Now that the NBA's first season is over, we enter the real season where legends are made and where every true sports fan finds the true meaning of freakish athletic ability on a nightly basis. This year features two conferences that really don't equate to one another as the East is really a two, maybe three team race while in the west 5 or 6 teams can make a legit run at the championship. We don't need to get into the summary of the regular season as we all know the best team heading into the postseason is my beloved Spurs who are clearly the best franchise in all of sports over this entire century. That's not being biased, it's just a fact. Let's get to the predictions.
Eastern Conference 1st round
#1 Indiana vs #8 Atlanta
The only reason Atlanta is in the 8 seed is because the eastern conference is a joke and their unfortunately has to be a team to play the #1 Pacers. Although the Pacers have been struggling the past month, they should gain some confidence as they should dominate the Hawks. The Pacers have every matchup won when it comes to their starting rotation except for maybe at the Key Matchup I'll mention in a moment. The bench of Indiana will probably see a lot of 4th quarter action in this series and will still win the +/- battle when they are on the floor against the starters of the Hawks.
Key Matchup: Paul Millsap (ATL) vs David West (IND)
Because this is the only area I could see Atlanta winning, they really need to feed the post to have a chance against the Pacers because of all the other matchups they lack in this series. Other than that, Indiana has them outmatched 4 to 1.
Prediction: Indiana in a sweep (4-0)
#4 Chicago vs #5 Washington
This series is a whole other story when it comes to matchups because I can see this series going either way. Unfortunately, Derek Rose won't be here, so I could see Washington feeding John Wall the ball for 30+ points per game. I think when it comes to post presence, Chicago has them beat, but when it comes to guard play, Chicago can't compete as Wall and Beal have really stepped up as a legit duel threat in the weak eastern conference. The last time the Wizards played the Bulls they got beat 96-78 and they will keep that in their minds for Game 1 and should make this a 7 game series from the start.
Key Matchup: Bradley Beal (WAS) vs Jimmy Butler (CHI)
If Bradley Beal can outmatch Jimmy Butler in this series, Chicago will be in a lot of trouble with the already explosive and ready John Wall at the point position. If Butler can keep Beal off the 3-point line and can shut him down from the start, Chicago will have the advantage especially down low with a top 5 center in Noah.
Prediction: Washington in 7 (4-3)
#3 Toronto vs #6 Brooklyn
I think Toronto lacks the experience Brooklyn brings to the playoffs. Toronto is a nice story, and they have been consistent all season, but Brooklyn is one of those teams that has been hot all second half of the season and they have experience that can't be matched in the postseason with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett leading the way. The only real question will be the health factor that Brooklyn presents with their age, outside of that, I don't see how Toronto gets past Brooklyn.
Key Matchup: DeMar DeRozan (TOR) vs Shaun Livingston (BKN)
I think DeRozen will have Livingstons number, but the question will be can he sustain it? If Livingston can match him in a couple games in this series and if Livingston can prevent DeRozen from going off for more than he usually generates, than the Nets will have more of a chance than I am already giving them. Outside of this matchup, the Nets have a lot of mismatches over the Raptors.
Prediction: Brooklyn in 6 (4-2)
#2 Miami vs #7 Charlotte
The last time these two teams met, LeBron James went off for 61 points. That won't happen again in this series, or can it? Who is really going to get on LeBron and stop him in this series? I could see Kidd-Gilchrist getting one game on LeBron defensively but that's being nice. I love me some Kemba Walker, but he will only help even out the matchup between him and Mario Chalmers. The real question for Miami will be who will help out the starting lineup and who will step up around LeBron for this postseason? This series should let us know if the Heat have what it takes to win the title for the third straight game. If the supporting cast doesn't perform like it has in the past, expect the Heat to struggle against the Bobcats.
Key Matchup: Chris Bosh (MIA) vs Al Jefferson (CHA)
Chris Bosh is not who he was 2-3 years ago even though he still plays at an all-star level. The real question will be can he hold his own against a top 5 center in Al Jefferson. Al Jefferson should become a legend after this series against the East's biggest named team. If Al Jefferson can get off in this series, it may be a longer series than the Heat anticipated.
