If the 2012 Playoffs Started Today
The start of the 2012 NBA Playoffs is just days away, what playoff match-ups are on the horizon?
The Western Conference
1 San Antonio Spurs (48-16) vs. 8 Utah Jazz (35-30)
Season Match-up: Spurs won 3-1
The Jazz have surged in winning four straight games to guarantee their slot in the playoffs, this included overtime wins against the Dallas Mavericks and Orlando Magic that tested their mettle. Unfortunately, this likely guarantees Utah a first round match-up with a Spurs team that has been lighting up the NBA all season long.
These aren’t the Spurs from the 2000’s, either. The 2012 San Antonio Spurs have won more games than any other team in the Western Conference this season thanks to a red-hot offense that produces the second-most points per game (103.5) in the NBA.
Utah will have their hands full with the talent San Antonio possesses, but one thing in the Jazz favor is their ability to score around the basket. The Spurs have had trouble stopping post scoring all season and the likes of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors will look to give Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner and the undersized DeJuan Blair fits on the block.
Tim Duncan can only guard one person and likely only for spurts considering his age (35) and this will be a huge problem in this seven-game series for San Antonio.
That being said, the Spurs still have the ability to overwhelm Utah with the likes of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to go along with what could be the deepest bench in the NBA.
Prediction: San Antonio in five games.
2 Oklahoma City Thunder (47-18) vs. 7 Dallas Mavericks (36-29)
Season Match-up: Thunder won 3-1
One of the most interesting first round match-ups on the agenda, the Thunder would host the Mavericks in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference Finals. Dallas won the battle last postseason, 4-1, but this Mavs’ squad is outfitted quite a bit differently than it was last season.
Gone is the low post presence of Tyson Chandler, the defensive toughness on the perimeter in DeShawn Stevenson and the penetration to the basket of J.J. Barea. In their place are newcomers Delonte West and Vince Carter who, along with young center Ian Mahinmi, who saw only brief action in last season’s title run. They must step up big for Dallas to have a shot at advancing.
On the other side, the Thunder are a year wiser and haven’t forgotten the lesson the grizzled Mavs taught them just a year ago. Kevin Durant has been in Most Valuable Player form all season long and the four match-ups between the two teams this season haven’t lacked for playoff-style intensity.
While Dallas matches up much fairly well with OKC, it’s still going to be quite the uphill climb for the defending champs.
Prediction: I see this being a surprising series that goes seven games but the Thunder advance to the next round with a win in Game Seven at home.
3 Los Angeles Lakers (41-24) vs. 6 Denver Nuggets (36-28)
Season Match-up: Lakers won 3-1
This could be an interesting series with the playoff-proven Lakers taking on the high-octane Nuggets. L.A. won the season series 3-1, but those three wins were by a total of just 13 points, which would lead one to believe that this could be a tight series.
Denver has lit up opposing defenses this season to the tune of 103.7 points per game – the highest scoring average for any NBA team this season. The Nuggets feature a young, deep and talented roster that has the ability to run opponents into submission.
For Los Angeles, it’s been somewhat of an up-and-down season for the boys in gold and purple. Most recently, L.A. has won six of its past eight games with quality wins over Dallas, Denver, Oklahoma City and in San Antonio against the Spurs.
Any problems from earlier this season seem to be a thing of the past as the Lakers will feature a rested Kobe Bryant to go along with the most dominant low-post duo in the league going into the postseason. They will, of c0urse, have to overcome the loss of Metta World Peace due to a seven-game suspension, but they have the personnel to compensate.
Prediction: Denver will put up a fight in this series, no doubt, but L.A. will likely advance in six games.
4 Los Angeles Clippers (40-25) vs. 5 Memphis Grizzlies (40-25) – Locked Series
Season Match-up: Clippers won 2-1
In what looks to be the most physical first round series of 2012, the Grizzlies would be going on the road to start the postseason in Los Angeles. Both of these teams have the same record with one game to go this season and the Clippers hold the tie-breaker – thus currently hold home court advantage.
As they seem to do every year, Memphis has dealt with a myriad of injuries in this 2012 season but are apparently at full strength going into the postseason. Newcomer Gilbert Arenas has provided a boost down the stretch to go along with the interior trio of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay.
Los Angeles continues to rely on their supreme athleticism and MVP-caliber play from All-NBA point guard Chris Paul. For many on the Clippers, this will be their first rodeo going into the playoffs and the onus will be on veterans like Paul, Kenyon Martin and Caron Butler to steady the ship this postseason.
One of the most difficult playoff series this postseason to predict, the edge has to go to Memphis for two huge reasons.
1.) The Grizzlies shocked the world last season in handling the number one seed San Antonio Spurs in six games and that experience has a legitimate chance to propel them this year.
