With superstars littered throughout playoff teams and exciting back-stories to virtually all series, the 2013 NBA playoffs are certainly shaping up to be entertaining and exciting. While the eventual fate of the playoffs falls into the hands of the likely MVP LeBron James and the Miami Heat, (almost) all series should prove to be exciting and very few teams will dominate their opponent.
Some of the bigger stories to follow and see how they unfold: can the Lakers overcome Kobe Bryant’s injury and Dwight Howard take over the reins in Los Angeles? The Lakers finished the season on a five-game win streak and Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard appear to be clicking without Kobe. Another major story: can the Thunder win in the playoffs without Harden? And how will a Harden vs. Durant-Westbrook first round go? Much has been said about whether or not OKC should have kept Westbrook over Durant, and now the magnifying glass returns to the athletic point guard in Oklahoma City.
Of course, Carmelo Anthony’s perennial playoff struggles will also be something to focus on. Melo has been an impressive regular season performer—and recently beat out Kevin Durant for the 2013 scoring title—but can he do it in the playoffs? He certainly has the surrounding pieces, and his legacy may be on the line this year as much as LeBron James’ was last year.
As mentioned earlier, the No. 1 story is clear: can anybody beat Miami? And how much does San Antonio have left in the tank? The Spurs finished the season with a three-game losing streak…a far-cry from their ten-game win streak at the end of the 2012 season. A final major story: what Clippers and Nuggets teams will show up in the playoffs? Both teams have had periods of incredible success and are coming into the playoffs relatively hot, so can that continue that when it matters most?
Here is how I see some of those stories and the 2013 NBA playoffs panning out:
Round 1 Games
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (8) Houston Rockets
It will be very interesting to see if the Rockets can run with OKC, but ultimately this series should not be much of a competition. The Thunder have experience and talent on their side and barring an incredible meltdown should be able to overpower their former teammate, James Harden.
Prediction: OKC wins, 4-1
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Los Angeles Lakers
In my mind, San Antonio is the biggest question mark going into the playoffs. They have not played very well of late which certainly has the potential to carry over into the playoffs. Duncan’s minutes have also been very limited this entire season and it’s difficult to see how he could play extended minutes in the playoffs, especially against the duo of Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. On the other hand, when the playoffs come around, San Antonio always seems to show up and prove any doubters and nay-sayers wrong. This series will last six or seven games and in the end, I think the Lakers have a shot at pulling off a big upset. Dwight and Pau have been clicking of late and Duncan and Parker average less than 35 minutes a game each. The Lakers got hot at the right time.
Prediction: Los Angeles wins, 4-3
(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Golden State Warriors
This should also be a very entertaining series. The raining threes show that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson can put on is something that can be nearly unstoppable at times. The Nuggets, however, owned the NBA’s best home record at 38-3 this season. If the Warriors can play defense like they have in the final games of the regular season and continue to nail outside shots, the wild West is in for another upset.
Prediction: Golden State wins, 4-3
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies
Ironically, the four vs. five seed game will likely be less competitive than either the two vs. seven or three vs. six seed games. Lob City is rolling and Memphis always seems to choke in the playoffs. It would be tragic if Los Angeles finished the season that they started off so well with with a first round loss—and that should not happen.
Prediction: Los Angeles wins, 4-2
(1) Miami Heat vs. (8) Milwaukee Bucks
Not much to say here. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh will handle Monta and Brandon Jennings with ease.
Prediction: Miami wins, 4-0
(2) New York Knicks vs. (7) Boston Celtics
Like Popovich, I would never cast out the coaching ability of Doc Rivers in the playoffs. Clearly New York has the better player personnel but Boston has the been-there-done-that attitude and found a way to get into the playoffs without their superstar point guard, Rajon Rondo. In the end, however, I will keep with my theme of out with the old in with the new. KG’s limited minutes won’t be enough to slow down the 2013 NBA scoring champion.
