series, not the fourth and fifth despite what record odds would suggest. Prediction: 4-1 Thunder.
Western Conference Semi-Finals
1. San Antonio vs. 4. Oklahoma City
What a series of contrasts: youth vs. experience and offense vs. defense. Oklahoma City is going to do their best to tire out San Antonio, but it’s not their time yet; in the playoffs, historically, pretty much every team that made it very far had more experience and defense than they do. Prediction: 4-2 Spurs.
2. Los Angeles vs. 3. Dallas
There really is no way Dallas can beat Los Angeles without home court unless aliens abduct Kobe Bryant. Prediction: 4-1 Lakers.
Western Conference Finals
1. San Antonio vs. 2. Los Angeles
Ah, the San Antonio and Los Angeles rivalry: not anywhere near as legendary as Los Angeles’ rivalry with Boston, but there have been some memorable past series between the two teams anyway, and this should be another tough one. Interestingly, Los Angeles dropped their first two games against San Antonio in the season, but in the third contest, they beat San Antonio in Texas, so this may be the hardest series to predict. I’m leaning toward Los Angeles winning this by a very slim margin. Oh, I so hope I’m wrong, because I’m tired of L.A. by now. Prediction: 4-3 Lakers.
1. Chicago vs. 2. Los Angeles
If Los Angeles wins this, we may never hear the end of it from Kobe Bryant’s most vocal fans, many of whom will proclaim loudly that he has equalled or surpassed Michael Jordan in greatness (even typing this is making me a little nauseous). However, I don’t see Los Angeles winning this year. The teams split their season games against each other with both wins being by a slim margin for each club, but in a 7-game series with Chicago having both the defensive (yay, Tom Thibodeau!) and the home court advantage (yes, the season matters after all, playoff fans!), I predict it will be a great irony to see Kobe Bryant lose to Michael Jordan’s team in his quest to three-peat for a second time as Jordan did. Chicago, it should soon be the time to celebrate again. Prediction: 4-3 Bulls.