If the NBA Playoffs Started Today
With the final day of the regular season less than two weeks away (April 13), let’s take a look at what would be the current playoff matchups in each conference if the season ended today.
Note: All seedings accurate as of Thursday afternoon, March 31st.
The Eastern Conference:
(1) Chicago Bulls (54-20) vs (8) Indiana Pacers (34-42)
Season Series: Bulls up 3-1.
Whether the Bulls face the Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Bobcats, or Milwaukee Bucks it is unlikely to make much difference. The Bulls have a matchup advantage at virtually every position and they have the current MVP front-runner in Derrick Rose. Regardless of which team the Bulls face, it is hard to imagine this series going more than five games.
If the Bulls do face off against the Pacers it will be a battle of two teams heading in different directions. The Pacers are limping into the playoffs having a record of eight games under .500, while the Bulls are only three games back of the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in the NBA. Since the All-Star break the Bulls have lost only four games while the Pacers are 10-12.
Add to that, the Bulls have the league’s top rated defense and the second best home record in the league, and it’s unlikely the Pacers will be able to put up much of a fight against the East’s top team.
Prediction: Bulls Sweep
(2) Boston Celtics (51-22) vs (7) New York Knicks (37-38)
Season Series: Celtics up 3-0. Final Meeting: April 13th in Boston
The Celtics and Knicks shook up their respective rosters at the trade deadline. Boston traded away it’s starting center Kendrick Perkins for swingman Jeff Green, while the Knicks traded almost half their roster to bring in Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. The results for both teams haven’t been good.
Anthony and Billups have struggled to adapt to Coach Mike D’Antoni’s fast paced offensive system, and the team is yet to live up to the hype it received after making the blockbuster move. The Knicks have gone 9-12 since Anthony moved to New York and now there is talk that Amar’e Stoudemire may be wearing down as the Knicks approach the playoffs.
The Celtics haven’t fared much better since trading away the oft-injured Perkins compiling a record of 10-8 since the deadline. While the players and coaches continue adjusting to life without the physical Perkins down low, the Celtics do have several things going for them that the Knicks don’t.
Last year the Celtics struggled down the stretch and ended up seeded fourth in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, but still managed to reach the Finals. Also, despite their recent struggles, the Celtics still lead the league by only allowing only 90.9 points per game compared to the Knicks who allow over 105.
While both teams are clearly struggling heading into the home stretch, it’s unlikely the Knicks will be able to put enough points on the scoreboard to surprise the Celtics and move on to the second round. This Celtics team has been together for three seasons, while the Knicks have only been together since February.
Prediction: Celtics in Six
(3) Miami HEAT (52-23) vs (6) Philadelphia 76ers (39-36)
Season Series: HEAT up 3-0.
The HEAT have owned the Sixers this season beating them by an average of more than 10 points a game and holding them to an average of only 92 points per game, seven points below their season average.
With that being said, the Sixers do match up pretty well against the HEAT on paper, and in the playoffs it’s all about matchups. Andre Iguodala is a big, physical defender, who will do as good a job on LeBron James as anyone. The combination of Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young is difficult on both ends of the floor for Chris Bosh.
While, the Sixers don’t have a great matchup with Dwyane Wade, the HEAT don’t have a great matchup with Philadelphia’s point guard Jrue Holiday and centers Spencer Hawes and Marresse Speights. Based solely on matchups, an argument could be made the Sixers almost have an advantage, especially when adding in potential Coach of the Year Doug Collins compared to the HEAT’s second year coach Erik Spoelstra.
Furthermore, a deeper look at the Sixers schedule tells a different story. Over their first 16 games the Sixers managed only three wins. Since then, they’ve gone 36-23, good for a .610 winning percentage, which would have them ranked as the fifth seed ahead of the Atlanta Hawks.
While it is unlikely the 76ers will be able to pull off the upset, expect this to be a very tough and long series for both teams
Prediction: HEAT in Six
(4) Orlando Magic (47-28) vs (5) Atlanta Hawks (43-32)
Season Series: Atlanta up 3-1.
After being swept out of the playoffs for two consecutive years it’s hard to consider the Hawks a serious contender. Last season they barely squeaked by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, despite Milwaukee being without star center Andrew Bogut. In the Conference Semi-Finals the Magic made short work of the Hawks beating them by an average of more than 25 points per game.
The Hawks are essentially the same team as last year, they did add a new point guard in Kirk Hinrich, but the rest of the core remains the same. Al Horford doesn’t have the size to match up with Dwight Howard and it seems unlikely the Hawks will be able to overcome their lack of recent post-season success.
Despite the Hawks beating the Magic 3-1 in the regular season, there is little reason to believe history won’t repeat itself.
