NBA Playoffs Preview: Will The Heat Repeat?
Allen: This is the official NBA playoff preview for TJR Sports. Even though the NBA has been pretty predictable this season, the playoffs are always an exciting time. Whenever a six or seven game series occurs, it usually involves at least two exciting games from that series.
While the Eastern conference is pretty weak and predictable, the Western conference should be exciting and filled with even matchups. It has taken me a few weeks to make an actual pick to make it to the NBA Finals from the Western conference. I’ve put consideration into four teams, including Denver even though they lost Danilo Gallinari for the playoffs due to a torn ACL.
Out of my NBA predictions from October, I’ve missed on a few picks. The Philadelphia 76ers were a major flop, although Bynum not playing this season was surprising. Utah and Dallas were incorrect picks as well for me. Just like everyone, I rated the Lakers too highly as well. Otherwise, my predictions were mostly correct.
Hopefully there won’t be any more injuries because this has been a brutal year in terms of star players getting hurt. We’ve seen countless stars miss time this season, while some players still haven’t recovered like Derrick Rose and Danny Granger. I’ll be covering the playoff preview with Michael Ryne, who hopefully isn’t still shedding tears about Rose being injured. You have to feel for him, since he’s a diehard Chicago Bulls fan.
Michael: Unless you believed in the Los Angeles Lakers, this past NBA regular season was pretty predictable. I did my NBA preview series in October and of the 16-playoff teams, I got 14 of them right. That being said, the NBA is all about Championships and the long grind is over. Playoff basketball always makes for some superb action and we have some pretty good opening round matchups as well as some potentially stellar battles in the rounds after.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
1. Miami vs. 8. Milwaukee
Allen: This series shouldn’t last very long. Milwaukee desperately needs to let go Monta Ellis. He doesn’t fit with Brandon Jennings at all, while Jennings is more of a natural point guard. They have a talented roster, but its simply not working having both of them play together.
Miami has been mostly unstoppable during the second half of the season. The bench has greatly improved from last season, while Dwayne Wade has been more efficient this season. The same can be said for LeBron James, but it’s been a major boost that Wade has been mostly healthy this season and has played at an elite level.
Miami wins 4-0
Michael: I refuse to waste my energy writing about this series in-depth. Miami will probably win each game by 25+ points. They could sit LeBron, Wade and Bosh and still win in less than seven games.
Miami wins 4-0
2. New York vs. 7. Boston
Allen: This is my favorite first round matchup in the East. Before I get into it, I hope everyone recovers in Boston from the attacks. New York comes into this as the favorites, while Boston has fell off a bit. Don’t count Boston out, especially with the emergence of Jeff Green over the past two months.
New York has benefited from a weak conference, but they’ve proven that they can play with the best. Carmelo Anthony has been incredible this season and has finally proved himself as a leader. This series will be gritty, physical, and have plenty of close games. Paul Pierce and Anthony will both have their moments of hitting game winners in this series. Boston will make a push, but the Knicks are too talented to lose this series.
New York wins 4-2
Michael: This will be a very hard-fought and gritty series. If you say Boston is banged up is a huge understatement. No Rajon Rondo means they won’t make the second round for them, but do not count out Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in terms of giving New York a scare.
The Knicks have been vastly improved this year with a more respectable defense and Carmelo Anthony grabbing the scoring title. J.R. Smith has proven to be a huge spark plug off the bench and is probably going to win Sixth Man of the Year. This is a series that may have a few technical fouls in it with jawing back and forth. Don't forget how much Garnett and Anthony adore each other, which should make for some nice drama. It will be the Knicks with the last laugh though.
New York wins 4-2
3. Pacers vs. 6. Hawks
Allen: It’s safe to say that there isn’t a blander series than this matchup in the playoffs. Atlanta is stuck in a tough situation with their best player wanting out and having a disappointing season. Despite Al Horford finally staying healthy, the team has been hurt by Josh Smith’s poor play. They need to desperately rebuild, because the fan base is getting tired of seeing their team being eliminated in the first round almost every season for the past five years.
Indiana is a good team, but they don’t strike anyone as a third seed. They benefited from the Eastern Conference being weak again. In the Western Conference, they would battle for a sixth seed. I’m still confident that they’ll win this series based on being better defensively and more physical. Paul George will continue to show why he’s the most improved player in the league.
Indiana wins 4-1
Michael: I’m not a believer in the Atlanta Hawks. Josh Smith just does not fit well with this roster and if they were in the Western Conference, they would be a lottery team.
