Ladies and gentlemen, the 2011 edition of the NBA Playoffs is finally here, as we’ve got four great games on tap for today.
And with the first round about ready to get underway, we’ve gathered our STS staff together for some predictions.
Anyone think one of the top teams are in trouble? Well let’s find out:
#1 Bulls vs. #8 Pacers
Blake Lovell: I don’t think this is gonna be as easy as everyone thinks it will be. The Pacers can find ways to score, and even though the Bulls are out of this world on defense, they could make things interesting in the games in Indiana. Statistically, it may not be much of a series on paper, but I think the Pacers are going to bring a lot to the table here, and take this farther than most expect them to. Bulls win, 4-2.
Steve Rivers: The Bulls will make quick work of the Pacers! The Pacers are home to the Greatest Superstar that Nobody Knows, in Danny Granger. He’ll have plenty of time to plan out his Summer Vacations after Soon-To-Be MVP Derrick Rose, and the rest of the Chi-Town Gang get ahold of them. Bulls win, 4-1.
Steven Gelis: The Bulls have the best defense in the league. They have a defensive rating of 100.3 which is tops in the league, and only allow 91.3 points per game. I don’t think I really need to explain the greatness of Derrick Rose this season, who, if history tells us anything, is much better in the playoffs. The Bulls won the season series 3-1, although the one game they lost went to OT. I should also add that Carlos Boozer did not play in that game. The Bulls are also red hot heading into the playoffs; they have won 9 in a row. Let’s be honest…the Pacers aren’t very good. They finished the season 37-45, the worst team in the playoff, and are facing the best team in the league. Bulls win, 4-0.
Marco Romo: I think this should be a quick and easy series for the Bulls. The Bulls have too much talent going up against the Pacers and too good of a defense. The Pacers have struggled on offense all year and playing the Bulls is not going to help that cause. I do see Indy stealing one game, but that’s pretty much it. Derrick Rose is too much for anyone on the Pacers’ roster, which equals major trouble for the Pacers. Bulls win, 4-1.
Andrew Lynch: No tanking was necessary to settle the Eastern Conference playoff picture, though I doubt anyone would willfully put themselves in position to face the Bulls. Chicago’s rise to prominence and the reasons for their play this year are well-established – unlike these young Indiana Pacers. Good on you for getting to the playoffs, Indiana, but your stay will be short-lived. Bulls win, 4-0.
Dan Jepperson: So, let’s see how this Chicago team looks in the Playoffs By all stretch of the imagination, the Bulls got the best dance partner in the East. After the long, cold winter of post-fight gloom in Pacer-world, making it to the Playoffs is a nice return to relevance. Still, they stand little chance against this Chicago team. They may pick up a game in Conseco if the Indiana crowd can make things interesting, but the Pacers are a ways off from being able to beat these Bulls. Bulls win, 4-0.
#4 Magic vs. #5 Hawks
Blake Lovell: This series will all depend on which team shows up for both sides. Neither of these teams are the model of consistency, and just seem to fall into a lull sometimes on the offensive end of the floor. From top to bottom, the Magic are better, but at least the Hawks have the frontcourt to be able to challenge Dwight Howard inside. I simply don’t trust the Hawks enough to pick them though. Magic win, 4-2.
Steve Rivers: The Hawks owned the Magic in the Reg. Season, and Dwight Howard’s Technical Foul situation will def. cost the Magic in this series. However, I just can’t imagine the Magic getting eliminated this quickly. Super Mario gets the troops together in the end, and Orlando advances. Magic win, 4-3.
Steven Gelis: It’s to ignore that the Magic haven’t beaten the Hawks since November 8th, and have not beaten them since they traded for Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson. It’s also tough for me to ignore last season, when the Magic swept the Hawks in the second round. Still, the Hawks have a better team in my opinion. Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford, with Jamal Crawford off the bench, and new addition Kirk Hinrich, is a good team on paper. They aren’t great offensively, but they’re alright defensively, so I guess I’ll take them in this series.
