It is that time of year again, NBA Playoff time. The time that only comes two months out of the year and also where I, as an Atlanta Hawks fan, gets my hopes up that somehow we’ll at least be competitive in the second round. Due to the lockout, this season has been somewhat insane and has featured back to back to backs, interesting lineup choices and an assortment of injuries, making this a tough playoffs to predict. By the way, whatever happened to the first round being a best of five series? I know, there is more money to milk from fans, but I really appreciated the five game series. It was exciting, shortened the playoffs by a week and lead to some really interesting series, where 1 and 2 seeds really had to make sure they didn’t drop one of the first two games, lest they actually have to play their hearts out in the first round.
Since I really have no idea what is going to happen, I’ll make two sets of predictions, one with my head and the other with my heart, so that I can cover all of my bases and make it clear that while I think the Heat will do well, I can still say my heart never wanted them to.* And if that wasn’t clear enough, when I pick with my head, I’m saying what I think will actually happen. When I pick with my heart, I am saying what I want to happen to satisfy my boyish NBA fantasies.
*Due to a demanding girlfriend and my own lack of effort, I am writing/posting this after the first game of each series has been played. Hopefully that makes me look even smarter in my predictions somehow.
#1 Chicago Bulls vs. #8 Philadelphia 76ers
Watchability Factor – Once Rose got hurt, this turned a snooze of a series, as the most exciting player is now out. So, I’ll only watch this series if there isn’t something better on (aka Three’s Company Marathon). Catch it on Sportscenter
Head – Ok, so the Bulls lost their best player for the remainder of the playoffs, but against the 76ers is this even going to make a difference? The Bulls went 18-9 this year without Rose, so they can play at a high level without him. And, while the 76ers may have an imposing defense, their lack of offensive weapons, combined with Chicago’s stifling defense makes this one a surefire win for the Bulls, though the Sixers may be able to win a game at home now. Bulls in Five
Heart – I only find myself asking, why couldn’t Joakim Noah have been injured for the entire series instead of Rose? Rose is one of the three most exciting players in the game, while Noah is one of the biggest douches in all of sports. Considering the winner of this series plays the winner of the Hawks/Celtics series, you don’t want to have to advance to the conference finals by playing an eight seed, lest guys in bars diminish your efforts for al time, but you’d still like to see them get worn down and maybe scared a bit. Bulls in Six
#2 Miami Heat vs. #7 New York Knicks
Watchability Factor – Despite the fact that I genuinely don’t like either one of these teams, I would be lying if I said they weren’t fun to watch. The Heat are certainly a must-watch team, even if your main interest is in hoping they fail. And not even Mike Woodson and his ability to take teams meant to run and install the slowest Iso-styled offense you’ve ever seen, can make this Knicks team boring. Throw in a huge game three in the garden and you have a great series in the making. Must Watch
Head – The Knicks have certainly played better under Woodson, as he settled any usage issues within the team by running the offense through Carmelo. However, without Jeremy Lin, the Knicks are forced to use a gruesome combination of Baron Davis and Mike Bibby at the point. You figure maybe the Knicks can pull out a game at home, where the atmosphere is going to be insane, but I can’t see much more than that. Heat in Five
Heart – In a perfect world, Carmelo plays out of his mind, taking the team on his back and averaging 35 a game. Meanwhile, Amare wouldn’t play like he’s 42 years old, Baron Davis would lose 20 pounds, Tyson Chandler would learn how to play offense and Mike Bibby would leave the team. And then maybe LeBron would get lost on his way to the arena, Wade would be benched and Bosh would have to carry the team himself, which even then, probably still leaves the Knicks only winning a game or two. But we can wish, right? Plus, imagine a crazy backs against the wall eliminations game six in New York! Yeah, even my heart won’t let me give this one to the Knicks. Heat in Six
#3 Indiana Pacers vs. #6 Orlando Magic
Watchability Factor – zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Sorry, I fell asleep while typing the team names. Seriously, this is awful. No Dwight Howard and the freaking Pacers? I know they are a three seed and all, and I guess the Granger/West/Hibbert combo could be ok to watch if you were stranded on a desert island with a TV that only picked up Fox Sports Indiana, but this is a pretty bland series. Don’t watch unless you are in serious need of sleep or a coma.
