The 2013-2014 NBA hasn’t even tipped off but it’s never too early to whip out the preseason predictions on how the 2014 playoffs will pan out. The injury bug has already hit my Western conference predictions hard with Westbrook out for the first six weeks…but pre-season predictions can change up until opening day (right?) so here are my thoughts based on those updated predictions, and the final installment of a three part NBA preview.*subject to change as injuries occur until Opening Night, of course…
(1) Miami Heat vs. (8) Detroit Pistons
The best part about this series? Brandon Jennings is in position to make another irrational guarantee that his squad will beat the Heat…maybe this time Jennings will at least give the Heat three games and call a Pistons win in seven. Who are we kidding though? The Pistons probably couldn’t even win a game against Miami in 2K14. LeBron James and the Heat can book a conference semifinal appearance. Miami wins, 4-0.
(2) Indiana Pacers vs. (7) Toronto Raptors
I really believe that Rudy Gay can make a significant impact but that good-not-great talent won’t be enough once the playoffs begin. As Zach Lowe wrote in September, the NBA is a relatively predictable league—I’d like to say that my correct calls in the pre-season for the 2012 and 2013 NBA champions were incredible forecasting abilities on my part, but really there isn’t a huge level of difficulty when two teams have 48 minutes over seven games to decide who the better team is. There’s no “one-game playoff” round like in the NFL, and baseball diffuses talent throughout nine position players, five starting pitchers, and a collection of relievers. Out of the three major sports, the NBA is by far the most predictable. Indiana wins, 4-1.
(3) Chicago Bulls vs. (6) Cleveland Cavaliers
I think that the Kyrie Irving-Dion Waiters has tremendous potential and can keep up with Derrick Rose and the Chicago backcourt…for a couple games. As the Oklahoma City Thunder exemplified before their Big Three was separated, the NBA is a growth league. Cleveland is in that growth stage. Rose’s Bulls have the talent and experience advantages against Cleveland. Chicago wins, 4-1.
(4) Brooklyn Nets vs. (5) New York Knicks
This will be, by far, the most exciting series of the first round in the East. The battle of New York would be great for not just the state of New York, but also for the NBA. The big difference here is also experience. This Brooklyn team may not win an NBA championship, but their experience is enough to get them past the Knicks in the first round. And Carmelo Anthony has shown thus far that his prowess on the NCAA “playoff” stage hasn’t translated well to the NBA. Brooklyn wins, 4-2.
(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Portland Trailblazers
I’m sure there will be at least one time this year where you’ll have to remind me not to discount the Spurs because of their age, but I’m not about to count them out this early. Did Sports Illustrated overrate Duncan and Parker in their ranking of top-10 NBA players? I’m inclined to say ‘yes’ with regards to Tim Duncan, but in a league of conservative picks, it’s definitely safe for SI to well-represent the defending Western conference champions. Anything else and they might have been accused of consulting Skip Bayless in an effort to just “stir things up.” Either way, I like what Lillard and LMA bring to the table but they’re no match for the Spurs’ duo. San Antonio wins, 4-1.
(2) Golden State Warriors vs. (7) Denver Nuggets
This would be a classic series because not only is it a rematch of what went down in 2013 (except this time the Warriors would be heavy favorites), but also because Andre Iguodala is on the opposite side of the court. Maybe he’ll pull a Jose Calderon and walk into the wrong locker room after the game, too…
The Warriors beat the Nuggets last time…now add Iguodala and subtract him from Denver and you can do the math. Golden State wins, 4-1.
(3) Houston Rockets vs. (6) Memphis Grizzlies
A Houston-Memphis series would represent the last of a dying breed, with two of the league’s best centers going head-to-head with Dwight Howard vs. Marc Gasol. Add Omer Asik and Zach Randolph and this would be the most physical series of the playoffs. The big difference here is the offensive potency of the backcourts, however. James Harden has emerged as a superstar in this league and Houston can lean on him to get a basket when they need it. And if he gets cold, Harden’s league-leading 10.2 free throws per game show that he can get to the line with ease. Meanwhile, somewhere in Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant is fuming. Houston wins, 4-2.
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Los Angeles Clippers
Just like the 4-5 battle in the East, an OKC-Clippers series would be great to watch. Durant and Westbrook vs. CP3 and Blake Griffin would showcase three of the top-10 and four of the top-20 players in the NBA. I’m going out on a limb for this one because I think Doc Rivers will make the difference. Scott Brooks has a coach of the year award under his belt, but I think that he is largely a product of the talent that he has been gifted (same can be said for Erik Spoelstra). Doc will smooth out any lingering tension between players and integrate the off-season acquisitions with ease. LA has too many options and I’m sticking with my guns: Westbrook will prevent Durant from winning a championship. Los Angeles wins, 4-3.