The Magic are a top defensive team, mostly due to Dwight Howard. They are very “middle-of-the-pack” offensively. Dwight Howard is surprisingly the best offensive player for the Magic, but going against one of the other best centers in the league might take it’s toll on the big man. If Dwight gets into foul trouble, this team is screwed. Even if he doesn’t, most of the other players on the Magic are jump shooters, who live and die by the three. The Magic attempted the most threes in the regular season, but shot the tenth best percentage from downtown. They are also last in free throw percentage, and with Dwight going to the line multiple times per game, that’s trouble. Hawks win, 4-3.
Marco Romo: The Hawks have been in a playoff rut these past few years. This year I don’t see them making much progress. The Magic have Dwight Howard and the Hawks have Al Horford. Al is a nice player, but Dwight is too much inside for the Hawks. The Hawks did win the regular season series 3-1, but the playoffs are a whole different monster. Magic win, 4-2.
Andrew Lynch: All the chatter about Jason Collins and his ability to defend Dwight Howard is cute. Will Atlanta be able to stay at home on defense at the perimeter if Collins can stop Dwight one-on-one. Of course. But I’d be surprised if Mr. Maximum, Joe Johnson, didn’t shoot the Hawks out of a game or two. Atlanta is better equipped to face Orlando this season than last, as evidenced by the season series. That’ll amount to a 6-game series instead of 4. Magic win, 4-2.
Dan Jepperson: I’m not sure what’s been going on with Atlanta, but they haven’t played with nearly the intensity that I’ve seen from them in recent years. Orlando may not be playing as well either, but the difference here is that one team has Dwight Howard and the other team doesn’t. Orlando wins, 4-1.
#3 Celtics vs. #6 Knicks
Blake Lovell: Probably the most intriguing first-round matchup because of the tradition of both teams, and it’s the first time the Knicks have been in the playoffs in quite some time. I know that most people think this a good matchup for the Knicks, but I don’t. While they have gotten better defensively, they are nowhere near the level of the Celtics when it comes to stopping the opposition. This might be the last chance for this Celtics team to make a run, and I don’t think they bow out in the first round. This one goes the distance, with each team winning all their home games.Celtics win, 4-3.
Steve Rivers: I love this match-up for NYK. I know, I sound crazy right? But if the Knicks can run against the C’s, this series will def. sway in their favor. The C’s are also very banged up. If the Celtics do manage to get healthy for this series, and it goes to 7 games, then Boston will win. The key is NY imposing their will on the much older, slower, Celtics. Knicks win, 4-2.
Steven Gelis: People seem to forget that the Celtics are still one of the top defensive teams in the league. In fact they have the best defensive rating (100.3 tied with the Bulls) and allow an average of only 91.1 PPG. Sure they don’t have Kendrick Perkins anymore, but people seem to forget that Perkins has only played in 12 games (started only 7) for the Celtics this season. They managed to get the third best record in the East without Perkins, so I don’t think it will be as big an issue as some folks make it out to be, not in the first round anyways. I would never bet against the Eastern Conference champs this early that’s for sure.
I’m sure that this will be a great series, but I just don’t see the Knicks winning. They have the stars, the story (first playoff appearance in what seems like forever), and, of course, offense. Going up against one of the best defensive teams in the league, that offense might fall flat. The Knicks just don’t have that good a team. After Carmelo, Stoudemire, and Billups, who can they depend on? Toney Douglas and Landry Fields? Maybe for a game or two, but for a whole series against the Celtics defense? Not gonna happen. The Knicks allow 105.7 points a game average (28th of 30), and have a defensive rating of 110.1 (22nd of 30). Celtics win, 4-2.
Marco Romo: Ah, yes the series that intrigues me most. The Knick’s offense vs. the Celtic’s potent defense. The Knicks have, in my mind, the best shot at an upset in the first round. They have two All-Star guys that can score at any given moment in, Amar’e and Carmelo. The defense? Eh, not so much. The Celtics are a battle tested veteran team that knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. In the end, I see the C’s being too much on defense for the Knicks and winning this series. That’s not to say the Knicks can’t take a couple of games from them. I just don’t see the Knicks taking the series. Celtics win, 4-2.
