Welcome to the second half of our playoff preview. In between the interim I hope Browns fans have gotten over the euphoria of knowing their restarting at quarterback with a rookie who will be without any noteworthy receivers, yet again. Anyways, here we make our picks, to see our team rankings for Finals favorite, click here.
Chicago Bulls (1) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (8)
Chicago in 6. And struggles to do so while getting everyone back into rhythm with Rose running the offense.
Miami Heat (2) vs New York Knicks (7)
Heat in 5. This is the most star-studded first round match-up, which means it will be the most discussed. For better or worse, I anticipate it being over quickly. Or rather, as quickly as any NBA series realistically ends.
Indiana Pacers (3) vs. Orlando Magic (6)
Indiana in 5. Notice how it’s all higher seeds winning with relative ease? That might be a common occurrence through the rest of the first round. Anyway, Ryan Anderson will have to go from being a highly underrated 18-points/game guy, to Larry Bird circa 1986, and I doubt the current Pacers GM is losing sleep over such a transformation taking place.
Boston Celtics (4) vs. Atlanta Hawks (5)
Boston in 6. There’s an outside shot Atlanta could make this a series and pull off the upset. After all, the Hawks are mostly still in their prime and can match them player for player everywhere but at point guard. But the Hawks are too flaky, too disorganized and simply put, too disinterested to beat a team as competitive and determined as the Celtics.
San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Utah (8)
San Antonio in 5. Like we said earlier, San Antonio always feels vulnerable to upsets given their advanced age and their tremendous letdown against Memphis last season. But 2012 Utah is no 2011 Memphis, and the Spurs are too savvy to allow themselves to be humiliated twice, in the exact same fashion.
Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs. Dallas (7)
Oklahoma City in 6. The Thunder are simply too disoriented and too thin on the offensive side to really dominate anyone thoroughly. They will have to play at least six games in every series to win an NBA title.
Los Angeles Lakers (3) vs. Denver (6)
Lakers in 6. The Lakers might actually miss Artest in this series because of Denver’s depth. But traditionally (as in the last six years) Kobe has had his way with the Denver, and while the makeup of Denver is different than it was in the Melo days, they still have absolutely no one to guard him. You could argue they’re actually less equipped to guard him than they ever have been.
Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (5)
Grizzlies in 7. This is by far and away the most intriguing first round match-up for actual basketball fans (Miami-New York is the best match-up for people who can only name two NBA players). It’s almost certainly going seven and whoever happens to win it, is going to really threaten to knock the Spurs out of the post-season early.
Chicago Bulls (1) vs Boston Celtics (4)
Celtics in 6. This might be almost wishful thinking, as I think the Celtics have a far better chance of beating the Heat than the Bulls. But when I watch this Bulls team play, they look built for the regular season, the type of team that can drum the Wizards and Cavs by a combined total of 60 points. But when I see them play an elite team along the lines of Miami or Boston, they break their backs trying to get a regular season win, do so about 50% of the time, and the losing team seems pretty convinced it was a fluke. To get to the Eastern Conference Finals last year, the Bulls had to beat the youngest team in the playoffs in the Pacers, and the aforementioned lowly Hawks. Boston won’t kowtow like Atlanta is famous for.
Miami Heat (2) vs. Indiana Pacers (3)
Miami in 6. As a guy unabashedly rooting for the Pacers, even this is optimistic. It seems unlikely that Miami will have to travel BACK to Indiana in order to close out this series, but five doesn’t seem generous enough for the season the Pacers had and seven seems too dramatic for the Heat at this point in the playoffs, so five it is. Really, I don’t understand why the Pacers have struggled with them so much. They have a bunch of strong post-players to protect the paint (a la Chandler, Marion & Haywood from Dallas in last year’s Finals) and a slew of options to put on LeBron (Granger, George, Jones), Wade is something of a blind spot but he isn’t an impenetrable force, he should be contained well enough.
Indiana has slowly improved against against Indianapolis as the season has carried on, but I have to go with my head over my heart on this one. Actually, that might be hyperbole. While I like the Pacers, I’m not going to lose a single, solitary second of sleep if they lose.
San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (5)
Spurs in 6. Difficult to pick a winner here, but the Spurs are simply a deeper, better, healthier version of last year’s squad. You could make the same argument for Memphis since they’re substituting Shane Battier for Rudy Gay., but they also lost some small but noteworthy pieces from last year’s upset. Every time these two teams battle it should be labeled “the battle between two cities that feel like they should be in New Mexico, but aren’t.”
Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (3)
Thunder in 7. I’m giving Oklahoma City the edge in this one almost strictly because of home court and coaching advantage. Also, I think Bynum is going to do something absolutely insane before their season ends, and Ron Artest might finish the job on Harden. And just when I was starting to root for this team because of the Sessions acquisition.
Miami (2) vs. Boston (4)
Miami in 7. My best guess is fatigue sets in for the aging Celtics. Regardless of what’s transpired in the regular season, Miami proved last year they’re more or less able to coast through the regular season and still attain one of the league’s best records. Boston doesn’t have that same capacity. They fought tooth and nail, not to mention battled injuries and heart disease all year. Plus, the young were born to devour the old, and that’s what this series feels like to me.
San Antonio (1) vs. Oklahoma City (2)
Spurs in 7. The NBA has been kind this year to the…I don’t know how you would categorize it. The mid-Southwest? Whatever, outside of New Orleans all the teams in this general region are in the playoffs, and they hold the top two seeds in one of the conferences. I have absolutely no idea who ends up winning this series, but San Antonio went 2-1 against them in the regular season, they have home court advantage and one of those two wins was in Oklahoma. So the Spurs it is.
San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Miami Heat (2)
Heat in 6. Because I lack a creative bone in my body, we’re picking the Heat to win an NBA title. Unlike most of the NBA world, I feel like the Heat have been on cruise control this year and looked at the regular season as more of a prolonged preseason than anything else. Ultimately, should these two teams play, the Spurs will simply lack the talent needed to beat Miami, and while they have great team chemistry and depth, they lack the unique ball movement combined with with three point efficiency that Dallas used last year to eat everyone alive in the playoffs, including the Heat.
That’s it for the playoff preview. I hope it wasn’t as repetitive as it felt, and that everyone’s able to delineate the rankings from the picks. It is admittedly confusing. Enjoy the games this weekend.