NBA Playoff Picks & Playoff Picture analysis

It's once again that time of year when NBA Playoff fever descends over North America and the wider balling community. I should point out that a few of these fixtures could potentially change depending on the results of the final 3 games for each team this is a preliminary picture of the match ups as it stands.  Before the anticipation overwhelms this bloggers innate logic, here are my pics of how everything will play out:


[1MIAMI HEAT [6216]     VS     [8MILWAUKEE BUCKS [3741]       
As you might expect with the clash of the team with the best record in the NBA against the below .500 Bucks, this one is anything but difficult to call. Heat are 3-1 in the regular season against the 8th seed. Surprisingly however, Heat's 1 loss in this series back in December was one of their biggest defeats of the season finding themselves 19 points shy of the Bucks  85104. Despite Wade and Lebron posting a combined 50 points, Bucks aggressive rebounding style (ranked 5th in the league compared to Miami's 30th) proved to match-up badly with the relatively height-challenged Miami. Don't read TOO much into this sizable defeat and don't expect Miami to find this series arduous. I anticipate a 40 white-wash. This isn't to demean the Bucks. The duo of Jennings and Ellis can be a dynamic and explosive threat to any team in the NBA. The first time Monta Ellis caught my eye was when he dropped 48 against a full-strength OKC...  


[2NEW YORK KNICKS [5127]     VS     [7] BOSTON CELTICS [4038]       
The 2012/13 season has been a year of heartbreak for the Celtics and triumph for the Knicks. Both teams find themselves in markedly differing circumstances to last year's playoffs where Boston finished 4th while Knicks languished in 7th. Knicks have turned it around this season —  indeed don't even discount them from an outside chance of getting rings as they are 6-2 against the Heat, Thunder and Spurs (the three teams with win percentages better than .700) and have won the Atlantic Division title for the first time in 18 years. On the flip-side, Celtics have been flat and disappointing — reflected in their 1-3 regular season record against the Knicks. The key to their having any chance against the rampant Knicks will be the performance of Rajan Rondo who, when on his game, is among the best PGs in the NBA and can fully dictate the pace of the game. Causing many an anxious sigh in Boston will be the recent run of form from Carmelo Anthony for the Knicks. Melo is the first Knicks player with 5 straight 35-pt games since Bernard King in the 1984-85 season and has consequently overtaken Kevin Durant for the coveted scoring title. I don't like to entirely rule out the championship experience of Boston so must cede that they are capable of winning a couple of games in the Garden. I predict this one to last 6 games.


[3] INDIANA PACERS [4929]     VS     [6ATLANTA HAWKS [4336]   
What happens when the immovable object meets a somewhat resistible force? You'll get a low scoring, grind of a series – this is what I foretell to be the story here. In the regular season these teams are 2-2 so in theory either team could progress to the semis. However in practice I feel like the Pacer's intricate defensive routines will make the difference and they will come away with a 42 win. The focus of Indiana on its Bigs has led to the physical, old school style of defense which has won them the desirable status of the NBA's #1 rebounding team. This combined with the fact that they give up the second fewest points in the league (90.2) (bettered only by the Grizzlies) means Indiana may indeed be equated with the immovable object of the old adage. While Atlanta can often be a tad unreliable, their trump card may be their shoot-from-deep-first-ask-questions-later approach in the vein of San Antonio. As a team shooting 38% from deep for the season, this style could match up well against the Pacers, nullifying their superiority in terms of strength and stature. 


[4] BROOKLYN NETS [4632]     VS     [5] CHICAGO BULLS [4335]     
The general trend with 4th vs 5th fixtures is the promise of a close-fought battle where either team could potentially advance. However, despite their inferior record I have to give the edge to the Bulls. No – I am not one of these fanatics who thinks that the miraculous return of Derrick Rose is what Chicago needs to survive till the later playoff stages. I can't see Rose returning this season and regardless of this, to say that the Bulls need this ace in the hole to overcome the Nets is to detract from the stellar roster of players who will - unless disaster strikes - definitely be match-fit. Alongside the Pacers I feel that Chicago's defense is the best in the East with Noah and Boozer battling for every rebound like a starved 7-foot hobo fighting for a portion of fries. This defensive duo seem capable of neutralizing the Net's main scoring threat All-Star Center Brook Lopez (avg 19.8 points per games) who against other opponents uses his size advantage and honed post-moves to devastating effect. This solid defense is reflected in Chicago's winning 3/4 of their regular season games, all very low scoring, hard fought affairs. I think that despite their worse record, Chicago will have little trouble with the Nets who - after disappointing seasons in recent memory - may be out of their comfort zone facing playoff pressure. 



