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Friday, June 21, 2024
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NBA Playoff Preview

EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Bulls vs. No. 8 Pacers

This season has already been such a memorable one for Bulls' fans. Derrick Rose is probably going to be the MVP of the league; Tom Thibodeau has The Spectrum's vote for Coach of the Year; and the Bulls edged out the Spurs for the top spot in the entire NBA.

The Pacers are the only team in the postseason with a record below .500. Indiana went only 13-31 against teams above .500 and lost three of four games to Chicago in the regular season. Danny Granger is great player, but he doesn't have enough talent around him, nor is he clutch enough to put his team on his back like a LeBron or Carmelo.

Chicago is playing arguably its best basketball at the most important time of the year. The Bulls are also almost completely healthy, which is a scary thought for the rest of the league. Look for Rose to take over in every game; Indiana doesn't have anyone who can guard him one-on-one (there may not be a person on the planet that can guard him one-on-one).

The Bulls should own the battle on the boards and there doesn't seem to be anyone who will be able to score in the paint against the tough interior defense of the Bulls.

Prediction: Bulls in four

No. 2 Heat vs. No. 7 76ers

The problem that faces every team that plays the Heat in the 2011 NBA playoffs is that, like it or not, Miami is battle-tested. It's a strange idea considering the team has only played together for a season, but the anti-Heat wave – no pun intended – that's taken the NBA by storm since "The Decision" has forced every Heat player to learn how to play against every team and its hostile crowd. No one has learned how to do it better than the villain himself, LeBron James.

In this series, the 76ers are just outmatched, plain and simple. The Heat are on a mission, and though Philadelphia has looked really good in a many games this year, it doesn't have a defensive answer for LeBron and Dwyane Wade.

76ers star Andre Iguodala doesn't play well when the defense is able to zero in on him. He will have to be unstoppable for Philadelphia to challenge the Heat, and with LeBron hounding him throughout, it's not very likely.

The matchup between Miami's Chris Bosh and Philadelphia's Elton Brand is definitely one to watch. Brand has to be considered for the Comeback Player of the Year Award considering his production this season. He played in 80 games for the first time since he wore a Clippers uniform and he will create some problems for the Heat on both ends of the floor.

Prediction: Heat in five

No. 3 Celtics vs. No. 6 Knicks

This series should be the most competitive on the Eastern Conference side of the first round. If there wasn't a rivalry between New York and Boston at the beginning of the season, there most certainly will be after this series comes to an end.

The stars will shine brightly in this series for both teams as Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire lead the Knicks into the postseason for the first time since the 2003-04 season. The Knicks have looked horrible on defense at times since the trade and the Celtics will expose them if they aren't able to play good team defense.

Paul Pierce is the ultimate playoff warrior. He has been known to deliver daggers in postseason play in the past few seasons. Rajon Rondo is the guy that makes everything happen for the Celtics, and he'll have to get the offense going early and build leads for his team early in games.

The Celtics have been a defensive phenomenon in years past but by trading Kendrick Perkins at the deadline, the team has had to change its philosophy a bit. Look for Jeff Green to continue to try and find his role with the team and if he can't figure it out, the green and white could be watching the Finals this year.

This series will come down to individuals and if Carmelo takes over, the Knicks could pull off the upset. If Pierce continues his legacy, the Knicks could be one and done.

Prediction: Boston in 7

No. 4 Magic vs. No. 5 Hawks

Both teams in this series have developed reputations for folding when the bright lights shine in the playoffs. The Hawks were swept last season by the Magic and they're basically the same team.

Joe Johnson is a great regular season player – it can even be argued that he is a star – but in the playoffs he turns into an average player. The same can be said about Dwight Howard, but in a different way.

Howard is the best center in the game, but he leaves a lot to be desired. He doesn't dominate offensively the way a man of his stature should. The way he let the Celtics just land punch after punch in last season's playoff embarrassment is all a person needs to know about him and the team he is supposedly the leader of.

The Hawks don't have enough firepower to last in this series. Josh Smith, like Johnson, seems to disappear in late April. Zaza Pachulia and Al Horford are great big men. Horford has great offensive skills but against Howard, he is going to have a tough time being a big contributor. Pachulia is a rebounding machine and if he gets extended minutes, it will be interesting to see the battle on the boards between him and Howard.