Prediction: Miami in 5 (4-1)
Eastern Conference 2nd Round
#1 Indiana vs #5 Washington
This will be the John Wall home coming party to the NBA. He will shine in this series, but he may be the only thing that shines for the Wizards as everybody else stands little chance against the vaunted rotation of the Pacers. Paul George may actually go off for 30+ each game in this series with the matchups they Wizards will present him. The only thing Indiana needs to worry about is themselves and make sure they allow themselves to get great shot selections as often as they can down the floor which shouldn't be a problem playing Washington. Although, if the Wizards can get a little boost from the bench, they may have a better shot than most people would give them if they make it to the second round.
Key Matchup: John Wall (WAS) vs George Hill (IND)
John Wall may actually cause George Hill to reconstruct his ankles this offseason after this series, but if Hill can contain Wall to under 30 points per game or can at least match half of what he gets per night, the Pacers will probably end this series faster than it already will be. If John Wall runs by everybody, the Wizards could push this to 7.
Prediction: Indiana in 6 (4-2)
#2 Miami vs #6 Brooklyn
The Heat couldn't beat the Nets this season. The Heat don't have the supporting cast of the Nets and it's quite obvious if these two teams meet in the postseason. The only real question will be if the legs of the older Nets will be able to hang with the slightly younger legs of the Heat. I think another factor will be the coaching as Jason Kidd will be going up against the 2-time champions and his tactics will be all out on the line for this game as he will truthfully have to put together masterpiece like games to get his team past the likes of LeBron James, Wade, and Bosh. I think the Nets can get it done, but at the same time, this is the Miami Heat we are talking about, and they will literally bring a kitchen sink to the floor and maybe some blood and bruises too. Expect a lack of headband from LeBron James in this series in a couple instances because this will a classic.
Key Matchup: LeBron James vs Himself
The Heat are 0-4 vs the Nets this season and LeBron will need to get over his own game and play like the Cleveland version of LeBron instead of this "Magic Johnson" version he's been playing like since coming to South Beach in 2010. If he doesn't come out with the fire we all know he can play with when his back is up against the wall, the Nets win this series. He needs to "Strive for Greatness" if he wants to get to the Eastern Conference Finals again.
Prediction: Miami in 7 (4-3)
Eastern Conference Finals
#1 Indiana vs #2 Miami
This will be a great series but I think there will be one large void especially if Miami is just getting out of a dog fight against the Nets. The supporting cast of the Miami Heat will be tested to it's pinnacle in this series if these two teams were to rematch again. Also, this season, the Pacers have home court and the Heat will have to play a game 7 in Indiana which won't go over well if LeBron is the one carrying his squad up to this point in the postseason. Unless LeBron James has super powers, he'll need big time performances from his sidekicks for the Heat to get back to the promise land because if the Pacers make it to this point in the postseason, they will be clicking, and there's no way if they play their A game that Miami beats them with just one or two players playing out of this world.
Key Matchup: D'Wayne Wade (MIA) vs Lance Stephenson (IND)
Stephenson has improved himself immensely this year and if he can go off this series, the Heat may have no chance of winning a game. If Wade comes in a plays like the Wade of 8 years ago, then Indiana has no chance of winning a game. These two men will truly decide the outcome of this series because they both have very good players to their left (Paul George for the Pacers, LeBron James for the Heat) and if they can get theirs along with defending, it could put a serious staple in this series.
Prediction: Indiana in 7 (4-3)
Western Conference 1st Round
#1 San Antonio vs #8 Dallas
Apparently San Antonio hasn't lost to Dallas in 9 straight meetings against one another which should tell you already where I'm going with my prediction on top of my love for the Spurs. I honestly don't think those 9 straight wins will impact what happens in this series because it's a series not one game so adjustments will be made. Either way, if the Spurs show they are healthy and ready to do damage with their core unit at full strength, nobody is beating this team. Their bench is the best in the NBA and the Mavericks are still in a state of transition with now Dirk's career winding down to the end which shouldn't help Monta Ellis any considering he may have to carry the load all by himself. It won't be enough though.
Key Matchup: Tony Parker (SAS) vs Jose Calderon (DAL) honestly if Tony Parker can go off and show that he is healthy in this series, the Spurs will dominate especially with the supporting cast he has around him. If Jose Calderon can get into open space and make everybody around him a little better, the Mavericks may make this a series worth talking about.
Prediction: San Antonio in 5 (4-1)
#4 Houston vs #5 Portland
The only real bump in the road Portland faces is weather they have enough knowledge of what to expect in a series of this magnitude. They have not been this relevant in the NBA in quite a while and I think facing a team like the Rockets will really test them especially since the Rockets have a couple guys who know what the NBA Finals looks like. There are also a ton of potential X-factors that could step up and make this series into any type of series. Guys like Patrick Beverley could make Damion Lillard sweat like they never have before, Omer Asik could become a giant presence that not many people may expect, and even a guy like Mo Williams could bust out 8 threes off the bench in 4 minutes. I could see both these teams winning this series but I think we all know who I'm going with based upon experience.