Andrew Lynch: This series would be infinitely more intriguing if the Knicks employed a legitimate center, calling into question Boston’s dependence on Shaquille O’Neal. Unfortunately for New York, Ronny Turiaf isn’t that guy, and the Celtics have the defense to contain Carmelo, especially when he regresses to his ball-stopping ways. Rajon Rondo – barring complications from the plantar fasciitis he is reportedly battling – is leagues better than the remains of Chauncey Billups. Given a point guard who doesn’t shoot often versus one who jacks up ill-advised threes early in the shot clock, I’ll take the former. Celtics win, 4-1.
Dan Jepperson: In my opinion, New York’s best bet is to see if they can get the Celtics to punch themselves out rope-a-dope style. The Celtics have been playing in a fog for a while, and one has to assume that the Boston Three will be lit up to start the series. I’ve felt for a while that New York is the team in the East that the top seeded teams would want to face the very least, and they happen to be faced off a team that hasn’t quite been the same since the Perkins trade. It may be wishful thinking, but I’d sure love this to go seven games. Celtics win, 4-3.
#2 Heat vs. #7 Sixers
Blake Lovell: Personally, I find this to be the least intriguing matchup in the first round. The Sixers should be able to keep most of the games close, but can than actually win one? Well, I think they win one. But we’re about to see LeBron James and Dwyane Wade turn it up a notch, and there is absolutely no way the Heat lose this series. Heat win, 4-1.
Steve Rivers: Being from Philadelphia, we’re seen as the worst fans. Me, I’m just a realist. The Heat are dialed in right now, and I don’t see anyone getting them off track at all, especially not the Sixers. Love the Sixers, but this isn’t our time yet, lol. Heat win, 4-0.
Steven Gelis: I’ve written about the Heat plenty of times on Saving the Skyhook, and every time I mention how they will fare in the playoffs, I am always optimistic. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, will all likely play 40 MPG+, they usually do in the playoffs. Clearly this means this means they will be on the floor longer, which means the Heat won’t have to worry about their bench letting them down. Wade and LeBron aren’t the problem though. I think Bosh will be the X Factor for the Heat in the playoffs. He will have to step up and be a 20-10 guy, especially with Udonis Haslem expected to miss at least the first round. It might seem like a lot to expect from Bosh, but considering he’ll play more minutes, and that he is clearly capable of being a 20-10 guy, I think it will be possible.
Philly is a unique team. They don’t have any players averaging more than 20 points per game, but have 6 players averaging double figures. They have a balanced team (unlike the Heat), and might win if Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams (who is a game time decision) play great off of the bench. I think their bench will prevent them from getting swept. Heat win, 4-1.
Marco Romo: The Sixers are a nice young and athletic team that could give any team in the playoffs fits… except the Heat. The Heat have more than enough athleticism to match the Sixers. They match up horribly against the Heat. Andre Iguodala is a really good player who plays really great D, but that still won’t be enough to stop LeBron. The Sixers do have a better bench than the Heat, but that’s the only big advantage that the Sixers hold. Heat win, 4-1.
Andrew Lynch: The regular season was more or less irrelevant in Miami; all of the judgments passed on this team up to this point can’t touch the levels of alarm and disdain the Heat will face if they go home early. Andre Igoudala’s play on the year didn’t receive the attention that it should have, and Doug Collins deserves Coach of the Year consideration.
That being said, Philadelphia can’t match the talent of LeBron, Wade, and Bosh. I expect Bosh to light Brand up at least twice in this series, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the marquee players in Miami struggle once or twice and drop a game to Philadelphia. Heat win, 4-1.
Dan Jepperson: While I’m happy that Philadelphia made the Playoffs, and especially happy they finally look to be heading in a good direction, the Heat will be compelled to crush them. Before tip off of Game One, LeBron may as well walk over to Elton Brand and give him the old Ivan Drago ‘I must break you’ treatment, because anything less than a sweep is pretty much unacceptable when you consider how much expectation is on this Miami team. Heat win, 4-0.
