It’s no question; this year’s NBA Playoffs have been one of the most exciting post-season’s in recent memory. The parity in the league is evident, and perhaps we are finally seeing a changing of the guard with the younger, more athletic teams outplaying the more experienced, veteran squads… and we’re only one round deep.


            The top headline of the first round undoubtedly was the unforeseen emergence of the mighty Memphis Grizzlies. Who would’ve thought coming into round one that a team missing their premier shooter, and a combined playoff record of 0-12, would eliminate the top seeded San Antonio Spurs, a team which hasn’t missed the playoffs in 14 seasons, and are owners of 1/3rd of the NBA championships over the last 12 years?
            What was really astounding wasn’t the fact that the Grizzlies won, but it was the manner in which they did it. Memphis asked for them, and even tanked the last couple of games of the season to play against the Spurs. They must’ve known what they were talking about, as they completely dominated San Antonio. The Grizzlies completely exploited the older, undersized Spurs, dominating them with their young, fresh legs and strong interior frontline led by Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. San Antonio simply had no answer for the two big men in the paint, and was stifled by the Memphis defense throughout the series. Tim Duncan, perhaps the best power forward over the last decade, and one of the greatest of all-time, was reduced to a mere mortal, and played like a 35-year-old who is well past his primetime days of Spurs championship teams of the past.
Overpowered and overwhelmed by a hungrier, more athletic team in the Grizzlies, perhaps this may have been the final stand of this San Antonio dynasty, and maybe the end of an era of one of the most exciting and paramount trio’s in NBA history. For Memphis though, there next opponent, Oklahoma City, match up much better against them than the Spurs. If they play with the aggressiveness and heart they did against San Antonio though, that series might go the distance as well.


Sticking with the theme of first round upsets, the Atlanta Hawks played like a team with a chip on their shoulder against the Orlando Magic. It was only a year ago that this Hawks team fell victim to the most one-sided and embarrassing first round sweep in playoff history against the Magic. They made sure it wasn’t going to happen again this year.
Lead by Joe Johnson, who signed with Atlanta for $123 million this offseason, the Hawks came out right off the bat and took control of the series with an impressive victory in Game 1 on the road against Orlando. The game plan was simple, play Howard one-on-one and don’t allow the Magic’s perimeter shooters to get any easy shots. It worked to perfection. While Dwight Howard got his numbers, the Atlanta defense stayed home on their assignments and forced Orlando to take contested shots. Offensively, the stellar play from Jamal Crawford off the bench really propelled this team and created a matchup nightmare for anybody who tried covering him.
The Hawks new philosophy on defense, which first year head coach Larry Drew has instilled into this team, might have been the remedy this young, yet experienced Atlanta team needed in order to make people change their perception of them being a soft opponent in the playoffs. While they may have lost their best defender in the final game of the series in Kirk Hinrich, this team still has enough athleticism and talent to match up against the Chicago Bulls in the second round.


While the Grizzlies and Hawks stunned their opponents in the first round, the team with the best record in the NBA matched up against what was considered by many to be the weakest team coming into the playoffs in the Indiana Pacers. Led by the presumed MVP Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls were expected by many (myself included) to roll over the Pacers in a dominating fashion like they had done to most of their opponents the 2nd half of the season. The Pacers on the other hand, much like the Grizzlies, felt this was a matchup in which they had a good chance of winning.
Danny Granger said, “Chicago, they go as Derrick Rose goes. If you make a concerted effort to stop Derrick Rose, you have a better chance of beating them,” Well, that’s easier said than done.
To the Pacers credit, they did do a solid job in trapping Rose and forcing him into turnovers. They also took advantage of the Bulls undersized front court by attacking Chicago in the paint with their 7’2” center Roy Hibbert and the quicker and more athletic Tyler Hansbrough. The Pacers set the tone with being the tougher, more aggressive team, and could have easily won any of the first four games of the series. The difference was that guy again, Derrick Rose, who completely took over the games when it came down to crunch time. His stellar play and determination to win the game no matter what showed why he’s the MVP. Indiana had all the elements to beat the Bulls, except that one guy who could take over at the end of the game.
Although Indiana didn’t end up winning the series, they definitely showcased themselves to the rest of the NBA, and perhaps revealed the blueprint to beating Chicago. The Pacers have a very solid core of young players, and if they add another star to play alongside Danny Granger, this will be one of the top 5 teams in the East in the very near future.
Chicago will definitely have to step up their game in Round 2 if they expect to beat the Atlanta Hawks. Derrick Rose alone will not be enough to defeat a more experience opponent like Atlanta in a seven game series. Luol Deng and more importantly, Carlos Boozer will have to raise their game in order for Chicago to advance, especially if Rose’s ankle injury inhibits him in any way.


