#1 San Antonio Spurs vs. #8 Utah Jazz
Overview: Both teams are coming into the playoffs on a hot streak, and so I expect this to be a suprisingly close series. Both teams have great depth at each position, which will be important in determining who will win this matchup.
X-Factor: Manu Ginobili. Last year, Ginobili was unhealthy during the playoffs and the Spurs were knocked out early by an underrated Grizzlies squad. This year, coach Gregg Popovich has played his cards right when it comes to resting his stars for the big stage. Ginobili is fresh and ready for the playoffs, and his success is crucial to the team's chances of going deep this year. If he can be consistently good, this team can go all the way.
Prediction: Spurs over Jazz, 4-2.
#2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks
Overview: The defending champion Mavericks head into the playoffs with a very daunting matchup against the Thunder. This year will be certainly hard to repeat, but the Mavericks shocked the world last year by beating this team in the Western Conference Finals. If James Harden is out for the entire series, however, this series can get very interesting.
X-Factor: James Harden. This guy is a great facilatator and can shoot from any spot on the floor. He is the Thunder's most efficient scorer behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Harden's status for this series can change the dynamic completely, and make this series a close one to call if he is absent from play.
Prediction: Thunder over Mavericks, 4-3.
#3 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #6 Denver Nuggets
Overview: The Lakers come into the playoffs hot, but also with a suspension of Metta World Peace. Denver has steadily climbed up to the #6 seed, but have been quiet since they moved Nene to the Wizards. This series can get very suprising and interesting. Don't count the Nuggets out.
X-Factor: Javale McGee. This is his first time on the big stage. The usually mocked athletic freak of nature center has the tools to be an incredible player, but just hasn't been able to put it together yet. So far, he hasn't worked out great in Denver, but if he can handle and diminish Andrew Bynum's effectiveness in the low post, it will be a major plus for the Nuggets' chances of winning this series.
Prediction: Lakers over Nuggets, 4-3.
#4 Memphis Grizzlies vs #5 Los Angeles Clippers
Overview: If Chauncey Billups wasn't injured, the Clippers would probably be in the #3 slot in the Western Conference. However, they have gotten efficient production from most of their players and can make some noise. The Grizzlies come in as a dark horse this year, with a full, healthy starting lineup. This might be the most intriguing first round battle of the entire playoffs.
X-Factor: Blake Griffin. This insane dunker has captured the excitement of NBA fans with an incredible arsenal of rim-rattling slams. However, his game besides that isn't that great. A poor field goal and free throw shooter, Griffin has to hit some jump shots to spread the floor and open up the lane so Chris Paul can penetrate and create havoc for the Grizzlies.
Prediction: Grizzlies over Clippers, 4-2.
|Durant and James are the frontrunner MVP candidates, but can either|
of them lead their teams to the NBA Finals this year as expected?
#1 Chicago Bulls vs. #8 Philadelphia 76ers
Overview: Chicago is simply amazing when it comes to defense, and I believe they'd be able to beat the 76ers even if Derrick Rose was hurt. Since starting out 20-9, Philadelphia has been abysmal since, and luckily snuck into the playoffs. I expect the Bulls to win this showdown easily.
X-Factor: Luol Deng. If Deng can play his normal game and shut down 76ers all star forward Andre Iguodala, then this series will be short and sweet for the Bulls.
Prediction: Bulls over 76ers, 4-1.
#2 Miami Heat vs. #7 New York Knicks
Overview: Ugh. I don't know who I can't stand worse, Heat bandwagoners or Knicks bandwagoners. Anyways, this matchup features two of the most covered teams of the season, and is expected to be a fun, invigorating battle. With the recent return of Amare Stoudemire for the Knicks, this matchup can become very close and intriguing. The Knicks' defense has improved, while Miami is slowly cruising into the playoffs.
X-Factor: Chris Bosh. Often criticized as one of the softest players in the NBA, Bosh has put up decent numbers through his second season in Miami. However, if the Heat want to win it all, this guy might be the most important piece of their "Big 3." Bosh has to impose his will against Stoudemire, and knock down shots from all different spots to spread the floor for isolation specialists LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Prediction: Heat over Knicks, 4-2
#3 Indiana Pacers vs. #6 Orlando Magic
Overview: If Dwight Howard was playing for the Magic, this would be an incredibly tough series to judge. But now that he is not due to back surgery, look for Roy Hibbert to show why he was selected to be in the All Star game this season. The Pacers are the most improved team in the East, and are a mysterious but dark horse team this year.
X-Factor: Danny Granger. If Granger can average between 15 and 20 points during this series, as well as play tight defense on Magic forward Ryan Anderson, the Pacers can finish the Magic off quickly.
Prediction: Pacers over Magic, 4-1.
#4 Boston Celtics vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks
Overview: These teams have met before in the playoffs and have always had exciting battles against each other. Look for this year to be no different. The Hawks are one of the most enigmatic teams in the league, and this is going to be an even harder series to judge due to the nagging injuries many of the Celtics players have.
X-Factor: Avery Bradley. The Celtics combo guard shined against the Hawks recently, scoring 28 points in a close loss. Take note of the fact that Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo were all sitting out that game, while Atlanta was playing with its usual starters, except for Al Horford who has missed a majority of the season. If Bradley can play the tough defense he's known for on Joe Johnson and score a little bit each game, the Celtics have a good shot to beat the Hawks.
Prediction: Celtics over Hawks, 4-2.
Thanks for reading! I'm in the process of writing other stories that aren't necessarily about this year's playoff race, but if you'd like to stay more in depth about the playoffs, I'll post another story with reactions to who's in and who's out of the second round, as well as storylines for matchups and predictions of who will advance to their conference's championship game and why after the first round is completed. Stay tuned!