Time to pick the winners of the NBA’s first-round playoff series:
Miami vs. Milwaukee: The worst series, of course. The NBA’s best team against the NBA’s 18th-best. There’s a 28-win difference between these teams — the Heat won 66, the Bucks 38. But there have been at least six more-lopsided matchups in NBA history. Here’s what I found. 1. ’86 Celtics 67, Bulls 30. Boston won 3-0 in the playoffs. 2. ’87 Lakers 62, Spurs 31. Lakers won 3-0. 3. ’96 Bulls 72, Heat 42. Chicago won 3-0. 4. ’67 76ers 68, Royals (Kings) 39. Philadelphia won 3-1. 4. ’92 Bulls 67, Heat 38. Chicago won 3-0. 4. ’08 Celtics 66, Hawks 37. Boston 4-3. Give me the Heat in four.
Brooklyn vs. Chicago: Remember when Reggie Rose, Derrick’s brother, tweeted that the Bulls hadn’t done enough to assemble a championship roster? Here’s what Chicago needs to be a title contender. DERRICK ROSE. Let’s review. In 2012, the Bulls went 50-16 (the equivalent of a 62-win season) and were upset by the 76ers in the first round when Rose suffered that catastrophic knee injury. In 2011, the Bulls went 62-20, then lost to the Heat in five games in the East finals. In 2010, Rose’s second year, Chicago went 41-41 and made the playoffs, losing to the Cavaliers in the first round. Now the Bulls, without Rose all season, are 45-37 and won’t be an easy out for anyone. Chicago doesn’t need an infusion of all-star talent. Chicago needs ITS all-star to play. Bulls in six.
Indiana vs. Atlanta: A few weeks ago, the Pacers were the chic pick to make playoff noise. Not anymore. But they still should beat the Hawks. Pacers in five.
New York vs. Boston: This is rich, I tell you, rich. The Knickerbockers are relevant for the first time in years. The Celtics are old, old, old, but prideful, prideful, prideful. They’ve feuded, with Kevin Garnett and Carmelo Anthony’s famous spat. The Knicks rely on the 3-pointer, the Celtics rely on the sage of coach Doc Rivers. Rivers’ coaching is much more proven than anyone’s reliance on playoff 3-pointers. Let’s go with the upset. Celtics in six.
Oklahoma City vs. Houston: I don’t think the Thunder has gotten enough credit, and maybe I mean just in our province, for its playoff acumen. The Thunder was an eight-seed in 2010 and took the defending champ Lakers to six games in a series. The Thunder was a four-seed in 2011, and beat Denver and Memphis to reach the West finals. The Thunder was a two-seed in 2012 and reached the NBA Finals. Oklahoma City has come to play in the playoffs, and though its losses to Dallas (West finals 2011) and Miami (NBA Finals 2012) were disappointing, the Thunder has played above its seed the last two years. Thunder in five.
LA Clippers vs. Memphis: The Clippers won a rousing seven-game series last year, when the Grizzlies had homecourt advantage. Now the Clips have homecourt advantage. But remember why that series went seven last season. The Clippers rallied from a 27-point deficit to win Game 1. That’s an astounding achievement, and somehow Memphis kept the series alive for seven games. Also, the Grizzlies’ defense is impressive. Memphis leads the NBA in scoring defense (89.3 points per game) and in defensive efficiency (97.4 points per 100 possessions). The Clippers are solid defensively, too, but let’s go with Memphis in six.
Denver vs. Golden State: This series clearly will be determined by health. Is Andrew Bogut healthy? Is Kenneth Faried? Can Ty Lawson stay healthy? If everyone is fine, the Nuggets win, even without Danilo Gallinari. If the Warriors somehow get a health advantage, Golden State wins. Let’s guess Denver in seven.
San Antonio vs. LA Lakers: The Lakers have won three straight close games at home, which is laudable. But not particularly encouraging for this series. The Spurs get homecourt, and they’re playing all-out to win, which San Antone doesn’t always do down the stretch. The theories that the Lakers will somehow be better without Kobe? Silly. Steve Blake will wake up in San Antonio and realize he’s Steve Blake. Spurs in five.