NBA Talk: First round predictions

Posted by Andrew Shi

The playoffs have already commenced, so these predictions do have the benefit of witnessing two days of games, but there are bound to be surprises as players fall to injury left and right. Without further ado, the predictions, starting with the East.

Eastern Conference:

Heat(1) vs. Bucks(8):

The Bucks, between Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, have a more impressive backcourt, and this season's breakout of Larry Sanders gives them a much better center than whoever the Heat decide to play there. Still, the Heat have Lebron James, who gets better every year and led the Heat to their best season yet. The Heat also have a substantially improved bench with the additions of Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Chris Anderson.

Prediction: Heat sweep the Bucks

Knicks (2) vs. Celtics (7)

The Knicks have also had a breakout season, with a deeper bench and a deadlier Melo. The Celtics, on the other hand, have lost Ray Allen. The other two members of the Celtics' original Big Three are years beyond their prime and All-Star Rajon Rondo is out with a torn ACL. You can never count the Celtics down and out, and Garnett is still the most frightening man to play against, but it doesn't look good for them this year.

Prediction: Knicks win in six

Pacers (3) vs. Hawks (6)

The Pacers' defense is tougher than ever and Paul George made his first All-Star appearance, and deservedly so. The Hawks, meanwhile, lost Joe Johnson and trade rumors concerning Josh Smith have seemed to depress his playing at times. The Hawks have been inconsistent and a victim of one-too-many injuries.

Prediction: Pacers win 5-1.

Nets (4) vs. Bulls (5).

First time since 2007 that the Nets have seen the playoffs, and, after several shaky moments in their season, they managed to clinch fourth. Much rides on the performance of Deron Williams, who had an unusually lackluster season for a player of his caliber. Meanwhile, the Bulls exceeded expectations  without Derrick Rose. The Bulls have proven tenacious, and once overlooked players are now coming up big (read: Jimmy Butler, Nate Robinson).  Without Derrick Rose and a less-than-100-percent Joakim Noah, everything indicates that the Nets will move on to round two, but the Bulls have proven throughout the season that they can still compete with the best. If any team is to make an upset in the East, it's them.

Prediction: Bulls win in game seven.

Western Conference:

Thunder (1) vs. Rockets (8)

An interesting match-up as James Harden returns to battle old teammates. But not even the skill of Harden will be able to overcome a now play-off experienced team with a much deeper bench than before.

Prediction: Thunder in five, and that's being generous toward the Rockets.

Spurs (2) vs. Lakers (7).

Both of these seeds surprised me. For most of the season, I expected the Lakers to perform better than they did, and the Spurs to play worse than they have. For some reason, the Spurs just won't age and the Lakers were never able to mesh into the team that was to supposedly take on the Heat. Some say that without Kobe, Dwight will be able to take over and lead the team to victory; I say otherwise.  The Lakers will put up a worthy fight, but won't be able to overcome the perplexing skill and chemistry of the Spurs.

Prediction: Spurs win 4-2.

Nuggets (3) vs. Warriors (6).

A late-season injury to Danilo Gallinari certainly dampened expectations for the Nuggets, but an equally dilapidating injury to Warrior David Lee has brought the Warriors down even further. While Wilson Chandler has proven capable of filling in the hole left by Gallinari, the Warriors will be at a lost without Lee. Their one hope is the injury-prone and former first-draft pick Andrew Bogut, because the sharpshooting of Stephen Curry alone won't be able to carry the Warriors.

Prediction: Nuggets 4-1

Clippers (4) vs. Grizzlies (5)

Like the Lakers, I had at the beginning of the season expected the Clippers to place higher than they did. Still, this is the team I have pulling the upset, if any do, and reaching the finals. They're explosive, young, experienced and could easily have the best bench in the league. The Grizzlies, meanwhile, didn't seem to lose much with the Rudy Gay trade, but certainly didn't gain anything either. In a starting five matchup, the only position where the Grizzlies visibly come out on top is with center Marc Gasol, although Deandre Jordan is getting better with every season and is a daily feature on the highlight reel.

Prediction: Clippers win in six.

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