Al Horford is one of the better centers in the NBA, but he alone will not be able to challenge this solid Pacers team. Paul George is an All-Star now while Roy Hibbert may have disappointed offensively this year, although he flourished on the defensive end. Indiana moves on with ease.
Indiana wins 4-0
4. Nets vs. 5. Bulls
Allen: This is the toughest pick out of all the first round matchups. Chicago has played harder than any team this season without their superstar player Derrick Rose. This is a team that lacks a true number one scorer without Rose, yet they still managed to have a good season. Unlike most teams, this is a team that wins by defense. Joakim Noah’s injury issue is a major concern though because Chicago relies on him down low to do the dirty work.
Despite earning the fourth seed, Brooklyn has been a disappointment this season. Other than the emergence of Brook Lopez as a top center, there wasn’t much accomplished. Deron Wllliams has played better, after a poor start to the season. This is a difficult series to pick, but I’m going to pick Chicago. They have a physical frontcourt to frustrate Lopez, along with having a far better bench. Brooklyn will wear out as the series goes on.
Chicago wins 4-2
Michael: This is toss-up right here. Two teams separated by only a few games in the standings, which I believe this will lead to the only series in the opening round that will go seven games. I'm sure plenty of people will be waiting to see if Derrick Rose will return for the playoffs, but I would not hold my breath.
Still, Chicago has proven to be a very gutsy team this year dealing with a plethora of injuries. Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson, Marco Belinelli and Richard Hamilton have all dealt with injuries all year long and they still finished eight games over .500.
Hinrich is going to have to stay on the court if they want to pull off the "upset" as his defense will be needed to try and stop Deron Williams. If he and the rest of the impressive defense squad of the Bulls can do that, then we can have another few weeks of wondering if Rose will come back or not (spoiler alert: he won't).
Chicago wins 4-3
Western Conference Quarterfinals
1.Thunder vs. 8. Rockets
Allen: This is going to be an exciting series, but this is a mismatch. The big storyline is going to be how James Harden tries to keep up against his former team. Houston is one of the worst defensive teams in the league, which doesn’t bode well going up against a top ten defensive team like Oklahoma City. Don’t expect these games to go into the 110’s or 120’s like some Houston games go to.
Nothing has really changed for Oklahoma City this season, as they still remain to be the best team in the Western conference. They are still tough defensively, while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can still score 30 points on any night. The emergence of Serge Ibaka offensively this season will give Houston problems down low. Houston has a great future, but this will be a tough learning experience for them.
Oklahoma City wins 4-0
Michael: I’m trying to give Houston some love. They are a nice scrappy team that is supremely entertaining to watch. I really want to believe they can etch out a win, but I don’t see it happening.
It seems likely that it will turn into the James Harden show as he takes the bulk of their shots, while the complete squad of Oklahoma City will decimate them. This will hardly be a challenge for Kevin Durant and the rest of the Thunder.
Oklahoma City wins 4-0
2. Spurs vs. 7. Lakers
Allen: I’m absolutely sick and tired of hearing how so many sports websites and networks are trying to hype the Lakers as a legitimate threat. This was a team that was on everyone’s punch line list for jokes three weeks ago. Now with their best player Kobe Bryant injured, I’m supposed to believe that the prima donna Dwight Howard will be a leader and lead the Lakers to an inspirational playoff run? He is going to co-exist with Pau Gasol, who’s the same player that so many people have criticized heavily for the past two years? Please give me a break.
San Antonio has always been a great playoff team except their 2011 first round loss to Memphis. This is a team that has so much depth, unlike the Lakers. Tony Parker is going to have a huge series against Steve Nash, who is banged up and constantly gets beat off the dribble. We may see one Dwight Howard game, where he literally carries the Lakers to one win. Other than that, San Antonio will have their way led by Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Duncan has quietly had his best year in the past three seasons.
San Antonio wins 4-1
Michael: Remember back in December and January when everyone in the sports world was pushing the panic button for the Lakers? Everyone seemed to believe they would not make the playoffs. Well, here they are at the seventh seed and what many may have predicted to see in the Conference Finals this year, we will see lose in the opening round.
Steve Nash is banged up, Dwight Howard has been playing hurt all year long, Metta World Peace has not been healthy very long, and that Kobe Bryant guy is out for the playoffs. Despite San Anonio signing Tracy "I have never made it to the second round of the playoffs" McGrady, this will prove to be a fairly simple tune-up series as the Spurs prepare for the real threats in the West.
