NBA Playoff Quick picks

In NBA on April 17, 2010 at 12:25 am

It’s playoff time in the NBA, with the first round match ups getting started this weekend. Here’s how it should go down:

Eastern Playoffs

No.1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs No.8 Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls just pipped Toronto’s Raptors to the last playoff spot in the East with a late season surge. Their reward? A meeting with King James and his Cleveland side, who finished the regular season with an NBA best 61-21 record.

The Bulls have some great talent, with Derrick Rose always dangerous and Luol Deng back from injury. Kirk Hinrich is also a tough player, with Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah hoovering up the majority of the boards for Chicago. They won’t have the scoring to keep up with LeBron and his supporting cast though, and will be doing well to even take a game from the Cavs

This one is all Cleveland. Expect James to dominate with Antawn Jamison, Shaquille O’Neal and the rest tuning up their games in preparation for the bigger challenges to come.

Cavaliers in 4

Key Man: LeBron James

No.2 Orlando Magic vs No.7 Charlotte Bobcats

Finalists last year, the Magic have continued to grow around the supremely talented Dwight Howard. They’ve got some great role players to fit around their dominant centre, with Vince Carter locating his scoring touch and Jameer Nelson dictating the tempo. Rashard Lewis adds to their already formidable outside threat, and they have some excellent backup with Matt Barnes, JJ Redick and Michael Pietrus all bringing different attributes to the table.

The question marks around the team concern the toughness of Carter and Lewis, and whether a long bombing outfit with little to offer inside but the still developing Howard can really go all the way.

Those questions are for another day though, and they should have enough to deal with the Bobcats. Charlotte have some real talent, but they’ve overachieved this season. Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace will be their main scoring threats, but they can be smothered and frustrated, especially over a 7 game series. Larry Hughes is a shadow of his former self, so if their two big guns falter, they will struggle badly. Tyrus Thomas could go off, as could Boris Diaw, while Raymond Felton will always chip away.

They’re not consistent enough to really trouble the big boys yet though, so chalk this year up to experience.

Magic in 5

Key Man: Dwight Howard

No.3 Atlanta Hawks vs No.6 Milwaukee Bucks

The Hawks have had a fantastic season so far, and it will probably continue into the playoffs after they battled their way past Boston and into the 3rd seed.

The 28 year old Joe Johnson seems like he’s been around for years, and he is still improving year on year. He and Josh Smith have formed a dynamic scoring partnership that will be too potent for Milwaukee to shut down. Mike Bibby will prompt the terrible twosome and snatch any extra shots, while Jamal Crawford will give the beleaguered Bucks no respite from the bench.

The underdogs will be without big man Andrew Bogut, and they’ll badly miss his inside presence. They’re left relying on a miracle, which is most likely to come in the shape of Brandon Jennings. The 20 year old point guard will need to shoulder the burden for his team, and along with John Salmons, they will be looked to for the majority of the points. What else? Hope against hope that Kurt Thomas and Jerry Stackhouse can turn back the clock and come up with some vintage performances, and the Hawks completely tank.

They need to play their absolute best though, and even then it would be close.

Hawks in 5

Key Man: Joe Johnson

No.4 Boston Celtics vs No.5 Miami Heat

This match-up is the best hope for an upset in the East. The Celtics have fallen away dramatically this year, with the holy trinity of Garnett, Pierce and Allen showing every one of their combined 99 years. Rasheed Wallace has not had the desired effect on the side either, picking up as many technicals as points some nights.

Rajon Rondo is still a shining light at the point though, and with Kendrick Perkins an ever improving presence in the centre they still have what it takes to beat anyone if the OAPs fire.

They could have done with avoiding Dwyane Wade in the 1st round though. Miami’s one man wrecking ball could make life miserable for those old legs in the Celtics side, and with some heavyweight back-up, this series could go all the way.

Quentin Richardson and Jermain O’Neal will need to step up to the plate for Miami to have a chance though, and that’s where the problem could lie. Udonis Haslem, Michael Beasley and the rest will do a solid job, but they can’t win if Richardson and O’Neal aren’t up to scratch at either end of the court.