(1) Miami Heat vs. (4) Brooklyn Nets
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett with another shot at the Heat? Makes for a great storyline but Prokhorov’s money stops here. I see chemistry issues with a talented Nets roster and not enough experience with first-year coach, Jason Kidd, at the helm. Chalk up another playoff series win for the Heat. Miami wins, 4-2.
(2) Indiana Pacers vs. (3) Chicago Bulls
Chicago might have the best player on the floor in Derrick Rose, but there’s no guaranteeing how long he’ll last on his reconstructed ligament. Indiana, on the other hand, is well poised for its first NBA Finals appearance since 2000. I’m slowly starting to become a fan of the 2013 MIP, Paul George, and really believe that the Indiana core has the ability to compete deep into the playoffs year after year. I wrote a feature article on Roy Hibbert during the very early days of this site and since then he has become that premiere center in the league. In a series that goes six or seven, I trust Frank Vogel to rally the Pacers to another conference finals appearance. Indiana wins, 4-3.
(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (5) Los Angeles Clippers
Ginobili clearly started showing his age in the 2013 playoffs. Aside from that one brilliant performance against Miami in game 5, he was quite mediocre (four games in the Finals with less than 10 points). Chris Paul is better than Tony Parker and now has the pieces around him to really compete against the best in the West. Barnes, Crawford, Redick, Jamison, and Collison provide support from all facets of the game for Paul to work with. I’m relying on Blake Griffin to step up and either develop an inside-outside game like Duncan/Garnett or focus on his post-moves…a scary proposition, but in Doc Rivers I trust. Los Angeles wins, 4-3.
(2) Golden State Warriors vs. (3) Houston Rockets
Mark Jackson and the Warriors haven’t forgotten that February night where the Rockets lit them up and drained 23 threes. It remains to be seen if there’s any bad blood left over after the late-game fouling, but the bigger story is, of course, the fact that these two franchises made the biggest moves this summer. Which one filled the more needed hole, Iguodala or Dwight? Maybe the answer to that question is the best center in the NBA, but the Warriors have the most well-rounded six-man rotation in all of the NBA. The Oracle crowd will be crazy (again), and there’s no way that Houston takes one in Oakland. Golden State wins, 4-2.
Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers
For the third consecutive season, I see the Heat and Pacers will square off. And really not much has changed… The Heat have added and lost a couple role players and Indiana still has a strong core. The big question once we get this late in the playoffs is how will Dwyane Wade’s knees hold up? Erik Spoelstra is convinced that it “wasn’t an issue of knee wear and tear” last year but his style of play certainly doesn’t promote longevity. Maybe he’ll develop a better outside shot but this series will be the real test of Wade and the future of the Biggest Three. Bosh has been impressive in the pre-season, so if Wade does have issues, (he and) LeBron will pick up the slack…as always. Miami wins, 4-3.
Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Having grown up a baseball player, I’m quite superstitious and don’t want to jinx my Warriors but they finally have the pieces for more than a one-and-done. Health is the only thing in the way for a team that has shooters (Curry, Thompson), post scorers (Lee…and maybe the slimmed down Bogut), defensive stalwarts (Bogut and Iguodala), and a sixth man who can do some of everything (Barnes) if he isn’t starting games. In terms of this specific series, the two best teams in California both showcase two high-flyers in Iguodala and Griffin so the NBA will have no shortage of fans tuning into these games. Doc has the right attitude going into LA and might win 2014 Coach of the Year, but Mark Jackson has proven to be the perfect fit for the Warriors. Redick’s 37 percent from three is no match for Curry and Thompson’s 40+ percent from three. Put Iguodala on CP3 if you have to and shut down any playmaking on offense. All homerism aside, the Warriors are the better team. I’m ready for floods of disagreement, but these Warriors have Finals-worthy talent. Golden State wins, 4-2.
Miami Heat vs. Golden State Warriors
I hinted at the big wildcard for both teams in the discussion of the conference finals predictions and it’s funny but it is also a huge factor in the Finals: will Wade and Curry’s legs hold up? In the 2013 playoffs, inexperience (Game 1 was torture for anyone pulling for the blue and gold—and a game for the ages according to one NBA writer) and Curry’s ankles were the difference in latter half of the series vs. the Spurs. The problem that I see the Warriors face in this series is LeBron’s ability to impact the game not from the offensive side of the ball, but from the defensive. As he showed against Tony Parker in the 2013 Finals, he can guard elite point guards…Curry included. That could cripple the Dubs offense. Maybe Iguodala runs the point-forward a bit like LeBron, but Golden State will struggle to hold off Miami from a third consecutive championship. Miami wins the NBA Finals, 4-2. NBA Finals MVP: LeBron James. I leave you with a message from the King himself: