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NBA: 2012 1st Round Playoff Predictions
At last, the Playoffs are here following a shortened season due to the unfortunate lockout that scared us all. It is also nice to see some up and coming teams making the playoffs this season like the Clippers, Jazz and Pacers. This marks the first time the Clippers have made the playoffs since the 2006 Playoffs when they had Elton Brand. The Jazz, while being the eighth seed, are by no means a weak team. They have a strong front court mixed with some young swing players with plenty of upside. While they will likely get bounced as they play the Spurs, they for sure are making strides since moving Deron Williams last season. The Pacers surprised everyone last season when they pushed the Bulls to a close five game series. This season they came in focused, and with one of the deepest rosters in the league. At the deadline they added to their back court by getting Leandro Barbosa to give them an extra punch off the bench. However, the playoffs most likely will belong to the better teams like the Thunder, Spurs, Lakers, Heat and Bulls they are by no means unbeatable. Each team has weaknesses that the lower teams can exploit.
#1 San Antonio Spurs vs. #8 Utah Jazz
Common convention would lead most to believe that this would be a great defensive slug fest based off of these teams previous years. However, due to personnel changes, the Spurs and Jazz are two potent offenses. The Spurs ranked third in points per game and the Jazz were third. The biggest difference in the two teams is that the Jazz are actually the second best rebounding team in the league. The Jazz could give the Spurs a run for their money due to play of Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and Jeremy Evans but they do not get enough out of their wing players. Gordon Hayward has made great strides this season but Devin Harris has not been great offensively for the Jazz. The Spurs have done a terrific job of retaining their core and adding great role players around them like Stephen Jackson, Kawhi Leonard, Daniel Green and Dejuan Blair.
Spurs in 5
#2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks
The Thunder will enjoy this. The Thunder had a legitimate chance of making the NBA Finals last season but were derailed by the eventual NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks should have kept Tyson Chandler as he was the big piece in their championship run. Instead they decided to go with Brandon Haywood who makes three million dollars less than Chandler. It's an okay decision, and somehow the Mavericks defense improved from last season. Haywood was not the reason however as it was more of the play of their improved wing players. The loss of J.J. Barea, and Tyson Chandler among others destroyed the team chemistry and it showed mostly on the offensive side of the ball. So much of the offensive burden weighs on Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Delonte West. Nowitzki can handle it, but the other two are streaky scorers. The Thunders size and star power will be too much for the Mavericks to handle. Not to mention, the Thunder have a sour taste in their mouths from their last playoff match.
Thunder in 5
#3 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #6 Denver Nuggets
This could also be one of the best opening series of the playoffs. The absence of Metta World Peace could have some major side effects here as the Nuggets have two offensively gifted small forwards in Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. However, the Nuggets will be hard pressed to stop the likes of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Javale McGee has done a better job of keeping a lid on his crazy antics which has allowed him to play better in Denver, but he and Kenneth Faried will have a hard time containing the twin towers in LA. Aaron Afflalo is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, but I don't think anyone truly believes he could handcuff Kobe Bryant. The addition of Ramon Sessions has also improved the Lakers into a legitimate playoff contender as he has alleviated some of the ball handling and scoring pressure off of Kobe. The Nuggets will make it an interesting series, but Kobe and the big boys down low will prove too much.
Lakers in 6
#4 Memphis Grizzlies vs. #5 Los Angeles Clippers
This will be an entertaining series as well, but it could go either way. I don't think the Clippers are by any stretch a great team, but they excel at flopping. Even the king of flopping, Pau Gasol, recognizes how amazing they are at flopping. For as talented Blake Griffin is, he is a one trick pony. His one trick is his jumping ability. When he is matched against a stronger and taller opponent like he will be in Zack Randolph, Marc Gasol and Marresse Speights throughout the series, then he will struggle. Chris Paul against Michael Conley will be a terrific matchup, with Paul obviously being the better of the two. Conley is a very capable starting point guard and can hold his own in this matchup due to his speed and vision of the court. The player that will give the Clippers their early demise, is Rudy Gay. The biggest problem with the Clippers is their defense, or lack thereof. They have no defensive stopper on the wing to be able to slow down the likes of Rudy Gay, and that will be what kills them in this series. The Grizzlies however are an incredibly aggressive team, and paired with how much the Clippers flop, the referees could make this match closer than it should be.
Grizzlies in 6
#1 Chicago Bulls vs. #8 Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers started off the season looking like one of the best teams in the league but due to their lack of a consistent offensive scorer, they quickly fell off. The Sixers wanted the Bulls over the Heat in the playoffs due to their ability to play them tough over the past two seasons. Coming into this season they had a five game winning streak against the Conference leading Bulls and continued it with a win against them in the beginning of season. The Sixers and Bulls come into this series with the two best defenses in the league, yet the biggest difference is the fact that the Bulls have a star in Derrick Rose. Even more so, they have a physical presence down low which is incredibly important come playoff time. The weakness of the Sixers defense is their post defense as Hawes is a pushover. Carlos Boozer has not impressed the Bulls fans but he should have his way with Elton Brand in the post.
Bulls in 6
#2 Miami Heat vs. #7 New York Knicks
Ever since Carmelo and LeBron James were drafted the fans have always wanted to see them matchup in the playoffs. Every game they played against one another has been entertaining and even when Carmelo went to the Knicks, he still had moderate success against Lebron and Dwayne Wade. However, the absence of Jeremy Lin could hurt the Knicks chances but their defense is too inconsistent as is their offense. In tight situations, Carmelo and Amare Stoudemire don't seem to play well together at times as they both look to get shots in the same spots making their offensive spacing awful. The same can be said for the Heat, but considering the Knicks lack luster defense I don't see that being a problem in this series.
Heat in 5
#3 Indiana Pacers vs. #6 Orlando Magic
This effectively ends the Dwight Howard era on a painful note for Magic fans. Howard has toyed with the Magic fans and front office for too long and it will come to a big boiling point this summer as he has already called for Stan Van Gundy's job. Even if the Magic had Dwight Howard for this series I would still see the Pacers have no problem with the Magic. The Pacers are an incredibly deep team that the Magic would not match up well with. Paul George and Danny Granger will have field days over players like J.J. Redick, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu. The same can be said for Roy Hibbert, David West and Tyler Hansbrough down low against literally no resistance from the Magic's depleted front court. This could be a very ugly series as the Pacers are one of the hottest teams coming into the playoffs and the Magic are wondering where it all went wrong.
Pacers in 4
#4 Boston Celtics vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks
Well done Doc Rivers. That is all I have to say for bringing this team back from what looked like a disastrous season. Things changed when they began to get inspired play out of role players Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass. Bradley has emerged as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and pairing him with Rajon Rondo is a scary thought for opposing back courts. The Hawks could give the Celtics a run for their money, and I expect them to but if they had Al Horford healthy, that is the only way I could see them beating the Celtics.
Celtics in 6