I think the NBA is great. In fact, it is my favorite of the four major American professional sports leagues. But the thing about the NBA is that, as is the case in many pro sports, the playoffs far surpass the regular season. The NBA regular season is entertaining and interesting, but things really get going in the playoffs, when teams go from taking games off to never taking even one possession off. Every spring the playoffs bring great drama to the sporting world and this will be the case again this year. In fact, the first round will be punctuated by such rich matchups as Celtics-Knicks and Clippers-Grizzlies. Here are my picks for the first round in the Eastern Conference. (Look for Western Conference first round picks tomorrow.)
No. 1 seed Miami Heat vs. No. 8 seed Milwaukee Bucks
The Miami Heat will not lose a seven game series with the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s that simple. Nonetheless, I do think the Bucks could steal a home game or two. The Bradley Center in the playoffs is a loud, electric atmosphere and the winning on the road in the Playoffs is tough, even if you are the Heat. Look for the Bucks and their offensively potent guards to give their tremendous fans a win or two before bowing out. Larry Sanders and Monta Ellis won’t go out without a fight.
Pick: Heat in 6
No. 2 seed New York Knicks vs. No. 7 seed Boston Celtics
Regardless of who wins, this will be an incredible series. The Celtics have been mediocre all season, but if any team in pro sports can turn it on in the playoffs, it’s the Celts. The Knicks, on the other hand, have been incredibly streaky all season (with the winning streaks lasting longer than the losing). They were incredibly hot a couple of weeks ago and enter the playoffs as one of the Association’s hottest teams. Carmelo Anthony had possibly the best season of his career this year (and won the NBA scoring title), but he enters this series dinged up. The matchup between Paul Pierce and Carmelo Anthony is always fun and shouldn’t disappoint. As for the pick, I have gone back and forth. A week ago I would have said the Knicks, but I have a sense the Celtics will rise to the occasion, giving the city of Boston something to cheer about after the disaster at the Boston Marathon. (Consider this my bold upset for the first round.)
Pick: Celtics in 7*
No. 3 seed Indiana Pacers vs. No. 6 seed Atlanta Hawks
This is another series that is tough to pick. The Pacers have been one of the best teams in the A all season, as Paul George has emerged as one of the league’s best players and David West has rebounded from a down season in 2011-2012. The sixth seed Hawks haven’t seemed to mind the loss of star Joe Johnson as Jeff Teague has stepped into his own at the point and Al Horford has stayed healthy (for the most part). Larry Drew has continued to prove with his steady leadership that he is one of the best coaches in the NBA. This will be a great series and I look forward to the matchup between Horford and Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert. In the end, I think that the Pacers will control boards and in doing so control the series, winning a long and entertaining seven game fight.
Pick: Pacers in 7
No. 4 seed Brooklyn Nets vs. No. 5 seed Chicago Bulls
The Nets are in the playoffs. Boy, that sounds (or feels or looks or other active verb) odd to write. The super-talented Nets enjoyed a revival this season, living up to most of the hype that came along with the off-season addition of Joe Johnson from ATL and the move to the sleek and sexy Barclays Center, despite the early season firing of head coach Avery Johnson. The Bulls, meanwhile, spent the entire season on damage-control, keeping their heads well above the water while Derrick Rose recovered from his injury in last season’s playoffs. The Bulls are elite on the defensive end and lean on consistent production from steady players such Loul Deng and Joakim Noah. They are a team that is well built for the playoffs, but the Nets are a better team and I have to take them to win. I will feel especially confident in this pick if Noah continues to struggle with a foot injury. Plantar fasciitis- the slayer of giants.
Pick: Nets in 6
*–The Celtics are my favorite professional sports team and I am extremely biased in making this pick.