The 2012 NBA Playoffs Preview
After a stupid lockout, an unnecessarily compact 66 game season, a Dwight Howard soap opera, a farewell to the New Jersey Nets, a return of Ron Artest, and a dose of Linsanity, we’ve finally reached the postseason. Finally. Let’s get into it…
(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Utah Jazz
For the second year in a row, the Spurs snagged the top spot in the West, winning a fairly remarkable 50 of their 66 games in this wacky season. (For the record, the Charlotte Bobcats losing 59 games is even more remarkable.) Last year, San Antonio hobbled into the playoffs, ran into a young, athletic team that was clicking on all cylinders and were promptly run out of the gym. That won’t happen again this season. Utah is a very capable young team, with a ton of good talent, but they sorely lack a point guard (They should try to get Deron Williams. Oh, right.) and that will hurt them on both ends of the floor in this series. Expect Tony Parker to play at his 2007-level, the year he won the Finals MVP. Utah’s time is coming, but it’s not here just yet. San Antonio wins convincingly.
Spurs in 5
(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks
Repeating a title run is tough enough. Doing so in a lockout-shortened season with an elderly team that lost its defensive presence, toughness, rebounder, and space-taker-up in the form of Tyson Chandler makes it that much more difficult. The defending champion Mavericks would have rather played the ’92 Dream Team than the Thunder. Newly crowned three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant is going to have a series resembling his performance at the Rucker and Russell Westbrook may give Jason Kidd a stroke on defense. He’s been cleared to play, but James Harden could sit out this series and OKC would still advance. I see Dirk Nowitzki pulling out a win on his own, and Dallas is too experienced not to steal another game, but that’s the closest they will get.
Thunder in 6
(3) L.A. Lakers vs. (6) Denver Nuggets
Most people couldn’t name someone on the Nuggets other than JaVale McGee or the handful of players the team received in exchange for Carmelo Anthony, but Denver actually has some talent. In addition to former Knicks Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Timofey Mozgov, the Nuggets also have strong backcourt play in the form of veteran Andre Miller and athletic Arron Afflalo. Plus, they still have Birdman. But just like the Spurs are different than last year, the Lakers are too. In the past, a duo like Miller and Afflalo would torch Derek Fisher (much like Dallas did last season), but the trade for Ramon Sessions helped to fix that issue. There’s no doubt L.A. will miss Metta World Peace, but the ageless T-1000 Kobe Bryant is playing at a level we haven’t seen in four years (27.9 points, 5.4 rebounds per game). He won’t let them lose this series.
Lakers in 6
(4) Memphis Grizzlies vs. (5) L.A. Clippers
This is the best matchup of the first round. The Clippers are Lob City, but Memphis is Get In Your Grill City. This is a series of two contrasting styles that will offset one another and bring the best out in both teams. L.A. has the advantage on the outside and in the open court with Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe along with the jaw-dropping Blake Griffin, but the Grizz feature twin bangers Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph that control the paint, slow down the game, and force teams into foul trouble. I’ll be stunned if this doesn’t go the distance and, in that final contest, Memphis will eke out a Game 7 win at home.
Grizzlies in 7
(1) Chicago Bulls vs. (8) Philadelphia 76ers
There was a time this season that Philadelphia was hoping to secure the 3-seed. That didn’t happen. Instead, the Sixers fell off a cliff and barely sneaked into the playoffs. As a reward, they get to play the team tied for the best record in the Association. The Bulls managed 50 wins despite the nagging injuries to Derrick Rose and while Chicago is a more favorable matchup for Philly than the Heat, this isn’t a 2007 Warriors-Mavericks situation. Chicago does too many things too well, especially in terms of defense and rebounding, to fall in the first round. Plus, the Sixers’ biggest flaw is the lack of a player that can create – and make – his own shot late in games against stout defense and the Bulls’ defense is the stoutest. That’s not a good combo. My team swipes a game at home in front of an energized crowed, but no more than that. I still hate Joakim Noah, though.
Bulls in 5
(2) Miami Heat vs. (7) New York Knicks
It’s the late ‘90s all over again. The Knicks-Heat matchup will undoubtedly get the most attention of any of the first round series, as much for its off-court intrigue as its on-court promise. LeBron James continues to seek his precious like Gollum while Knicks fans have more confidence in this team than any since 1999, the last lockout-shortened season, when Latrell Sprewell carried N.Y. to the Finals. Jeremy Lin is still out (ESPN weeps), but Amar’e Stoudemire is back, having played 24 minutes in the final regular season game and looking good in the process. Although Carmelo Anthony didn’t have his greatest season statistically, he still put up 22/6/3 every night and continued to prove that he has no qualms about taking the big shot. The Knicks, though, still don’t have enough around Anthony and Stoudemire and though Miami faltered at points during the season, James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh know that this is the part that truly matters. It will only last five games, but every game will be a battle.
Heat in 5
(3) Indiana Pacers vs. (6) Orlando Magic
Without question, Indiana is the biggest sleeper in the playoffs. The pacers went 42 – 24 and finished the season 13th in points scored and 10th in points allowed. Those aren’t incredible numbers, but they are solid, and they will be improved upon against a Magic team without Dwight Howard. Roy Hibbert is no Hakeem Olajuwon, but he’s decent and without Howard to clog the lane, I expect him to have an impact against the overmatched Glen “Big Baby” Davis. Orlando has the advantage on the wing, including the gentleman for whom this site is named, but it won’t be enough and America will soon become familiar with a young man named Paul George. Orlando is a dead team walking and Indiana will put them out of their misery in a sweep.
Pacers in 4
(4) Boston Celtics vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks
The Celtics have a higher seed because they won the Atlantic Division, but the Hawks have a better record and thus home-court advantage. Atlanta is the team that is good, but never close to being great and, as a result, is always a middle seed and never a real threat to the top teams. This season is no different. The Hawks believe that they have a real shot to knock off Boston and its rickety big three, but the Hawks have never lacked confidence, even when they lacked everything else. Jeff Teague is a very underrated player, but Rajon Rondo is in the conversation of the best PG in the game and he will have a huge series. With Al Horford a question mark and Zaza Pachulia out until at least Game 2, the Hawks will need to have big games from Josh Smith, who is still a freak athletically and can take over a game. If Horford plays, Atlanta seems like the perfect team to put a nail in the C’s coffin, but veteran guile and craftiness almost always wins a seven-game series and there’s no way Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce (and Rondo) bow out to a team like the Hawks.
Celtics in 6
Pierzy writes a weekly NBA column during the season, as well as columns revolving around other sports, hip-hop, movies, TV shows, food, beer, marriage, (impending) fatherhood, and a variety of other topics. You can follow him on Twitter here.