Despite a typically breathtaking Wade effort, this could be where the Heat falter.

Celtics in 7

Key Man: Kevin Garnett

Western Conference

No.1 LA Lakers vs No.8 Oklahoma City Thunder

In just their 2nd season in the league, the Thunder have done remarkably well to reach the playoffs for the first time. They have done so thanks to one man: Kevin Durant. In just his 3rd season in the NBA, the ‘Durantula’ has averaged an incredible 30 points per game, nearly twice as many as their next highest scorer Russell Westbrook.

Were Durant and his young side to oust the champs in the first round, it would be arguably the biggest upset in years. Don’t worry about that though. With a team including Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, not to mention the playoff experience of Derek Fisher, the Lakers are far too deep and multi-faceted to allow an upset to happen. Durant and the Thunder are a coming force, but LA have been here for a while.

Lakers in 5

Key Man: Kobe Bryant

No.2 Dallas Mavericks vs No.7 San Antonio Spurs

In the congested West, just 7 games separated the Lakers and Thunder, and the Spurs finished with an identical record to the 8th seeded OKC boys.

Dallas will be cursing their luck though, because there’s a world of difference between those two teams, regardless of their records. The Spurs are seasoned veterans who have seen it all before, and have a bucketful of rings to show for it. Dallas actually beat the Spurs 4-1 at this stage last year, and 4-3 in the Conference semis back in ’06. That could just mean the Spurs are due though…

Realistically, the Mavericks should be too young and too quick for the ageing Spurs. Manu Ginobili is now the man in San Antonio, and he will get his no matter what. Tim Duncan has slowed considerably though, and the same can be said of Antonio McDyess. They will need Tony Parker at his best, and a real contribution from Richard Jefferson, who has been a bit of a disappointment this year.

The Mavericks have earned the 2nd spot in the West, and they’ve done it on the back of some quality play from their superstar Dirk Nowitzki and a renaissance for Jason Kidd. They also have size and toughness in the middle with Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood, while Shawn Marion, Jason Terry and Caron Butler provide ample back-up.

You can never write off a champion team like San Antonio. If they get a chance, they’ll take it. The Mavericks should be able to put them away though.

Dallas in 7

Key Man: Dirk Nowitzki

No.3 Phoenix Suns vs No.6 Portland Trailblazers

The Trailblazers have had an almost comical run of injury woe this year, with even coach Nate McMillan going down after stepping in for a practice drill.

They’re still missing some serious beef in the middle with Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden out, and Brandon Roy remains a doubt for this one. Marcus Camby is a quality replacement for the first two, but who will fill in for Roy?

Missing out on his 20+ points a game will put a huge strain on LaMarcus Aldridge, while Andre Miller is more of a facilitator than a shooter, despite his impressive numbers. Bench players like Nicolas Batum and Martell Webster will need to play out of their skin to pick up the slack.

This will play right into the hands of the high octane Suns, who will use the telepathic connection between Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire to outscore their banged up opponents. Without Roy, the Blazers will be unable to keep up.

Suns in 5

Key Man: Amare Stoudemire

No.4 Denver Nuggets vs No.5 Utah Jazz

Another really tricky one to predict, this series could be a classic.

The Jazz have been excellent this year, and have really developed a team bond. Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams are one of the most dynamic scoring partnerships in the league and the rest of the roster know exactly how to dovetail with them. They can use their well-oiled offensive machine to really get under the skin of the brittle Nuggets, and could easily force an upset.

Denver, on the other hand, have Carmelo Anthony. He is capable of shredding any defence and could win a couple of games single handed if he’s not kept under control. Chauncey Billups is the perfect foil for Anthony, and is one of the most clutch performers around. If those two play at their peak, then Denver will have the edge.

JR Smith and Kenyon Martin are also very useful players to have around, and could exploit the holes in Utah’s defence. Overall, the Nuggets may have just enough to squeeze into the 2nd round.

Nuggets in 7

Key Man: Carmelo Anthony


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