#1 Spurs vs. #8 Grizzlies
Blake Lovell: Aside from a series with the Hornets, I think this is the absolute best matchup for the Grizzlies in the West. And while I want to pick them to win this series, picking against Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich is not something that usually works out too well. Sure, there are reasons to question the Spurs in this series, but this team has been too good to get beat in the first round. The Grizzlies make it interesting, but San Antonio moves on. Spurs win 4-2.
Steve Rivers: The Grizzlies will make this a tough series, which is what the banged up Spurs, DON’T Need! Manu’s injury will def. hinder San Antonio’s first game’s outcome. But, in the end, Pop will get the old lions to pull through again. Spurs win, 4-2.
Steven Gelis: This might be one of the better one against eight battles we have seen in a while. The Spurs will ultimately win, in my opinion, but not before Memphis puts up a strong fight. Why do I like the Spurs more? They are a very good offensive team, they have the second best offensive rating in the league (111.8). They are at the top of the pack in three pointers made, and lead the league in 3P%. The Spurs also don’t turn the ball over often, so that creates less opportunity for their opponents to score. The Spurs also have veteran leadership, and Finals experience. Tim Duncan will also probably have his minutes extended, as he tries to win what might be his last ring, with a lockout looming. The Spurs also have a very good bench led by George Hill.
Much has been made about the Grizzlies “tanking” the last few games of the regular season. They came so close to facing perennial chokers Dallas, and the sputtering Lakers. I think the Grizzlies are a bit better than their record shows, but they don’t really do anything particularly well. They are as average as they come. That being said, I think they have enough talent to steal a game from the Spurs, and prevent the sweep. Spurs win, 4-1.
Marco Romo: After purposely tanking the Grizzlies will take on the Spurs. With a hurt Manu being listed as doubtful for game 1, it could be an opportunity for the Grizzlies to snatch one. Even if the Grizzlies do win the first game, I still don’t see them winning the entire series. The Spurs are too good, they have veteran guys who been here before and a nice bench. The Grizzlies have had a nice season but it will end in the first round. Spurs win, 4-2.
Andrew Lynch: If I were a stronger man, I’d pick Memphis to win this series, particularly if Manu misses significant time with his elbow injury or is unable to play at 100%. By the end of the series, San Antonio’s wings are going to be absolutely sick of Tony Allen being inside of their jerseys, and the Grizzlies’ interior presence should give the Spurs fits. After all, I’m not sure DeJuan Blair can jump over Marc Gasol’s facial hair, let alone help contain he and Zach Randolph. In the end, I think the Spurs’ combination of experience, home court, and talent will take them on to the next round, but a Grizzlies “shocker” wouldn’t surprise me at all. Spurs win, 4-2.
Dan Jepperson: What’s potentially interesting here – and yes, I know I’m digging – is that even though one would assume the Spurs to be the dominate team here, they actually knotted up their series match up 2-2 (including a sixteen point loss on March 1st). Over the course of the four games, the Grizzles averaged 87.5 FGAs a game against the Spurs, something that only six other teams can say (Detroit, Houston, Minnesota, New York, Phoenix and Sacramento). By no means am I suggesting a potential upset here, but the Spurs defense has yet to take Memphis seriously this season. If Memphis runs, they may get a game. Spurs win, 4-1.
#4 Thunder vs. #5 Nuggets
Blake Lovell: We should see plenty of scoring in this one, and overall, this could be the toughest first round series to predict. The addition of Kendrick Perkins has been huge for OKC, but we also can’t discount the run the Nuggets have been on since the Carmelo Anthony. I just think Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant will be too much for Denver to handle in a long series though. This one has to go seven, right? Thunder win, 4-3.
Steve Rivers: Denver will make this a tough series also. The difference between OKC getting a tough series, and the Spurs, about a combined 40 yr. age difference amongst their core players. OKC’s core tops out around 25 years old, while San Antonio’s is hovering around 33-35. Thunder win, 4-2.
Steven Gelis: This will probably (hopefully) be the best first round series of them all. Why do I think the Thunder will win? They are a good rebounding club, they rank eighth in total rebounds on the season, and the additions of Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammad will only help them in that regard. They also have two very good scorers in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, they have a top 5 offensive rating at 111.2, and are also top 5 in PPG. They are also 3-1 in the season series versus the Nuggets, including two wins after the trade deadline. I’ll take the convincing wins over the Nuggets, and the Thunder’s offensive abilities for my reasons as why I think the Thunder will win.
