Thunder, Heat expected in finals

Celtics, Spurs, and Pacers also predicted to get past first round

After a dramatic year for the NBA, we have reached playoff season. With the lockout behind us, 16 teams are in the process of competing to advance to conference semifinals. These are The Tech Sports Staff’s predictions on who will advance past the first round, and ultimately to the NBA finals.

(8) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (1) Chicago Bulls

Although the Bulls dominated the majority of the Game 1 matchup, the victory may have come at too steep a price. Coach Tom Thibodeau’s controversial decision to leave his starters in the game with one minute left with his team up 12 proved costly as superstar point guard Derrick Rose’s season-ending ACL tear may jeopardize the high expectations Chicago had coming into the playoffs. Philadelphia guard Evan Turner infamously tweeted last week that “the heat are a tougher team for us to match up against,” which has elicited much criticism over the past week. There may be some truth to that statement, however. The 76ers have matched up very well with Chicago over the past two seasons, even with Derrick Rose in the lineup. The two teams have great benches, with the 76ers’ second unit scoring 40.8 PPG (fourth in the NBA) and the Bulls featuring Kyle Korver, Omer Asik, Taj Gibson and C.J. Watson. Chicago and Philadelphia also pride themselves on playing stellar defense and are first and third, respectively, in the NBA this season in points allowed. This series already had upset potential, but the Sixers were never fully expected to win more than one or two games. Without Derrick Rose, Chicago is still incredibly formidable, but I think Philadelphia may be able to steal a game or two in Chicago, and pull off the upset.

Prediction: 76ers in seven games.

—J. Austin Osborne

This is one that the Bulls should have won 4-0, but with Rose out for an injury, they’re going to have a tough time getting past Jrue Holiday and the six strong men who follow him. Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, and Rip Hamilton are still an All-Star combination, and the Bulls are lucky in that C.J. Watson and John Lucas III aren’t the ordinary duo of backup PGs. Depending on Rose’s recovery, the series score can change, but if he isn’t playing, the Sixers are going to stand as a formidable opponent and the Bulls are going to have to rely on the chemistry that got them through the regular season when Rose was down and out.

Prediction: Chicago will take the series in seven games, 4-3.

—Shri Ganeshram

(7) New York Knicks vs. (2) Miami Heat

The Knicks-Heat series has not lived up to the hype thus far, as the Heat have dominated all three games in the series. The Heat’s trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh has proven to be too much for the Knicks to handle. It also didn’t help that the Knicks lost one of their best perimeter defenders, Iman Shumpert to a season ending ACL tear in Game 1. This series has taken an emotional and physical toll on the Knicks as they also lost star PF Amar’e Stoudemire after he struck a fire extinguisher casing and lacerated his hand. The Heat are simply too athletic and too talented for the Knicks to keep up with. Carmelo Anthony has the potential to win a game himself, and the Knicks could win a shootout with Miami if J.R. Smith and Steve Novak catch fire, which they are bound to do at some point in the series, but I really can’t see it lasting more than six games. LeBron’s quest for a title should continue into the second round.

Prediction: Heat in five games.

—J. Austin Osborne

Do I really have to explain this one? Linsanity isn’t having any word with the likes of Bosh, LeBron, and D-Wade. It’s over. The Knicks might as well pack up and book vacations after game four. The Heat on the other hand can expect a long postseason run and are going to have a relatively easy time getting to the Finals unless Rose heals up and the Bulls pull through; if that’s the case, I’m saying Chi City, Chi Chi City…

Prediction: Miami will take the series in four games.

—Shri Ganeshram

(6) Orlando Magic vs. (3) Indiana Pacers

This series lost some of its luster when it was announced that Dwight Howard would be out for the remainder of the season with a herniated disk in his back. He creates matchup problems in every game he plays in, and Orlando will miss his production and defense in the post. On the other hand, Indiana has been one of the NBA’s biggest surprises this season, even though their star forward Danny Granger is having a down year. With Howard on the bench, Pacers All-Star center Roy Hibbert should be able to exploit Glen Davis in the post, and the addition of Leandro Barbosa at the trade deadline solidifies an already strong group of perimeter shooters for Indiana. The Magic now must rely on third-year forward Ryan Anderson and veteran SG Jason Richardson for much of their scoring. Although Orlando took Game 1, I don’t expect them to be able to overcome the loss of Dwight Howard, and the Pacers should advance fairly easily.