Prediction: Magic in Five
Outside Looking In:
The Charlotte Bobcats are just a game back of the Indiana Pacers for the final spot in the playoffs, but do not hold the tiebreaker. Unfortunately for Charlotte, Tyrus Thomas has been dealing with injuries since January and Stephen Jackson has been in and out of the lineup during March, which has made it difficult for new head coach Paul Silas to set a rotation. Also, with the Bobcats trading away major pieces like former all-star Gerald Wallace and center Nazr Mohammed it appears unlikely they will be able to catch the Pacers and reach the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
The Western Conference
(1) San Antonio Spurs (57-17) vs (8) Memphis Grizzlies (42-33)
Season Series: Tied 2-2
The Spurs have been the dominant team of the regular season. They have the best record in the NBA and the best home record. The only thing that has slowed them down is a recent bout of injuries to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, yet they still have the best record in the NBA.
The Grizzlies on the other hand have fought and struggled all season long to get in a position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2005-06. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, star forward Rudy Gay is out for the season with a dislocated shoulder and any legitimate chance they had a first round upset went down with him.
The Spurs have the matchup advantage at almost every position, they have one of the NBA’s premier coaches in Greg Popovich, and their core of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili have won titles together. The Grizzlies don’t have the star power to overcome this many disadvantages.
Memphis could move up a spot though, and not have to face the Spurs. They are only one game back of the New Orleans Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers who are tied for the sixth seed, so it’s quite possible they could end up facing off against the Los Angeles Lakers or Dallas Mavericks instead. Which most likely won’t result in a different outcome
Prediction: Spurs in Five
(2) Los Angeles Lakers (53-20) vs (7) Portland Trail Blazers (43-32)
Season Series: Lakers up 3-0. Final meeting: April 8th at Portland
Since the All-Star break the Lakers have gone 15-1 and are currently only 3.5 games back of the best record in the NBA. Andrew Bynum is healthy and leading the team in blocks, field goal percentage, and is averaging almost nine rebounds per game. Kobe Bryant has re-established himself as a MVP candidate and Lamar Odom is in the running for Sixth Man of the Year. Heading into the playoffs, the Lakers have become the team to beat.
The Trail Blazers could actually provide a difficult first round matchup with the Lakers. LaMarcus Aldridge has been playing at an all-star level all season long and the deadline acquisition of Gerald Wallace has made the ‘Blazers a better rebounding team and more athletic. The Lakers biggest weakness, point guard, is a strength for Portland. Andre Miller should be able to get wherever he wants against an aging Derek Fisher and newcomer Steve Blake.
Portland is a scary matchup for all of the top teams out west. If Roy can give them anything, it’s quite possible a major upset could be in store. However, the Lakers are the two-time defending champions and won’t go away easy, but this could be the most exciting first round of this year’s playoffs.
Prediction: Lakers in Six
(3) Dallas Mavericks (53-21) vs (6) New Orleans Hornets (43-32)
Season Series: Hornets up 2-0. Final Meeting April 13th at Dallas
The New Orleans Hornets own the tiebreaker over the Trail Blazers and therefore are seeded sixth despite being tied with Portland in the standings. Moving up to sixth will allow the Hornets to avoid the defending champions and give them a matchup that is much more winnable.
The Mavs have struggled in the first round in recent memory having lost to the Golden State Warriors in 2007 in six games, after having the league’s best record. Last year they lost to the Spurs in six games despite earning the second seed and home court advantage. This year should be different though, the Mavs are in the top ten in points allowed and point differential, and they will be playing a team that lost one of it’s top players.
The Hornets will be without power forward David West for the remainder of the season because of a torn ACL. West is the Hornets second best player behind Chris Paul and the team’s leading scorer. With West out, the Hornets will provide very little resistance to the playoff tested Mavs, and Dallas should be able to cruise into the second round.
Prediction: Mavs in Five
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder (50-24) vs (5) Denver Nuggets 45-29)
Season Series: Tied 1-1. Two more meetings: April 5th in Denver and April 8th in Oklahoma City.
This is a matchup of two of the highest scoring teams in the league. Denver leads the league with over 107 points per game and the Thunder average over 104 points. There is little doubt these games will be high scoring and extremely entertaining to watch.
Since bringing in Kendrick Perkins at the deadline the Thunder are 14-4. Perkins could be the difference in this series as he provides a defensive presence in the paint that the Thunder have never had. When two teams can score as well as the Nuggets and Thunder can, it often comes down to which team can get that last second stop. With Perkins on board, Oklahoma City has the advantage.
What Denver has going for it is a team that is clearly enjoying playing together. After being held hostage for most of the season by the Carmelo Anthony saga, the Nuggets have played their best basketball of the season since the trade that shipped out the former franchise star. The Nuggets are playing an unselfish, up-tempo style that has resulted in a 13-4 record since the trade, right on pace with the Thunder.
Both teams have been playing excellent basketball, but the Thunder still have two all-star’s in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, while the Nuggets traded away their all-star. When the games get tight, Durant and Westbrook have proven they can take over, while it’s still uncertain who will take the last shot for Denver.
Prediction: Thunder in Six
Outside Looking In:
If the Houston Rockets were in the Eastern conference they would be comfortably in the playoffs, unfortunately they play out west. The Rockets are three games over .500, but are trailing the Grizzlies by three games for the final playoff spot. The Rockets playoff hopes seem to be fading as they’ve lost 2 of their last three games, and of their remaining seven games, four are against playoff teams.
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