The editors for WashingtonWizards.com, Jacob Raim and Jeremy Hyman, take a crack at predicting the outcomes for each of the NBA's first round playoff series.
Heat vs. Bucks
Jacob – It is really tough to see the Bucks getting anything going here. The Heat are rested, loaded and the Big 3 playing at an incredibly high level. The Bucks don't exactly come in playing their best basketball, losing five of their last six, with their only win coming against an Oklahoma City team resting everybody. Two of those losses were against Charlotte and Orlando. Yes, the Bucks did steal a game from Miami during the regular season, but that seems like a long time ago. James scored at least 26 in all four of the meetings between these two teams and it doesn't seem as though the Bucks have any answer for him on their roster. The Bucks could potentially steal one game in Milwaukee if Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis get hot and everything clicks but I don't see it happening. Heat in 4.
Jeremy - Don't need too much analysis here. Miami won 27 games in a row. Milwaukee won 38 total. The Heat finished 40 games over .500. Milwaukee finished 6 games below .500. This one should not take long, I would be surprised if Milwaukee stole a game but that's not out of the question. It won't last more than 5 games. Heat in 4.
Nets vs. Bulls
Jacob - The Bulls may not have Derrick Rose but they still have one of the best defenses in the league and some offensive balance. The key to the series will probably be Deron Williams. Chicago is going to throw a ton of different looks at Deron Williams but nobody has really stopped him in the second half of the year and he went for 30 in the Nets win over Chicago in April. Williams won't particularly be tested on the defensive end either as the Bulls don't really have a guard who likes to penetrate. Nate Robinson is probably the closest thing. The matchup between Joakim Noah and Brook Lopez should be a classic one as well, IF Noah is healthy enough to play and that's a big if. I'm writing on the assumption that Noah gives it a go. Noah does so much on the defensive end for Chicago and when teams don't have a dominant center; Noah can run the Bulls defensive rotations and help everywhere. Lopez will not allow him to do that as Noah will have to focus all his energy on staying with the very active Lopez. In the end, the Nets score a little too much for the Bulls inconsistent offense and get a big time game 7 win at Barclay's Center. If Noah's foot is too big an issue for him to play, this is probably Nets in 5 or 6. Nets in 7.
Jeremy - This one should be a great series. If everyone is healthy, I think the Bulls are a better team. But, the Bulls are far from healthy, as their star Derrick Rose has missed the entire season and is not expected back during this series. Now it looks like Joakim Noah may not play much of a factor for Chicago either, as his plantar fasciitis has acted up and could be extremely limited. That would be a big loss for the Bulls down low, not only from a skill level but also from an emotional point as Noah is one of the emotional leaders of that Chicago team. However, the Bulls still have a lot of nice pieces and they say defense wins in the playoffs. I think even without Rose and Noah, their team defense is enough to to get by this Nets team and they advance to the second round. Bulls in 6.
Pacers vs. Hawks
Jacob - This Pacers team looks primed for a playoff run and it starts with an Atlanta team that struggled down the stretch, losing five of their last seven. Josh Smith and Al Horford can be matchup nightmares but in Paul George and Roy Hibbert, the Pacers have two elite defenders who can help lock those guys down and the Pacers just don't give up points in general, allowing just 90 a game. Rebounding is going to be a huge edge for the Pacers who do it better than anybody else in the league. The Hawks struggle on the boards, ranking just 23rd in the NBA in rebounds per game and will have to find a way to keep David West and Roy Hibbert from controlling this series on the boards. I don't think they do. Pacers in 5.
Jeremy - This Pacers team was one of the more underrated teams this season. They seemed to slip under the radar all season, but they should not be taken lightly and could be a team that makes a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. They beat Miami twice in the regular season and could give them a run for their money in the playoffs if they get that far. The reason they can be tough is because they defend. The teams that play defense tend to do well in April, May, and June, which is why I like the Pacers to advance. They should have no trouble with the Hawks in round 1, who seem to get bounced in the first round every year. They don't have Joe Johnson anymore and the Pacers went 30-11 this season at home. Would be surprised if this went more than five games. Pacers in 5.
