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It is that time of year again, as the 2013-14 NBA Playoffs are one day away from commencing. Questions have been pondered about the first round of the playoffs since the NBA season came to an end this past Wednesday. Questions such as: Can any of the top seeds be challenged? Will the chalk prevail? What higher seeds are dangerous? Will there be any upsets?
These questions will be answered in two weeks’ time, but here are my predictions for each first round matchup.
Indiana and Atlanta squared off against each other four times in the regular season, and the season series was split 2-2. The Hawks took the last regular season matchup 107-88 in Indiana. It is apparent that the Hawks have caused the Pacers trouble in the season. The Hawks have shooters on the wings in Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague and Louis Williams. The Hawks spread the floor, play a fast tempo and have an All-Star caliber power forward in Paul Millsap. So, can Atlanta upset Indiana? The answer to this question is NO. The Pacers have home court advantage, and owned the best home record in the NBA this season at 35-6. The Pacers will slow down the tempo, nullify Millsap’s presence, and have too much size for the Hawks to handle, especially without the presence of Al Horford. Roy Hibbert will reawaken for Indiana. The Pacers will take the series 4-1.
Miami dominated this matchup in the season, as it took the season series 4-0. This is the second time the Bobcats franchise has made it into postseason play, and the first time since 2010. The Bobcats have one player that can cause the Heat a major migraine in big man Al Jefferson. The Heat has had trouble controlling skilled big men the past four seasons (ask Roy Hibbert). Jefferson, who averaged 21.8 points per game and 10.8 rebounds, is going to have a big series against the Heat. Despite the Heat having no answer for Jefferson, Charlotte will have no answers for the entire Miami team. Heat wins the series 4-1.
There has been much chatter that this series in the East will be where the higher seed prevails. It has also been rumored that Brooklyn tanked the last two regular season games to match up with Toronto. The Nets and Raptors split the season series 2-2. Even though Toronto is the higher seed, in the eyes of the experts in Las Vegas, the Nets are favored to be the victor in the series. I have to agree with Vegas, this is a classic case of experience (Brooklyn) vs inexperience (Toronto). Experience will prevail 4-2.
Chicago has been one of the best stories in the NBA. The Bulls lost their MVP in Derrick Rose 10 games into the season, and traded their second best player, Luol Deng, 23 games in. Chicago went on to have a 48-34 record, with center Joakim Noah raising his level of play to MVP caliber, and coach Tom Thibodeau may win his second NBA Coach of The Year Award. The Bulls on paper do not have more talent than most teams they are matched up against, but they outwork their opponent night in and night out. Washington is a young team, but is another team that is more talented than Chicago. The Wizards are led by the guard duo of first time All-Star John Wall and future All-Star Bradley Beal. Washington does have a good mix of youth and experience throughout its roster. The talent gap is going to catch up with Chicago this time around, and Washington is going to come away with the upset in a 4-2 series win.
San Antonio has gone about its business as usual, as it has the best record in the NBA at 62-20. The Spurs do not have a player on their roster that averaged more than 30 minutes of playing time per game. San Antonio has dealt with sitting players, injuries, and a tough Western Conference, but nothing could slow this team down. Dallas was playing for its playoff life all the way to the closing moments of the season. The Mavericks still have future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki playing at a high level. The Spurs took the season series 4-0, and this playoff series will have a very similar result. San Antonio will take the series 4-1.
Oklahoma City will be looking for revenge, as Memphis took out the Thunder in the second round of the playoffs last year. Oklahoma City was without the services of all-star point guard Russell Westbrook on that occasion. Kevin Durant is also poised to claim his first ever league MVP award this season. Durant led the league in scoring for the fourth time in the last five years, averaging 32 points per game, which is 4.6 higher than second place finisher Carmelo Anthony (27.4). Memphis has dealt with its starting center Marc Gasol missing 23 games on the season. When Gasol is on the floor for the Grizzlies, they play like the team that made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals last year. Memphis has often been considered a team you do not want to see in the first round. The season series between these two teams was 3-1 in OKC’s favor. The Thunder will claim redemption from last year winning the series 4-1.
This series has the makings of the most entertaining matchup of the first round. In the regular season these two teams split the season series 2-2. The Clippers are led by the All-Star duo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, while the Warriors are led by their young guard duo of All-Star Stephen Curry and sharpshooter Klay Thompson. Under the tutelage of coach Doc Rivers, Los Angeles has become the top-scoring team in the league (107.9 ppg.) and 14th in points allowed (101.0). Golden State has recently lost big man Andrew Bogut, which will be a hard loss for the team to absorb. The Warriors are the more youthful team, but gained a lot of experience in last year’s playoff run that ended in the second round against the San Antonio Spurs. The key matchup in the series will be Paul vs. Thompson. Paul is the head of the snake for the Clippers, and as he goes Los Angeles goes. Thompson is one of the more underrated defenders in the league. His length and size are going to bother Paul all series, and will help propel the Warriors in a 4-2 series upset of the Clippers.
Houston made a big splash in the offseason, adding the best center in the NBA in Dwight Howard. Howard has helped the Rockets become an inside-out offensive team and a stronger defensive team. Houston was lacking an inside presence in last year’s first-round playoff exit against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Howard now gives the Rockets that presence on both sides of the floor. Portland has been the surprise team of the NBA this season winning 54 games. The Trail Blazers are a very young group led by All-Stars Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. Houston had the edge in the season series 3-1. Portland has a plethora of talent up and down its roster, but the Rockets’ duo of James Harden and Howard will be too much for the young Blazers to handle. Houston wins the series 4-3.