Prediction: Pacers in six.

—J. Austin Osborne

This one is tight but the Pacers are moving with a resounding pace. They’re young and upcoming, just a little more veteran than the Nuggets, and have enough spunk to pass by a Magic minus Howard. If by some miracle Howard could play for Orlando, the tables would turn, but I don’t really believe in Magic…

Prediction: Pacers will take it in seven games, 4-3.

—Shri Ganeshram

(5) Atlanta Hawks vs. (4) Boston Celtics

At the middle of the season, it appeared that the Celtics might be finished. They were 15-17 going into the All-Star break and the shortened season looked to be taking its toll on the Boston trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. Then they went on an improbable run, sparked by point guard Rajon Rondo, and overtook the 76ers for the Atlantic Division crown with about three weeks remaining in the season. The window of opportunity for this Celtics squad to win a championship is quickly closing, if not already closed, but I don’t think their season will end this round against the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks are a perplexing team. Every year, they seem to finish the regular season in the same position. They have a proven scorer in Joe Johnson and a legitimate post defender and scorer in Josh Smith, but they never really seem to be a threat when it comes playoff time. This is their fifth straight year in postseason play, but they have been ousted in the second round for the past three seasons. Boston simply has too much experience and their veterans like Garnett, Allen, and Pierce know that this may be their last chance to hoist the championship trophy. They won’t let it go to waste.

Prediction: Celtics in five games.

—J. Austin Osborne

Our hometown Celtics are hot this year, and the Hawks just aren’t stopping them. Both teams are bunch of old men, but the Celtics are a bunch of old men who know how to win postseason. You can expect Rondo and Allen and the team’s fetus, Avery Bradley, to soar past the Hawks; the triple J — Joe, Josh, and Jeff — just aren’t going to cut it for the Hawks. On the flip side, this just means earlier vacation hours for the Hawks; neither team has what it takes to beat out the Heat or the Thunder.

Prediction: Boston will take it in six games, 4-2.

—Shri Ganeshram

(8) Utah Jazz vs. (1) San Antonio Spurs

Even in this shortened season, you just can’t count the Spurs out. Many thought that with their aging roster, San Antonio wouldn’t be able to compete with younger, more athletic teams, especially in the brutal Western Conference. After receiving word that SG Manu Ginobili would be missing much of the beginning of the regular season due to injury, things weren’t looking good for the Spurs. But PG Tony Parker had one of his best seasons to date, averaging 18 points and nearly eight assists per game. The Jazz are certainly an up and coming team, with many promising young players, such as Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, and Devin Harris. This Spurs team is too talented and has too much pride to be eliminated by the eighth seed two years in a row, however, after being shocked by Memphis last season. Utah should be able to have an advantage in the post with the Jefferson-Millsap-Favors trio, but in the end, the Spurs will just be too much to handle.

Prediction: Spurs in four games.

—J. Austin Osborne

San Antonio has been killing it thus far, and Utah isn’t even competition for the balanced team of veterans and rookies. It looks like the Spurs have more than a shot to just win the first round but to come clean with the whole tournament. With a balance of youthful speed and skill complementing the trio of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili’s playoff know-how, the team isn’t going to have much trouble in these early rounds.

Prediction: Spurs will take it in four games.

—Shri Ganeshram

(7) Dallas Mavericks vs. (2) Oklahoma City Thunder

Thunder Won Series 4-0

The Miami Heat are to the East what Oklahoma City is to the West. They are the odds-on favorite to win the Western Conference and so far, they’ve shown they have the mental toughness to compete, as they completed the sweep of the defending champion Dallas Mavericks. Although the Mavericks put up a valiant effort in Games 1 and 2 behind star forward Dirk Nowitzki, OKC’s Kevin Durant was too much for the Dallas D to handle, as he hit a buzzer beater to seal Game 1, and contributed 26 points to the win in Game 2. The Thunder closed out the series handily in Dallas and now look forward to their next opponent, the winner of the Lakers/Nuggets series.