The Nuggets don’t have that go to scorer, which is important in closing out games in the playoffs. They have a very good bench, and good starters, but they don’t have anyone who can lead them night in, night out. They are very similar to the Philadelphia 76ers in that regard. I think without a go to scorer, who can lead them to victory, they will be hard pressed to win the series. They certainly didn’t show it during the regular season against the Thunder. In the two games after the trade deadline against the Thunder, the leading scorer for the Nuggets was Ty Lawson with 28 points (he scored only 5 in the next game against the Thunder), and in the other it was Nene (the Nuggets lost that game by 15 points.) Thunder win, 4-2.
Marco Romo: This will be a fun and great series to watch. The Nuggets surprised a lot of people with their play at the end of the regular season, and I was one of those people. The Thunder are a young, very explosive and great team. They have definitely impressed me this year. The Nuggets have a great shot at an upset in this series. Though, I don’t see it happening. The Thunder have 2 outstanding players in Russel Westbrook and Kevin Durant. They also have really nice role players and a great inside defensive presence with Kendrick Perkins. The Nuggets will push them to the brink, but the Thunder will come out of this series as the victor. Thunder win, 4-3.
Andrew Lynch: The series I’m least confident about; I have no idea which team is going to win this series. Various analyses show that in the modern NBA, what matters most in the playoffs is your top 6 players, but both of these teams are deep and bring quality players off of the bench – Denver takes this to extremes with their 10-deep rotation since the Carmelo trade. I think the Thunder starting five, plus James Harden, will be too much for the Nuggets to handle, but this one should go the distance and be one hell of a basketball series. Thunder win, 4-3.
Dan Jepperson: Both of these teams were dramatically affected at the trade deadline, and both have come out looking great. Denver re-invented itself and is as unexpected as any team in the West. Even after having watched several Denver games post-Melo, I still don’t know what they’re going to do next. Since the trade, the Thunder has made improvements on the defensive end in every area but Free Throw Attempts allowed. Neither team will want the other to start running, so this could/should be a slugfest. Thunder win, 4-2.
#3 Mavericks vs. #6 Blazers
Blake Lovell: The entire world seems to be picking the Blazers in this series, which means that the Mavs will probably sweep them. OK, they aren’t going to sweep them, and I can understand why Portland is a hot pick. But, even without Caron Butler, I just like this Mavs team. Corey Brewer has given them a nice spark, and even though the Blazers have been on a roll, I still think the Mavs find a way to win this series. Mavs win, 4-3.
Steve Rivers: Portland is similar to the Knickerbockers. They’re the team that No One, and I mean No One, wants to play 7 straight games against. The Gerald Wallace deal gave the Blazers much needed play on both sides of the court on the Wing. The Blazers will make anyone they face, play their best basketball in a series. Blazers win, 4-2.
Steven Gelis: The Blazers have hung in there all season, despite getting the routine injury to Greg Oden, and having Roy injured most of the year. Gerald Wallace gives this team a much needed boost of energy. Wallace can rebound well, and averages almost 16 points. The Blazers have the rebounding prowess of Marcus Camby, and of course All Star snub LaMarcus Aldridge. They are top 5 in offensive rebounds, but need to do some work on the defensive glass; they rank 30th. I think they will be fine, now that they have Wallace. I think they’ll win the battle of the boards against the Mavs, and I also think they’ll win the series.
The only good rebounder they have is Tyson Chandler. They also haven’t beat the Blazers since January, which was before they traded for Gerald Wallace and got Brandon Roy back from injury (Roy scored 21 points against the Mavericks on March 15th.) Not to mention Caron Butler won’t be ready for the playoffs. Despite their best efforts, I think Gerald Wallace’s athleticism, paired with Portland’s ability to rebound on their own end, will be too much for the Dallas Mavericks. Blazers win, 4-2.