What was supposed to be the most exciting series in the Eastern Conference between the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks, turned out to be the most one-sided. The Celtics, probably the most scrutinized team coming into the playoffs, were expected to be in line for a long series against the high-potent offense Knicks, led by Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. The series definitely popped off looking as if this was going to be the case, with New York taking the Celtics down to the wire in the first two games of the series, losing by a combined margin of five points.
The turning point of the series in my opinion was the injury to Chauncey Billups, which caused him to miss the end of Game 1 and the rest of the series. Who knows how this series would’ve turned out if it was him taking the ball up court instead of Tony Douglas at the end of those first two games in Boston? Billups is known as “Mr. Big Shot” for a reason, and although Douglas did fill in admirably during his absence, that experience at the end of games cannot be taught.
The Celtics, as they’ve done for years found a way to finish off the games, which is what veteran leadership and poise do. Rajon Rondo’s elevated play and the clutch shooting from Ray Allen really sealed the deal for the Celtics. After taking control in two close games to start off the series, they did what you’re supposed to do in the playoffs, and kept their foot on the Knicks throat and didn’t let them get up or gain any confidence. The defending Eastern Conference champions may be older and dinged up, but one thing that’s certain is that they know how to win games. They will have to if they want to beat the “Big 3” and the Miami Heat who are on fire right now.


The Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers series turned out to be pretty much what everyone expected. While the Sixers put up a good fight against Miami, losing only one game by double digits, the Heat just had too much fire power for Philly to go up against.
Philadelphia’s lack of consistent offense was the biggest fault they had against the Heat. Miami’s defense against Andre Iguodala made him a non-factor on the offensive end, and forced the Sixers to turn to their other options for scoring. Their young guards had the most success against the Heat, using their speed and quickness to get passed Chalmers and Bibby to score, but the lack of consistency from game to game killed the Sixers. Anytime they would find any success on the offensive end, Miami would clamp down with their vaunted zone defense, which has become a trademark of this team.
Miami’s “Big 3” lived up to their name, especially the stellar play of Lebron James and Dwyane Wade. Both players attacked Philadelphia at will, and flirted with triple-doubles in nearly every game. Chris Bosh silenced critics about his “soft” play, hovering around 20 points and 9 rebounds per game.
My MVP for the series was Joel Anthony. With the absence of Udonis Haslem, Anthony has stepped up and brought that toughness and grit Miami seemed to be missing during parts of the regular season. He comes into every game and takes care of the dirty work, and for being an undersized center, he has played above and beyond expectations. Miami will need him to continue his blue-collar play against the Celtics for them to advance in the East. Boston will be no easy task, but the Heat most certainly has the talent and athleticism to defeat this older Boston squad.


