Music to listen to: Jacob’s Ladder by Rush
(1) Indiana vs. (8) Atlanta
Season series: Tied 2-2
Best player in series: Paul George, Indiana
Matchup to watch: Paul Millsap vs. Indiana frontcourt
Thoughts: On paper, this looks like a lopsided matchup for the top seed in the East. Despite the Pacers’ struggles in the past two months which has seen their offensive efficiency regress to middling, they have the best player in the series, a significant advantage at the center position with Roy Hibbert and a deeper bench.
Atlanta does have a matchup advantage in the point guard position with Jeff Teague having a superior season in comparison to Indiana’s George Hill. Teague has increased his production for the Hawks the past two weeks and could carry the momentum into the postseason. Paul Milsap potentially has the quickness advantage over Hibbert and David West and can exploit those offensive opportunities.
A month ago, this series would’ve looked like a sweep for the Pacers but the Hawks will make this an interesting series and has a strong chance to steal one of the first two games on the road. Prediction: Pacers in six
(2) Miami vs. (7) Charlotte
Season series: Miami 4-0
Best player in the series: Lebron James, Miami
Matchups to watch: Who guards Lebron, Al Jefferson vs. Miami front court
Thoughts: Another matchup that looks lopsided on paper. If you’re reading this post, you’re a sports fan and already know about the strengths of the Heat.
First, respect to my All-NBA second team member Al Jefferson for putting together the best season of his career and leading the Bobcats into the playoffs. While the obvious question of the series is how can the Bobcats possibly stop James, the Heat will have their own issues dealing with Jefferson who’s averaged 26 points and 13 rebounds the last 10 games. Another case for the Bobcats is the emergence of Kemba Walker and the lack of point guard play from Miami. I was at the Hawks/Heat game last week and Miami’s point guard combo of Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole is one of the five worst in the NBA. Walker could go off for a 30 point game and steal a win for Bobcats.
In the end, Miami’s the much better team that will look to end this series early and move on to the next round quickly. Prediction: Heat in five
(3) Toronto vs. (6) Brooklyn
Season series: Series tied 2-2
Best player in the series: Kyle Lowry, Toronto
Matchup to watch: Toronto backcourt vs. Brooklyn backcourt
Thoughts: Now the matchups start to get interesting. Toronto has flown relatively under the Eastern Conference radar with Miami, Indiana, Chicago and even Brooklyn getting more coverage this season. The Raptors have been led by point guard Kyle Lowry, who made my All-NBA third team and DeMar DeRozan, winning the Atlantic Division. Toronto also has the best record in the East since December and are a top-ten team in offensive and defensive efficiency.
Brooklyn had one of the worst starts possible for a potential title contender. First-year head coach Jason Kidd looked overmatched, Kevin Garnett looked old and the Nets lost their All-Star center Brook Lopez for the season due to a foot injury. However, Brooklyn has turned it around by embracing a small lineup which has seen Paul Pierce at power forward and Shaun Livingston’s 6’9’’ frame inserted into the rotation.
The Nets’ backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson along with Livingston will have an entertaining matchup against Toronto. The Nets have experience but the youthful legs of the Raptors may run Brooklyn out of the gym. Prediction: Nets in seven
(4) Chicago vs. (5) Washington
Season series: Washington 2-1
Best player in the series: Joakim Noah, Chicago
Matchup to watch: Washington backcourt vs. Chicago defense
Thoughts: The Bulls looked like a lock for the lottery with Derrick Rose’s season-ending knee injury and trade of Luol Deng to Cleveland. However, Chicago has responded, getting a career-season from my top-five MVP candidate Noah, a most-likely Sixth Man of the Year season from Taj Gibson and contributions from numerous characters such as Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer and D.J. Augustin. Chicago’s defense has been top-notch as well.
Washington returns to the postseason with the best young backcourt in the NBA in John Wall and Bradley Beal. The Wizards also have center Marcin Gortat whose physicality could neutralize Noah’s contributions on both ends of the floor. Washington has an underrated defense as well, ranking in the top-10 in efficiency.
Seeing the Wizards’ backcourt contend with the Bulls’ defense will get the headlines but the biggest question is whether Chicago can score enough points to win the series. The Bulls have the home-court advantage which matters in an arena like the United Center and more playoff experience. Prediction: Bulls in seven
(1) San Antonio vs. (8) Dallas
Season series: Spurs 4-0
Best player in series: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas
Matchup to watch: Dallas offense vs. Spurs defense
Thoughts: Anytime you get to see two future Hall of Famers like Tim Duncan and Nowitzki battle it out in a playoff series, it deserves appreciation from anyone who loves the game of basketball.
Dallas runs one of the most creative and efficient offenses in the league, particularly when the screen and roll game between Nowitzki and Monta Ellis is clicking. However, the Spurs’ defense will have way to limit the Mavs’ opportunities.
The problem also likes on the other end where the Spurs’ motion offense gets to feast on a Mavs’ defense that leaves much to be desired. San Antonio will hit AT LEAST six open three-point attempts this series, which is too many points for the Mavs to leave on the floor. Prediction: Spurs in five
(2) Oklahoma City vs. (7) Memphis
Season series: Thunder 3-1
Best player in series: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
Matchup to watch: Russell Westbrook vs. Mike Conley
Thoughts: Memphis has had a strong second half of the season when Marc Gasol came back from injury and actually had a better record over that same span than Oklahoma City. The Grizzlies will do their usual plan of grinding out possessions, trying to take advantage of the Zach Randolph and Gasol power inside.
Oklahoma City has everyone back healthy themselves after Westbrook missed significant time himself due to a knee injury. We all know about Durant but this may be a series where the secondary players for OKC such as Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lamb and others can assert themselves for a potentially long playoff run. Prediction: Thunder in five
(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (6) Golden State
Season series: Tied 2-2
Best player in the series: Chris Paul, LA Clippers
Matchups to watch: Steph Curry vs Paul, David Lee vs. Blake Griffin
Thoughts: For pure entertainment purposes, this should be the most fun series to watch. Two high-powered offenses, highlight-producing players on both sides and even the coaching matchup has some intrigue.
If Andrew Bogut was healthy and in the series, it could have swayed the odds slightly in the Warriors’ favor. However, without an inside defender, expect Griffin and even DeAndre Jordan to have big nights offensively for the Clippers.
Golden State’s best hope is for Curry and Klay Thompson to get hot from the perimeter to grab some wins. Harrison Barnes could also use a strong playoff series for the Warriors after an inconsistent regular season.
In the end, the Warriors struggle guarding the perimeter and the best point guard in the NBA is going to have a field day every contest. Prediction: Clippers in six
(4) Houston vs. (5) Portland
Season series: Houston 3-1
Best player in the series: James Harden, Houston
Matchup to watch: Houston offense vs. Portland defense
Thoughts: Another fun series where both teams could reach triple-digits in points in every contest. Harden has averaged 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists against Portland this year. Dwight Howard has put up 25 points and 13 rebounds per contest as well. Those numbers aren’t going to change in this series because Portland’s defense is average and the Rockets run of the most efficient offenses in the league.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard will have big games for Portland but its going to be tough for them to win four games against the Rockets. Its a bad matchup for the Blazers. Prediction: Rockets in six