(1) Miami Heat vs (8) Milwaukee Bucks
Someone has to lose to Miami in the first round and Milwaukee has “won” that honor. While Milwaukee has played Miami tough, defeating them once this season, the Heat are simply too strong. Lebron and DWade will have a field day as the Bucks rank 20th in opponents scoring (100.4). Sure, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis could go off and steal a game, but who’s going to be the defensive stopper on Lebron? One interesting match up to watch is at the center position between Chris Bosh and Larry Sanders. Sanders came into his own this year, averaging 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game (2nd in the NBA). Bosh is more of a power forward stuck playing center. Half of his shots come away from the basket between 10-23 feet. Sanders could create havoc in the paint with his shot block ability, but it will be interesting to see if he can step out and cover Bosh’s jump shots. (Warren Croxton)
Prediction: Heat in 5.
(2) New York Knicks vs (7) Boston Celtics
A longstanding bitter rivalry continues as the Knicks draw the Celtics in Round 1. Up until this season, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and the rest of the Celtics had owned the Knicks for much of the last decade, including a four-game playoff sweep in 2011. This time, the Knicks come in as favorites, playing their best basketball over the last month. The Celtics rested Kevin Garnett a lot late in the year, resulting in a 6-11 finish. The Knicks are the more complete team and now have two bonafied scorers in Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith. You can never discount the winning pedigree of Pierce, Garnett, and Doc Rivers, but the Knicks are on too much of a roll to be stopped by the inconsistent C’s. (Matt Sherman)
Prediction: Knicks in 6
(3) Indiana Pacers vs (6) Atlanta Hawks
The Pacers definitely have the inside presence with David West and Roy Hibbert, but its okay for Atlanta because they dont like to slow down the game anyway. Atlanta likes to run with Josh Smith and Al Horford sharpshooter Kyle Korver. Indiana got some solid post season experience last year pushing Miami in the second round which should make them even stronger. The Pacers are just too physical for Atlanta and if Atlanta wants to push it the Pacers have someone like Paul George that wont mind doing that. (Scott Boutcher)
Prediction: Pacers in 5
(4) Brooklyn Nets vs (5) Chicago Bulls
On Saturday, April 20th, the playoffs will return to the city of Brooklyn for the first time since the year 1956 and what a match-up it will be. In arguably the most intriguing series in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, there could not be two more evenly matched teams to play each other. Tom Thibodeau is not used to being a lower seed and playing the role of the underdog, but this series could go either way. The season series went to the Bulls 3-1, but each win came down to the wire for the Bulls. The big keys for this series are whether the Bulls can stay healthy or not and if the Bulls can limit the effectiveness of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. In addition, whoever can crash the boards and grab the rebounding edge, that could very well be the deciding factor in who comes out on top in this series. Since the injury to Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer has emerged as the player the Bulls expected him to be. Another player who could be an X-Factor in this series would have to be little Nate Robinson. He could be the spark the Bulls need to beat the Nets four times.
On paper, this one is as close as can be, giving the rebound and defensive edge to the Bulls, but the surging play of Deron Williams and the always dangerous Brook Lopez could be the deciding factor for the Nets. Unless Derrick Rose can come back from injury (which will not happen), then this series will be a toss up. (Kevin Langner)
Prediction: Bulls in 7
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (8) Houston Rockets
Not that Kevin Durant should ever take a backseat to anyone, but James Harden is naturally the focal point in this series. The former Thunder third wheel arrived in Houston late in the preseason and became a superstar in 2012-13. He’ll be plenty motivated against his former team in one of the more intriguing 1 vs 8 series in recent memory. The Rockets surpassed all expectations by winning 45 games, with Harden getting plenty of support from Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, and Omer Asik. But the Thunder had no NBA Finals loss hangover, winning 60 games with Kevin Durant nearly winning his fourth scoring title. While Harden gives this series some extra juice, Durant, Russell Westbrook and company should roll here as they look to return to the Finals. (Matt Sherman)
Prediction: Thunder in 5
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs (7) Los Angeles Lakers
Tim Duncan continues to amaze NBA fans as he posted (17.9/9.9/2.7 blocks per game) his best season since the 2009-2010 season. The Spurs have struggled in the post season the last few years, losing in the first round in 2009, getting swept in the conference semi-finals in 2010, losing in the first round as a number 1 seed two years ago and losing four straight in the conference finals after winning the first two games last year. With those tough playoff losses, people doubt whether a team that won 58 games has a deep playoff run in them. San Antonio swept the Lakers this year, but every game was within five points.
The Lakers had a crazy season, but ended up making the playoffs as the 7th seed. Since Kobe is out with an Achilles injury, it’s Dwight’s team now. While Howard battled with a back injury, he still lead the league in rebounding for the fifth time in six years. In his last 21 games, Dwight averaged 20.0 points, 13.4 rebounds and 2.9 blocks.
Defense will be the defining moment of this series. The Spurs rank 3rd in defense rating (Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions) at 101.6 while the Lakers rank 20th in that category at 106.6. (Warren Croxton)
Prediction: Spurs in 5
(3) Denver Nuggets vs (6) Golden State Warriors
In all the Series’ in the NBA Playoffs, you will not get a faster paced, higher scoring games then you will be getting between the Denver Nuggets and the Golden State Warriors. The most exciting match-up will be between the point guards Ty Lawson and Stephen Curry. These two can speed up the pace of the game faster then anyone in the league. The Warriors own the lead in the league in three-point percentage (40.3%), while the Nuggets lead the league in points in the paint (57.8 a game). The different styles displayed by both teams will be in full affect come Saturday.
The X-Factors of this series will come down to the if the Warriors can one, take a game at Denver, where the Nuggets are unbeatable at, and two, if David Lee and Andrew Bogut can control the glass against an aggressive Kenneth Faried and Andre Iguodala. For the Nuggets, they must control the speed of the game away from Curry and sharp-shooter Klay Thompson. The Nuggets will be unable to match the outside- shooting threat of the those two men if they are not contained. This series will be a roller coaster and can be very high scoring. This series might be won by who gets better guard play, if Ty Lawson can stay healthy. (Kevin Langner)
Prediction: Nuggets in 6
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs (5) Memphis Grizzlies
If you want to watch a series that involves one of the most stifling defenses and another team having the most athletic and versatile players in the league, you are getting a series that can be as dramatic and unpredictable as any other.
The Clippers have the best point guard in the league in Chris Paul and one of the most explosive players in Blake Griffin. Mix those two superstars with a deep bench and veteran experience and you can get an unstoppable offense. However, their opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies, are no pushover and are seen as a sleeper in this years playoffs. A couple years ago they were an eight seed who swept a one seed. Now, their suffocating defense and formidable frontcourt can lead them to a deep run in the playoffs. Last year’s series between these two teams went seven games and it could end up the same this year.
The clear X-Factor in this series is Jamal Crawford. He is capable of taking over a game and having an extreme scoring outburst then anyone in the league. If Memphis can contain the Clippers high octane offense, then it will be difficult for Chris Paul’s team to advance. However, if the Clippers continue to control the pace and score at will, then Memphis will be unable to keep up. (Kevin Langner)
Prediction: Clippers in 6