Key Matchup: Dwight Howard (HOU) vs LaMarcus Aldridge (POR)
Honestly, if Dwight is healthy and can play at a 18 point/12 rebound clip, the Rockets will be fine, but if he comes out sluggish, expect a result similar to the 2013 Los Angeles Laker Dwight Howard who was dejected and disinterested too often than not. If LaMarcus can come out and have a huge impact on the glass and make the paint his own territory, Portland will ride into Texas confident.
Prediction: Houston in 6 (4-2)
#3 L.A. Clippers vs #6 Golden State
This is the most exciting series I think I can remember heading into in a long time. The fire power, stardom, and awe factor is off the charts compared to any other series in a long time. Long range jumpers and alley-oops will be occurring more than in any other series especially considering the level both these teams can play defense. I think the defensive intensity will be there in the first and fourth quarter, but in the middle portions of the game where things lighten up a bit, it might feel like an all-star game for a little bit. The only real question will be to see which style will prevail. Knowing Mark Jackson and Doc Rivers and how they play on the defensive side of the ball, they won't allow either teams strength to appear as often as they usually occur in an everyday game, but I think this game may define where the NBA game is heading. Will it still be a flash and pass league or will the shooters prevail? I think it will be a debate settled in this series and it should be a must watch if you are just an average sports fan.
Key Matchup: Andre Iguodala (GSW) vs Matt Barnes (LAC)
I think Iguodala will get his share of points but it will be those times where he gets shut down by Matt Barnes that will cause the Clippers to get a full head of steam on their side of the court. If Barnes can get anything to go offensively, write down the Clippers to get to the next round with ease, but that's not his forte in this scheme so expect it to be a Barnes on Iggy type of matchup.
Prediction: L.A. Clippers in 7 (4-3)
#2 Oklahoma City vs #7 Memphis
O.K. do you really want a write up on how badly Kevin Durant is going to mack on this Grizzlies squad? He's going to sign his stamp of approval to win the MVP outright in this series and nobody will question him after this series is over. If Westbrook comes out and plays to the level he's known to play at he will also allow the Thunder to get the next round rather quickly. Granted, the Grizzlies were a very good team lasty season and for some reason they dropped to where they are this season, but this year they have to deal with a little more than just KD this time, even though KD is way better than last year on top of a better supporting cast from a year ago.
Key Matchup: Tayshaun Prince (MEM) vs Kevin Durant (OKC)
It's a joke of a matchup but is it really considering Tayshaun has more rings than Durant and that his length may actually be the only problem KD has to face in this series. If Prince can even come close to handling KD and keeping him in just a little bit of check, it'll be up to the supporting cast of OKC which should still be able to get it done. It will just be a little more difficult for the Thunder.
Prediction: Oklahoma City in a sweep (4-0)
Western Conference 2nd Round
#1 San Antonio vs #4 Houston
If there is any sort of revenge in Dwight Howards body, he should still be feeling the embarrassment from 2013 when his team the L.A. Lakers were devastated by the Spurs. For "the best center" in the game to be humiliated like that, you would think he would come back for a second helping and get his scoring guard in James Harden the ball in open situations so that they can combat this dynamic dynamo in San Antonio. The only question will be, will the Better Stars outweigh the Ultimate Team? The Rockets have some depth, but lets be honest, they don't have the Spurs depth. They do have a better more talented starting 5 than the Spurs, but when it comes to depth, they may be tested too much when it comes to playing San Antonio.
Key Matchup: Chandler Parsons (HOU) vs Kawhi Leonard (SAS)
Both these players still have a lot of career left in front of them, but this series may help start directing where their careers take them. Let's be honest, the Spurs trio is getting old and in the near future Chandler Parsons will be getting a big time deal in the near future with the way he has been playing recently over the past couple seasons. Things will drastically change for both these players in the near future, but their parts play key in this series if they meet up because Parsons and Leonard are ultimately the major X-Factors when it comes to where this series heads ultimately.
