The NBA playoffs have arrived, so it’s time for some predictions. Semi-spoiler alert: I have only one upset.
Thunder vs. Grizzlies: Memphis is not a normal 7-seed. The Grizzlies are an elite when they have all their players, which they do for this series. It will be a grind. Memphis is not a great outside shooting team, so that should help the Thunder, which at times has been weak defensively on the perimeter. The Thunder is solid inside defensively, which will come in handy against Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies also have at least partial solutions for Kevin Durant — Tony Allen and, to a lesser extent, Tayshaun Prince. But while Mike Conley is an excellent point guard for Memphis, he’s hard-pressed to match up physically with Russell Westbrook.
Thunder in seven.
Clippers vs. Warriors: This would have been a rousing series, if Golden State center Andrew Bogut had not been injured. But now, the Warriors will have a tough time matching up against the Clipper inside duo of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Jordan is no offensive threat out of sets, but he’s a terror on the fast break and offensive rebounding. The Warriors are a total load when they go to a small lineup, as Denver and San Antonio found out last year in the playoffs. But that was with David Lee out and Bogut manning the post. What about with Bogut out and Lee having to be the big man? Sounds disastrous. The Warriors might have the best player in the series, Steph Curry, which is saying something since Griffin and Chris Paul are in the series. But one of the Golden State strengths — the defense of Andre Iguodala — is tempered because the Clippers don’t have a great player for Iguodala to guard. Can he guard CP3?
Clippers in five.
Spurs vs. Mavericks: Two old teams. I mean, think about it. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter and Shawn Marion were great, great players in the 2005 playoffs. Kawhi Leonard is a young stud for the Spurs, but that’s about it. Great old beats good old anytime.
Spurs in four.
Rockets vs. Trail Blazers: Great matchup, with lots of flair. Both teams can score. Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge give Portland a potent 1-2 matchup, but the Rockets have a 1-2-3 trigger with James Harden, Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons. Houston doesn’t play great defense, but neither does Portland, really. And Houston’s bench is much better. Patrick Beverley, the Rockets’ pest of a point guard, will have the entire Pacific Northwest hating on him by series’ end, but I don’t think he really cares.
Houston in seven.
Pacers vs. Hawks: I would pick Indiana to lose if it was playing any kind of a foe. But Atlanta won just 37 games and is without its foundational player in Al Horford, who missed most of the season. It’s quite an achievement to make the playoffs with a core of Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll, but the Hawks did just that. The Pacers seem to play well only if it’s against elite teams. Which Atlanta is not.
Pacers in six.
Bulls vs. Wizards: What a season for Chicago. The front office tries to tank the season by trading Luol Deng for magic beans, but Tom Thibodeau’s team would not hear of it. The Bulls are tenacious and resilient, and with Indiana’s flop, Chicago could make the Eastern Conference Finals. That just shows the coaching acumen of Thibodeau, the all-around brilliance of Joakim Noah, the determination of Jimmy Butler, the defense of Taj Gibson, and well, I could go on all day about the Bulls. The Wizards? I like their throwback uniforms.
Bulls in five.
Heat vs. Bobcats: What I said about Atlanta goes for Charlotte, too. The Bobcats had a nice year and made the playoffs with a starting lineup that includes Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Josh McRoberts. Miami is wounded and old, but LeBron James and any four D-Leaguers you name would win this series.
Heat in five.
Raptors vs. Netropolitans: Toronto actually has had a good year, and unlike all those great-unwashed teams in the East, Toronto has some ballplayers. Kyle Lowry. DeMar DeRozan. Jonas Valanciunas. But so does Brooklyn, and although the Nets are old, they got their stuff together late in the year. Brooklyn tanked down the stretch just so it could stay on the same side of the bracket as Indiana. I don’t know if that’s smart or not. We’ll see. But playoff experience does matter.
Nets in six.