2.) Gasol and Randolph give Memphis the size down low to match up well with Lob City’s duo of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
Prediction: It wouldn’t be surprising to see Memphis move on in a tightly contested seven game series.
The Eastern Conference
1 Chicago Bulls (48-16) vs. 8 Philadelphia 76ers (34-30)
Season Match-up: Bulls won 2-1
Possibly the most lop-sided match-up of the group, the Bulls and the 76ers would square off in the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs if they started today.
Philadelphia has found itself in a free fall since surging to a season-best 11 games over .500 at 20-9 on February 13. Since then, the 76ers have mounted a 14-21 record with two games left which is made more respectable by a recent three-game winning streak.
For the Bulls, Derrick Rose in finally back and looks to be at full strength for a Chicago team that has excelled even without the 2011 MVP in the lineup for most of the season. The team that will finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference will look to get Rose back and acclimated as they blow past Philly to head to the second round.
Prediction: It would be shocking if Chicago let’s this series linger any longer than five games.
2 Miami HEAT (46-19) vs. 7 New York Knicks (34-30)
Season Match-up: HEAT won 3-0
One of the most exiting first round match-ups would have to be the current pairing of the Knicks and the HEAT. The amount of star power in this series, even with Jeremy Lin looking on from the sidelines, would make it must-see basketball featuring the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire.
In New York, the Knicks find themselves trying to reintroduce Stoudemire to the lineup after excelling (9-4 record) with their starting power forward on the shelf due to injury. New York is 1-1 with Stoudemire returning to the lineup and will have a back-to-back against the Clippers and Charlotte Bobcats that will decide whether or not the Knicks stay in the seventh spot.
N.Y. controls their own seeding destiny moving forward as two wins (or two 76ers losses) would assure they remain the seventh seed.
In South Beach, the HEAT have had the luxury of resting members of the big three for the entirety of games over the last few weeks. Already oozing with talent, this means that the trio of James, Wade and Chris Bosh will be rested and ready to wreak havoc once the playoffs get underway.
As a fan, and for the NBA, it would be incredible to see this series go seven games. Tyson Chandler was pivotal for the Mavericks in beating the HEAT in last year’s NBA Finals and he could be a key in stopping the lay-up line Wade and James tend to inflict on opponents.
Unfortunately, the Knicks just aren’t talented enough to hang with the HEAT, who beat them by at least double digits in two of three meetings this season and eight in the other.
Prediction: Logic says Miami takes the series in five games, but many fans (especially in N.Y.) will be hoping for more from this All-Star-laden showdown.
3 Indiana Pacers (42-23) vs. 6 Orlando Magic (36-28)
Season Match-up: Magic won 3-1
While Orlando has played Indiana very well this season, there’s going to be a huge change to the Magic lineup when and if these two meet later this week. Done for the season, Dwight Howard is hands down Orlando’s best player, while the hard-charging Pacers look like a contender in the East late in the season.
(This is almost a lock for the first round as the Magic would have to lose two straight – one of those being Charlotte – and Knicks would have to win both remaining games to reach sixth. N.Y. mathematically still has a shot though given their 2-1 season series win over Orlando)
As one might expect, Orlando has struggled mightily without Howard clogging up the lane. The Magic have lost three straight and five of their last eight overall with the All-NBA center looking on from the sidelines in a custom fitted suit.
Indiana, on the other hand, has won eight of their last nine games and 12 of 14 this month heading into the postseason. David West has been huge down the stretch (averaging 21.6 points and 8.8 boards over the last five games) to go along with team-leading scorer Danny Granger and Paul George putting in work from the perimeter.
Prediction: Given Howard’s absence, it would be a miracle if the Magic won this series and it wouldn’t be a stretch to see the Pacers advance via sweep.
4 Boston Celtics (38-27) vs. 5 Atlanta Hawks (39-26) – Locked Series
Season Match-up: Celtics won 2-1
This looks to be a very competitive series as all three meetings between these two teams have been decided by five points or less. If Atlanta wins tomorrow night at home against the Mavericks, the Hawks will secure home court in the first round which would be huge in what should be a nail-biter of a series.
A rested and thriving Celtics squad is a scary proposition heading into the 2012 postseason and that’s exactly how this team is rolling right now. Veterans Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce have gotten some rest over the past two games and coach Doc Rivers has made it a priority to have these older players energized going into the postseason.
Finding a nice medium between rest and rust will be huge for the Celtics going into round one.
Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the Hawks continue to battle it out down the stretch and they hope to secure home court in the first round. Atlanta has won four of five down the stretch and look to advance past the first round of the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
Both of these teams are top-five in the NBA in scoring defense so a tough, grind-it-out affair looks to be on tap for these two teams.
Prediction: Boston has played exceptionally well since the All-Star break (23-10 record) and possess both the championship-pedigree and rested legs that give them the opportunity to knock out the Hawks in six games.