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Saturday, 20 April 2013

NBA Play Offs First Round Preview 2013

It is that time of the season when the NBA removes less than half of the teams in the League and gets into the Play Offs as teams start looking towards June and winning the big prize. It is no real surprise to suggest that the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, the two Finalists from a year ago, are going to be the teams to beat in the Eastern and Western Conferences respectively and both will be heavy favourites to move into the next Round.

There are a couple of dark horse contenders- the New York Knicks have certainly finished the season on a high and can trouble the Heat if they get hot, while it is never wise to rule out the San Antonio Spurs who continue to perform as one of the better teams in the West.

Of course we have those teams that I can't see going all the way like the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that limped into the Play Offs and even the Atlanta Hawks look like they are going to have a near impossible task to knock off the Indiana Pacers, the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat just to get to the NBA Finals.

I think it could be a fun two months all the same and it is certainly going to be a busy period of basketball with games coming thick and fast.

Miami Heat (1) v Milwaukee Bucks (8)

There really isn't a lot to say about this series as the Miami Heat look head and shoulders above a lot of teams in the Eastern Conference, while the Milwaukee Bucks were a fortunate team to even be playing in the post-season after a late season collapse.

However, there has been some spice added to the series with Brandon Jennings stating he believes the Bucks will win in 6 games despite going 1-3 against the Heat in the regular season. Jennings says Milwaukee match up well against Miami, and he is right to some extent, but their consistency is not even close to what the Heat put together and I think they will do well to avoid a sweep.

Milwaukee have played Miami close at times over the last couple of seasons, but any chance that the Heat play them unfocused is surely gone after Jennings' comments and I think Miami will want to get this over with as soon as possible and begin preparing for the winner of the Chicago-Brooklyn series.
Pick: I think it'll end up being Miami in 4


 New York Knicks (2) v Boston Celtics (7)

This is an interesting series as the New York Knicks can certainly make a statement by knocking out the Boston Celtics, a team that has regularly been involved in the Eastern Conference Championship talk over the last few seasons.

Injuries have certainly taken a toll on the Celtics squad this season, although the veteran presence of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will make them a dangerous prospect. However, the likes of Tyson Chandler are back in the rotation for New York, while both Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith provide enough scoring to make life difficult for the Celtics.

Over the last month, the Knicks have blown out Boston twice and that will give them confidence, but the Play Offs are a different matter and Anthony in particular has to show he can take his regular season form into the period when it matters most. Boston are certainly wily enough to make this a fight, but the home court advantage should be crucial for New York.

Pick: I think the New York Knicks will win this one in 6 games


 Indiana Pacers (3) v Atlanta Hawks (6)

A lot of people are surprised that the Atlanta Hawks didn't do their utmost down the stretch to avoid dropping to face the Indiana Pacers and I think it will prove to be a mistake for a squad that is likely to have some big changes in the off-season.

Josh Smith is unlikely to be in Atlanta next season and those hoping for Chris Paul and Dwight Howard to join forces here are probably clutching at straws with both of those players expected to sign in Los Angeles.

The Pacers may still be missing Danny Granger, but they look to have too much defence for the Hawks in this one, although it is true to say that Indiana didn't finish the regular season on a high and are no longer the trendy pick to be the team to upset the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference. Home court advantage is also huge for Indiana in this series and I think the Pacers will be moving through.

Pick: Indiana in 5 games

Brooklyn Nets (4) v Chicago Bulls (5)

This, in my opinion, is by far the most intriguing of the First Round matches in the Eastern Conference and a fairly tough one to split. The Chicago Bulls are about as healthy as they have been at any point in the last few months, while Brooklyn have certainly got the bit between their teeth as they ended the regular season in fine form.

I'd be surprised if Derrick Rose is back for the Bulls in this series though and there is a feeling that he is unlikely to play again this season, and I think his absence does make the Nets a better set of players.

However, the Bulls certainly know how to grind down teams and make it awkward for them to win games and this is clearly the series that I am struggling to get a read on. The Bulls did win the season series between the teams, but a couple of late collapses cost the Nets and they may have just learned their lesson with Deron Williams playing the best of his basketball this season at just the right time.

Pick: This is tough, but maybe home court advantage is enough to see the Brooklyn Nets advance in 7 tight games.

Oklahoma City Thunder (1) v Houston Rockets (8)

I don't think the Oklahoma City Thunder are going to be too disappointed that they have drawn the Houston Rockets in the First Round as the latter is almost the perfect opponent for them to face.

Both teams like to run the floor with a lot of pace and the Thunder are the better defensively so I do think they will come through fairly comfortably.

The big story around this series will be the fact that the Thunder will be facing James Harden, but they will find a way to slow down his production and that should allow Oklahoma City to come through the series with a lot of room to spare.

Pick: Oklahoma City Thunder in 5 games

San Antonio Spurs (2) v LA Lakers (7)

This is a fascinating series between two teams that have been at the fore-front of the Western Conference over the last 13 years, but both are expected to yield to the younger and more athletic Oklahoma City Thunder.

The absence of Kobe Bryant is really tough for the Lakers to overcome, especially with Steve Nash a little worn down too, and I think it will be very hard for them to make this a really close series.

Getting into the Play Offs was one of the first goals for the Lakers who had a tough start to the season, but losing Bryant so late in the year was always going to be tough to overcome in the post-season with the Spurs or the Thunder First Round opponents. Pushing this to 6 games would be an achievement in my opinion, but it is more likely that the Lakers are seen off sooner than that.

Pick: San Antonio Spurs in 5 games

Denver Nuggets (3) v Golden State Warriors (6)

Around six weeks ago, I though the Denver Nuggets were going to be a real dark horse in the Western Conference, especially with their home court record this season. However, the injury to Danilo Galinari has taken away one of the better scorers on this team, while Ty Lawson has been dealing with a few injuries of his own.

However, I think they will still be able to see off the dangerous Golden State Warriors, who do hit a lot of three pointers which is one aspect where the Nuggets struggle. However, the athletic ability of Denver means they can gas their opponents at home in the altitude of Colorado and I think they will be able to run the Golden State players a little ragged.

There will be times when the Warriors get hot from the three point range and that will give them a chance to stay in games, but I do think it will be Denver who can sneak a road win and then use their home record to get through to the Semi Finals.

Pick: Denver Nuggets in 6 games

LA Clippers (4) v Memphis Grizzlies (5)

This was a great series a year ago that was decided by a seventh game and took out a lot of energy from the LA Clippers who were eventually swept by the San Antonio Spurs.

I have little reason to doubt that this will be another fantastic series and it wouldn't be the biggest surprise in the World if this one also goes to seven games.

However, I think the LA Clippers winning in Memphis towards the end of the regular season to secure home court advantage and I think that confidence will inspire them to find a way to get this done before the seventh game and perhaps get a little bit of rest before the Semi Final series against, most likely, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Memphis will have a chance if they can impose their tempo on the games in the series, but it is a tough mental burden to overcome after some big losses to the Clippers over the last twelve months and Los Angeles are in a rude state of health.

Pick: LA Clippers in 6 games

That is my thoughts for the First Round series and I do see a couple of routine wins and a couple of tough series. It should be a fun two months coming up and check out my page where I will be making picks throughout the Play Offs. You can access that page here

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