The Denver Nuggets came into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams after the All-Star break, something that most people didn’t expect to happen after they traded away their franchise player Carmelo Anthony. Oklahoma was already one of the best teams in the West and only got better with the acquisition of Kendrick Perkins. The matchup was supposed to be one of the more exciting ones in round one, and I must admit, both teams lived up to expectations.
Although the Thunder won the series in only five games, with the exception of Game 2, the margin of victory was no more than 4 points for either team. The Nuggets used their quickness and perimeter shooting of Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari, and tried to muscle their way in the paint with Nene Hilario to attack Oklahoma. Although they found some success doing this, OKC contained one element which the Nuggets lacked, and that was a superstar finisher like Kevin Durant. Durant played lights out in the first round, averaging 32.4 ppg and two 41 point performances, including an amazing clutch performance in Game 5, bringing the Thunder back from a nine point deficit with less than four minutes to go. While his scoring at the end of the game was very Jordan-esque, it was his block on J.R. Smith’s 3-point attempt to tie the game which was the real clutch moment, and secured their first playoff series victory since the franchise was still in Seattle.
Many expect the Thunder to be the team with the best shot to dethrone the two-time defending champion Lakers in the West, but they will have to be on top of their game against the Memphis Grizzlies, a team whose confidence is through the roof after defeating the number one seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round.


           This was one of the first round match-ups in which I expected an upset to occur. The Portland Trailblazers entered the playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks playing at a very high level. Ever since the acquisition of Gerald Wallace, the Blazers defense and overall team game improved, and it added another player who can create his own offense, which was lacking ever since the injuries to Brandon Roy caused him to miss a big chunk of the season. Dallas on the other hand, they entered the first round with the burden of being known as a team with a history of crumbling under pressure. After being ousted from the post-season in Round 1 over the passed three years, they proved to everyone, at least thus far, that they are no longer that team anymore.
            Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd carried the load for Dallas early on in the series, securing the home court and beating the Blazers convincingly in the first two games. When the series shifted out to Portland, it seemed as if history would repeat itself once again, as the Blazers evened it up at two games, thanks in part to the reemergence of Brandon Roy.
Unfortunately for Portland, Nowitzki and the strong bench play from Jason Terry shut out any doubts over how they would handle it when adversity came. The Mavs offense behind these two was too much to overcome for Portland in a seven game series. The Blazers were plagued with injuries nearly the entire season, and the fact that their best player Brandon Roy was no where near 100%, it was a remarkable feat to play like they did over the course of the year and even extend their post-season against a quality team like Dallas to six games.
Nevertheless, the Dallas Mavericks showed that they are still one of the best teams in the NBA when they are on, and they will have to be against the Lakers if they want to have a chance next round.


Wrapping up the playoff recap for Round 1, the series between the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and the New Orleans Hornets was one that not only answered questions about both teams, but also raised some as well.
The Hornets opened up the series without their All-Star power forward David West, and it was presumed the series would be somewhat of a cakewalk for the Lakers, who came in with arguably the strongest front court in the league and the Mamba himself, Kobe Bryant. Many people seemed to forget that the Hornets still possessed who might be the best pure point guard in the league in Chris Paul. I’m guilty of this presumption; I didn’t believe Chris Paul would play to the level that he did, especially after being injured a good portion of the season and appearing like he had lost his burst and quickness.
It didn’t take long to prove the doubters wrong. CP3 came out in Game 1 and put up one of the greatest stat-lines in NBA playoff history, finishing with 33 points, 14 assists, 7 rebounds, 4 steals, while shooting 61% from the field. He carved up Derek Fisher and the Lakers, hitting every big shot, threading every pass perfectly and shocking everyone with a victory in the first game of the series in L.A. The Lakers quickly bounced back though, winning the next two games to take control of the series, taking advantage of their size and versatility with Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. The question if the Hornets had anybody to cover the Lakers frontcourt was answered, as L.A. dominated on the boards and in the paint. New Orleans tied up the series after another unforgettable performance from Paul, which he finished off with a triple-double. But, as they’ve done for years now, the Lakers came through when they needed to the most, and finished off the series in dominating fashion, winning by an average of 17 points in the final two games.
The Lakers will face a familiar foe in Round 2 against the Mavericks. This year might be more of a challenge for them though than years past, especially with the additions of Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood, who were brought in to compete against the size of L.A. Dirk Nowitzki will be a mismatch for anybody guarding him because of his perimeter shooting and ability to attack the basket as well. The Lakers on the other hand still have Kobe Bryant and an All-Star supporting cast behind him which has won the last two NBA championships. This should be a great series, as both teams have great veteran players, and an MVP on their respective sides.





