The NBA regular season is over. It was a fun season for me due to some success I had betting wise and also in fantasy basketball. I watch a lot of hoops. I get something called the "Super Sports Pack" that they have here in Canada that costs about $30/month. I get it from September when the NFL starts until April. You get every game of every major sport basically. That meant a lot of NBA watching for me all season long.
As we head into the playoffs I'm most looking forward to the Western Conference playoffs. A lot of the games I watched during the year were the ones that would take place late at night hear in the Eastern Time zone. That allowed me to watch a lot of the Nuggets, Clippers and Warriors among others. I feel like I'm very familiar with them now. Of course
In the East, Miami's impressive 66-16 record (helped by their incredible 27 game win streak) saw them win the conference by 12 games. I don't remember the last time one team was that far ahead of the rest of the pack. I think they do have reason to worry, though, because potential opponents like the Bulls and Knicks have played them well this year.
It's time into predicting what will happen in the NBA Playoffs. In case you don't know, every round is a best of seven series. I miss the days of the five game series in round one because it opened the door to more upset possibilities, but the NBA would rather go seven games to make as much money as they can. Good for them right? We'll start off with the East.
1. Miami Heat (66-16) vs. 8. Milwaukee Bucks (38-44)
Normally I'd say that there's no chance for the Bucks, but after seeing Derrick Rose's severe leg injury in round one last year when the Bulls were the #1 seed (Sixers won that series) anything can happen. The Heat are loaded. They're also rested. The Bucks probably won't grab a game in this series even if their guard combo of Jennings & Ellis gets hot. There will be too much of James, Wade and company for the Bucks to handle. Heat win 4-0.
4. Brooklyn Nets (49-33) vs. 5. Chicago Bulls (45-37)
I like the Bulls here. I know that Derrick Rose is likely not coming back this season, but I still think the Bulls have the talent to get out of the first round. As long as the Bulls have a healthy Joakim Noah at center they should be fine. Why? Their defense. It's suffocating at times. They can slow anybody down. There are concerns with Noah's foot, though, so if he misses the whole series that could cost them.
The key for the Nets will be Deron Williams. He ended the season on a high note, but I think the Bulls have the defense to slow him down. I also think they'll limit what Brook Lopez can do. I don't think the Nets have much after that. The Bulls can beat you with their balanced offense. I think they'll ground out a couple of road wins to win it in six games. Bulls win 4-2.
3. Indiana Pacers (49-32) vs. 6. Atlanta Hawks (44-38)
This will not be the most exciting first round series to watch. I can pretty much guarantee you that. Both teams slow the game down, play physical defense and they may even bore you to sleep with their style. I think the Pacers are the superior team. They have more ways they can beat you. Sometimes they rely on the inside presence of Hibbert & West while at other times their All-Star Paul George can beat you with his explosiveness. With Atlanta sometimes their offense stalls. Their guard play isn't anything special, so teams focus in on the Horford & Smith combo. I'd expect a lot of low scoring games in this series. The Pacers are my pick in the full seven games. Pacers win 4-3.
2. New York (54-28) vs. 7. Boston Celtics (41-40)
I think the Knicks are clearly the superior team here. Maybe if Rajon Rondo was playing I'd have more faith in the Celtics, but I think their lack of depth is going to hurt them. The Knicks are one of the deepest teams in the playoffs. It also helps to have the league's leading scorer in Carmelo Anthony playing at an extremely high level. The Pierce/Garnett combo has been through a lot of battles over the years, but I think they are about to reach their expiration date. Injuries are piling up. They played less minutes as the year went on. I don't like their chances in this series. I can see a few blowout wins for the Knicks with the Celtics grabbing a game at home. That's all they will get, though. Knicks win 4-1.
I'll likely write previews of each round as they happen, so for now my comments will be brief just to give you an idea for my picks in the later rounds.
1. Miami Heat vs. 5. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls are the team that ended the Heat's 27 game win streak, so they know they can beat the Heat. Can they do it in a series? I'm leaning towards no. I think the Heat are going to be too focused in a series to let that happen. I also think they'll expose the Bulls weak guard play. Look for Wade to have a huge series against his hometown team. Heat win 4-2.
2. New York Knicks vs. 3. Indiana Pacers
Remember what I said about the Knicks depth before? It will be huge in this series as well because the Pacers don't have a deep bench. We've seen it every year where the teams that are able to go nine or ten guys deep can find a way to survive in the playoffs. Obviously the Pacers have a chance because the defense they play can be suffocating. I just think it will be tough to keep Anthony, Smith and the rest of the Knicks down for too long. Knicks win 4-2.
1. Miami Heat vs. 2. New York Knicks
I really hope this series happens. Don't screw it up, other teams! Once again I'm leaning towards the Heat as the favorite, but I think the Knicks present more problems to them than anybody else. They have built their team using a similar model with a high scoring forward (James/Anthony), a guard that can score on his own (Wade/Smith) and then a bunch of role players who are excellent three point shooters. The Knicks also have the better defensive big man in Tyson Chandler, who needs to be healthy the rest of the way. The intensity in this serious would be amazing. I hope it happens. I'm going Heat, but I'm telling you the Knicks may be the best team to topple them. Heat win 4-2.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (60-22) vs. 8. Houston Rockets (45-37)
These are two high scoring teams, but the Rockets are horrible on defense. That's going to cost them the series. I expect a huge series from Durant and Westbrook, who will likely do whatever they want against the Rockets perimeter players who have not shut anybody down all year long. Jeremy Lin covering Westbrook? He's going to get destroyed.
