First-round NBA Playoff predictions feature no upsets

And then there were 16. The 2012 NBA Playoffs, after the shortened regular season which seemed to dash to the finish line, are now here. Since each team needs 16 wins to receive an NBA title, the playoffs feel like a whole new season. The long journey to the precipice of the best league in the world began last Saturday. But let’s talk first-round predictions. I’m sorry to inform you, but I don’t see any upsets happening in the first round.

Eastern Conference:

No. 1 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 8 Philadelphia 76ers

This may be the hardest match-up to predict. Since the Bulls’ point guard Derrick Rose tore his left ACL with just 1:10 left in the first victory over the 76ers, this first-seed vs. eighth-seed battle could be closer than initially thought. However, the Bulls have played with Rose injured throughout the season, going 17–9 with the reigning MVP on the pine. The 76ers, who got off to a hot start and on pace to win the Atlantic Division in the East, limped to the finish line and fell to the eighth seed. The team is led by shooting guard Andre Iguodala and has explosive play off the bench from point guard Lou Williams and small forward Thaddeus Young. This is a must-watch series that will go deep, but I give the Bulls the advantage: Bulls in seven.

No. 4 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Atlanta Hawks

The Celtics looked like an ancient artifact from when they won the championship in 2008. But the team played stellar basketball post All-Star Game, with shooting guard Ray Allen coming off the bench, although head coach Doc Rivers says he is 50/50 for the start of the playoffs. The Hawks come into the playoffs with the same team it has taken to the playoffs the last four years, led by small forward Joe Johnson and power forward Josh Smith. Well, the same except for All-Star center Al Horford. However, the Hawks have a knack for losing to experienced teams in the playoffs: Celtics in seven.

No. 3 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 6 Orlando Magic

The Pacers are my dark horse team to win the East. It is the deepest team in the conference, with six players averaging double figures in points and eight players averaging more than nine points per game. With the Magic’s center Dwight Howard out with a back injury, Pacers center Roy Hibbert may be the best center in the Eastern Conference. He has led the Pacers’ rebound to fourth in the league. Head coach Frank Vogel has made a great case for Coach of the Year and has his team in great shape heading into the first round. The Magic is heavily dependent on the defense Howard brings to the table. Without him, I don’t think the Magic can do much damage: Pacers in five.

No. 2 Miami Heat vs. No. 7 New York Knicks

If the first game was any indication, the Heat should handle this series. Most expect the Heat to dominate this entire conference, as it is without Rose and Howard. But the matchup between Heat’s small forward Lebron James and Knicks’ small forward Carmelo Anthony is intriguing. Fantasy nerds will relish this: The first playoff matchup between these two superstars of the 2003 draft class. Forget about all the other superstars in this series, it is all about James and Anthony going head-to-head. But in the end, this series won’t be close and the Heat will dominate just as people expect: Heat in five.

Western Conference:

No. 1 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 8 Utah Jazz

Although the Jazz is reputable for the scrappy, tough, and sometimes overly-aggressive play typical of playoff-style basketball, this series will be all Spurs. The Spurs, who typically wear other teams down with its defense, have made it to the top of the Western Conference with its offense, led by point guard Tony Parker. Despite losing in last year’s first round to the eighth-seed Memphis Grizzlies, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich won’t let that happen again. Spurs power forward Tim Duncan will go for his fifth title, and the Jazz will have no answer for this team: Spurs in four.

No. 4 Memphis Grizzlies vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Clippers

It is no surprise that the fourth-seed vs. fifth-seed match-up is the most compelling. The Clippers were the center of media attention when the team brought in All-Star point guard Chris Paul; the Clippers claimed the nickname “Lob City” from Paul’s exceptional passing combined with power forward Blake Griffin’s insane hops. When guard Chauncey Billups went down with an Achilles tear on Feb. 8, the Clippers seemed to be struggling. But if Griffin can learn to play through the hard fouls he seems to always attract, the team can win this series. However, I like the Grizzlies in this series. The Grizzlies are the Pacers of the Western Conference, as they also have six players averaging double-digit points per game. Led by Rudy Gay, I think the depth of the Grizzlies will be too much for the Clippers’ mediocre defense: Grizzlies in seven.

No. 3 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 6 Denver Nuggets

Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant begins his journey alongside power forward Pau Gasol in search of his sixth NBA Championship. After another great season by Bryant, the Lakers look poised to make a deep run in the playoffs. Bryant is well rested, sitting out eight of the Lakers’ last 10 games, which will be key to winning a playoff series. Additionally, taking advantage of the size and skill Gasol and center Andrew Bynum bring to the table will almost certainly secure a first round series win. But sometimes the Lakers shy away from that game plan, and the Nuggets can do some serious damage with their run-and-gun style. The Nuggets led the NBA in scoring, averaging 104.1 points per game. The team’s speed and depth could cause the older and slower Lakers a lot of trouble. However, on the back of Bryant, I don’t see the experienced Lakers falling in the first round: Lakers in six.

No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks

The reigning three-time scoring champion small forward Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook may be the best perimeter player combination in the Western Conference. But after last year’s playoffs, I cannot immediately count out power forward Dirk Nowitzki’s Mavericks. His ability to catch fire and rain threes is a serious concern for the Thunder, which doesn’t have a matchup for him. But the Mavericks can’t match up with Westbrook at point guard. This series will be close, and even though the Mavericks are superior decision makers in the fourth quarter, the reigning champs will be out in round one: Thunder in six.