Predicting the first round of the NBA playoffs:
Thunder vs. Dallas: Thunder in seven. Oklahoma City is much the better team — 11 more wins in a 66-game season. That’s a bunch of victories. But the Thunder hasn’t played well down the stretch. Dallas hasn’t either, but the Mavs are a tough matchup anyway for OKC. I think the Thunder will struggle to get past Dallas.
Spurs vs. Jazz: San Antonio in five. I like Utah. Tyrone Corbin was my preseason pick for coach of the year, and while he has no chance, the Jazz did show that their revival is in full bloom. But San Antonio is playing really well.
Clippers vs. Grizzlies: Memphis in five. I like Memphis. I like Memphis a lot. The Clippers are playing well, but I think Memphis will defend the pick’n roll, which means LA is in serious trouble.
Lakers vs. Nuggets: Denver in six. Let’s see. The Lakers are a thin team, and now the Lakers are without a starter, Metta World Chaos. How does that bode well for LA? The Lakers have a huge edge inside, but Denver at least has a bunch of bodies it can throw at the Lakers.
Bulls vs. Sixers: Chicago in four. Philadelphia staggered to the finish line. The Sixers won a bunch of games early when the schedule was easy, then lost a bunch of games late when the schedule was tough. Chicago ought to sit out Derrick Rose the entire series. It still would be a sweep.
Heat vs. Knickerbockers: Miami in four. The Heat can play defense. Frustration will return to the rejuvenated Knicks, who have lived nine lives this shortened season.
Hawks vs. Celtics: Boston in five. Tough to win in five games when you don’t have homecourt advantage, but why does anyone like Atlanta here? The Celtics are playing much better and have found a new defensive gear. They’ve been a lot like the Mavs and the Heat, just waiting for the playoffs.
Pacers vs. Magic: Indiana in seven. I wanted to pick Orlando. I like Indiana’s team, but they strike me as a classic candidate for a first-round flameout. Limited playoff experience, even on the coaching staff. The Magic won’t even miss Dwight Howard. They will feel empowered by Howard’s absence. But the raw truth of Orlando’s season is that these Magicians are tired. Tired of all the drama. Tired of all the stress. Ready to get the season over.