I'm sure that James Harden likes being "the man" on a team, but he's not on a championship caliber team the way he was with the Thunder last year. I wonder if he misses it? He might in this series. Thunder win 4-0.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (56-26) vs. 5. Memphis Grizzlies (56-26)
These teams had the exact same record, but the Clippers are at home. That could be a difference maker for them. The Clips have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. My worry with them is their supporting cast. Blake Griffin wasn't great in the last month. Jamal Crawford struggled a bit too. They do have a deep bench with veterans, but they need their stars to be consistent.
The Grizzlies play a suffocating defense with guys like Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince & Marc Gasol leading the way on that side of the ball. Zach Randolph is more of an offensive guy, but he's bought into the defensive system they teach too. Mike Conley has improved this year running the show. I'm leaning toward the Clips just because I believe in Paul so much. I think when the games are close and they need to rely on big shots he'll make it happen. Clippers win 4-2.
3. Denver Nuggets (57-25) vs. 6. Golden State Warriors (47-35)
From an entertainment standpoint this series will be the most fun to watch. Why? Because these teams run a lot, they shoot a lot of threes and in the Nuggets case they led the league in scoring with 106.1 points per game. I love the depth of the Nuggets. It's hurt a bit because Danilo Gallinari (their best three point shooter) is out with a knee injury. They can make up for it with Corey Brewer and Wilson Chandler sharing time at the three, but their offense isn't as potent without Gallinari.
For the Warriors I'm really impressed by how well Stephen Curry played this year and how accurate he was shooting the three ball. He can definitely win his team some games with his shooting. I'm expecting seven games here. Lots of points. Exciting finishes. This is going to be the series where you will want to stay up until 1am here in the East to watch the games because they're going to be very memorable. I'll take the Warriors in 7 with the upset, but it wouldn't surprise me if the Nuggets kicked their ass in four or five too. I just feel the need to pick an upset! Warriors win 4-3.
2. San Antonio Spurs (58-24) vs. 7. Los Angeles Lakers (45-37)
If Kobe Bryant was playing would the Lakers have a legit shot in this series? Possibly. Since he's out with a torn Achilles tendon I really don't like their chances. Steve Nash is really banged up too and even if he wasn't his defense has been atrocious all year. While I think the Gasol/Howard combo inside is tough to deal with, the Spurs will know to attack the Blake/Meeks guard combo of the Lakers that is definitely poor.
Gregg Popovich is probably the smartest coach in the league. He will know how to beat this team. I honestly don't think this won't be much of a series. Lakers will grab one game at home, but I fully expect Duncan and especially Parker to have huge games against this awful defense. Spurs win 4-1.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 4. Los Angeles Clippers
There's a lot of star power in this series. I think the Thunder are the more consistent team, though. Kevin Durant won't have to bust his ass on defense as much because the Clippers small forwards aren't much of a threat, so that should allow him to be even more explosive on offense. That Westbrook/Paul matchup at the point will be a thrill to watch. Ultimately I see Durant taking over the series. Thunder win 4-2.
2. San Antonio Spurs vs. 6. Golden State Warriors
Bad matchup for the Warriors. The way other teams beat them is if they feed it into their big guys where the Warriors are vulnerable defensively. I'd expect a huge series out of Duncan and Splitter. I also think the Spurs would do everything they can to limit Curry. They are smart team especially on defense, so I can see them winning the series rather comfortably. If the Warriors get into round two they should be happy. I don't think they're ready to get to that next level, though. Spurs win 4-1.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 2. San Antonio Spurs
The reason I said I'll write previews of these matchups as they come is because we don't know what the Spurs lineup might look like. If they have Parker, Duncan and Ginobili 100% healthy then they can absolutely make the finals again. If Parker or Duncan is banged up at all then I really don't like their chances. I think the Spurs learned from last year's West finals. The Spurs were up 2-0. Then they took their foot off the gas pedal, so to speak, which allowed the Thunder to win four in a row to make the finals. They may have learned, but are they good enough to beat the Thunder in a series this time with the Thunder having home court (last year the Spurs did)? I'm leaning towards no. Too much Durant. Too much Westbrook. Thunder win 4-2.
Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
It's the rematch from last year. This year I think the Heat are even better than last year while the Thunder may not be as good. What are the differences? Now that the Heat have Ray Allen they have a better threat the three point line, which we saw all year long. I also think the addition of Chris Andersen has helped them defensively. He's a physical defender unlike Chris Bosh, so they have the option to throw him out there against a bigger team like the Thunder.
Of course the main reason the Heat will win is due to the James & Wade duo. They are tough for any team to handle. The Thunder can combat them with Durant & Westbrook, but I think the Heat's role players are better. Ultimately it will come down to that supporting cast being the difference. Heading into the year I thought the Heat were the favorite. It turns out they're even better than I thought.
THE 2013 NBA CHAMPIONS? Heat win 4-1.
I know I didn't go out on a limb in predicting the playoffs. That's because I think the four best teams are the top two in each conference and the two teams that made last year's final will make it again. More often than not the NBA playoffs sees the best team emerge as the champion. You don't see a surprise like the Ravens in the NFL (4 seed out of 6) or the Kings in the NHL (8 seed in the West) winning it all. It's usually one of the favored teams.
Predictable? Sure. That doesn't mean it's bad to watch. Last year I thought the Heat would win too, but they really had to get huge games from LeBron against the Pacers (when they were down 2-1) and Celtics (down 3-2) to even make it to the Finals.
Making it to the NBA Finals is very hard. Winning it all is even harder. Let the games begin.
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