—J. Austin Osborne

It was a year ago that the Mavs pulled out a difficult win against a tough Heat in the NBA Finals, but there won’t be a repeat of that this year. The Thunder are booming, and sure the Mavs have Dirk and Kidd, but when your team is powered by a handful of men aged 30 and older, you’re not stopping two of the best youth in the NBA, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Prediction: expect OKC to be a contender for the finals as well.

—Shri Ganeshram

(6) Denver Nuggets vs. (3) Los Angeles Lakers

The Denver Nuggets started the season as one of the NBA’s biggest surprises, sparked by the outstanding play of Danilo Gallinari. After he went down in March with a broken thumb, however, they started to slip in the Western Conference, losing their grip on one of the coveted top four seeds, and therefore losing home-court advantage. This also thrusts them into an extremely tough matchup with the LA Lakers and superstar Kobe Bryant. The Lakers go into almost every game they play with a significant size advantage, playing All-Stars Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum down low. Bynum has been nothing short of spectacular this series, averaging 18 points, 11 rebounds, and almost five blocks in the three games, including a 10 block-13 rebound-10 point triple double in Game 1. Denver’s impressive rookie from Morehead State Kenneth Faried has not shied away from the pressure either, averaging 12 points and 11 rebounds per game in the series. Although the Nuggets managed to grab Game 3 at home, I don’t expect them to be able to compete with the LA big men for a seven-game series.

Prediction: Lakers in five games.

—J. Austin Osborne

With a roster consisting of support from the likes of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace, Kobe and the Lakers are going to go all out this postseason; they’re approaching their expiring dates and this is one of their last shots at the trophy. Don’t expect them to get too far though — although Denver is an easy target, they’re not getting past all of the West, the Spurs and OKC are just too good to let a little Metta World Peace stop their chaos. The Nuggets are still on the rise, and though they will be falling short of a championship this year, expect great things in the future. With a team whose core minus Al Harrington all fall under the four years pro or less category, you can expect only good things in time.

Prediction: Lakers will take it in six games.

—Shri Ganeshram

(5) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (4) Memphis Grizzlies

This is one of the more interesting series in the first round as “Lob City” squares off against the Memphis Grizzlies. There has been a lot of hype surrounding the Clippers lately, after their acquisition of All-NBA point guard Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Nick Young, Caron Butler, and Kenyon Martin. For the most part, LA has lived up to hype, securing the fifth seed in the Western Conference. In Game 1, they mounted an epic 27 point come back with just over 13 minutes remaining in the game to steal home-court advantage, 99-98. Not surprisingly, Memphis seems to be everyone’s sleeper pick after they upset the No. 1 seeded Spurs last year in the first round. They return this year with almost an identical roster, with the addition of Rudy Gay, who was sidelined last year with an injury for the entire playoffs. The matchups in this series should be very intriguing as last year’s playoff hero Zach Randolph lines up against highlight machine Blake Griffin. At the beginning of the playoffs, I expected Memphis to meet OKC in the Western Conference Finals, in a rematch of the amazing series last year, and my expectations have not changed. This will be a series that comes down to a few key moments and may be decided on a lucky bounce in Game 7, but I think the Grizzlies will advance.

Prediction: Grizzlies in 7.

—J. Austin Osborne

This series is one of the toughest this year in the first round of the NBA playoffs. After a number of disappointing seasons for the Clippers, they returned after the lockout with a newfound rejuvenation and strength. The addition of the powerhouse point-guard Chris Paul was the key to their success this season, along with Blake Griffin’s contributions to the team. The Grizzlies will put up a good fight, but after the Clippers win in the first game, the Clippers will definitely take the series.

Prediction: Clippers will take it in seven games, 4-3.

—Shelley Ackerman

This one is going to be tight, but the Clippers have what it takes to pull through. The Clippers have an edge with CP3 and Blake Griffin being a far more fierce combo at the front than Gay and Mayo; however, both teams have strong rosters from top to bottom, and the team chemistry is going to be the deciding factor in this series.

Prediction: Clippers will take it in seven games.

—Shri Ganeshram

Editor’s Note: Due to the The Tech’s deadlines, this article was written prior to playoff games played Sunday evening onward.