Oh joy, oh bliss - the NBA Playoffs are here!! Tonight is Christmas Eve to millions of hoopheads across the globe as tomorrow we get to open our present - the NBA Playoffs!! No more Raptor or Cavalier games muddying up our televisions! And to get you properly prepared, The Hoops Manifesto has prepared this quick, totally unbiased (since our favourite team won't be partaking in this year's postseason festivities) primer for the 2011 NBA Playoffs.
Chicago Bulls vs Indiana Pacers
The Bulls secured (shocking) the best record in the League this year, and their reward is a first round matchup with the Indiana Pacers, a team that is making its first appearance in the postseason since 2006. Unfortunately for the Pacers, this won't be much of welcome back party, as the Bulls are loaded with talent, led by probable NBA MVP Derrick Rose, as well as the perfect big man combo in Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. The Bulls top-ranked defense, not to mention its above average offense, will make sure this one isn't close.
Prediction: Bulls in four
Miami Heat vs Philadelphia 76ers
Another surprise playoff participant along with the Pacers is the Philadelphia 76ers, who have been rejuvenated under the amazing hugging power of coach Doug Collins. And, perhaps most shocking of all, is that the Elton Brand of old (as opposed to just plain old Elton Brand) made his first appearance in a Sixers' uniform, posting his best season since 2007. But all this is for not, as Miami's power trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh shouldn't have much trouble getting by the Sixers in this series.
Prediction: Heat in five
Orlando Magic vs Atlanta Hawks
Remember when the Atlanta Hawks were so full of promise and seemed only a season or two away from being a true title contender? Ya, me neither. The Hawks posted their worst season since 2008, Joe Johnson's contract will soon (if not already) become an albatross around the team's neck, and the Hawks will never become more than a sum of their parts. Orlando, meanwhile, is a hard team to figure out. They have the League's best defensive player in Dwight Howard who also has made himself into a legitimate offensive force, but who is Dwight's second-in-command? The Magic have plenty of talent, but it's all guys better suited to be third options on a true contending team - Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson. Still, Dwight Howard alone would probably be able to get by the Hawks.
Prediction: Magic in six
Boston Celtics vs New York Knicks
This is probably the first round series I'm most looking forward to. Two storied franchises, close in proximity, stocked full of big name talent (Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O'Neal, Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups). One team trying to make one last title run before its core turns into dinosaurs; the other trying to restore pride to their franchise. But, as the adage goes, defense wins championships, and even without Kendrick Perkins the C's will be able to clamp down on the Knicks' big guns.
Prediction: Celtics in six
San Antonio Spurs vs Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies have really turned the corner and made themselves into a solid NBA franchise - they are even making their first post-Pau playoff appearance this season. This despite the fact that star Rudy Gay was lost for the season in mid-February with a shoulder injury. The Spurs, meanwhile, cooled off considerably over the past month, going 4-8 over their last 12 games to end the season, subsequently conceding the top overall record to the Bulls. To add to their woes, Manu Ginobili has an injured elbow and is questionable for Game 1. But, still, in what bizarro world do the Grizzlies beat the Spurs in the playoffs?
Prediction: Spurs in five
Los Angeles Lakers vs New Orleans Hornets
The New Orleans Hornets hopes of making some noise in the playoffs died on March 24th. That was the day that two-time All-Star David West destroyed his left knee. Yes, they still have the game's best little man in Chris Paul, but they aren't getting by the defending NBA champion Lakers, with the game's best gay icon assassin Kobe Bryant and the League's biggest, most talented frontline in Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.
Prediction: Lakers in five
Dallas Mavericks vs Portland Trailblazers
Now this one could be real interesting. You never know what you're going to get from the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs - it's a total craphoot with them. Meanwhile their opponent, the Trailblazers, have proven to be a scrappy, resilient bunch this season, flourishing despite the absence of Greg Oden from the lineup, as well as franchise leader Brandon Roy suffering through another injury-plagued (and least productive of his career) season. LaMarcus Aldridge stepped up in a big way this season, proving himself to be a star, and the midseason acquisition of Gerald Wallace was genius. If there's going to be a first round upset, this could be it. But Dallas has got the Big D - no, not Dirk, but he certainly helps - but rather, defense. And if you were paying attention earlier you'd remember what defense wins.
Prediction: Mavericks in seven
Oklahoma City Thunder vs Denver Nuggets
How are the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs despite trading away Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony? Because they're a team now, that's how. But they've got an impossible task in trying to beat Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder. KD's crew's rise to the upper echelons of the NBA shall continue unabated.
Prediction: Thunder in four