Right off the bat, the Bulls and Pacers game started off with Indiana distinguishing itself as the aggressor. Darren Collison came out on fire in the first half, scoring fifteen points, and matching Derrick Rose on seemingly every basket. Roy Hibbert was having his way in the paint, and used his 7’2” frame to score easily over an undersized Noah. Indiana was the team playing with the defensive intensity we’ve grown accustomed to see from Chicago. With the exception of Rose, the Pacers completely stifled Chicago’s offense. Danny Granger came out and couldn’t miss a shot if he tried in the 3rd quarter. Tyler Hansbrough was abusing Carlos Boozer on offense, draining mid-range jumpers at will against him. It appeared as if Indiana had this game in the bag… not if Derrick Rose had anything to do with it.
 Indiana held a double digit lead with 3:30 left to go in the game, when the Bulls made their 4th quarter run. On the shoulders of Derrick Rose, the Bulls cut a ten point deficit down to one. The Bulls trailed the entire game, until a drive and kick from Derrick Rose out to Kyle Korver proved to be the game-winning three point shot.
You have to give credit to the Pacers, nobody expected them to come out and play as well as they did against the number one team in the East, especially on their home court. I think this game will prove to be a wake-up call for Chicago, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they win Game 2 by double digits.


The Sixers came out with the adrenaline pumping for Game 1 against Miami on Saturday. Philly played strong in the first half, jumping out ahead by as many ad 14 points. The Sixers played proficient defense, and it led to fast-break opportunities. Miami turned the Heat up in the 2nd quarter though, scoring 35 points and outscoring Philadelphia by 17. Lebron completely shut down Andre Iguodala on offense, holding him down to four points, although he did finish with 9 assists and 8 rebounds. It was the play of point guard Jrue Holiday and forward Thaddeus Young which propelled the Sixers back into the game. After a three pointer by James Jones, which gave Miami a 13 point lead, Philly made their run with 6:40 left in the 4th. Iguodala found an open Thaddeus Young on a backdoor cut underneath the basket to slice the lead down to one. That’s when Dwyane Wade decided to take over.
With a minute-and-a-half left, Wade sealed the game by drawing a foul and making leaning fade-away banker for the 3-point play. Miami dominated the boards after the 1st quarter, out-rebounding Philadelphia 52-39. They switched to a zone defense which slowed down the Sixers offense and forced them into a half court battle. The Heat got solid contributions from James and Bosh, who both finished with double-doubles, and scored over 20 points.
Game 2 should be another good one, with the Sixers gaining some confidence after their near comeback on Miami in the 4th quarter. I don’t expect Miami to come out as slow as they did in Game 1, and if Wade is able to play, I expect him to be more engaged in the offense early on. I think it will be a close one, but Miami will hold down home court and take Game 2.


