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The Beginning of the End: The NBA Playoffs

As excited as I am for the NBA playoffs, Phil Jackson and the Lakers' recent $75,000 dollar fines are a painful reminder that this is the last basketball that I will get to watch for a while.  Sure, nothing is etched in stone...yet.  But the writing is on the wall and I suspect that Jackson's comments will be the first of many to slip about the current CBA discussions.  The beginning of the NBA playoffs simultaneously commences its demise.

But enough dreariness, fans have been treated to one of the most memorable seasons in the recent years.  Wednesday night, every single NBA team played their final game, the first time in history that that has happened.  And with only one seed securely locked in the west, San Antonio, there was a chance for some major reshuffling of those teams.  The Lakers saved themselves from falling out of the two seed, preventing the Mavericks and the Thunder from capitalizing on their poor performances leading up to that final game against the Kings.  Portland secured its destiny on Tuesday night by beating the Grizzlies and were forced to wait for Wednesday's results to see who their first round opponent is.

The East was a little more secure, except for the big news of Chicago thieving the overall number one seed in the playoffs from the Spurs, and the Heat squeezing by the Celtics to grab the number two seed.  Now that the playoffs are set, let's take a look at the first round matchups and make some predictions.

#1 Chicago vs. #8 Indiana
Frank Vogel did a pretty good job rallying this team after Jim O'Brien was fired, keeping them above .500 in his tenure.  Tom Thibodeau, on the other hand, took a defensively anemic Bulls team, transformed them into the number one defensive efficiency team in the league and helped Rose take that last step to MVP candidate status.  I commend Frank Vogel, but this one will be a sweep.
4-0 Bulls

#2 Miami vs. #7 Philadelphia
A couple of weeks ago, if you had asked me about this series, I would've said that the 76ers would make a competition out of it.  But Miami kicked it into high gear to close out the season.  Sure, Philly has the athleticism and the length to make life difficult for Lebron and Wade.  But at the end of the day, they are still two of the best players in the league and will ultimately run over, around, and through the 76ers.
4-1 Miami

#3 Boston vs. #6 New York
The interesting thing about this series is that if Amar'e and Melo get hot, fans could really watch an interesting series.  But that hasn't really happened yet as the Knicks offense has turned pedestrian (relatively speaking) since Melo's arrival.  Too much iso and not enough off the ball movement to compete with the staunch Boston defense.  Don't let the hype of New York's big two confuse you; they're paper tigers at best.
4-1 Boston

#4 Orlando vs. #5 Atlanta
The analysts want you to believe that the Hawks could turn this into a real series.  I just don't buy it, not when Joe Johnson is in the midst of the worst season of his career (sorry, when you sign a 6 year, $126 million dollar contract extension, you perform better than that).  Sure, the Hawks defenders will make life difficult for Dwight, but they will just slow him down, not stop him.  The only way Orlando loses this season is if they get three-happy and ignore the most dominant big man in the league.  Wait, who am I kidding, I've seen that happen dozens of times this season.  Maybe this will be a better series than I think...
4-2 Orlando

#1 San Antonio vs. #8 Memphis
The NBA: where the #8 seed in the West would be the #5 seed in the East.  Gotta love the playoff system!  But seriously, this Memphis team will give San Antonio some trouble.  They beat them three out of four times this season and have the size to match up adequately.  But San Antonio has done the playoff song and dance too many times to be caught off guard.
4-1 San Antonio

#2 Los Angeles vs. #7 New Orleans
I have to be honest, I do not think that New Orleans can win a game in this series.  They did an impressive job to avoid falling out of the playoffs entirely after David West went down with a torn ACL.  But come on, in a seven game series (which will only last four games), Phil Jackson will coach circles around Monty Williams.  Don't let the five game slip by the Lakers fool you; they're still the team to beat.
4-0 Los Angeles

#3 Dallas vs. #6 Portland
Alright, I will attempt to set my personal biases aside on this one.  However, from an objective standpoint, Portland will win this series.  Dallas is a one trick pony in Dirk, which normally haunted the Blazers in the past.  But now they have a plethora of defenders to throw Dirk's way.  Nate has the Blazers playing at an extraordinary level and I suspect that they will continue this strong play and win their first playoff series since 2000.
4-2 Portland

#4 Oklahoma City vs. #5 Denver
Without a doubt, this is the series I am most excited for.  Denver, 19-5 after the Carmelo trade, is led by my coach of the year, George Karl.  The man deserves every vote in my opinion for having to deal with the Carmelo drama and then cohesively weaving a new roster into the team that nobody wants to play in the first round.  Athletes galore dominate this series and I expect it to be an absolute battle.  The lack of a crunch time scorer scares me about Denver, seeing as OKC has two in Westbrook and Durant.  But the number of offensive weapons they have, and the mismatches they exploit should create an entertaining series.  It comes down to a coin flip in my book, but I think OKC prevails in the only series to go seven games.
4-3 Oklahoma City


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