The NBA regular season came to a close yesterday, and the 2011 NBA playoffs kick off on Saturday, April 16. Four of the first round playoff series begin on Saturday and the remaining four tip off on Sunday. The full 2011 NBA playoff schedule can be seen here.
Five teams stand out as favorites this year – LeBron James and the Miami Heat, Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics, and Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference, along with Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs and Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference.
There are 30 teams in the National Basketball Association and 16 qualify for the playoffs every year. This usually results in at least one team with a record below .500 qualifying for the playoffs, and 2011 is no exception. The Eastern Conference was noticeably the weaker conference this year, and this is clearly reflected in the fact that Philadelphia made the playoffs with a record of 41-41 and Indiana staggered into the post-season with a 37-45 record. The lowest-seeded teams in the West, New Orleans and Memphis, both ended the regular season at 46-36.
See below for a detailed preview of the 2011 NBA playoffs, including first round predictions and picks.
2011 NBA Playoff Preview
Round One Schedule and Match Ups
Game One Saturday, April 16
Indiana vs Chicago – The No. 1 seed Chicago Bulls are one of the biggest surprises of the season, and enter this playoff match up against the Pacers with the best record in the league (62-20). Derrick Rose has been magnificent for the Bulls all season, but the Bulls are a tough, hard-nosed team with talented big men like Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, and winning 62 games this year was not a fluke. The Pacers have got their work cut out for them in this series…Prediction – Chicago wins the series 4-1.
Philadelphia vs Miami – The No. 2 Eastern Conference seed Heat are hosting the first games of this series, and are likely to try and come out and make a statement. But the Sixers are no pushovers, and they did beat the Heat once earlier this year, so the first game is probably going to be close. That said, Philadelphia simply does not have the talent to hang with Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh for a seven game series. Miami is the pick to win the series…either 4-1 or 4-2.
Atlanta vs Orlando – The Magic are hungry, and you do not want to get in the way of Dwight Howard when he is hungry. Atlanta is talented young team, but they will be lucky to win more than one game in this series. Orlando in five games.
Portland vs Dallas – This series could be one of the best in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Both of these teams are well coached, have talent at every position, but are probably one or two players away from a championship caliber team. Dallas probably has the edge on offense as Dirk Notwitzki can still light it up when he is hot, but the Trailblazers play better team D. Prediction – Dallas in seven games.
Game One Sunday, April 17
Memphis vs San Antonio – The Spurs are the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference this year, and came up one game short of the Bulls for the best record in the league at 61-21. Memphis is a solid young team led by Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay, but the Spurs counter with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker, and that trio will be too much for the Grizzlies to handle. Spurs take the series in six games.
New Orleans at Los Angeles – Chris Paul vs Kobe Bryant will be a true showcase of “basketball IQ” for the fans, but unfortunately for Paul the Hornets do not offer him the supporting cast the Lakers offer Bryant. The pick – the Lakers win the series in five or six games.
New York vs Boston – These two teams matched up on the final game of the season, and the Celts won handily. That is likely to be a preview for this series as Boston is too tough mentally for the Knicks…and Carmelo Anthony just doesn’t have a championship personality. Boston wins this series in five or six games.
Denver at Oklahoma City - This is another undercard playoff series that could be a great match up. The Nuggets have blossomed since the Carmelo Anthony trade and are getting the most from their talent, but Oklahoma City brings Kevin Durant and Russerll Westbrook to the table, and Denver simply has no one to match up with either one of them. Team defense is the key for Denver. If they can slow down Durant and Westbrook, then they can stretch the series to seven games. That said, KD and the Thunder are the pick in this series.