San Antonio wins 4-1
3. Nuggets vs. 6. Warriors
Allen: This is going to be the most exciting series for people that like shootouts. Denver is one of the hottest teams in the league going into the playoffs. Despite losing Danilo Gallinari, Denver has plenty of depth to replace him for the time being. Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer have stepped up in the second half of the season, after going through early season issues. They are so balanced as a team and will be a tough out once again.
Golden State presents a good matchup for them though, with their fast paced style. Other than Andrew Bogut, who might be injured by Game Two in the series, the entire team can keep pace with Denver. Stephen Curry has developed from just a prolific scorer to an all-around star. The series comes down to the home-court advantage. Both teams were under .500 on the road this season, which shows how both teams have used their home-court advantage to major benefits. Both teams are even, but Denver going 38-3 at home will make the difference.
Denver wins 4-3
Michael: This has the potential to be one of the better opening round series in the playoffs. Both teams are high-octane impressive offensive teams, with the big difference is Denver's ability to play better defense.
Andre Iguodala is a lockdown defender and even though he seemingly goaltends more shots than he blocks, JaVale McGee is still a nice presence in the paint. The loss of Danilo Gallinari and uncertainty of Kenneth Faried will hurt the Nuggets going forward, but they should have no real issues getting past the Warriors here in the first round. This should be a spectacularly entertaining set of games to watch.
Denver wins 4-2
4. Clippers vs. 5. Grizzles
Allen: It’s happening all over again. This was the same matchup from last year, except the Grizzles had the home court advantage. This year is different though with the Clippers being a much better team. The addition of Jamal Crawford has been a significant upgrade to their bench. He’s been the third scorer that they desperately needed behind Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. This is a much better Clippers team from last year, when their offense was literally carried by Chris Paul on some occasions last season.
When Memphis traded Rudy Gay, I thought they were going to fall off. Instead they had the best defense in the league and managed to somehow win 56 games. It was an impressive achievement with only three current players averaging over double-digits. This is going to be another physical series, but the Grizzles don’t have enough scorers. Los Angeles has plenty of scorers that will be able to crack Memphis’ stingy defense. The Clippers are a bigger threat this year and will take care of Memphis.
Los Angeles wins 4-1
Michael: Color me surprised, I did not expect the Grizzlies to stick around in the playoff picture after trading swingman Rudy Gay to Toronto. I understood the move, but suspected they would take a dip in the competitive Western Conference. You have to give credit to head coach Lionel Hollins and the rest of the roster for keeping them in the thick of things.
With that being said, we remember that these two teams faced off a year ago in the opening round of the playoffs with the Clippers taking that series in seven. I expect the Clippers to win for the second year in a row as they are much improved this year. This should certainly be an entertaining series regardless.
Los Angeles wins 4-1
Eastern Conference Semifinals
1.Heat vs. 5. Bulls
Allen: Other than Boston, there isn’t a bigger rival to Miami than Chicago. The Knicks may be coming up, but Chicago has given Miami some intense games over the past two years. You have to believe that LeBron James will be coming into this series with a vengeance. Chicago has given James some hard fouls over the years and it’s always a constant battle. In these games, it seems like the refs become more important than some of the key players on the actual teams.
You know that Noah won’t allow many baskets, especially when Carlos Boozer doesn’t defend very well. Chicago has a tough team all around with Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, and Kirk Hinrich that are good perimeter defenders. They are going to have to do all they can to frustrate James and Dwayne Wade. Deng is the most consistent player on Chicago, so it’ll be expected to see him battle James the most.
As the series goes on, Chicago will realize that they miss Derrick Rose more than ever. The lack of scoring hurts against a team like Miami. We may see a few games in the 80’s, but eventually Miami will be too good and have their big three scoring a combined 75 points. Similar to 2011, the games will be intense yet the series will end quickly.
Miami wins 4-0
Michael: Miami has owned the Bulls the past two years in the playoffs and with or without Rose; the Bulls do not stand much of a chance in a seven-game series.
These two teams almost always have stellar games against each other, so the series itself should make for some entertaining games. Ultimately it will not be too difficult for the Heat to send the Bulls packing.
Miami wins 4-1
2. Knicks vs. 3. Pacers
Allen: This series needs Reggie Miller and Patrick Ewing announcing every game. You know the feeling in the air will be about the late 1990’s rivalry. Hopefully, Paul George will be ready to play his role of being Miller. Sadly this series won’t be as good as the old days because Indiana doesn’t match up well with the Knicks.
