Yesterday was the last day of the regular season in the NBA for 2012. Now the playoff teams are set up with their respective seeding. The last month has been a roller coaster ride watching some teams make a strong push at the end while others seemingly faltered. The Spurs took over the #1 seed in the West while the oft-injured Derrick Rose and Bulls finished the season with the #1 seed in the East. Seeding deems very important in the first round in particular because of home court advantage. The Spurs and Thunder seem to be the favorite Western Conference matchup and the Bulls and Heat will have a rematch of last years Eastern Conference Championship. How could you not think those are the favorites going into the playoffs. Let’s take a look at how each team will get there.
(1) Bulls vs. (8) Sixers
The Bulls have shown that they can beat teams without Derrick Rose or even if he is playing limited minutes. The Bulls have a stifling defense that make them a favorite to make it to the Eastern Conference Championship for the second straight year. Defense wins championships, or at least that’s what the motto says.
The Sixers have no real superstar on their team. They very much play team basketball. They have a great defense themselves and are good in transition, which can negate any defense. At the end of the day Coach Thibodeau is mastermind on defense and will lock this series up by out coaching Doug Collins. The Sixers could steal a game maybe two since Rose is pretty much coming off an injury and the current Bulls squad hasn’t played enough to have it’s chemistry where it needs to be.
BULLS IN 6.
(4) Celtics vs. (5) Hawks
Remember when the Saints had a better record, but had a lower seed than the Seahawks? The Saints had to go to Seattle for a playoff game, which is one of the toughest stadiums to play and they lost. The NBA however has this format right. The Hawks have a better record and the Celtics have the higher seed, but the Hawks will get home court advantage for having more wins throughout the season. This is probably the closest matchup in the East in the first round. The Hawks have been playing well even without their All-Star Center, Al Horford. Josh Smith has taken his game to another level and Jeff Teague has shown some improvement as well. This team bounced the Orlando Magic out of the playoffs last year, but that was last year and they still lost one of their best players for at least the first round.
The Celtics have been one of the hottest teams since the All-Star break. They have the experience and champion caliber players to make one last run. Rondo has proven he is an elite point guard and doesn’t even need to score to have an impact on the game. Garnett has moved to the 5 giving the Celtics more talent on the floor as far as starters go. This is going to be a tough defensive series. With all that being said I think the clutch shooting of Pierce and the loss of Horford will be the difference in this series.
CELTICS IN 6.
(2) Heat vs. (7) Knicks
This is the series to watch in the first round. No, not because I’m a Knicks fan. No, not because Dwayne Wade’s my guy. This is the most star-studded matchup. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh vs. Carmelo, A’Mare and company. Any reason we refer to the Knicks on a first name basis and the Heat players by last name? Either way this matchup is going to be fun to watch. Playoff basketball inside Madison Square Garden. The Knicks are actually playing defense under Woodson and aren’t giving up like they did under D’Antoni. Do you really trust guys that quit on their coach when things are going rough? I don’t. Miami has arguably the best player in the game in LeBron James on both sides of the floor. LeBron is on a mission to win his first elusive ring. His performance this year has proven that in which he should win his 3rd MVP trophy. The Knicks have been a great 3-point shooting team as of late, but maybe too much 3-point shooting will hurt them. Remember you can live and die by the 3. Most times you die by it, ask Orlando. The Heat defense is too quick and I think ultimately will force the Knicks into some bad shots as they already seem to take time to time. It’s hard for me to say this, but I don’t think the Knicks can take down the Heat this year and certainly not in the first round.
HEAT IN 6.
(3) Pacers vs. (6) Magic
The Magic have lost Dwight Howard to injury for the remainder of the playoffs. I repeat the The Magic have lost Dwight Howard to injury for the remainder of the playoffs. I think that says enough about this series. I’m not taking anything away from the Pacers because they are probably the most underrated team in the NBA this year. The Pacers should handle the Magic pretty easily without the big presence of Dwight Howard in the paint, which will have a negative effect on the entire Magic team.
PACERS IN 4.
(1) Spurs vs. (8) Jazz
The Spurs are probably the quietest franchise ever. Nobody ever talks about them until the playoffs roll around and even then there are a lot of skeptics. I’ve been saying for the past I don’t know how many years, I lost count, watch out for the Spurs they have one last run in them to win the championship. One last run. Gregg Popovich is probably one of the most underrated coaches in the league and it coincides with what people think of the Spurs franchise. The Jazz are just too young at certain positions. They have a really good team, but not one that is going to be able to surpass the experience that the Spurs big three have along with it’s deep bench. I loved the addition of Stephen Jackson and I think they have what it takes to come out the West.
SPURS IN 4.
(4) Grizzlies vs. (5) Clippers.
This is the best matchup in the West in the first round. The Grizzlies make a deep run last year without their star forward Rudy Gay. He’s back this year and I think they are going to surprise a lot of people. The Clippers have taken huge strides this year from being a franchise that was only known for playing in the same building as the Lakers to being a legitimate title contender. Well maybe we won’t go that far. The Clippers lack size at the guards and small forward position and after their starting rotation they don’t have much depth. This is going to be a good series, but I’m going to have to say the Grizzlies finish off the Clippers.
GRIZZLIES IN 6.
