Indiana Pacers vs. Atlanta Hawks
The Pacers were the most impressive team in the East for over six months, but over the last few weeks they look as if they forgot how to play together. They finished the season 6-9 in their last 15 games, including a 19-pont home court loss to Atlanta.
As an eight-seed, the Atlanta Hawks are not a team to overlook. They have suffered from injuries the majority of the season and are now much healthier despite the absence of Al Horford. Led by Jeff Teague, the Hawks look to continue playing with their newfound chemistry as they won seven of their last ten games to secure a playoff spot.
Prediction: Pacers in 6.
Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats
LeBron James isn’t satisfied with two championship rings, and is on a mission to get his third in three years. The Bobcats should be nothing but a speed bump for him, as he averaged over 37 points in their four regular season meetings. James, Bosh, and a well-rested Dwyane Wade will be too much for the young talent of Charlotte.
To have a chance to win any games in this series, the Bobcats need to play their best basketball. Kemba Walker is their best offensive threat and must rely on his quickness and playmaking abilities to pose problems for the Heat backcourt. The Bobcats franchise has yet to win an NBA Championship, and this won’t be the year they do.
Prediction: Heat in 4.
Toronto Raptors vs. Brooklyn Nets
The Toronto Raptors have been one of the more surprising stories in the NBA this season. They finished with the third best record in the conference, and look to make a run at their first franchise championship. After not making the playoffs a year ago, guards Terrence Ross and Demar DeRozan will each make their playoff debut.
The Nets enter the postseaon with the most combined playoff experience, With veterans like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on the roster, the Nets team has played in a combined 399 postseason games entering this series. They have been one of the hottest teams in 2014, finishing the season 34-17 and look to continue that in the playoffs.
Prediction: Nets in 7.
Chicago Bulls vs. Washington Wizards
Tom Thibodeau has coached his Bulls team to arguably the finest defensive team in the league. Despite battling injuries, including the loss of superstar Derrick Rose, defense has been key to their success. They will have the inside advantage over the Wizards, as Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson will dominate the paint.
The Wizards backcourt is as quick as it gets, with John Wall and Bradley Beal running the floor. They will be the biggest problem for the Bulls veteran backcourt, as Heinrich will try to keep up with the pace of Wall. The Wizards won the regular season series 2-1, but Chicago fans know that playoffs presents an entirely different atmosphere.
Prediction: Bulls in 6.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Dallas Mavericks
With the best record in the NBA, the Spurs still don’t get credited with the respect they deserve. Their roster doesn’t consist of highflying superstars, and their games aren’t a dunkfest. However, they play fundamentally sound basketball, and their chemistry makes them an offensive juggernaut. After coming within less than a minute of an NBA title last postseason, the Spurs have some unfinished business to take care of, starting with the Mavs.
Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis have no problem putting points on the board for the Mavs. However, they rank 20th in the league for opponents points per game. Against a disciplined Spurs offense, this will be a problem. If the Mavs want to steal even one game in this series, it will have to be a result of their defense.
Prediction: Spurs in 4.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Memphis Grizzlies
Oklahoma City is just to quick and athletic for the Grizzlies. It will be tough to match-up with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Not to mention they are a great defensive team as well, with Serge Ibaka plugging up the middle. OKC is hungry for a ring, and they have the tools to get there.
The only chance the Grizzlies have against the Thunder is by being physically tougher. Zack Randolph and Marc Gasol are going to need to out-muscle the Thunder, and slow the pace of the game. Tony Allen will have the task of defending Durant, who is a likely favorite for this years MVP race.
Prediction: Thunder in 5.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors
Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Clippers are ready to show that the Clippers can win in the playoffs. Not only that, but that they are a serious contender to make a run to the Finals. DeAndre Jordan looks to have a big series both rebounding and shot-blocking with the Warriors absence of center Andrew Bogut. This will also allow offensive rebounding opportunities for Blake Griffin, giving him second-chance buckets.
Stephen Curry and Clay Thompson are the best perimeter shooting duel in all of basketball. They know how to score, and they do it in bunches. They will need to have a good shooting night every game against a dangerous Clippers team. Andre Igoudala will also need to step up on the boards with the absence of Bogut, who will be replaced by veteran Jermaine O’neal.
Prediction: Clippers in 7.
Houston Rockets vs. Portland Trail Blazers
This series will be the best of the Western Conference first-round. The Rockets have a great inside-out game with Dwight Howard in the middle, James Harden and Chandler Parsons on the outside. However, Howard has looked banged up towards the end of the season, which can be costly against the best rebounding team in the NBA.
The Blazers also have a great balance with LaMarcus Aldrige at forward, and Damian Lillard directing traffic. Both teams are among the top three in three-point attempts, so expect to see a shootout. This series should go the distance at seven games, and the team with better leadership will come out on top.
Prediction: Trail Blazers in 7.