I’ve been saying this for the past two years that Roy Hibbert needs to step up and learn to take control of games. He doesn’t shoot enough, which leads to him being a non-factor at times. He needs to take the pressure off of Paul George, because David West and George Hill are secondary scorers at best. They can’t take over games, while Hibbert has the potential to dominate games on both sides of the court. He hasn’t done that much this season and will have to bang with Tyson Chandler.
The Knicks have far more depth than the Pacers, especially with their wing scorers. As overrated as he can be, J.R Smith is going to have a big series. Indiana doesn’t have a shooting guard that contain him, along with Indiana being slower than others teams in the Eastern conference. Smith is very explosive and could average 20 points a game in this series without taking too many shots. This series won’t be very competitive.
New York wins 4-1
Michael: This should be a hell of a series. You will have the high-energy offense of the Knicks trying to beat out the methodical and impressive complete Pacers team. Here is where the potential loss of Tyson Chandler may hurt the Knicks as Roy Hibbert could have a breakthrough series.
I’d look for Paul George to make a household name out of himself here on the big stage. I think he will flourish in the playoffs and show why he could be the next great superstar in the NBA.
Indiana wins 4-3
Western Conference Semifinals
1.Thunder vs. 4. Clippers
Allen: They had some exciting games from this season, even though Oklahoma City won every game. When they were playing those games, I really felt that the Clippers could challenge for an NBA championship. They are too inconsistent due to their lack of consistent three-point scoring and don’t have a player that can guard Kevin Durant.
This is a tough matchup for the simple fact that Caron Butler and Matt Barnes can’t handle Durant. They don’t have a player on their roster that can at least frustrate Durant. Otherwise Los Angeles matches up well with them, but they can go through stretches where they can’t score. As good as Paul and Griffin can be, they aren’t on the level of Durant and Westbrook.
Oklahoma City is more explosive and will give them fits, especially when it turns into a transition game. They have too many players that can take over, along with phases where they can hit four three-pointers in a three-minute phase. Los Angeles has improved from last year, but they can’t hang with Oklahoma City. Durant will take over, while Kevin Martin will remind people that he is still a difference maker with his scoring.
Oklahoma City wins 4-1
Michael: Clippers will be hit with a reality check in round two. The Thunder are a vastly better team than L.A. While they will likely have more plays show up in SportsCenter's Top 10 plays, it will be the Thunder who move onto the Western Conference Finals once again. Chris Paul can slow down Russell Westbrook, but nobody on the Clippers will be able to stop Kevin Durant.
Oklahoma City wins 4-2
2. Spurs vs. 3. Nuggets
Allen: This is the most difficult matchup out of all four games in this round. Both teams are so balanced, but both teams have contrasting styles. Denver likes to push the pace, while San Antonio likes to grind out baskets. It will come down to how each team dictates their style of play on who will win this series.
With players like Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried, they have players that can give San Antonio fits. What San Antonio has to do is hit their three-pointers and avoid being caught out of position on possible outlet passes. With Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard consistently hitting three-pointers, they should be able to do that.
The great matchup will involve Tony Parker and Ty Lawson, since both players are very similar to each other. They are both fast and make players around them better. Lawson is a better shooter, but Parker is more efficient. If Danilo Gallinari were playing in this series, Denver would be my pick. His shooting would be a huge difference maker.
Without him, they don’t have their best scorer for this series. Denver will make a strong push, but they’ll fall short. Gregg Popovich will lose some more hair from this series.
San Antonio wins 4-3
Michael: If Danilo Gallinari was healthy for this series, I would have been tempted to predict an upset. Unfortunately, Denver's fantastic season will likely come to an end in the second round of the playoffs. Don't look now folks, but Tracy McGrady could be playing in the Conference Finals.
San Antonio wins 4-2
Eastern Conference Finals
Allen: 1. Heat vs. 2. Knicks
It still surprises me that the Knicks had so much success against the Heat this season. If it weren’t for J.R Smith pretty much costing the Knicks in the fourth quarter, they could have very well swept Miami this season.
Miami won’t let the regular season struggles against the Knicks affect them. Despite being undersized, their athleticism and three-point shooting will be major difference makers. Tyson Chandler may be an enforcer down low, but the Heat move the ball around so well that they will have their way.
