The NBA regular season has finally ended and now that we’ve gotten rid of the dead weight, it’s time to get to the real basketball. The 2013 NBA Playoffs are about to begin and the opening series will include upsets and longer series than people expect.
In the Eastern Conference, it’s likely that the Miami Heat will cruise past the Milwaukee Bucks and the Indiana Pacers shouldn’t have any problems beating the Atlanta Hawks. However, the other two series look like they might go the distance and will include an upset.
Conventional wisdom seems to be the New York Knicks will dismiss the Boston Celtics easily in the first round. Whoever believes that must not have paid attention to the Celtics since they’ve gotten Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett together. The Celtics are the smarter, tougher and more battle-tested team in the series and it will not be a cake walk for the Knicks. Sure the Knicks are younger and more athletic but the Celtics are a savvy team that knows how to win in the postseason. This series is likely to go seven games and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Celtics win the series based on their experience.
The other Eastern Conference series that holds plenty of interest is the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets. The Nets have homecourt advantage but the Bulls beat them in three of their four meetings this year. Just like the Celtics, the Bulls hold the experience and toughness edge over the Nets. Brooklyn can score with the best of them but Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is one of the best defensive coaches in the league and you can bet he’ll have a plan to slow the Nets’ offensive attack. I like the Bulls to win this series.
In the Western Conference there is plenty of interesting match-ups throughout the first round. The top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder welcome back James Harden and the Houston Rockets. The Rockets struggled down the stretch but they can outscore just about any team in the league when they’re hot. However, the Thunder have too many options on offense and the Rockets don’t play good enough defense to slow them down. It should be a fun series to watch but the Thunder win it easily.
The next series has the San Antonio Spurs hosting the Los Angeles Lakers and it’s hard to see the Lakers doing much to stop the Spurs. They don’t have a go-to player in crunch time and they don’t have a leader on the floor without Kobe Bryant, so the Spurs should wrap things up pretty quickly.
One of the more interesting match-ups in the West is between the Golden State Warriors and the Denver Nuggets. On paper this will be a high scoring, fun series to watch as an NBA fan. A few weeks ago I would have said the Nuggets win the series easily but I’m not so sure that’s the case anymore since they’ve sustained a few injuries. The Nuggets are still likely to win the series but expect a bunch of exciting games and it could go to at least a Game 6 before the Nuggets close things out.
Then there’s the best series of the playoffs in either conference; the Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Clippers are getting ready for what should be an amazing series. The Clippers are fun to watch and produce as many highlight plays as anyone in the NBA, but the Grizzlies are the best defensive team in the league. It’s a classic offense versus defense matchup and whoever wins that battle is likely to win the series.
The Grizzlies play a tough brand of basketball but they also have plenty of players capable of producing highlight plays and scoring with anyone in the league. The Grizzlies challenge is to slow the game down just enough to stop the Clippers from gaining momentum and steam rolling through the series. The Clippers have to play a smarter brand of basketball, especially in the playoffs where every possession means something.
This matchup has all the makings of the best series in the first round and it should go the full seven games. I like the Clippers because they can play offense with efficiency and should get enough good possessions to win it.
Regardless of who you think will win in the first round of the playoffs, one thing is certain; it’s going to be a fun ride.