Sunday’s playoff debut between the Celtics and Knicks lived up to all the hype. The game was tight throughout; with the Knicks making a run in the 2nd quarter and taking a 12 point lead into the half. Boston came out with their patented shut-down defense in the 3rd, holding the Knicks down to only 13 points in the quarter. Even with solid D from the Celtics, the Knicks controlled the lead for nearly the entire second half. That is, until Jesus Shuttlesworth emerged in the Garden. 
With 37 seconds left in the game, Tony Douglas, who was in the game for an injured Billups, hit a big 3-point shot to put the Knicks ahead by three. An inbound alley-oop from Rondo to KG cut the lead down to one. The next possession, a controversial offensive foul on Carmelo Anthony gave Boston the ball with 21 seconds left on the clock. The Celtics inbounded and Delonte West swung it over to Ray Allen, when he drained a 3-point dagger and gave Boston the lead. The Knicks were left with no timeouts, and were forced to take it the full length of the court with 11 seconds to go. Douglas takes it up the court and gets it to Carmelo, who forces up a contested three pointer and misses to end the game.
Although the Knicks didn’t end up with the victory, I think they exposed some major vulnerabilities in Boston. Amare Stoudemire was attacking the basket at will, and whether it was Garnett or O’Neal defending, he was too quick for them to keep him in front.
Going back to the iffy offensive foul call on Anthony, although it was in a crucial moment of the game, I don’t blame that as the reason why the Knicks lost. They were up by as many as 12 points, and held the lead nearly the entire game. The injury to Chauncey Billups couldn’t have come at a worst time either. While Douglas filled in admirably, and hit a big three late in the 4th, I think the experience from Billups might have given New York a better chance at the end.  Time management was also key on that last possession. Left with no timeouts, the Knicks had no choice but to take it up the entire length of the court without a set play, ending up in a bad shot my Carmelo.
You have to give credit to the Celtics, the reason they got Ray Allen was for situations like these. Jermaine O’Neal also played a solid game, ending up with 12 points and 4 blocked shots. They will need him to play a strong 20-25 minutes a game, especially with Shaq still unable to play.
I think the health of Billups will prove to be a major factor if the Knicks want to beat the Celtics, not only in Game 2, but in the series. His leadership and experience is second to none on New York, and in situations like the one they had at the end of Game 1, it might prove to be the difference between winning and losing. 


After last years shellacking from the Magic, Atlanta came into Game 1 of the playoffs with a more focused mindset. They didn’t look overwhelmed by this Magic team like they did a year ago in their previous playoff encounter.
Atlanta’s game plan was simple; don’t let Orlando beat you from the perimeter. They played Howard straight up, switching off between Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia, and Jason Collins. The Hawks knew they had nobody to match up to him, but resisting to double team Howard allowed their defense to cover the three ball, which Orlando has lived and died by all season. Howard played a dominant half, scoring a career-high 31 points through the first two quarters.
It was the well-balanced offense by Atlanta that really proved to be the reason they played so effectively. They finished off with five players in double figures, including a valiant performance off the bench from Jamal Crawford, who finished with 23. Although it’s not noted on the box score, Jason Collins and Zaza Pachulia played a key role in slowing down Howard in the 2nd half. Every time would get the ball in the paint, they made sure to foul him hard, and make him earn it at the line.
I had a feeling Atlanta would come out with something to prove, so I wasn’t really too surprised they won the opening game in Orlando. They did provide evidence in the regular season that they might have the blueprint to beat the Magic, winning three out of four meetings, holding the Magic to under 100 points in each one. If Atlanta can keep up that same aggressiveness on defense, and balance on offense, they should be successful in this series.
      With that being said, I see Stan Van Gundy making some adjustments for Game 2, and Orlando probably will take this one down. The Hawks did what they had to do though, and stole one on the road.




        It came down to the last game of the regular season, but the playoff picture is finally set. Victories by the Lakers and Dallas secured their position as the 2nd and 3rd seeds in the West. In the East, the Chicago Bulls clinched home court advantage throughout the entire playoffs and the best record in the NBA with a win over the Nets, coupled by a Spurs loss to Phoenix.

With that being said… let’s break down the 1st Round Matchups.


(1) Chicago Bulls vs. (8) Indiana Pacers:
          The Chicago Bulls have been a model of consistency all season long. Not only do they possess the best record in the NBA, but also have probably the best defense. They are set to face the Indiana Pacers, who although have a sub .500 record, have shown that they are no walkover with that core of young talent, led by Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, and Darren Collison. This team is capable of putting up points, and if they want to compete in this series, everyone will have to be on fire for the Pacers. Unfortunately for Indiana, they are outmatched in almost every aspect against the Bulls. Chicago is the more physical team, and Indiana has nobody to match up against Derrick Rose or the Bulls front-court. To top it off, Chicago is riding a nine game winning streak into the playoffs. Tom Thibodeau will have this team fired up, and I predict a sweep for the Bulls.