I’m expecting Carmelo Anthony to continue to play like a Hall Of Famer just like he has in every game against the Heat this year. He has been close to unstoppable, but it will once again come down to the support he gets. There are too many inconsistent players on the Knicks to make you fully confident about them. Miami shows the Eastern conference whose still boss here. The addition of Ray Allen will come to fruition, as he will punish the Knicks from three-point range.
Miami wins 4-1
Michael: 1. Heat vs. 3. Pacers
The Pacers are going to be coming off the high of beating out the Knicks in what will be a great series, just to be hit with a reality check. They will not beat the Heat, simply because Miami is far better than any other team in the East.
While the Pacers may eek out a win or two, we have all known that Miami winning the East has been a foregone conclusion since the beginning of the season.
Miami wins 4-2
Western Conference Finals:
1.Thunder vs. 2. Spurs
Allen: Another rematch from last year, where both teams haven’t changed much. Both teams have proven that they are a level above the rest of the crop of good to great teams in the West. They’ve shown that they can by on great defense and timely scoring from their star players.
The difference from last year is that Serge Ibaka has become more aggressive. He’s always been talented to me, but he never really looked to be a consistent offensive threat. That has changed and has shown confidence in shooting the ball. If he can get Tim Duncan in foul trouble, that will be a major advantage for Oklahoma City.
I’m expecting another great series, as last year’s series was pretty exciting. Some people aren’t confident about Oklahoma City due to being inconsistent on the road at times this season. They’ve lacked focus at times this season and let a few games slip away. That won’t be the case here, especially if they can take away San Antonio’s three-pointer efficiency. Just like I said on top, nothing has really changed between both teams.
Oklahoma City wins 4-2
Michael: This will be a heavyweight bout at its finest as these two elite teams battle it out for the right to play for the NBA Championship. It could go either way and I am ready to go all-in on the Spurs for the playoffs. Tony Parker has been amazing this year, so much so that he inserted himself into the MVP discussion.
Tim Duncan had a resurgent year and could be a candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year. Not to mention, they have a potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate in Manu Ginobili. The "Big Three" the Spurs have is still more than formidable, not to mention Danny Green being one of the deadlier three-point marksman in the league.
I’ve have had issues all season long really believing in the Thunder. I just can’t get myself into the idea of a shoot-first point guard leading a team to winning a Championship. Tracy McGrady in the NBA Finals. I don't know what is real anymore.
San Antonio wins 4-3
Allen: 1. Heat vs. 1. Thunder
This is another rematch sadly, but I did warn you that this would be predictable. Oklahoma City is still the most complete team in the West and they’ve proven to be the biggest threat to Miami. This is the series that will really prove if Russell Westbrook is truly an elite player.
Westbrook has been on the cusp of greatness for years. He is the most explosive point guard in the league that can take over at anytime. The issue with him is that he can be too careless and tends to fall in love with his average jump shot. Durant will deliver as usual, now it’ll come down to Westbrook’s production.
He will have his moments similar to Game 4 from last year, where he had 43 points and carried them in the fourth quarter in a close defeat. In the end, James will reign supreme and be the MVP. Wade will have a big series as well, while Chris Bosh will have his games of shooting 8-14 or 3-13. The repeat will happen and America will be mostly outraged because the “Evil Empire” has won again.
Miami wins 4-2
Michael: 1. Heat vs. 2. Spurs
I'm predicting an epic NBA Finals this year. The Spurs are an incredibly disciplined squad, who will not make silly mistakes playing into Miami's strengths. It is going to be one of your typical tough, grind-it-out series, where the real winners are the fans that get to enjoy quality basketball.
LeBron gets his second ring leading to all the remaining haters trying to feebly claim that winning a title in a shortened season is tainted. It will have to pipe down as the Miami continues to establish the foundation of what could ultimately become a legitimate dynasty. LeBron, of course, takes home Finals MVP honors.
Miami wins 4-3
Michael: I know many NBA fans are dreading the thought of the Heat winning yet another Championship, but you may as well get used to it. They're just plain better than everyone else. No other way to put it. It should be interesting to see how other NBA teams try to combat them going forward.
Allen: I’ll always love basketball and watch it, even though it doesn’t change the fact that these playoffs are very predictable. We may see an upset in the Western conference, but that will be the only major thing. As a Miami Heat fan, I’m expecting a championship but I won’t be a depressed mess if they lose. I’ll be here discussing why the Heat needed to have an actual center on their team.
Mike and I will be covering the playoffs on a weekly basis. We’ll do an awards and playoff review in June as well. The playoffs are in full stride and will be ready to cover everything that happens. Thanks for reading.