Saturday, April 16, 2011

2010-11 NBA Playoffs In 3...2…1…Go!

After 82 games of powerful throw downs, hotly contested rivalry battle, and game-winning buzzer beaters, we will be beginning our arrival into our next destination. Those franchises that remain from the regular season melee will be put to the test with only the top notch teams remaining. Some players will be limping into battle with their comrades, while others will be getting ready to join their squads after an injury-plagued stint on the sidelines.

Nevertheless, there is no turning back, as every game is as important as the next. Four wins out of every seven games will advance you forward, but the magic number to be crowned as champions is sixteen.

So get ready everyone. Mark your calendar for the full schedule of games on each day. Get that HD television remote control in your hands and get ready for some high octane tension.

It’s time for this year’s NBA playoffs.

It’s funny to think that the Lakers win over the Celtics in that amazing game seven of the NBA Finals was almost a year ago. Those images of the two teams leaving it all on the Staples Center floor feels as fresh as if it were yesterday.

Yet, happily it is a new post season, which means new memories will be made and history will be written once again.

To quote Mel Gibson and Danny Glover from the film Lethal Weapon 4:

“It’s beautiful!”

This 2010-11 playoffs keeps a few similarities from last year, but contains a few alterations.

The Lakers will defend its title, but they will go in as the second seed and not first like they did one season ago. Chicago acquired the last spot in the Eastern Conference in 2010, but now stands as the leader of the pack with home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Cleveland, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Phoenix, and Utah were the teams from last year who aren’t back in 2011. Replacing them will be New York, Philadelphia, Indiana, New Orleans, and Memphis.

Here’s a look at the first round match ups:

Western Conference

No. 1 San Antonio Spurs vs No. 8 Memphis Grizzles

It feels as if the Spurs always enter the playoffs with little admiration. The way they get through each season is like James Bond infiltrating an enemy’s lair; they always appear to complete their mission without making a sound. This year is no different; despite being the top seed in the West, the belief is that they won’t come out as the conference champion.

Memphis will hope that to be true early on. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol will be able to contend with Tim Duncan and the size of the San Antonio front court. Mike Conley will try to keep up with the “energizer bunny” that is Tony Parker. Yet, without Rudy Gay and the disappointment O.J. Mayo has been this season, don’t look for any big shockers in this match up. The Spurs are just too deep for a Grizzlies team that has only three viable options.

Series Prediction: 4-1 Spurs

No. 2 Los Angeles Lakers vs No. 7 New Orleans Hornets

Everyone will proclaim the Lakers as the favorite coming out of the West, and they are deserving of all the adulation. As back-to-back champions of the league, their player personnel isn’t very different from their first title run in 2009. The only change is that they got deeper as each year progressed. This season, they go into the playoffs with Andrew Bynum down (again) and a few other supporting cast members banged up as well.

Chris Paul will take any opening he has for the upset. He remains the key to what the Hornets do in this series, but it will be a tremendous task to escape the first round without David West at his side. The star point guard will have more weight on his shoulders without his sidekick big man. Even though no player on Los Angeles can contain Paul, the countless parts of the Lakers and the Hornets’ inability to score will be their downfall.

Series Prediction: 4-2 Lakers

No. 3 Dallas Mavericks vs No. 6 Portland Trailblazers

The question whenever the Mavericks prepare for the playoffs is which team will show up? Will it be the team that went to the NBA Finals in 2006 or the team that was stunned by the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors the following year? It’s always an illusion when the Mavericks enter the post-season, mostly because their impressive regular season play disappears as they falter in the playoffs.

They will have the arduous task of trying to knock off the Trailblazers, who is their first opponent in the playoffs. After another season where injuries seemed to get the best of their team, Portland will hope they have enough. If Brandon Roy can magically return to the superstar he once was, that would help in accomplishing the upset. This one will go the distance, with Dallas winning in a thrilling final game at home.

Series Prediction: 4-3 Dallas

No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs No. 5 Denver Nuggets

Aside from the Chicago Bulls, the Thunder are the team that jumped up the polls higher from a year ago. Last season, they entered the playoffs as the last seed and faced off against the Lakers. Now, they are in the top half of the Western Conference and ready to take the next step by advancing in the playoffs. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant will push to make that happen, and now have Kendrick Perkins and his post-season experience on their side.