(2) Miami Heat vs. (7) Philadelphia 76ers:
          The Miami Heat have been the most scrutinized team in the NBA. After the “Big 3” took their talents to South Beach, no other team has had to deal with as much criticism over a win or loss as they have. The 76ers on the other hand, have flown under the radar nearly the entire year and have become one of the better surprises of the season. Led by Andre Iguodala and a healthy Elton Brand, they have turned into a well balanced team. While they have a solid mixture of good coaching (led by Doug Collins), young athletic players, and veteran leadership, they won’t be able to handle the trio of Lebron, Wade, and Bosh. Iguodala is known as a shut down defender, but even then he will probably be matched up against Lebron, leaving Jodie Meeks or Jrue Holiday to cover Wade. Bosh’s quickness and perimeter shooting will stretch out the offense and force Brand out of the paint which will take away Philly’s best rebounder.

           Miami has too much fire power for the 76ers to handle, and I see them maybe taking one down at home, with the Heat laying off a bit after taking control of the series.

(3) Boston Celtics vs. (6) New York Knicks:
          This series might be the most exciting one of all the East’s 1st Round matchups. As I mentioned in my previous post, Boston has basically limped its way into the playoffs. After a strong start to the season, their age has started to take its toll on them and have gotten a little beat up towards the latter end of the season. The Knicks on the other hand, finally have started to mesh and find a groove since the Carmelo Anthony trade. Finishing off the season winning seven out of their last ten games, the streaking Knicks go into the playoffs with confidence and may present a matchup problem for the Celtics. With no Kendrick Perkins to body up Amare Stoudemire, the Knicks can expose that weakness and attack the paint. Also, D’Antoni’s run and gun offense against an older, slower Boston team could wear them down and soften up that defense.

          While the Knicks have enough fire power behind Amare, Melo and a surplus of three point shooters to outscore Boston, I don’t think it will be enough to take down the defending Eastern Conference champions. Let’s not forget, Boston still has their main core of guys healthy, in Rondo, KG, Allen, and Pierce, which have proven that they turn it up a gear when playoff time comes. The key to this series will be if Rondo can get back to that elite level he has shown the last couple of seasons. With all that veteran leadership and experience, and the anemic New York defense, I see the Celtics taking down the Knicks in six. New York might be able to pull out a couple of wins at home with their streak shooting, but it won’t be enough against the veteran Celtics squad.

(4) Orlando Magic vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks:
          Out of all the series in the East, this might be the most evenly matched one. Atlanta got the best of Orlando in the regular season, winning three out of four. Larry Drew has instilled a more defensive mentality to this team, and they match up well against Orlando. The acquisition of Kirk Hinrich may play a key role if the Hawks want to pull out this series. Shutting down Jameer Nelson will be vital, and the whole reason Atlanta traded for Hinrich is because he is known as a defensive specialist. The Hawks no question possess the more talented, athletic team with Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford in their lineup. Orlando on the other hand, they own the best player on the floor; Superman himself, Dwight Howard. Atlanta has no one who can play Howard straight up, and if they decide to double team him, Orlando’s perimeter shooting will be tough to guard against.

          Atlanta will be playing with something to prove after last seasons embarrassing first round sweep. I think if the Hawks can somehow find a way to contain Howard, and utilize their offensive weapons effectively, they have a chance to make this series go the distance. Don’t forget, in the three victories against Orlando, Atlanta held them down to an average of 79 points per game. I’m going to make a bold prediction and say Atlanta will seek their revenge against the Magic with a chip on their shoulder after last years embarrassing display.

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Memphis Grizzlies:
          The Spurs came out this season looking rejuvenated and fresh. Led by great coaching and veteran leadership, San Antonio steadily picked apart the Western Conference with that same championship core of Duncan, Parker and Ginobli. Their role players such as Richard Jefferson and George Hill have also been solid throughout, and add another dimension offensively which Spurs teams of the past lacked. The Memphis Grizzlies have been one of the more underrated teams this year, heading to the playoffs for the first time since the 05-06 season.

          Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, they lost their best player, Rudy Gay for the remainder of the year. Even with out Gay, Memphis has put their offensive load on the back of Zach Randolph and O.J. Mayo. Randolph has been almost unguardable at times, and if Memphis wants a shot to beat the Spurs, he will have to be. The Grizzlies will have to take advantage of their size over San Antonio, with both Gasol and Randolph being interior scoring threats. Even with their young talent, the absence of Rudy Gay eliminates their most consistent shooter, and I feel will be too much to overcome against San Antonio. I don’t see this series going more than five games, even if Ginobli misses any time.

(2) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets:
          The two-time defending champs, much like the Miami Heat, have been scrutinized every time they won or lost a game this season. While the Lakers didn’t end the year on a good note, losing five out of their last six, they still ended up with the 2nd seed in the West. Kobe Bryant is still one of the top five players in the world, and the Lakers are too deep for New Orleans to match up against. The absence of David West takes away the Hornets second best scoring option, and one of their best defenders/rebounders. Chris Paul has simply not been the same since his injury, and is missing that quickness and burst he once had.

          The size of L.A. will dominate New Orleans inside, and make it that much easier for Kobe Bryant to score at will. Even if Bynum ends up missing any time, I still see the Lakers taking this one in no more than five games.

(3) Dallas Mavericks vs. (6) Portland Trailblazers:
          The Mavericks and Blazers series is another one I deem poised for an upset. While the Mavs have the big name superstar in Dirk, and Hall of Fame point guard with Jason Kidd, they have shown this season that when it comes to big games, they tend to crumble when the pressure is on. Portland has had to deal with a plethora of injuries all season long. They lost Greg Oden before the year even began, with Marcus Camby and Brandon Roy hurt most of the year also. Nevertheless, Portland has filled those voids with the All-Star caliber play of LaMarcus Aldridge, and the veteran leadership of Andre Miller. Acquiring Gerald Wallace was probably the biggest reason why they are playing at such a high level right now. Wallace brings another dimension to Portland, giving them a tenacious defender as well as someone who could stretch the floor with his perimeter shooting, and create his own shot whenever needed. I think Brandon Roy will emerge as the key to Portland defeating Dallas in the first round. Although he is no longer in the starting lineup, the guy has always been a winner, and I feel he will play more like his old self once the playoff intensity kicks in.

          Dallas on paper has the better team, but they have been knocked out of the playoffs the last three years in the first round. I think history will repeat itself once again, and I see the Trailblazers taking out the Mavs in seven.

(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Denver Nuggets:                   
          The Oklahoma City Thunder seem to be the most feared team in the Western Conference right now. With the All-Star combination of point guard Russell Westbrook, and the scoring champion Kevin Durant, its no surprise why this is the case. The addition of Kendrick Perkins and emergence of Serge Ibaka have solidified the Thunders front-court significantly on defense. James Harden coming off the bench as the sixth man has given the second unit a big advantage against their opponents, averaging nearly 16ppg and around 30 minutes per game since the departure of Jeff Green.

          The Denver Nuggets have had a terrific and eventful season as well. While the trade of Carmelo Anthony would seem to have derailed this team, it actually strengthened it. The additions of Galinari, Felton and Wilson Chandler were just what George Karl needed. Ironically, the Nuggets lead the NBA in scoring even without the Melo, and have added great depth and balance with their new additions. This should be an exciting, high scoring series. I have to give the edge to OKC, only because they have the two best players on the court. Denver has nobody to stop Durant or Westbrook, and the presence of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka down low will slow down the Denver front court of Martin and Nene.

          Denver’s season has been impressive to say the least, unfortunately for them they have to face probably the best overall team in the West, with the exception of perhaps the Lakers. I’ll take the Thunder in six games.


Turn Up the HEAT!

 After Monday nights games, the Eastern Conference playoff race is locked up after the Heat defeated the Atlanta Hawks, coupled by a loss from the Boston Celtics to the Washington Wizards which secured the Heat the No.2 spot in the East. The Knicks clinched the 6th spot and will face a Celtics squad who seems to be limping its way into the playoffs, while the Sixers will face a red hot Miami squad at the 7th spot.

