This is what everyone’s been building toward. After six grueling months in the regular season, the 2013 NBA Playoffs are finally upon us and the big question on everyone’s minds is quite simple: Can anyone stop the Miami Heat from repeating as champions?
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade carried the champs to a 27-game win streak, but it will all be for naught if they don’t earn their rings this June.
But before we get to June, let’s see what the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs will show us.
Miami (1) vs Milwaukee (8)
Milwaukee is seen as little more than a speedbump on Miami’s quest for a repeat. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are a nice, explosive backcourt tandem, and Larry Sanders has emerged to give the Bucks a semblance of an inside game, but come on. Seriously, if the Heat drop even one game in this series, it will be considered a disappointment. Coach Erik Spoelstra’s “Pace and Space” offense should be on full display here, as well as James’ Swiss knife-like abilities.
Fearless forecast: Heat in 4.
Indiana (2) vs Atlanta (6)
Despite losing former All-Star Danny Granger to a season-ending injury, the Indiana Pacers still proved strong enough to snag the East’s number three seed. David West and Roy Hibbert man the bruising Indiana frontcourt while Paul George has continued to develop into a lethal scorer in his own right. With former San Antonio Spur George Hill fully entrenched in the starting point guard spot, it’s easy to see why Coach Frank Vogel has job security.
For Atlanta, the departure of Joe Johnson for Brooklyn in the offseason, plus the tag of the Hawks as perpetual underachievers has once again earned them a playoff spot but has done little to improve their standing in the eyes of NBA fans. Al Horford is a solid big man, but the mercurial Josh Smith seems to always be someone who’s all set to be traded or leave Georgia altogether. Yes, Larry Drew has gotten the Hawks to a sixth seed, but nobody really expects them to give the Pacers much of a challenge.
Fearless forecast: Pacers in 5.
New York (3) vs Boston (7)
Now this is an old school NBA rivalry. The New York Knicks finally got back the top of the Atlantic Division from the hated Boston Celtics in a season where the fortunes of both teams took strange turns. Rajon Rondo’s season-ending injury and the mileage on Kevin Garnett’s ageing frame has seen Doc Rivers’ wards more vulnerable than they’ve been since before Garnett joined forces with Paul Pierce in 2008, and it showed. For some reason, mostly because of the reputation they’ve created over the past five seasons, some still think the Celtics will have something to knock off this untested Knicks roster.
However, this was the season that Carmelo Anthony finally earned serious consideration in the MVP race. Torching opponents from inside, outside, and from mid-range, Anthony made up for his defensive deficiencies through his offense. Without Amar’e Stoudemire crowding the paint, Anthony seemed to be let loose, and tagged with JR Smith to lead New York’s offensive barrage. Though Tyson Chandler remains their defensive anchor, Coach Mike Woodson actually has a healthier roster than the Celtics, which will probably be enough to lift the Madison Square Garden faithful to the second round.
Fearless forecast: Knicks in 6.
Brooklyn (4) vs Chicago (5)
For the Chicago Bulls, the drama surrounding them this season has revolved around the seemingly endless speculation regarding superstar Derrick Rose’s return from injury. In the 2012 Playoffs, Rose went down with an injury versus the Philadelphia 76ers, effectively ending the Bulls’ playoff run. With Rose still not seeing game action (most think it’s psychological more than physical), Chicago still managed to snag a number five seed. Credit should be given once more to Coach Tom Thibodeau for milking his roster through the injuries to Rose, Rip Hamilton, and Joakim Noah, and even for managing to relatively rein in Nate Robinson’s shot-happy tendencies.
In their first season in Brooklyn, the Nets did not live up to owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s lofty goal of being a championship contender. They fired Coach Avery Johnson early in the season and let PJ Carlesimo run the ship, but Deron Williams still seemed to be a bit lost in the offense. Not even the addition of Joe Johnson and the new contracts given to Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez could solve the malaise that Brooklyn seemed mired in at various points of the season. Still, the Nets did manage to snag the fourth seed in the East, a big improvement from being out of the playoffs last season. But if Rose does return and shows no ill effects from his knee injury, then Thibodeau will have the bonus of a former MVP being fresh from an 82-game schedule.
Fearless forecast: Bulls in 6.