#1- Oklahoma City Thunder vs #8- Houston Rockets -
The first round of the Western Conference has some great match-ups in store for us and even though the 1 vs 8 is usually a boring and quick match-up, but thus is not the case this time as James Harden and his Rockets visit his old Thunder team. Not too often in the world of sports do you get a situation where a major trade happens that benefits both sides, but thus has actually been the case with the Thunder and the Rockets. The Thunder just didn't have the money and the room for three all stars on their team, so they traded their third option in Harden to the Rockets. As we saw, the Thunder remained fairly unaffected as they have grabbed the top seed in the West and Harden finally got the opportunity to start and be the main option on a team. Now the Rockets have had a habit recently of unloading their roster and in getting Harden they completely started over and plan to build around him. Was it smart to let both Dragic and Lowry leave, replace them with Lin, then trade the rest of their team along with a bunch of draft picks for Harden? Well, that's debatable, but lucky for them it worked out. Harden is a stud and now if the Rockets get a few more pieces around him, they can be a contending team in the future. The Rockets had a chance in the playoffs to surprise people had Wednesday night worked out for them and they had ended with the 6th or 7th seed, but unfortunately they got stuck in the 8th seed and although it's fun to see Harden playing his old team in the playoffs and it would be great to see Harden knock out his old team, this is still going to be your normal typical 1 vs 8 quick match-up. The Rockets just aren't quite there yet and the Thunder too much for them.
Prediction: Thunder 4-1
#2- San Antonio Spurs vs #7- Los Angeles Lakers -
They did it. After probably one of the most drama filled seasons in recent Laker history, the Lakers avoided being labeled as one of the most disappointing teams in NBA history. Yes it is true that they still will be considered a disappointing team, missing the playoffs would've made it a lot worse. Thanks to the Jazz chocking Wednesday night they officially made it in on the last day of the regular season and a close overtime victory over the Rockets won them the right to NOT play the Thunder as they would've most likely gotten swept. It was really devastating for Laker fans watching Kobe go down and while some that was going to be the death of this team, they actually played inspired ball and won out. And it was interesting as I was watching. I saw what life after Kobe would be like for the Lakers and it looks like things be fine. But how will they fare in the playoffs with him gone? Can Dwight Howard carry this team? Well, I think they are going to give the Spurs, a team that they actually just beat this past Sunday without Kobe, a run for their money. I think this is the one match-up in the first round with the biggest chance for an upset (not counting the 4 vs 5 match-ups), but I think the Kobe-less Lakers will run out of steam in the end while the Spurs advance.
Prediction: Spurs 4-2
#3- Denver Nuggets vs #6- Golden State Warriors -
The Carmelo Anthony era in Denver seems so long ago and it's amazing how much better they have been without him. When you look at this Nuggets team, you don't necessarily see one superstar player and a bunch of role players, but rather you see a group of good players that play really good together that have a great head coach that makes all the difference. This time last year no one would've expected the Warriors to be where they are. They have consistently been a team that has had good players but have underperformed as a team. Not this year, though. Mark Jackson has got this team going and with the roster they have, they could also be a dangerous team in the future. The Nuggets and Warriors match-up features two high powered offenses and we will most likely be favored with several high scoring games. The difference in this series will be the Nuggets ridiculous home court advantage. They've only lost three games at home this season and while the Warriors might sneak out a game or two at there place, the Nuggets won't lose at home this series and that will carry them to a win in a series that will be very fun to watch.
Prediction: Nuggets 4-2
#4- Los Angeles Clippers vs #5- Memphis Grizzlies -
This match-up is probably the most difficult to predict. The Clippers are now, at least currently, the kings of Los Angeles with the drama and disappointment that have surrounded the Lakers this season. This is a Clippers team that I fully expect to make a trip to the NBA finals some time in the not so distant future, but the big problem is that the West is just so competitive right now. To give you an idea of how great the competition is, Miami in the East do own the best record in the NBA, but the top five teams in the west all have a better record than the second place Knicks in the East. The Clippers and the Grizzlies both have 56 wins this season and in most seasons, 56 wins is good for 2nd or 3rd in the West, but not so this time. 56 wins for the Grizzlies was only good for 5th place, which is insane. Because of this, it's been a while since I've seen a 4 vs 5 match-up of this magnitude with two 56 win teams fighting it out. Who's going to win? I have no idea. I wouldn't be surprised to see either of these teams win. And I also wouldn't be surprised to see either of these teams to knock off the Thunder in the next round. Almost by coin flip I am going to give the Clippers the edge.
