(1) Chicago Bulls vs (8) Philadelphia 76ers
Despite being without their start point guard for a portion of the year, the Bulls were able to grab the NBA’s number one seed. The Sixers have been up and down all year, but Doug Collins has done a decent job. The inside presence of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer could be too much for Elton Brand and the combination of Spencer Hawes and Nikola Vucevic. The off-season addition of Richard Hamilton could pay big dividends, as his shots off screens could be an issue for the Sixers defense. The Andre Iguodala-Luol Deng match up will be fun to watch, as Deng has quite a bit of range and Iguodala is one of the best defenders in the league. Both teams have sharp shooters in Kyle Korver and Jodie Meeks off their bench, but Thaddeus Young could be the x-factor for the Sixers.
Bulls in 6
(2) Miami Heat vs (7) New York Knicks
The Heat have a chip on their shoulder after coming up short against Dallas last year. New York has been a different team since they made the coaching change to Mike Woodson. There is a ton of talent on the court with the Big 3 and Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. Points will be at a premium in the Anthony-Lebron match up, but I like Lebron because he gets it done on the defensive end. The advantage the Knicks have in this series is the inside game with Tyson Chandler and Stoudemire, who will pester Chris Bosh all series. If Mike Miller can stay healthy, he can be a huge weapon off the bench for the Heat. Mario Chalmers could make a big impact because he has the advantage at the point and can score all over the court.
Heat in 6
(3) Indiana Pacers vs (6) Orlando Magic
The Indiana Pacers have been the biggest surprise of the NBA season. Orlando has had a sub par season and then last week they got the news that their star center was out for the year. Indiana will have the advantage in the paint with Roy Hibbert and David West now that Howard is not around. The Magic love to shoot the three, so Indiana will need to play great perimeter defense. The one advantage the Magic have is the experience of Jason Richardson against the youth of Paul George. The Brazilian blur, Leandro Barbosa, who was a great trade addition, can provide a nice scoring punch off the bench.
Pacers in 5
(4) Boston Celtics vs (5) Atlanta Hawks
Doc Rivers has done a tremendous coaching job, as the Celtics used a great second half to win the Atlantic Division. The Hawks had a decent season, considering they lost a big piece of their offense and their best low post threat in Al Horford early in the year. Both teams play very different styles of offense, Atlanta likes to push the ball while Boston plays more half court and lets Rajon Rondo make the calls. The Celtics have the inside presence with Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass against an under-sized Josh Smith and an average big man in Zaza Pachulia. The small forward match up is a battle between two all-stars, Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce, who have awesome offensive games and can bring it on the defensive end. Boston also has the advantage at point guard with team first Rondo and the bench with a future hall of famer Ray Allen coming off of it.
Celtics in 6
(1) San Antonio Spurs vs (8) Utah Jazz
Even though they are aging, the Spurs were one of the best teams in the league this year. The Jazz were up and down all year but found their way into the playoff field. The Jazz front court of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson should be able to control DeJuan Blair and an aging Tim Duncan. Tony Parker will have his way with Devin Harris, who is not quick enough to keep up with him. The Spurs also have the bench advantage with Manu Ginobili and the three-point threat of Matt Bonner.
Spurs in 5
(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (7) Dallas Mavericks
The Thunder may be the most exciting team in the league, led by the 2012 scoring champion Kevin Durant. The reigning champion Mavericks are different looking than last year but hope to spring the upset. Oklahoma City has better defensive big men in Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, but Brendan Haywood and Dirk have much better offensive games. Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd will have their hands full trying to defend Russell Westbrook and Durant. Both teams have a spark off the bench with James Harden and Jason Terry, who can fill it up in a hurry.
Thunder in 6
(3) LA Lakers vs (6) Denver Nuggets
Despite many trade rumors about Pau Gasol and Kobe playing hurt most the year, the Lakers still took home the Pacific division crown. As well as Kenneth Faried has played this year, he will have his hands full with Pau Gasol. Expect Andrew Bynum to dominate Kosta Koufas all series. Aaron Affalo is a good shooter, but it will be his defense that the Nuggets will need against Kobe. Danilo Gallinari should have a solid series now that Metta World Peace is expected to miss most of the series. Denver has youth and they need to push the tempo as much as they can.
Lakers in 6
(4) Memphis Grizzlies vs (5) LA Clippers
Might be the most exciting series that most people wont watch. The Clippers finally return to the playoffs led by the exciting Chris Paul and explosive Blake Griffin. Memphis hopes to build off the momentum of last years playoffs. Both teams have plenty of big bodies inside, with Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol being the go to guys in the low post. Chris Paul will be able to control the match up against Mike Conley will his range and quickness. The match up that could cause the Clippers the biggest problem will be Caron Butler trying to slow down Rudy Gay. This will be a slug fest that should go the distance.
Grizzlies in 7
Heat over Thunder in 7
#1 Chicago vs. #8 Philadelphia
Chicago is the more talented team and is home. But the fact that Derrick Rose still isn’t 100% and the Sixers’ strong showing against the Bulls this season could make for a more interesting series than a typical 1 vs. 8.
The pick: Chicago in 6
#4 Boston vs. #5 Atlanta
Both teams finished the season strong. The Celtics did a good job of getting their starters some rest down the stretch and should be able to outlast the younger Hawks.
The pick: Boston in 6
#2 Miami vs. #7 New York
A playoff rivalry from over a decade ago is rekindled here. Expect the Knicks to have a better playoff showing than last season, but the Heat have too much firepower in this one.
The pick: Miami in 5
#3 Indiana vs. #6 Orlando
Arguably the hottest team in the league over the last month draws a sinking ship. Indiana should have little trouble making the Magic disappear.
The pick: Indiana in 4
#1 San Antonio vs. #8 Utah
Lots of credit to Ty Corbin for leading the Jazz to a surprising 36-30 record. Equal credit to Gregg Popovich and the Spurs for yet again having a spectacular season. Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, and company will begin another run for a title without much trouble.
The pick: San Antonio in 5
#4 Memphis vs. #5 LA Clippers
One of the more intriguing first round matchups, with two young teams that played great basketball in the second half of the season. Memphis may have home advantage, but expect Blake Griffin and Chris Paul (assuming he’s fully healthy) to be the difference in a thrilling series.
The pick: LA Clippers in 7
#2 Oklahoma City vs. #7 Dallas
It’s hard to discount – and dethrone – the defending champs. However, the Thunder are a serious title contender and will send the Mavs home early.
The pick: Oklahoma City in 5
#3 LA Lakers vs. #6 Denver
Denver quietly had a nice season in its first full season post-Carmelo Anthony. With all the dysfunction going around the Lakers, this could get interesting. But it’s hard to believe Kobe and company will exit the playoffs early for the second straight year.
The pick: LA Lakers in 7
NBA Championship: Miami vs. Oklahoma City
Bulls in 6
Heat in 6
Pacers in 6
Celtics in 5
Spurs in 5
Grizzlies in 7
Thunder in 6
Lakers in 5
Thunder over Bulls in 6