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The first round of the NBA Playoffs
by Sam Smith
Posted on Apr 19
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So yes, our long national nightmare finally ended, or at least the TV networks’. Never have so many paid so much attention to those who will play so few playoff games.
The 2012-13 NBA Playoffs begin Saturday with the Knicks and Celtics, which probably is the premier first round matchup given the media markets, the history, the recent terrorist bombing in Boston and the fate for the team that loses. It would be a disaster for the Knicks, who basically talk not only about the conference finals but beating the heavily favored Miami Heat for the title. For the Celtics, it appears something of a last run, certainly if they lose in the first round even though they are without injured Rajon Rondo. Many felt they should have begun a rebuilding already, and there will be much hand wringing.
And while there will be plenty of talk about the Knicks and Celtics, and probably out of proportion to its importance in the larger NBA scheme, there are several intriguing first round matchups and storylines for these playoffs.
Obviously, the Lakers now that Kobe Bryant is out for the playoffs with a torn Achillles. Will Dwight Howard resign? If they beat the Spurs, will Howard sign only if they release Kobe?
The Spurs sputtered down the stretch with Manu Ginobili out and Tony Parker working his way back from injuries. Though they’ve been the class of the regular season, they’ve been the victim of two first round defeats in the last four years with losses to the Grizzlies and Mavericks. Can it happen again?
There are many other questions, like whether James Harden can still carry a team after leading the Rockets all season and then stumbling to the close.
The Hawks dumped their last two games to get out of the bracket with Miami. So can they even get past the first round?
Stephen Curry has been perhaps the best shooter in the league the last few months. Can he and the Warriors hit those same shots often enough in Denver’s air?
Like with P.J. Carlesimo in Brooklyn, Vinny Del Negro’s fate may rest on a first round series despite the Clippers’ most wins in franchise history.
And is the Heat really that good?
Miami Heat (66-16) vs Milwaukee Bucks (38-44)
Season Series: 3-1 Miami
It is questionable whether the Bucks can get a game as they’ve been in a late season slump, Larry Sanders has back problems and the Heat seem ready to go with most of their top players resting since the Bulls broke their winning streak. They’ll rest on a game on occasion, and aren’t quite a monolith. But LeBron James has emerged as a big time closer and playmaker and that should be enough.
Pick: Heat in four
New York Knicks (54-28) vs Boston Celtics (41-40)
Season Series: Knicks 3-1
It’s sounding like a last stand for the Celtics, though we’ve made that mistake before with the Spurs. Boston has nursed its way to the finish with Kevin Garnett just returning. They’ve had jumbled rotations with injuries and no Rondo. But they’ll play tough and physically and the Knicks don’t care to defend much. But the Knicks, whose season will be a disaster with a first round loss, probably have too much offense in the end.
Pick: Knicks in six
Indiana Pacers (49-32) vs Atlanta Hawks (44-38)
Season series: 2-2
The Hawks obviously manipulated the end of the season to get the Pacers, though it seemed more avoiding Miami. This seems the least compelling of all the matchups, even Miami given they have LeBron and Dwyane Wade. The Pacers are a plodding, physical team that should be able to wear down the Hawks, who are smaller with Zaza Pachuilia out. And you never win many playoff games with Josh Smith’s shot selection.
Pick: Pacers in six
Brooklyn Nets (49-33) vs Chicago Bulls (45-37)
Season series: 3-1 Bulls
With an ailing Joakim Noah and no sign of Derrick Rose, this one could get tougher for the Bulls, who, nevertheless, have played the Nets well.
Pick: Bulls in six
Oklahoma City Thunder (60-22) vs Houston Rockets (45-37)
Season series: Thunder 2-1
The obvious story here is the return of Harden. If the Thunder don’t win a title, their trade of Harden will be much discussed. If they do, that would be pretty remarkable after such a loss. The Rockets play at a high pace, which should make this series a fun one to watch given Russell Westbrook also doesn’t know there’s a shot clock and you don’t have to shoot right away. Oklahoma City is way more talented, but Harden is an elite closer if not worn out from carrying the team all season and can steal a game from you.
Pick: Thunder in five
San Antonio Spurs (58-24) vs Los Angeles Lakers (45-37)
Season series: Spurs 2-1
The Lakers’ playoff quest after obtaining Dwight Howard and Steve Nash has been the story of the season. They finally got in the last day and even moved up to seventh when the Rockets crumbled. The Spurs are the team the Lakers hoped for as they cannot keep up with the speedy Thunder. The Spurs have more depth and Tim Duncan is having a fabulous season. So we’ll see how much Howard means now that Bryant, who he felt was holding him back, isn’t playing.
Pick: Spurs in five
Denver Nuggets (57-25) vs Golden State Warriors (47-35)
Season series: Nuggets 3-1
This one could be delicious as the Warrior likely figure their only chance is with a shootout as they don’t have much size with a damaged Andrew Bogut. Even with the loss of Danili Gallinari, the Nuggets are a deep team. A lot depends on whether Ty Lawson remain healthy, though Andre Miller remains a top point guard. They can go into erratic funks and coach George Karl’s teams have lost some big first round series. But their transition game in Denver is impressive.
Pick: Nuggets in six
Los Angeles Clippers (56-26) vs Memphis Grizzlies (56-26)
Season series: Clippers 3-1
This should be another terrific series even if the styles are opposite. They played a great seven gamer last year won by the Clippers after a classic Game 1 comeback win. The Grizzlies are one of the toughest, physical defensive minded teams. The Clippers like to lob dunk. It’s a test of force and wills. The losing coach could be in trouble. The Clippers got home court by tiebreaker and division champion. They also need to win a series to help persuade Chris Paul to return as a free agent, leaving a lot riding on essentially an even series.
Pick: Clippers in seven