Prediction: Clippers 4-3
#1- Miami Heat vs #8- Milwaukee Bucks -
While the West is looking like one big huge fun mess that will be totally awesome to watch, I think the East will be less entertaining. And by that I mean we have the Miami Heat as the huge favorites and seven teams that don't even have much of a chance to knock them off. Also, the New York Knicks, who hold the second best record in the East would be in 6th place in the West. The Celtics and Bucks, who hold the 7th and 8th seeds, would be 11th and 12th in the West respectively, while the 5th place Bulls and 6th place Hawks would also be out of the playoffs in the West. Speaking of those Bucks, they are the one team in the playoffs with a losing record as they made it into the playoffs with only 38 wins, three games below .500. Meanwhile, the Heat went on a 26 game winning streak late in the season and ended with a 66 win season. That's almost 30 more wins then the Bucks. The Bucks don't stand a chance and even one win for them in the series would be a huge shocker.
Prediction: Miami 4-0
#2- New York Knicks vs #7- Boston Celtics -
In previous years, this might've been a more interesting match-up, but let's be honest. Age has caught up with this Boston team and unlike the Spurs, they haven't been able to reload yet with enough young talent to keep this team afloat. Now my hearts and prayers go out to the people and the city of Boston and I hope that leads to a win or two when these two teams play in Boston. Now as I said, the Knicks would only be the 6 seed if they were in the west, but 54 wins is still pretty good and are much better than Boston's 41 wins. Carmelo Anthony has had an awful track record in the playoffs, but this should be one of the few times that he makes it past the first round.
Prediction: Knicks 4-2
#3- Indiana Pacers vs #6- Atlanta Hawks -
Out of all the first round match-ups in both the East and the West, this is the series that will probably get the least amount of attention. The Pacers are actually a pretty good team that will probably be a team that will stick around in the Eastern Conference race in the next several years. Despite being the third best team in the East, they actually have the second worst offense in the East and only one additional team in the West have a worse offense. How do they do you ask? Well, the answer is the league's second best defense as they have only allowed an average of 90.7 points per game. The Hawks, meanwhile, are one of the more confusing NBA teams in the playoffs right now as it seems like they have a different starting lineup every night. They've been inconsistent all season long and unlike the Pacers, their future is a huge question mark and they are one of the four teams in the East that wouldn't even be in the playoffs if they took their 44 win season to the Western conference. I don't see them being able to get passed the Pacers' defense in this.
Prediction: Pacers 4-1
#4- Brooklyn Nets vs #5- Chicago Bulls -
Last but certainly not least, we have a normal 4 vs 5 match-up as we have the newcomer to the Eastern Conference playoffs in the Brooklyn Nets facing off against the veteran Eastern Conference playoff team in the Chicago Bulls. I say normal 4 vs 5 match-up because I am comparing to the 4 vs 5 match-up in the West with two 56 win teams facing each other in the Clippers and Grizzlies. The Nets ended the season with 49 wins while the Bulls ended with 44. Now a healthy Bulls team is a dangerous Bulls team, but that has been the huge problem this season. Once one player gets back from injury another one gets hurt. And they haven't had their star player Derek Rose all season. The Nets on the other hand at one point looked like they were going to be the second best team in the East and I think they are a team that can do some damage in the future. Neither the Nets or the Bulls are going to have much of a chance against the Heat in the next round. Now you will immediately point out that the Bulls are the ones that ended the Heat's winning streak and that is true. They could possibly win another game against the Heat, but they won't a 7 game series. Now I think this Nets and Bulls series will be really close and I actually look at that Bulls vs Heat game to determine this match-up. Regardless of how hurt they are, I think they can pull it together enough to knock off the inexperienced Nets in a close series.
Prediction: Bulls 4-3
Quick Glance into Future Rounds
#1- Oklahoma City Thunder vs #4- Los Angeles Clippers
Thunder win 4-2
#2- San Antonio Spurs vs #3- Denver Nuggets
Nuggets win 4-3
#1- Miami Heat vs #5- Chicago Bulls
Heat win 4-1
#2- New York Knicks vs #3- Indiana Pacers
Knicks win 4-2
#1- Oklahoma City Thunder vs #3- Denver Nuggets
Nuggets win 4-3
#1- Miami Heat vs #2- New York Knicks
Heat win 4-0
#1- Miami Heat vs #3- Denver Nuggets
Heat win 4-2