After a very entertaining NBA regular season and an NCAA tourney that lacked a lot of scoring and skill, it is now time to watch basketball played at the highest competitive level. Here are my thoughts on the first round matchups.
Chicago vs. Indiana
Besides talent, Indiana will probably be outmatched here on intensity as well. Chicago's interior length will make it difficult for Hansbrough and Hibbert inside, and Indiana does not play enough defense to stop Chicago. However, Indiana can rush the tempo and have the ability to just put up a bunch of points and run away with one, so I predict that Indiana will not get swept in this one.
Prediction: Chicago in 5
Miami vs. Philadelphia
This is a very favorable matchup for Miami. Philadelphia does not have the strong inside scorer that can take advantage of Miami's depleted interior. While Iguodala is a terrific defender, he can only guard one guy at a time, and Philadelphia just has no answer for Miami's big 3. Philadelphia landed in this spot by dropping 5 of their last 6 despite being favored in 5 of those games. If Miami starts out with two big wins, I don't know how the 76ers will find any motivation.
Prediction: Miami in 4
Boston vs. New York
In my opinion this is the closest matchup of all the Eastern Conference first round series. Now that the Celtics don't have Perkins, the Knicks have a chance if they run the offense through Amare with pick and rolls or the high post and Carmelo hits the boards on the weak side. If the Knicks stall on offense by running it through the black hole that is Carmelo, Boston's team defense will swallow them up. I think another interesting matchup will be the point guard play. I think the best thing for the Knicks is to play Fields on Rondo to negate his length, and then put Billups back on him late as he can play off Rondo who is still afraid to either take the jumper or go to the foul line late. I expect home court to be a major factor here, and that experience and chemistry will give Boston a narrow victory at the end.
Prediction: Boston in 7
Orlando vs. Atlanta
I feel that this series is the most likely to be a sweep despite it being a 4 vs 5 matchup. Dwight Howard will wreak havoc against the undersized Atlanta interior while Orlando's lengthy swing men will negate Atlanta's ability to shoot over opponents. Throw in Atlanta's historically horrible home court support, and this one could be over quickly.
Prediction: Orlando in 4
San Antonio vs. Memphis
A lot will depend on how serious Ginobili's injury is. If Ginobili is out this may very well be an upset. San Antonio is an old team that is not particularly deep. Memphis has a lot of young players and pesky players that they can throw at this Spurs team. DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter will have to step up as Duncan will have his hands full dealing with either Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph, who is an absolute beast down low. Both teams play extremely well at home and I can see them holding court throughout.
Prediction: San Antonio in 7
Los Angeles vs. New Orleans
This is a very good matchup for LA. While the seriousness of Bynum's injury may play a role in later rounds, New Orleans' loss of David West was a much bigger blow. Chris Paul can dominate a game, but he doesn't really take over games, and when any pass he makes goes into the forest that is Gasol, Odom, Artest, and maybe Bynum, points will be tough to come by.
Prediction: LA in 4
Dallas vs. Portland
Dallas was one of my favorite teams midway through the second half of the regular season because they're such a deep team. They have legit players two-deep at every position. Matching them up with the team most decimated by injuries seems totally unfair. Portland plays well as a team and Aldridge has been a beast, but I just don't think they can match the firepower that Dallas has in a long series.
Prediction: Dallas in 6
Oklahoma City vs. Denver
A really unlucky matchup for Denver, a team that's been playing some of the best basketball in the league since the Carmelo trade. A lot of the things that work well for Denver involve hustle, scrappy defense, and utilizing their speed and depth. Unfortunately, those things work less well against a team of young, fit players entering their prime. Denver would probably have had a realistic shot at an upset against any of the higher seeds, who all have significantly older teams. The Perkins/Sefolosha combo should easily hold against Denver's inside offense, while Durant and Westbrook really aren't going to be stopped.
Prediction: OKC in 5