Knicks vs. Celtics
Jacob - Carmelo comes in having won the scoring title and playing on a whole different level than just about everybody else in the league, scoring at will from anywhere on the floor. The Celtics may well devise a lot of their game plan around stopping him but it's not like he is the Knicks only weapon. JR Smith leads the Knicks three point assault which helps make the Knicks offense very hard to stop. The Knicks will be without Stoudemire, but this is nothing new for them as they have missed him for most of the year. The Celtics do defend the three well, finishing top five in the NBA in opponents three point percentage and if they can control the Knicks three ball they will have a real shot. Garnett and Pierce will have to be dominating at both ends of the floor for the Celts to get this series. Chandler should have a big impact in the series, potentially really limiting Garnett's effectiveness though. The Celtics have never failed to advance past the first round in the Garnett era, this though is where that ends as Carmelo and company are just a little too much. Knicks in 6.
Jeremy - This is a series I don't want to miss. Boston vs New York. Always fun when those two cities go at it in the postseason, no matter what the sport. These two teams met in the playoffs in 2011 and the Celtics put the Knicks away with a clean sweep in four games. I don't think it will that easy for Boston this time around, as both teams have a different look and now the Celtics are the "underdog". It will be interesting to see if like the Celtics teams of the last five years they are able to turn it on when it counts. The Celtcs have always been able to flip that switch when it counts, but now they don't have Rajon Rondo, they don't have Ray Allen, they are another year older, and we'll see what they look like when the ball is tipped. This is also a much different looking Knicks team with a lot of weapons and a lot of 3-point shooting. The question will be can the Knicks defend well enough to win and can Carmelo lead his team out of the first round for only the second time in his career? He's a career 16-30 in the postseason and has a lot to prove this time around. I think the Celtics have just enough to get by the Knicks in a long series filled with drama. Celtics in 7.
Thunder vs. Rockets
Jacob - I might've liked the Rockets against some other teams thanks to their unique style of play and James Harden, but the Thunder are not one of them. James Harden's return to OKC may not be pretty as the Thunder just have so much fire power and quietly are playing exceptional D, ranking number two in the NBA in opponents field goal %. The Rockets on the other hand, don't defend much at all (28th in the league in points allowed) and when you don't defend Durant, Westbrook and company, you have serious, serious problems on your hands. The Rockets are an interesting matchup for any team thanks to the fact that they run all day and shoot the three with reckless abandon, and they will probably win a game like that in this series. But no chance they take four. Thunder in 5.
Jeremy - I'm tired just thinking about this series. There may be more points and transition baskets in this series than the rest combined (maybe that's exaggerating a little), but the reason OKC is a title contender is because they at least can defend. Houston on the other hand plays very little defense and seems more interested in seeing how many shots they can get up in one game. They have plenty of talent and a lot of 3-point shooters, but they have no answer for Kevin Durant and I don't give them a chance to win the series. It will be fun to see James Harden go up against his old team in the postseason, and he may score 40 a game, but it still won't be enough to overcome a very good Thunder team. Thunder in 4.
Spurs vs. Lakers
Jacob – Oh, how this serious could have been different if Kobe was around. The Lakers very well might have been a chic upset pick here. But now? It's hard to see the Lakers getting much going here as their entire offensive game plan revolved around Bryant. Howard and Gasol are obviously still fantastic down low and could cause the Spurs some problems, but San Antonio's defensive system is so solid that it may not matter. The Spurs will double down on those guys with the Lakers having limited options to beat them on the perimeter. The Spurs may have lulled teams into a false sense of security, resting a ton down the stretch but nobody should be fooled. This is a well-oiled machine and Duncan is playing at his highest level in years (and that is saying something considering how good he is year after year). Tony Parker should run rampant through a Lakers D that tends to fall apart and the Spurs should cruise. Spurs in 5.