Marco Romo: One of the most intriguing matchups in the Western conference. Most people look at this Mavs team and think they’ll be another playoff disappointment. They’ll be facing a good Blazer team with some great talent in Nic Batum, Lamarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Gerald Wallace. It will be a fun series that will probably come down to 6 or 7 games. I see the Blazers pulling off the upset here. Blazers win, 4-3.
Andrew Lynch: I think Portland wins this series and does so convincingly. Being able to throw LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and Gerald Wallace at Dirk Nowitzki is a sizable advantage, and Andre Miller versus Jason Kidd should be one of the most intriguing positional match-ups of the first round. If Brandon Roy can give the Blazers anything, they’ll secure their first-round victory at the Rose Garden. Blazers win, 4-2.
Dan Jepperson: Holy Frak is this going to be a fun match up. These two knotted up their regular season series 2-2, and over the course of those games, their PPG differential was 0.8! Dallas shot the three ball a little bit more, but Portland was a little bit better at getting to the line. Heading into this series, I’m pumped to watch Aldridge and Nowitzki battle it out, not to mention the impressive rise of Wesley Matthews for Portland. I think these teams net out pretty well, with Dallas having a slight advantage in the playoffs. Still, Portland will not be an easy out. Mavs win, 4-3.
#2 Lakers vs. #7 Hornets
Blake Lovell: Without David West, I just can’t see the Hornets doing much of anything against the Lakers in this series. Yes, the Lakers have looked horrendous at times in the last few weeks or so, but the playoffs are here, and this team knows what to do. I’d like to say that Chris Paul should be able to lead New Orleans to one victory, but I don’t know. The Lakers will be on a mission in this first round, and they’ll be getting out the brooms. Lakers win, 4-0.
Steve Rivers: The Lakeshow is showing major chinks in the armor. Last night they were forced into Overtime against the Kings….THE KINGS?!?! The problem is, the Lakers tend to drag into the playoffs, and then the light switch goes off. CP3 doesn’t have the fire power to make this series too tough, but he’ll force the Lakers to “Wake Up,” and realize they’re in the playoffs! Lakers win, 4-2.
Steven Gelis: Andrew Bynum will likely be healthy in time for game one, which means the Lakers will have size in the front court, and size will be trouble for this New Orleans team. There really isn’t much I can say here, the Lakers are simply the better team, and have arguably the best player in the Western Conference, so there is no way I bet against them in the first round.
The Lakers front court will eat the Hornets alive. Without David West, the Hornets simply do not have a chance. Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry are no match for Pau Gasol and Bynum, who will likely out score and out rebound this Hornets team. This is just a terrible matchup for the Hornets. Lakers win, 4-0.
Marco Romo: That’s what this series has written all over it. The Lakers are the superior team and the much more talented team. Though, Chris Paul may lead this team to a surprising win or two with the talent that he holds. The Lakers just hold too much talent all together as a team. The Lakers are too big, too strong and too good. Lakers win, 4-1.
Andrew Lynch: Andrew Bynum’s health is a relative unknown. David West’s is not. Without their former All-Star, the Hornets stand no chance at winning this series, but don’t tell Chris Paul – he’ll do his best to make Marco Belinelli into a modern day Steve Kerr. Unfortunately for New Orleans, the Lakers are far too skilled across the board, even with Bynum’s health in question. Lakers win, 4-0.
Dan Jepperson: The David West injury on March 24th had a notable impact on the Hornets interior game, as evidence by the fact that they went 5-5 since his injury, and has seen a dip in rebounds per game during that stretch. Unfortunately for the Hornets, this new vulnerability happens to be in an area where the Lakers are very strong. The Lakers will likely manhandle the Hornets in the paint, and even more weight will be placed on Paul than normal. The Lakers already beat the Hornets four times this season and will likely do so again. Lakers win, 4-1.
Well there are our predictions. Let us know who you think will win these first round matchups!
Want more NBA discussion? Be sure to follow the crew on Twitter: Blake Lovell (@theblakelovell), Steve Rivers (@TheKidSkoob), Steven Gelis (@thatsthedagger), Marco Romo (@SerenityNowDDL), Andrew Lynch (@snghoops), Dan Jepperson (@Kobesmokey).