Prediction: New York wins, 4-3
(3) Indiana Pacers vs. (6) Atlanta Hawks
Like Memphis, Atlanta has a knack for playing teams very well in the first round of the playoffs but are just never able to pull off the series win. Indiana played Miami well in the 2012 playoffs and their core group is still together. With one of the NBA’s best defenses, the Pacers will win this series relatively comfortably.
Prediction: Indiana wins, 4-2
(4) Brooklyn Nets vs. (5) Chicago Bulls
As great as the Chicago Bulls have played without their MVP point guard, Derrick Rose, it won’t be enough come the playoffs. Brooklyn has Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, and a force down-low in Brook Lopez. While none of that trio has been particularly impressive on their own in playoff situations, the combination of the three will be enough for Deron Williams to beat his former teammate, Carlos Boozer, and the Chicago Bulls.
Prediction: Brooklyn wins, 4-3
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (4) Los Angeles Clippers
Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins will help showcase their roles for OKC in this conference semifinal matchup and keep Blake Griffin from throwing down many Chris Paul alley-oops. Durant and Westbrook will provide the brunt of the scoring load and they will prove that they don’t (yet) miss James Harden.
Prediction: Oklahoma City wins, 4-2
(6) Golden State Warriors vs. (7) Los Angeles Lakers
Six seed vs. seven seed…you probably didn’t expect that but there is certainly a legitimate possibility that three California teams advance to the second round of the playoffs. A Golden State vs. Los Angeles matchup will be very interesting because the Lakers will struggle to stop the outside shooting of the Warriors and the Warriors will have trouble with Gasol and Howard on the inside. In the end, Bogut, D-Lee, and Festus Ezeli will provide the interior defense needed to muffle LA’s duo and if Curry and Klay can hoist up threes with success similar to their regular season performance, this “We Belong” team can advance a round further than the 2007 “We Believe” team.
Prediction: Golden State wins, 4-3
(1) Miami Heat vs. (4) Brooklyn Nets
Again, barring an incredible surprise, the Heat road to the conference finals should be smooth sailing if they don’t take anything for granted. I don’t see that happening after the scare that Indiana gave them last year. They know what it takes to win in the playoffs.
Prediction: Miami wins, 4-1
(2) New York Knicks vs. (3) Indiana Pacers
A Knicks-Pacers series will be a fun one to watch as strength battles strength. Can the Knicks great offense beat the Pacers stellar defense? My thoughts: Carmelo realizes what these playoffs mean and it is his time to prove he is more than a great regular season performer.
Prediction: New York wins, 4-3
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (6) Golden State Warriors
As much as I would like to say that the Warriors can earn a trip to the Finals, one year together (really less because of Bogut’s injury) is not enough to beat a perennial championship contender. Unless Westbrook makes some bone-headed decisions like he did in last year’s NBA Finals, this is the Thunder’s series to lose. If the shots fall for Golden State and Bogut solidifies the interior, the series may go to six or seven games but otherwise look for the Thunder to return to the Finals.
Prediction: Oklahoma City wins, 4-1
(1) Miami Heat vs. (2) New York Knicks
This is the battle of the 2003 NBA Draft as four of the top five picks fight for a trip to the NBA Finals—LeBron James (1st overall pick), Carmelo Anthony (3), Chris Bosh (4), and Dwyane Wade (5). Melo should give Miami more than an easy walk-through but like their previous series, the Heat will take care of business in the conference finals.
Prediction: Miami wins, 4-2
Miami Heat (1) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (1)
Just as I stuck with my preseason predictions for the NBA Finals matchup, I’m also doing so for the NBA champion. If OKC cannot beat Miami with Harden, then they definitely cannot do so without Harden. While it is probably legitimate to say that an OKC team minus Westbrook would have a tough time against the Big Three in Miami, too, what the Thunder have now is not enough to win a championship. Like last year, LeBron will take home regular season and NBA Finals MVP honors en route to a second consecutive title for the Heat.
Prediction: Miami wins, 4-1; Finals MVP: LeBron James