Head – No Dwight = Pacers victory. Period. Pacers in Five
Heart – Hmm…who’s going to get beat by the Heat in the second round? Pacers in Five
#4 Atlanta Hawks vs. #5 Boston Celtics
Watchability Factor – Everyone knows I’m a huge Hawks fan, so everything here is completely biased, but this should be an extremely entertaining series. First of all, the teams match up well and play each other extremely close with their three meetings being decided by a combined 11 points. Second of all, these teams truly hate each other, going back to the 2008 playoff series, where the Hawks nearly upset the eventual champion Celtics as an eight seed in the first round. Finally, this is going to be the last year for these core groups as they currently stand. The Celtics are about to blow it up and move and the Hawks will have to do the same barring a deep playoff run. Must Watch
Head – This one is honestly a coin toss, which will ultimately be decided by the play of the point guards. If Jeff Teague can put up 15 a game and hold back Rondo on defense and force him to be a jump shooter, the Hawks can take this thing. If Rondo can penetrate the lane, opening up the Big Three, then the Celtics will take it. Overall, I’m picking with the home-court advantage, which the Celtics didn’t think important enough to play for down the stretch. Hawks in Seven
Heart – Come on, it’s the Hawks! While I’d love to see them sweep this thing and then start praying Al Horford makes it back for a second round series, I know this Hawks team and realize there will be at least two games where they forget they’re in the playoffs and minds will wander, Josh Smith will whine as he throws up bricks, Marvin Williams will limp and Joe Johnson will watch quietly, all while telling us that being the highest paid player in the NBA doesn’t mean he’s accountable for anything. God, the Hawks are the team I love to hate and hate to love. Hawks in Six
#1 San Antonio Spurs vs. #8 Utah Jazz
Watchability Factor – Somehow, despite having a great offensive team, the Spurs still have a reputation as a boring team. Those of you who have watched them this year know this is a farce, as Parker, Ginobli and Duncan have been accented by the always exciting Stephen Jackson and former Pitt standout Dejuan Blair to form a team which can play up-tempo basketball with the best of them, averaging 103 points per game. And while I’ll admit that I haven’t seen the Jazz play much this year, they have an exciting core of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward and Devin Harris, which shows they are a smart franchise which has obviously survived the Deron Williams trade. Not the most exciting series, but very watchable. Catch a game or two, just to size the teams up for the next round
Head – While both of these teams can score and you have to like what Utah is building, I just can’t pick against a Spurs team which is this hot and experienced. Spurs in five.
Heart – I’ve always enjoyed the Spurs and the fact that they get so overrated, they’re almost underrated. I’m hoping for a Spurs/Thunder western conference finals. Spurs in five.
#2 Oklahoma Thunder vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks
Watchability Factor – The Thunder are must watch basketball, plain and simple. They are young, they are fast, they are high-flying and they can shoot. They took the model the Hawks used of building a young core and really made it work. Meanwhile, the Mavericks pretty much used the good-will they built by winning a championship last year and mailed it in this year, in hopes of improving the team via free agency in the offseason. That being said, this is going to be a fun series, as you have Durant vs. Nowitkzi, which alone guarantees a good series. Must Watch
Head – While the Mavericks are still dangerous and should make this an interesting series, as shown in the first game, the Thunder are just too deep for the Mavericks to have a chance at winning this thing. Look for a lot of close games, which are ultimately decided in the Thunder’s favor. Thunder in Five
Heart – After criticizing him for years, I’ve grown to really love Dirk. He may take control and really push his team into winning a few games in this series…though not likely, I’d love to see this one go deep. Thunder in Seven
#3 L.A. Lakers vs. #6 Denver Nuggets
Watchability Factor – To listen to sports talk radio, you’d think the Lakers were absolutely awful this year, as any time they lost two games in a row or had a little quarrel, it made national headlines. Meanwhile, a team with a new coach and a different personnel group put together a pretty great season. Kobe played at a level he hasn’t seen in a couple of years and Andrew Bynum finally fulfilled his potential, showing why the Lakers haven’t traded him after all these years. The Nuggets on the other hand, started strong and then cooled off, and despite having a lineup which doesn’t feature a true superstar, the Nuggets epitomized a team which plays exciting, up-tempo, team ball. Combine the Lakers melo-drama with the Nuggets everyman attitude and you should have a fun series. Catch em if you can.
Head – I had the pleasure of attending a game in Denver this year and found that I really loved the team. They are sort of a group of castoffs and nobodies, but they can really play and they can score points in droves. Despite that, the Lakers have a bit too much size and veteran savvy and should take this series. Lakers in Six
Heart – I’d love to see the Nuggets take this series deep and maybe with a few breaks win it all. For those of you who have slept on them all year, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Nuggets in Seven
#4 Memphis Grizzlies vs. #5 L.A. Clippers
Watchability Factor – Everyone knows of the Clippers offseason moves, which included acquiring Chris Paul in a trade with New Orleans. By combining Paul with Blake Griffin, the Clippers suddenly went from being a basement-regular laughing stock to one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. Yet what may surprise you is just how fun the Grizzlies are to watch. This is a team which beat the Spurs in the first round last year and was able to be a four seed, despite playing most of the year without their best player, Zach Randolph. This one is going to be fun. Must Watch
Head – While the Clippers’ rise to prominence is arguably the story of the season, they have a lack of depth on both the front and backcourt. Combine that with the playoff experience of the Grizzlies and I like Memphis taking this one in an entertaining series. Grizzlies in six.
Heart – As long as they are in the playoffs, I’ll keep pulling for the Clippers to make it deep. I love the team and Chris Paul can really pull off some fourth quarter magic. Can you imagine ESPN if somehow the Clippers and Lakers make it to the conference finals? Clippers in Seven.