Jeremy - Kobe is out. Should not be much of a series. Honestly, even if they had Kobe, I don't think the series lasts very long. Yes the Lakers have been playing much better over the last 6 weeks, but they still have a lot of flaws that even all of their talent can't overcome. The Spurs are battle tested and this core have been through the playoff grind many times. They know what it takes to win in the postseason, and I don't see the Lakers giving them too much of a problem. Maybe the Lakers get one at home, but I don't think it goes any longer than five games. Spurs in 4.
Nuggets vs. Warriors
Jacob - Speed vs. speed. The Nuggets run and attack the rim, the Warriors run to find threes. The Nuggets were the most dominant home team in the NBA this year, finishing 38-3 in Denver, which means having home court advantage obviously gives them a huge edge. I think the Nuggets are quietly shaky right now though. They have some health issues in the front court with Gallinari out, Faried probably going to miss some games and Mozgov banged up. Missing Faried in the front court will really hurt against a really good rebounding Golden State team. The Warriors are a vastly improved defensive team (fourth in the NBA in opponents field goal %) and the Nuggets, while having outstanding depth, don't really have a guy to go to in crunch time which has led them to seemingly lose their identity at times when closing out games. Denver also struggles against the three, finishing bottom ten in the NBA in opponents three point % and we know Golden State is going to take every three they can between Curry, Barnes, Thompson and company. Andre Iguodala will play that hybrid role on D, defending whomever is hot and should help contain the Warriors but I see this as a series where Curry plays outstanding and gets enough support to take down the banged up Nuggets. Stealing a game in Denver will be tough, but I think they'll get it done. It just better be early in the series, game 7 in Denver will not be a good situation for them. Warriors in 6.
Jeremy - This should be another a fun series to watch with a lot of run and gun style play. The Nuggets lost Danilo Gallinari and now it looks like Kenneth Faried could also miss a few games which will be a big loss for the Nuggets front line. I thought they could get by without Gallinari, but Faried is not only their best rebounder, but also their emotional leader and the guy who brings energy when the team needs it. With that said, the Nuggets are not built around one or two guys, but rather have a large mix of very solid players and still have a lot of talent on the team. This could be Ty Lawson's time to shine and show that he is a top-level point guard in the league, but on the other side are a couple of good guards as well. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are one of the best young backcourts in the game and they will be the key to giving the Warriors the edge in the series. If they shoot the ball like they are capable, I think they can get by Denver. But, do they have enough pieces and can they play enough defense to win a playoff series? I think they are a year or two away. Nuggets in 7.
Grizzlies vs. Clippers
Jacob - This could be the toughest first round matchup to call as we get a chance to see these two teams butt heads for the second year in a row. The Clippers incredibly exciting offense vs. the Grizzlies haunting, number one ranked defense. I'm going to side with the drastically better defensive side here. Yes, the Clippers have Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and no, the Grizzlies don't have that much on offense to exploit the Clippers mediocre perimeter defense. If Paul beats Conley really badly in every facet of the game, this is going to be tough for the Grizz. But I just can't see the Clippers winning a grind it out, physical series against the Grizzlies right now. I also think we are going to see Marc Gasol put on a show and really see some big time publicity for just how good he is as he dominates the interior and the Grizz squeak by. Grizzlies in 7.
Jeremy - This may be the best series of the first round with two real heavyweights going at it for the second year in a row. Last season, the Clippers were able to get by the Grizzlies in a grueling seven game series. The Grizz have lost Rudy Gay but still may be the best defensive team in the league. The two teams finished with identical records in the regular season, and this is a series that could come down to the last few minutes of the last game before it is decided. The Clippers may have the flash, but the Grizzlies have the grit, and we'll see which one prevails this time around. This is tough to predict, but I'll take the Clippers by one point in Game 7. Clippers in 7.