(2) Thunder vs. (7) Mavericks
Last year’s Western Conference Championship rematch will be seen in the first round this year. The Thunder were the favorite pick to win the West this year and probably still are by most people. The Mavericks have been playing lackluster basketball which isn’t comparable with last year’s title run. Ultimately I think this series is tighter than most people expect, but the Mavericks don’t seem to be playing the same as they were a year ago. Their heart and soul doesn’t seem to be in it this year and Durant and company have been playing championship level basketball all year despite conceding the #1 seed to the Spurs.
THUNDER IN 6.
(3) Lakers vs. (6) Nuggets
The Lakers are going to miss Ron Artest (sorry I refuse to call him by his new name) for pretty much the entire first round. It might even be a service to them if they can take this series to 6 and win it of course. You don’t want to sweep the Nuggets and go into the next round without your best perimeter defender out for the first 2 games. I don’t see a sweep here anyways. I actually see a very close matchup and could possibly be the next series to watch in the first round in the West after the Grizzlies and Clippers. The Nuggets benefited the most from the Carmelo Anthony trade last year. If you don’t believe me go look at the numbers. Better yet look at the seeding. The Knicks got a perennial All-Star and are the 7 seed while the Nuggets got half of the Knicks teams last year and are the 6 seed in the much stronger West. The Nuggets are deep. They play with a lot of energy and they have good guard play. They are undersized in the paint to say the least and the Lakers have over 14 feet down low.
LAKERS IN 6.
(1) Bulls vs. (4) Celtics
This series will be something to watch. Both teams play superb defense and have amazing point guards. At this point I think it comes down to who is more healthy. Can the Celtics Big 3 hold up? Will Derrick Rose and Luol Deng be able to carry the Bulls past the Celtics? Defense is going to be the name of the game in this series. I see it being a low scoring affair night in and night out, but I’m going to have to go with the team that plays better on the road here. In a tight series the team that wins is the team that can steal one on the road.
BULLS IN 7.
(2) Heat vs. (3) Pacers
The Pacers are the quintessential team. Many believe they really don’t have an All-Star type player. I think Granger is one of the most underrated players in the league and Roy Hibbert was an All-Star, but I’m not sure he gets the nod if other players in the East were healthy. They have great depth and play good defense. They are the #3 seed for a reason. The Heat play way too fast and I think you will see in this series that LeBron is ready to take that next step and become All-Worldly. That’s not a real team? Whatever the dude is on another planet when it comes to his skill set. Did I mention the Heat have Dwayne Wade? Chalk one up for the “BAD GUYS”. I don’t see them being stopped in the East.
HEAT IN 5.
(1) Spurs vs. (4) Grizzlies
Last year we watch the Memphis Grizzlies shock the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. The Spurs were old then. They are older now, but somehow they are better. Manu Ginobili is healhty. Rudy Gay is healthy. I think this series goes the other way this time, but not by much. Tony Parker is playing at such an elite level right now and I see him getting the Grizzlies into some foul trouble. Spurs will have the taste of last year’s defeat in their mouth. Sorry Grizzlies.
SPURS IN 6.
(2) Thunder vs. (3) Lakers
Ron Artest (I told you I refuse to call him MWP) will make his return in this series. James Harden will be looking to come off the bench and punch the Lakers in the mouth. Ok, not literally but figuratively. The 6th man of the year will look to ignite the offense. The Lakers have a decent bench, but nothing to brag about. The 2 7-footers in this time will be matched with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. As long as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant aren’t missing 20 shots each they should handle the Lakers and make it back to the Western Conference Championship once again.
THUNDER IN 6.
(1) Bulls vs. (2) Heat
These two teams met last year and Miami handled the Bulls rather easily, although each game was pretty close. I had to remind myself that it only went to 5. The Heat are hard to beat in a 7 game series especially in the weak Eastern Conference. The Bulls are a better team this year, but still seem to be a one trick pony. It’s Derrick Rose or bust and the Heat found out last year how to slow him down by putting LeBron on him. Both teams play good defense and neither team has lost to the other at home, but the playoffs are different. I look for the Heat and LeBron to take over this series much like last year.
HEAT IN 6.
(1) Spurs vs. (2) Thunder
My pick before the season was to see the Thunder and the Heat. My pick now is…well it’s going to be a tough choice. The Thunder lack scoring outside of Durant, Westbrook, and Harden. The Spurs have seemed to rest a lot of their players late in the year and still overtook the Thunder for the #1 seed. Both teams are very good at home and on the road. The bench of the Spurs will probably get them to surpass the Thunder this year. I know teams don’t play much more than an 8 man rotation in the playoffs, but I think the Spurs make this run to the Finals because after being bounced early last year, they are on a mission.
SPURS IN 7.
(1) Spurs vs. (2) Heat
It’s a matchup of the Big 3’s. Manu, Parker, and Duncan vs. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh. Outside of each teams big three the Spurs have a better team. The Spurs Big 3 have played way longer together than Miami’s Big 3. This is going to be a good series as each team seems to be on a mission to prove itself. Coach Popovich will have his hands full, but I’m sure he can handle it and Coach Spoelstra will have to utilize his lineups right to come out victorious. Part of me would like to see Tim Duncan get ring number 5 and part of me wants to see LeBron finally get his first ring. It’s hard to say who really holds the advantage, but I think LeBron has to come out and take over and win this year. It is an absolute must. Wade knows what it takes to takeover a series and win a ring, but he is many injuries removed from that and it has to fall on the shoulders of LeBron to take the crown as king. Let the party begin in South Beach.
HEAT IN 6.