Denver knows all about being in the playoffs, having been there since 2004. This year is more of a shocker since they sent their team leaders Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to the “Big Apple”. After they were sent away, the idea of holding on to a playoff spot seemed impossible with the roster they had. Low and behold, Coach George Karl was able to man the ship and keep them headed in the right direction.

Both franchises have a component that is necessary to be a contender; an extensive group of players that can make an impact. The only difference is that the Nuggets don’t have the superstar to take over a game when the game is on the line. Durant and Westbrook supply that for their team, thus making them the favorite to win this series.

Series Prediction: 4-2 Oklahoma City

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Chicago Bulls vs No. 8 Indiana Pacers

As the biggest improved team in the league, Chicago put themselves in a prime position to take a big step forward. Not since they had Mr. 23 playing for them have the Bulls been this high a seed or even make it past the first round of the playoffs. Derrick Rose has already accomplished one goal, now he will hope to fulfill his team’s second goal of advancing forward. He has all the right parts to make that happen, now that the Bulls are the hardest working team in the league (thanks to Coach Tom Thibodeau).

With all that before them, the Pacers will hope to be like a strong axe cutting down a big, Redwood tree. They have a few guys who can pierce the trunk of Chicago’s core. Danny Granger will have to be out of this world with his game like Neo from the Matrix. A player who can score from all over the court, he’ll have the privilege of having a strong post presence in Roy Hibbert and a floor general in Darren Collison.

Even with those weapons, Indiana will struggle with Chicago’s suffocating defense and Rose will decimate their team on offense. Don’t expect the Pacers to escape with a win.

Series Prediction: 4-0 Chicago

No. 2 Miami Heat vs No. 7 Philadelphia 76ers

Probably the team with the most expectations since the start of the season, Miami tumbled early on in being that team of destiny. It looked as if the Heat would not crack the top half of the East and possibly even being a spectator during the playoffs. Then they struck the NBA like lightening striking the atmosphere. Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh bounced back to carry their team to the second seed and a great opportunity to make a run in the post season.

Making a run late in the season to make the playoffs is what the 76ers did as well. No one expected much from Philadelphia and they were never a highly touted team as they clinched a spot in the post-season. A big reason they are not the talk of the town is because of their personnel. No player on their roster averages more than fifteen points per game. If they hope to pull off the upset, it will be because their team can topple the whole Heat roster overall.

The chances of that happening are quite miniscule, so bank on Miami to take this series with ease.

Series Prediction: 4-0 Miami

No. 3 Boston Celtics vs No. 6 New York Knicks

Boston would love nothing more than to repeat their 2010 experience through the Eastern Conference playoffs. They will have their usual mainstays in Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett leading the way for the fourth consecutive year. The biggest bonus will be what they can get from the O’Neals’ in the paint. Both haven’t played a great deal during the regular season and are key to how long they last in the playoffs in 2011.

The Knicks know that their whole season changed when they made the big acquisition of getting Anthony and Billups from Denver. Already equipped with their superstar Amar’e Stoudemire, New York now have multiple options to destroy their competition. While the depth of the team is not what it once was, they are still competent enough to send some shock waves during their first season back in the playoffs.

That first shock wave happens here, as the Knicks will be the first team to shock the playoffs and knock off a favorite.

Series Prediction: 4-2 New York

No. 4 Orlando Magic vs No. 5 Atlanta Hawks

The New York Knicks may have changed their roster significantly, but Orlando had a full makeover done to their whole team. That began with the big trades to start the season that brought over Hedo Turkoglu, Gilbert Arenas, and Jason Richardson. The Magic will hope that perimeter improvement will be a big load off Dwight Howard’s shoulders. Alleviating pressure off their big man will be the only way they march forward during the post-season.

Moving on up in the playoffs is what the Hawks were known for recently. They were heralded as one of the up-and-coming teams that would be a signature in the second and conference final rounds of the post-season. Yet, they have started to descend downward and are now in the bottom half of this year’s brackets. Joe Johnson and Al Horford will do what it takes to push the team back in the right direction.

Atlanta will definitely push hard against Orlando, but they won’t have enough up their sleeve to knock off the Magic.

Series Prediction: 4-3 Orlando

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