[1OKC THUNDER [5821]     VS     [8LA LAKERS [4237] [OR Utah Jazz] 
Before discussing this very juicy fixture it is important to note that this match-up is the most likely to change with the last few regular-season games. OKC could yet yield their #1 spot in the west to the Spurs and Lakers are locked in a dogfight with Utah to scrape into the playoffs. Had someone told you 9 months ago that the Lakers - who had been billed as the team capable of dethroning Heat - would be fighting for a #8 spot in the West most would look at you in disbelief. Indeed they will have to close out the remaining 3 games at their best if they even qualify for the playoffs as they have difficult fixtures against Golden State, San Antonio and Houston (all +.500 playoff teams) while 2 of Utah's final 3 games are against the relatively soft Timberwolves. I would personally favor the OKC vs LA game as watching the NBA's highest scoring duo Durant and Westbrook go up against the Kobe-led Lakers would be a spell-binding affair. The contribution of new addition Dwight Howard will be crucial to how the Lakers cope against the uber-talented Lakers. The times this season when we've seen Howard perform to his potential he has got 20+ rebound games and put up big points. If he clicks with the rest of the team during the playoffs LA could perform the hitherto unheard of #1 vs #8 upset. However, I do not feel this is going to be the case. We saw in last season's playoffs that OKC's rapid offence and transition baskets proved a mismatch for Laker's preference of half court basketball. That series went for 5 games and I can't see this year being much different. The addition of Dwight Howard has not had the impact everyone expected from the man formerly ranked 2nd best in the NBA and the Lakers are certainly no better than last season.


[2SAN ANTONIO SPURS [5721]     VS     [7HOUSTON ROCKETS [4434]
The return of Tony Parker tonight will be welcome news to Spurs fans as it gives him enough time to heat up again before the playoffs. Perhaps the NBA's best traditional-style assisting PG, Tony Parker has played only 63 games this season due to a recurring ankle injury — this however has not prevented the Spur's ascendancy in the West with their long list of solid players like Splitter, Ginobili and Duncan performing consistently. San Antonio are just one of those teams where everybody knows their given role and the egos are left in the locker room. The Rockets on the other hand have put on some great displays this season with James Harden seemingly bringing the Thunder's rapid offensive style with him to Houston. Indeed scoring an average of 106 per game, the Rockets hold the coveted record of being the NBA's highest scoring team. However, in spite of their giant scoring capabilities, every time they have met in the regular season San Antonio has been able to match them with an equally high score — they have won 114-92, 134-126 and 116-122 in their 3 most recent games. The only Houston win of the season was a close 1 point snatch of a victory. I think the well rounded nature of the Spurs will overwhelm the inexperienced Rockets and this one will only go on for 4 games.


[3DENVER NUGGETS [5424]     VS     [6GOLDEN STATE [4534]
On paper looking at the regular season record of 3-1 favoring the Nuggets, this should in theory be a relatively straight forward fixture for Denver. However, the Warriors have proven to be a thorn in the side of some of the NBA's top teams and I believe they have the ability to be a real obstacle to the in-form Nuggets. In Steph Curry they have one of the fastest scoring PGs in the league with laser-accuracy from deep. Similarly, All-Star PF David Lee can post big points and lap up rebounds like a cat with a bowl of cream. In contrast to the Warriors great talent in certain positions, Nuggets have a wide spread of almost-All-Star players like Iguodala, Lawson and Faried who have been proven to be formidable when playing in the same jerseys. While not having any top-tier players, the talent Nuggets have amassed has made them a dark horse pick to win the Championship among Basketball pundits (ODDS @ 20/1). Indeed the Nuggets have shown on more than one occasion this season that they are able to topple over the giants of the West like OKC and SA. Both teams play good defense being ranked 2nd (Den) and 3rd (GS) in the league in rebounding. As a result of this clash of rebounders  I Expect this one to get heated and scrappy. I can't say this one will be a walkover for the Nuggets and feel it will go on for at least 6 games. 


[4LA CLIPPERS [5226]     VS     [6MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES [5325]
The Clippers vs Grizzlies series of last season's playoffs was by far my favorite contest; even more so than the finals. The enthralling opening game where the Clippers managed to rally from a 27 point deficit on the road set the trend for a back-and-forth series which either team could of taken. In the end Clippers proved to be the sharper team and progressed to the semis, only to be obliterated in 4 games by Spurs. Both teams have shown this season to be capable of top notch basketball and play hard defense alongside exciting offence. Both teams have boast All-Star players and both teams play hard. Unfortunately however, I can't see this series being quite as close as last year for 3 crucial reason:
A) Clippers are a far more dynamic team than before with Blake Griffin's game being far more rounded and the addition of solid scorer Jamal Crawford from Portland 
B) Grizzlies' decent regular season record is in some ways deceptive — for the first 30 or so games they were smoking hot and have gradually cooled down. It is always better to start cold and heat up... 
C) Although he may not be an All-Star quality player, I feel the loss of SF Rudy Gay to Toronto will not aid Memphis. I have long had a soft spot for him and believe his 18PPG average would have been an essential factor in the Grizz advancing in the playoffs. 
I anticipate that the Clippers will drop a couple of games to Memphis but will win the overall series in more convincing fashion than last year.




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