Never had the time before the playoffs started to get my official predictions in, but here’s what I told anyone who would listen before Game 1:
Eastern Conference Quarters:
Bulls def. Pacers in 4: Too much D-Rose. Pacers really just don’t match up well at the point or down low.
Heat def. 76ers in 4: Should be a pretty easy series for the Heat, but it could cause problems later in the series. We’ll get to why later.
Celtics def. Knicks in 5: I thought the Knicks would win game 3. Then Ray Allen and Paul Pierce caught fire and made 14 three-pointers and proved me dead wrong. I’ll still take the Knickerbockers in game 4, just so I don’t have to change my predictions. But, I don’t believe they’ll win, not at all.
Hawks def. Magic in 6: I’m writing this after the Hawks won game 3 to go up 2-1, but you’ll just have to believe that I called this. Horford matches up well Howard because he can shoot the jumper. Howard has to drift away from the rim, or Horford will knock down the 15-footer every time. This leaves lanes for Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford, and Josh Smith. And I don’t know why fellow writer Rocco is so down on Kirk Hinrich. If you’ll recall, Hinrich’s the last white guy to make an All-Defensive team, so that’s gotta count for something, right? Right?
Eastern Conference Semifinals:
Bulls def. Hawks in 4: I like the Bulls. I really do. The Hawks are one of those teams that I always think is going to give the Celtics trouble, and they always do. But I just don’t see them taking a game off the Bulls. Joakim Noah will give Horford a ton of trouble with his length / quickness / stench. Deng can play his lockdown defense on either Johnson or Crawford, and Rose will run wild per usual.
Celtics def. Heat in 7: The Heat are good, better than I thought, and they’ll run through the 76ers. But that’s exactly what they’ll do: run. Against a young, athletic, offensive rebounding team like the 76ers, the Heat will do this. But in the second round against the older, get-back-on-defense Celtics, the Heat offense turns into the “sit-and-watch” LeBron or Wade show, similar to the Celtics end-of-quarter “clogged toilet” offense. Neither LeBron or Wade is good enough to beat the Celtics with that offense–they need to run. The Celtics have the experience and should have Shaq back. That should be enough.
Eastern Conference Finals:
Bulls def. Celtics in 7: Blasphemy, I know. These two teams match up well: elite point guards, advantage Bulls; two high-scoring guards (Ray and Pierce) versus an elite perimeter defender (Deng), advantage Celtics; Boozer vs. Garnett (advantage Celtics, Garnett’s length will stifle Boozer); Noah vs. the ghost of Shaq / Jermaine (advantage Bulls). Series really could go either way, and the Celtics are the experienced team. But I like Derrick Rose too much; Rondo won’t be able to guard him. As much as it kills me to say, I like the Bulls out of the East.
Western Conference Quarterfinals:
Grizzlies def. Spurs in 7: It’s amazing how being on a championship-caliber team can change a player. Look at Josh Childress. Guy’s never won a thing in his life. Tries Europe, fails. Back to the NBA, but have you heard a peep out of him? Couldn’t that just as easily have been Tony Allen? Great athlete, bad shooter, low basketball IQ. But Tony gets a few years with some hall-of-famers, learns his role, and now he’s the defensive stopper on the team that’ll beat the Spurs. Ginobili’s going to miss time, giving the Spurs very little perimeter scoring. If Duncan and Parker can carry, good for them, but I’ll take Conley, Randolph, Gasol, and Battier with the upset.
Lakers def. Hornets in 5: Kobe!
Mavericks def. Trailblazers in 6: Remember when everybody (myself included) took 13-seed Belmont to beat 4-seed Wisconsin? Same exact thing. The case for the Blazers is that they have four of the five best players in the series. But the Mavs have Dirk, and old Jason Kidd and clutch Jason Terry. Dirk’s boring, but he gets the job done.
Thunder def. Nuggets in 5: The Nuggets scare me, but I doubt they scare the Thunder. I’ll give the Nuggets one game while the Thunder get used to the Denver altitude. That’s all.
Western Conference Semifinals:
Thunder def. Grizzlies in 6: The Grizz ride the momentum of the upset to an upset in game two in OKC and a home win in game 4, but the Thunder are simply too good.
Lakers def. Mavericks in 6: Dirk vs. Kobe. It’s about time. Probably the two best scorers in the last decade and they’ve never played a playoff series against each other. I wish the Mavericks had a better team, although this series could go 7 if Gasol keeps playing poorly and Bynum’s knee falls off or Steve Blake infects the rest of the children. Unfortunately, none of those things will end up happening and the Lakers will win in 6.
Western Conference Finals:
Thunder def. Lakers in 7: That’s right. The changing of the guard. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka and sweet Kendrick Perkins. I’ll save my rant about the Thunder for, well, right now.
Thunder def. Bulls in 7: This really just works out well for the Thunder. Consider: Westbrook is probably the only point guard in the league that can match Rose’s athleticism and speed; Kevin Durant will be able to shoot over Deng; Ibaka will simply out-athlete Boozer time after time; Perkins will beast on Noah.
The Thunder are deep. Sefolosha starts, but Harden’s the 5th best player. They have Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed. They’ve got three backup scoring guards. Last year, the Celtics had the Finals won until Perkins got hurt. In game 7, the C’s just ran out of fouls. That won’t happen to OKC with four capable big men. The addition of Perkins (how, how did we give him up and only get Jeff Green and Krstic?) allows Ibaka to play a sort of free safety defense. They have two elite scorers. I don’t think you can say the Bulls do, and that will matter.
The Thunder were within one freak Ron Artest basket from taking down the Lakers last season. I think they do it this time. And I think they keep rolling right into the Finals. Derrick Rose will keep the Bulls alive. But the Thunder win in 7.