The 2nd seed was basically locked up after Sunday’s matchup between the two eastern powers, when the Miami Heat finally achieved their first victory of the season against the Celtics. It couldn’t have come at a better time with the Playoffs less than a week away. More importantly, the victory ensured the Heat home court advantage in the second round, should these two face each other again.

Sunday’s game might have given us a glimpse into the future, as it showed us what this Miami Heat team playing its best all-around ball is capable of. With the exception of the first few minutes of the 1st quarter, when Boston jumped out to a nine point lead, the Heat controlled nearly the entire game after that. The Heat’s identity seemed to finally have come out, completely dominating the game with stifling defense and explosive offense. The Celtics on the other hand, seemed to be a step behind, in some cases two or three steps back. The stats that really caught my attention were the rebounding and second chance opportunities. The Celtics were outrebounded 42 to 16, while 15 of those came on the offensive end, which led to Miami getting 18 second chance points. The Heat were scoring at will in the paint, scoring a total of scoring 44 points in the interior. Miami’s bench also played a key role and outscored Boston’s bench by 20 points. The Heat had a total of 11 players on the scoreboard, and played with the playoff intensity necessary at this time of the year.

 It has become obvious that the absence of Kendrick Perkins in the middle for Boston has become a significant flaw, as they have suffered without his toughness and defensive tenacity which was once the trademark of this team. The Celtics have gone 10-9 in their last 19 games, which is somewhat reminiscent of what they did last season when they staggered into the playoffs and fell one game short of winning yet another title. The difference this season appears to be that their age and injuries seem to be taking their toll, and the Eastern conference has strengthened considerably with the emergence of the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat. With that being said, I still don’t count the Celtics out completely. They still have four of their five starters from their championship team, including their Big 3 in Allen, Pierce and Garnett posting some of the best numbers of their careers since their prime. Let’s not forget that they’re still the defending Eastern Conference champs, and have amassed 55 victories with a 3rd place finish in the East.

With the Sixers now set to face the Heat, I have a feeling this series won’t be as easy as people tend to believe. Although the Sixers have yet to win a game this season against Miami, they have a much improved defense under Doug Collins, and their offense is capable of putting up points, led by Andre Iguodala and a rejuvenated Elton Brand. I think the key to this series if Philadelphia wants to have a shot is to exploit Miami’s lack of size by attacking the paint. Elton Brand is a matchup problem no matter who he is facing, whether that’s Bosh or whoever Miami decides to put at center. Also to the Sixers advantage is Miami’s lack of depth at the bench. I believe the point guard position led by Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams will have to play a vital role for the Sixers. Both players are streak shooters and very quick. If they can exploit this matchup and maybe steal one in Miami, you never know what could happen.

Personally, I just don’t see the Sixers taking down the Heat in a best of seven, especially while controlling home court advantage. The trio of Lebron, Wade and Bosh will prove to be too much for their undersized guards to handle, and I believe the series will end in six at most.

The Celtics and Knicks first round matchup has the makings of an upset written all over it. The Knicks are riding a seven game win streak with two games left on schedule, while the Boston Celtics have been struggling over the last month or so, basically playing .500 ball since the All-Star break. The Knicks can put up points quickly, and are riding the momentum into the playoffs. The matchup at the center is definitely one that the Knicks have to take advantage of if they want to take control of this series. No one for the Celtics can shut down STAT one on one; if they can control the paint and force Boston to double team Amare, the Knicks perimeter shooting led by Carmelo Anthony could be a major factor in this series. With that being said though, the lack of defense for NY is what I believe will ultimately be their downfall in the 1st round. Boston still has championship quality players on their team, and as they showed last year, the intensity in the playoffs may be too much for this young Knicks team to handle against the defending Eastern Conference champs.

Catch me on my next post when I will break down the rest of the playoff matchups, and also the race for 2nd place in the West!