Your quick and dirty NBA Playoffs preview

The matchups are set and the first round starts this weekend. In the East, the top four teams — Cleveland, Orlando, Boston and Atlanta — seem like good bets to advance, while in the West, I wouldn’t be shocked if the bottom four seeds — Utah, Portland, San Antonio and Oklahoma City — were to make the second round. Here’s a quick look at each series:


Cavaliers vs. Bulls
It’s not often that a team that had a 10-game losing streak end in mid-February recovers and makes the postseason, but that’s exactly what the Bulls have done, winning 10 of their last 14 to capture the final playoff spot in the East. Chicago has the tools to make this a series, and with Shaquille O’Neal coming back from a long break, there’s a chance this could go to six or seven games. But in the end, Cleveland should have plenty of firepower to put the Bulls away.

Celtics vs. Heat
If there’s going to be an upset in the East, this will probably be it. The C’s have limped into the playoffs, losing eight of their last 13 games. Meanwhile, the Heat went 18-4 in February and March, but were just 4-3 against teams with winning records. Boston swept the season series despite Dwyane Wade’s terrific numbers (34-5-9, 50% shooting), so if anyone else steps up, the streaking Heat have a good shot at stealing the first or second game and gaining control of the series.

Hawks vs. Bucks
If Andrew Bogut were healthy, I’d pick Milwaukee, but the Bucks are going to have a tough time winning a seven-game series against a pretty good Atlanta team that has won 13 of its last 19 games. The Bucks’ defense could keep the games (and the series) close, but the Hawks should have enough to move on.

Magic vs. Bobcats
Orlando is peaking at the right time, going 19-3 in February and March. However, one of those losses was at home against Charlotte. The Bobcats are playing well too — they’re 16-7 over their last 23 games. Both teams are excellent defesively; they’re tied for first in defensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions), so expect a few tight games. But Orlando just has too much talent.


Lakers vs. Thunder
Get this — since a seven-game winning streak in mid-February, the Lakers have lost 7 of 11 games. The Thunder aren’t exactly lighting it up either. After an 11-5 February, OKC went 4-4 in March. While I think the Thunder could certainly make this series interesting, the Lakers have a serious experience advantage and should prevail in the end, providing the return of Andrew Bynum doesn’t throw a wrench into the machine. The key matchup to watch is Kobe Bryant and Thabo Sefolosha, who has become one of the most respective defensive wings in the league. Kobe’s numbers against the Thunder were right on his season averages, so maybe he has Sefolosha figured out.

Nuggets vs. Jazz
Denver went through a 3-6 stretch in late February, but were 5-2 in March, so it’s tough to tell which Nuggets team is going to show up. They’re going to be without George Karl for the first round, so without his guidance, I’d have to give the edge to the Jazz. Of course, this assumes that Carlos Boozer is healthy to play. He had an MRI on his abdomen yesterday and the results have not been released. After a hot February (12-5) the Jazz went just 3-3 in March. A healthy Boozer is crucial to Utah’s playoff hopes.

Mavericks vs. Spurs
After starting the season 32-24, the Spurs have gone 18-8 in their last 26 games. Meanwhile, the Mavs won 13-straight in January and February, and finished the season winning five straight and 8 of 10. Dallas won the season series, 3-1, and has home court advantage, but a healthy Spurs team is a dangerous Spurs team. This one smells like a six- or seven-game series.

Suns vs. Blazers
Phoenix certainly has the momentum; the Suns went 17-4 over the last two months, while the Blazers are a very respectable 15-5 over that same span. The key to this series is Brandon Roy, who is dealing with a torn meniscus in his knee. He’s going to try to play, but he’s probably not going to be 100%. (Update: Brandon Roy is out for the series, and likely the season.) Can the rest of the Blazers pick up the slack and overcome home court advantage? This matchup will be a true test of tempo. The Suns are 4th in the league in pace (97.9 possessions per game) while the Blazers are 30th.

Sure-to-be-wrong predictions:

First round: Cavs over Bulls, Heat over Celtics, Hawks over Bucks, Magic over Bobcats, Lakers over Thunder, Jazz over Nuggets, Spurs over Mavs, Suns over Blazers

Conference semifinals: Cavs over Heat, Magic over Hawks, Lakers over Jazz, Suns over Spurs

Conference finals: Cavs over Magic, Lakers over Suns

Finals: Cavs over Lakers

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