Despite their struggles over the last month of the season the Indiana Pacers achieved their goal of being the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. That will pay huge dividends when the face the Miami Heat in the Conference Finals. First they must reach the Conference Finals and the first task is getting past the Atlanta Hawks. It is actually kind of pathetic that the Hawks are even in the playoffs as they would have finished 11th in the Western Conference. Although did split four games with the Pacers in the regular season, I can’t see the Hawks winning a game in this series. The Pacers have been to the playoffs and went to the Conference Finals last year and know how to raise their game this time of year and they will go that and the Hawks not being able to reach that level will quickly be erased.
Spurs in 4
The Dallas Mavericks have not won playoff game since winning the NBA Championship in 2011. They were swept by the Thunder in 2012 and missed the postseason all together last year. The Spurs meanwhile just keep winning. If they were a stock the Spurs would be like IBM steady and safe never making a huge swing just continuing to trend up and coming through in the end. This is their time of year and they know that eventually Father Time will catch up to them, but the Spurs mission to win one more game starts with an easy one. The Mavericks have just as much mileage on them with Dirk Nowitzki clearly losing a step from his 2011 MVP performance, and they don’t have the depth on the bench to stay with the Spurs. San Antonio won all four regular season meetings and with their ability to mix and match players and minimize work they will look for a sweep.
Heat in 4
The Bobcats are the only NBA franchise that has never won a playoff game. In their only previous postseason appearance they were swept in 2010. Facing the Miami Heat they will once again feel the sting of the broom going over their backs. The Heat have won the last two NBA Championships and have been to the Finals the last three seasons, while the Bobcats are just two years removed from the worst season in NBA history. The Heat swept the Bobcats in the regular season, highlighted by a career high 61 point game by LeBron James on March 3rd. The Heat have plenty of mileage and to help their cause for a three peat taking care of business in the early rounds means making the series as short and painless as possible and that will be no issue as the Bobcats will never win a playoff game, since they ar becoming the Hornets next season.
Thunder in 5
Last year the Thunder limped into a match up with the Grizzlies and went home in the second round. They clearly missed Russell Westbrook who sustained a season ending knee injury against the Rockets in the previous round. The Thunder played long stretches without Westbrook this season and got a MVP season from Kevin Durant, who went to a stretch of 41 games, scoring 25 or more points. The Thunder also made sure to rest Russell Westbrook to make sure he was ready for the playoffs. The Grizzlies meanwhile fired Coach Lionel Hollins and lost some of that edge they had in the playoffs last year. The juicy matchup will be in the Conference Finals if the Thunder and Spurs can meet. The Grizzlies this time won’t be the ones that stop that from happening this year, as the Thunder won three of four regular season meetings and will keep that trend going by winning the series in five.
Nets in 6
Another matchup of a veteran team against an upstart, but this time around the veteran team is the lower seed, while the upstart is the Atlantic Division Champion Raptors. The two teams split four games in the regular season as the Nets seemed to call off their chase of Toronto in April, opting to rest players like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. They even seemed to coax this meeting taking off the final few games to slip into the sixth seed. Sometimes teams should be careful to want a certain matchup because they might get more than they could handle and if DeMar DeRozen and Kyle Lowry have big series Brooklyn will be not be able to sleep. However, Pierce and Garnett are proven playoff winners add that both Raptors wins over the Nets took advantage of Brooklyn coming off an emotional win the night before. Rested and focused on the Raptors the Nets will take the series in six games.
Clippers in 6
The Clippers and Warriors bring the rivalry of Northern and Southern California to a new level with their first ever meeting in the postseason. The Clippers have now become a playoff regular making it three straight seasons for the first time in franchise history. These teams are relatively evenly matched as both teams have solid players that can take over the game. While Chris Paul is the Clippers playmaker, Blake Griffin started to take over for the Clippers in the second half and is becoming a force in the front court with a career high 24.1 ppg. The Clippers also got a big season from Jamal Crawford who averaged 18.6 ppg off the bench. The Warriors struggled at times in the second half, and rely mostly on Stephen Curry’s deadly accuracy from downtown. The Clippers though have more weapons and a distinct home court edge that will allow them to win this battle in six.
Bulls in 5
In the playoffs defense wins championships and no teams relies more on defense than the Chicago Bulls. Forced to play most of the season without Derrick Rose again, the Bulls looked to be a beaten team when they dealt Luol Deng in January. However, Joakim Noah took his game to a higher level and became the Bulls leader on and off the court as they managed to win 48 games. The Wizards meanwhile are making the playoffs for the first time in six years. This was a breakout season for John Wall as he emerged as one of the best players in the NBA. However, in his first playoff appearance he will learn that you need to bring your game to another level this time of year and against a team with a suffocating defense and a veteran presence that is impossible. Plus the Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau is great at in game strategy and finding ways to adjust as a series goes on.
Rockets in 5
While most of the focus in the Western Conference is on the Thunder and Spurs, the Houston Rockets are the clear dark horse that could possibly be the spoiler. James Harden has become the face of the Rockets, leading the team with 25.4 ppg, while Dwight Howard provides excellent defense in the middle, while scoring 21.4 ppg himself, while Patrick Beverly has begun to emerge as a top play maker at Point Guard. The Trailblazers are a young team with little playoff experience and lost three of four regular season meetings with the Rockets. This is not a good matchup for the Blazers who have not won a playoff series since 2000. The Rockets will try to launch themselves for a long run by taking the series in five games.