Say what you want about regular-season NBA basketball.
Guys donâ€™t play defense, it lasts way too long and veterans fake injuries to get some time off. This is all true.
But the NBA Playoffs are a totally different beast. And this yearâ€™s playoffs are chock full of nationally captivating storylines in a way that we have not witnessed since the 90â€™s.
Can the Lakers three-peat one more time?Â Can the Heat bring home 1/7 of LeBron Jamesâ€™ title guarantee? Can Derrick Rose lead the Bulls back to the promised land?
Hereâ€™s a preview of how I think the first round will shake out.
Bulls vs. Pacers
This is easily the most lopsided matchup of the first round. The Bulls went 3-1 against the Pacers in the regular season, besting them by an average of nearly 18 points per game in those winning efforts.
Pacers forward Danny Granger came out and said the Bulls will go as far as Rose will take them, and that the Pacers can beat the Bulls if they shut him down. While Rose has earned this yearâ€™s MVP award, Bulls forward Carlos Boozer will be the key to this series.
The only time the Pacers beat the Bulls this season was when Boozer was out due to injury. Boozer gives the Bulls that interior scorer that nobody on the Pacers can stop. Look for Boozer to torch the slow-footed Roy Hibbert on the block, and help lead the Bulls to an easy series win.
Bulls in 5
Heat vs. 76ers
Donâ€™t be surprised if this isnâ€™t a walk on the beach for Miami. All the talk about Miami is that when they want to play defense, they are the best defensive team in the league. Thatâ€™s a load of garbage, to be discussed for another time.
The whole â€˜turn it on, turn it offâ€™ mentality is meant to benefit veteran teams that have been together for a while like the Lakers and Celtics – not the Heat. However, this team is simply too talented to drop four out of seven to the 76ers. The Heatâ€™s biggest Achillesâ€™ heel has been its interior defense, but that will not be exposed against a guard-heavy 76ers squad.
Heat in 6
Celtics vs. Knicks
There is a reason Mike Dâ€™Antoni cannot, does not, and will not ever win in the playoffs: his teams donâ€™t play defense. Teams that believe they can win by playing 50 percent of the game are horribly mistaken.
The Celtics are not a team that allows guys like Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire to even get off 25 shots in a game. As the No. 1-ranked defensive team in the NBA, expect Boston to stymie the offensive-minded Knickerbockers. And also expect Kevin Garnett to pound his chest like a fool after every one of his many defensive stops.
Celtics in 5
Magic vs. Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks are not a good basketball team. I donâ€™t know how much clearer I can make that.
They have a solid starting five that has shown signs of being one of the best young teams in the NBA. But when you have a young starting five and a nonexistent bench, there are going to be times where you look like a lottery team.
We have seen this far too often from the Hawks this year, most recently in their six-game skid to end the season. Expect Dwight Howard to go off on a shallow Atlanta team that has no answer for him.
Magic in 5
Spurs vs. Grizzlies
The big storyline heading into this one is whether or not the Spurs can move on without their MVP Manu Ginobili on the shelf with an elbow injury. They finished the season 4-6 with Ginobili going down in the final regular-season game in Phoenix. I donâ€™t know if Iâ€™ve ever seen this much doubt surrounding a 60-win team heading into the playoffs.
But do not expect the Spurs to lay an egg like Dallas did against Golden State in 2007. This top seed is too experienced and too deep to fall to a first-time playoff team like Memphis.
The Spurs were tied with the Bulls for the NBAâ€™s best home record while the Grizzlies were a mere 16-25 on the road. Point is, donâ€™t plan on this series starting anything but 2-0 in favor of San Antonio.
Ginobili will likely be back by the time the Spurs travel to Memphis, where they will be able to finish off the job with ease.
Spurs in 4
Lakers vs. Hornets
The question is whether or not the Lakers will three-peat, not whether or not theyâ€™ll lose to the New Orleans Pauls in the first round.
Letâ€™s move on.
Lakers in 5
Mavericks vs. Trail Blazers
This is probably the best matchup of the first round. These are two teams that split the season series and have both shown signs of being elite NBA teams.
The Mavericksâ€™ 57-25 record is similar to the regular-season dominance that weâ€™ve seen out of them in the past few years. But for whatever reason, Dirk Nowitzki is a different player in the playoffs. He struggles to even get shots off, and completely tightens up his game.
Jason Terry will likely be the one putting this team on his back but ultimately, it will not be enough to get by Portlandâ€™s balanced offensive attack. Look for this one to go down to the wire and be the most memorable first-round series of the 2011 NBA Playoffs.
Trail Blazers in 7
Thunder vs. Nuggets
Another solid matchup pits two teams whose stocks are quickly rising in the NBA. The Nuggets have been on a tear since they dumped their defenseless trash on New Yorkâ€™s doorstep.
The Nuggets are 18-7 since then and have been a completely different ball club. While the Nuggets certainly have the makings of a Western Conference title contender down the road, this group is full of guys that have never been in the postseason before. That coupled with a lack of a go-to scorer down the stretch could likely mean an early exit for the Nuggets.
Look for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to build on their impressive first round showing against the Lakers last year and lead the Thunder past the upstart Nuggets.
Thunder in 6