Prediction: San Antonio in 6 (4-2)
#2 Oklahoma City vs #3 L.A. Clippers
I think the Clippers are fed up with a couple things when heading into this series against the Thunder before I make this prediction. They are tired of being called the one dimensional "Lob City" and that they are the laughable Clipper franchise they are frequently listed as in the archives of NBA history. It will piss them off beyond all the other talk that will head their way prior to this series, and I think it will give them a slight edge. The Coaching should be phenomenal as Scottie Brooks and Doc Rivers will get their teams playing in tip top shape to attack one another's weaknesses making this possibly one of the more interesting 2nd round matchups when it comes to postseason play. I think the Clippers have a ton to prove and I think it's going to eat at them all series making the chip on their shoulder a little bigger than OKC's.
Key Matchup: Russell Westbrook (OKC) vs Chris Paul (LAC)
Let's be honest, who ever comes out and can attune to their teams style the best and be the most effective out of these two players will help their team get to the western conference finals. I think Chris Paul is clearly the better team player, but considering the attacking style of Westbrook, his penetration in the lane and his ability to explode to the hoop is really going to get the Thunder going when they need that extra spark. Chris Paul is the engine of that Clipper train and if he can keep it chugging, they can find themselves in the next round.
Prediction: L.A. Clippers in 7 (4-3)
Western Conference Finals
#1 San Antonio vs #3 L.A. Clippers
I think this series will be a lot more of series than people will give it credit for just because OKC may not be in it. Both teams will use philosophies that could potentially drive the other coach crazy. Both Benches are pretty solid with both having great 6th men in Crawford for the Clippers and Ginobili for the Spurs, the multiple looks both teams can show when it comes to their rotations and also how each team can really play any style of basketball. Both Coaches may keep the games in the low 80's and bring the NBA back a decade of when defensive basketball was the strategy because that is how the matchups will lay themselves out. I think whoevers bench comes out and gets the job done the most efficiently will go to the Finals.
Key Matchup: Jamal Crawford (LAC) vs Manu Ginobili (SAS)
This series really is all about who will show up when it comes to that spark off the bench. To ignite the benches to get it going when the starters come out, this matchup could really drive home who can keep each others team in check especially considering both these players are major igniters when it comes to their presence on the court.
Prediction: San Antonio in 7 (4-3)
I know, I picked Chalk to make it to the NBA Finals. I did pick the Nets to make it to the NBA Finals before the season and I could seriously see them making it to the NBA Finals if they can get past Miami especially with how hot they have been in the second half of the season. I could also see OKC getting to the NBA Finals on multiple scenarios I laid out before writing this blog, but I honestly see them matching up against the Clippers not very favorably and I see KD needing to go off for 40 every game to give them a chance. I just don't see Miami winning it this year because of the lack of support LeBron will have this postseason, but that will just add to his greatness if he proves me wrong.
Here's my NBA Finals prediction!
2014 NBA FINALS
San Antonio Spurs vs Indiana Pacers
The Spurs and Pacers are definitely two of the most well rounded teams in basketball and to have them both at this point would truly not be shocking and it's not just because of their seeding's in their respective conferences. They both have fantastic benches and they have very solid starting lineups. With how they play their style of basketball, I could see this being one of those series that could be picked at till the end of time and could also be on game films from years to come. The brand of basketball is truly looking for a matchup like this, that's how great these two teams are and how good they have been this season. Both coaches are outstanding and it has taken a lot of time for these teams to get to the level they could be at when it comes to this point in the postseason if they both make it. I really hope they both make it, and I think it would be a classic. I do think at the end of the day, home court will dictate who wins it all, especially if it goes 7 which I see it possibly happening.
Key Matchup: Tim Duncan (SAS) vs Roy Hibbert (IND)
Oh, the mentor vs the mentee, back in the day Roy Hibbert went to a camp set up by Duncan and Roy became a fan from day one. It would be crazy to see them play for the title against one another and could potentially be the ultimate Key Matchup in the NBA Finals. They both will hold the key in the half court offense when it comes to ball distribution and at the end of the day will make the decisions to get the ball to the open man. I could see Roy really making it hard on Tim Duncan (because of the age difference) but also the chiseled veteran in Tim Duncan can still find ways to kill you when it comes to making the right decision which he does way more than not.
Prediction: Spurs in 7 (4-3)
And the Spurs ride off into the sunset...
Like I said, I could see several scenarios occurring but I'm playing it safe this year as I think the regular season is going to hold true to form with how the playoffs work, but it will be a tightrope walk for some of these series as I could see many matchups going one way or another. I just see the best team getting it done this season, and that's the San Antonio Spurs.
Enjoy the Playoffs everybody!