Prediction: Magic in 5

WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Spurs vs. No. 8 Grizzlies

This is probably the most interesting series in the entire first round of the playoffs. The Spurs are sort of limping into the playoffs after being the clear-cut best in the league for most of the year. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have dealt with some injury issues in the final month of the season, and if one of those two, or Manu Ginobili for that matter, misses extended time the Spurs will be susceptible to elimination.

The Grizzlies are playing without arguably their best player in Rudy Gay, but they don't seem to mind. Zach Randolph is a beast and has quietly turned himself into a top forward in the league. The matchup between him and Duncan will be one to watch.

The two teams split their four-game series during the regular season. The Spurs have lost eight of their last 12 games and six of those were in a row.

Where this series will be won is in the backcourt. The Grizzlies will have to find a way to stop Ginobili and Parker over the course of a possible seven-game series, and it's a big question mark if they have the defenders to do it.

O.J. Mayo is the X-factor in the series. He must have a breakout performance and realize the potential scouts and coaches alike have seen in him since his days at USC. If everything goes right for Memphis, an upset is not impossible; but it's not likely either.

Prediction: Spurs in 6

No. 2 Lakers vs. No. 7 Hornets

The Lakers didn't have their best season, but they started playing great basketball after the All-Star break. It's to the point, with a veteran group like this, when they know when it's time to ramp things up.

Kobe Bryant at 32 years old is still the best closer in basketball. "The Black Mamba" has the killer instinct that seems to be lacking in a lot of the young superstars in the game. He's always had it but with the wisdom he's gained over his career, he's scarier now than ever before.

The Hornets lost arguably their second best player when David West went down for the season due to injury. Chris Paul is an unbelievable point guard, but against a dominant force like the Lakers, New Orleans just doesn't have enough in the arsenal.

Emeka Okafor just doesn't have the offensive skills to battle the two-headed monster inside for the Lakers in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Throw Lamar Odom into the mix, and it's just too much for New Orleans to overcome.

Prediction: Lakers in 4

No. 3 Mavericks vs. No. 6 Trail Blazers

In what should be the most competitive series of the first round, critics are already predicting a seven-game classic between these two teams. The acquisition of Gerald Wallace at the deadline by the Blazers is arguably the best and biggest acquisition of the season in a year that will go down in history for player movement.

Portland is a tough, motivated, and well-rounded team. It defends and is able to attack opposing teams in so many ways on the offensive end. Brandon Roy is one of the 20 best players in the league when healthy and he's been coming off the bench while he rehabs another injury. It doesn't hurt to be able to throw an all-star out there off the bench.

The Mavericks are still one of the best teams in the league, even after losing Caron Butler for the season early on. Dirk Nowitzki is a nightmare for opposing defenses and he plays his best in big pressure games. There are sure to be a number of those against the Blazers.

Jason Terry should be a big factor in this series. He's notorious for big games in the playoffs and the Mavericks are going to need everything he has if they're going to hold off the upstart Blazers.

Prediction: Blazers in 7

No. 4 Thunder vs. No. 5 Nuggets

The Thunder has had the Nuggets' number this season, taking three of the four regular season matchups. Kevin Durant won his second straight scoring title this year and he is going to be a tough cover for the Nuggets' small forwards.

Danilo Gallinari has had a coming out party since his Denver arrival but the pressure of the playoffs is a completely different animal. He'll have to play both ways and it's yet to be seen that he'll be able to. Speaking of breakout performances, expect Russell Westbrook to take another step forward and become a legitimate superstar for the Thunder.

The addition of Kendrick Perkins has turned the Thunder into a potential defensive powerhouse. Along with Serge Ibaka, the combo should be able to neutralize Nene in the series and make the Nuggets take jump shots.

Denver has been one of the hottest teams in the league since the trade deadline and it seems to be oblivious to any type of pressure. The postseason, however, is a different game and Oklahoma City got its first taste last year against the Lakers and that should help them in this series.

Prediction: Thunder in 6

Email: sports@ubspectrum.com


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