April 18, 2013

LIAO | NBA Playoff Predictions

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Spring is in the air and that only means one thing; the NBA playoffs are about to start. Let’s not waste any time and jump right into a few predictions.

Eastern Conference:

(1) Miami Heat vs. (8) Milwaukee Bucks

This is a mere formality. The Bucks are playing some good basketball, especially after the JJ Redick trade, but this is a bigger mismatch than a one-seed vs. a 16-seed in the NCAA tournament. The Heat are a dominant team, and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are both healthy; there’s not much else to say. Heat in four.

(2) New York Knicks vs. (7) Boston Celtics

Now this gets a little interesting. Two veteran teams with storied histories, both with a ton of pride. The last time these two teams matched up in the playoffs was 2011, when the Celtics easily dispatched the Knicks in four games. But this time, things are very different. In the last meeting, Carmelo had only played 27 games in a Knicks uniform and did not seem comfortable in the offense at all, while the Celtics were two years younger and had a healthy Rajon Rondo — who they will be lacking this time around. The only non-Carmelo player still on the roster from that 2011 team is Amar’e Stoudemire, who will be sidelined due to injury during the playoffs. With a much improved supporting cast — including J.R. Smith, Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton — and an improved offensive scheme, the Knicks have drastically improved as a team, while the Celtics have taken some big steps backwards. Pierce and Garnett will do everything in their power to win the series, but I see the Knicks winning it in six games.

(3) Indiana Pacers vs. (6) Atlanta Hawks

The Pacers are the least flashy team in the NBA and as a result, have flown under the radar all season. They play at one of the slowest paces in the NBA and rely on the stingiest defense in the entire league to win games. On offense they are just as boring, relying on the fundamental post game of David West and solid, but unspectacular plays on the perimeter by Paul George, George Hill and Lance Stephenson. The Hawks — as I’ve written before — are the definition of average. They chug along, make the playoffs, then lose because they just don’t have the talent. This year seems to be no different, and average just won’t be sufficient against a good Pacers team; Pacers in five.

(4) Brooklyn Nets vs. (5) Chicago Bulls

The Bulls are a very scrappy bunch. They play their hearts out and can really get up for big games (see: breaking the Heat 27-game win streak and the Knicks 13-game win streak). However, without Rose, they don’t have the talent to make it through a grueling seven-game series. The Nets are not a perfect team, but Deron Williams looks like the great player he was in Utah and combined with Brook Lopez’s emergence this season, that should be enough to beat the Bulls. Nets in six.

Western Conference:

(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (8) Houston Rockets

The storylines for this matchup write themselves; James Harden and his beard facing his former team. Kevin Martin trying to prove that he’s more than capable of filling Harden’s old role. Russell Westbrook fighting the notion that Harden would have been a better fit if he was the one left alongside Durant. However, when you filter out all these storylines, what you get is a juggernaut led by the league’s second-best player against a young team that plays at a ridiculously fast pace. The Rockets are going to try to push the tempo at every chance they get to speed up the Thunder. Unfortunately, it won’t help. The Thunder are also young, athletic, fast and even more talented, with the ability to adjust. James Harden will most likely single-handedly win a game with a spectacular effort, but the Thunder are too good; OKC in five.

(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Los Angeles Lakers

I wish Kobe was healthy; this would have been a classic. Even without him, this series promises to be fascinating. Many people are writing off the Lakers without their leader, but they are still a team with two All-Stars in or near their primes in Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. They have the talent to win this series. Additionally, Ginobili has been out for a few weeks, Parker looks hurt and Tim Duncan remains 36 years old. But the biggest mismatch in this series is the coaching; Gregg Popovich should win Coach of the Year every year, with his ability to make subtle adjustments on defense and offense to adapt to an aging and changing roster. Meanwhile, Mike D’Antoni can’t create anything resembling a coherent defensive or offensive scheme. Spurs in six.

(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Golden State Warriors

This series is going to be just as fast-paced as the Thunder-Rockets. The Nuggets are going to miss the presence of Danilo Gallinari and his shooting, ball-handling and ability to step up late in games. However, the majority of his minutes will be going to Wilson Chandler, who has arguably been the Nuggets’ best player these last few weeks. The Warriors’ biggest strength all year has been the three-point shooting of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Unfortunately for them, this plays right into Denver’s hands. The Nuggets have three athletic, long, good defenders on the wing in Andre Iguodala, Corey Brewer and Chandler to stick on either Curry or Thompson if they get hot. Nuggets in five.

(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies

This will most likely be the closest series of the first round, pitting the high-flying Lob City against the gritty, defensive-minded Grizzlies. These two teams played each other last year in the playoffs, but have both improved significantly. The Clippers have a much more refined offense (although they still turn to Chris Paul isolations late in games), but the Grizzlies have made a lot of internal improvement, especially with the play of Marc Gasol. It’s tough to bet against Chris Paul, but I think if Tony Allen can slow him down just a little, the entire offense will suffer. Truth is, I don’t know if Allen will be able to, so I flipped a coin for my prediction: Grizzlies in seven.

Original Author: Albert Liao

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