#1 Indiana Pacers vs. #8 Atlanta Hawks
The top seed in the East is the Indiana Pacers. However, they certainly didn’t get to this position without plenty of hurdles over the last few months. The team that started the beginning of the season on a tear, things quickly unraveled for the Pacers and they’ve gone 4-6 in their last 10. The Hawks, on the other hand, are 7-3 in their last 10. While the Hawks average 24.9 assist per game, the Pacers let up just 92.3 points per game. Both of those marks are second best in the league for those respective categories. The Pacers are favored to win this series, however these two teams met just a few weeks ago and it was one of the more disappointing losses on the season for Indiana. The Hawks routed the Pacers, 108-88 on their home court. The season series is tied, 2-2, with the Hawks having the better point differential with 10 and 19 point wins. Now that the regular season is over, the Pacers can stop thinking about seeding and just concentrate on winning, which they’ll need to do completely if they want to avoid an upset by Atlanta.
#2 Miami Heat vs. #7 Charlotte Bobcats
The Miami Heat didn’t seem to be too concerned with where they were placed in the playoffs, which may be why the sat LeBron James and Chris Bosh in their 100-87 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in the season finale. As for the Bobcats, this will be just their second trip to the playoffs as a franchise. Unfortunately for them, they were swept against Orlando back in 2009. Charlotte went an impressive 8-2 in their final 10 games, which allowed them to climb their way to the seven seed. However, they are 0-4 against the Heat this year, including a 124-107 loss in the last time these two teams matched up. There is no denying that the Heat are among the favorites to win the NBA Championship this year for the second time in a row. As for the Bobcats, Kemba Walker and company would love to spoil the party and turn the heads of the entire basketball world.
#3 Toronto Raptors vs. # 6 Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets had one of the best second-half performances in the NBA, despite going 5-5 in the last 10. They started 2014 at the bottom of the barrel, but they worked their way back and now are the six-seed in the East. The Toronto Raptors may be the best team in the conference that doesn’t get talked about as much as they should. They’ll be looking to change that with an impressive first-round performance against the Nets. Despite the Nets being a lower seed, it would be hard to say that this would be an upset if they won the series against Toronto. The Nets have plenty of experience that they brought into Brooklyn, just for this time of year. Now it will be up to Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez to lead this team out of the first round. The Raptors will be go with DeMar DeRozan –who may be one of the most underrated players in the league- and Rudy Gay. Gay certainly hasn’t played as well as when he was in Memphis, but he has playoff experience that will come in helpful during this series.
#4 Chicago Bulls vs. #5 Washington Wizards
The Bulls started surging back in March –ironically after a Luol Deng trade that was supposed to symbolize a given up on season- with the help of Joakim Noah and company. They haven’t been doing it with a lot on the offensive side, as they average a league worst 93.7 points per game. However, they are best in the league on defense, where they only let up 91.8 per game. The Bulls won’t look to do anything fancy, but rather just get easy layups and points in the paint. As for the Wizards, they ended the season on a four-game winning streak and went 7-3 in the last 10. There is no denying that John Wall will have to have a big series, as he averages 19.3 points, 8.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game. This series may have the least amount of star power, but it could be a great battle between two tough teams. The Wizards won the first two games of the season when these two teams met, while the Bulls took the last one back on April 5th, 96-78.
#1 San Antonio Spurs vs. #8 Dallas Mavericks
The Spurs had the best record in the league this year, due in part to a huge winning streak that they had throughout February and March where they looked like one of the most complete teams in basketball. The Mavericks find themselves as the eight-seed, due to losing to the Memphis Grizzles in the last game of their season. The Spurs will need to prove that this is the time of year that they can turn it on and keep going. There are no surprises or misnomers about their age and being the oldest team in the league. However, that age comes with experience and they were just seconds from winning the NBA Championship last year. The Mavericks have Dirk Nowitzki, who could be one of the most dangerous players in the playoffs. However, they’ll need added support from Monte Ellis and Samuel Dalembert if they want to pull over a huge upset over the top team in the league. These two in-state rivals have played one another four times this year, and the Spurs have won all of them. You can rely on sportspicks.com handicappers to give you insight into this series, as well as all of the others mentioned here, throughout the entire NBA Playoffs.
#2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #7 Memphis Grizzles
Oklahoma City had a solid season, despite missing Russell Westbrook for a large chunk of it. During that time, Kevin Durant had a streak of games, in which he scored 30-points or more, which helped contribute to his fourth league scoring title. The Grizzles came on strong and proved that they can win when they need to. They went 7-3 in their final 10, including huge wins over Phoenix and Dallas, which took them from the ninth spot -and out of the playoffs- to now being the seven-seed. For the Thunder, it’s going to come down to whether or not Westbrook and Durant can coexist as two of the best players in the league, both fighting for points. They certainly won’t have time to waste to figure it out, considering how dominant Zach Randolph can be for Memphis. The Thunder are favored to win this series and still considered a favorite in the West, but they could have their hands full in this first round matchup.
#3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. # 6 Golden State Warriors
It seems as if everyone has their eyes on the Clippers, a team that came into the season projected to be one of the top teams in the West. And in a year where the Lakers missed the playoffs and finished second-to-last in the conference, the Clippers will certainly enjoy the spotlight being on them as they face in-state opponent Golden State. The Warriors’ 51-wins would be good enough to put them as the three-seed in the East, but it’s only good enough for sixth in the West. However, with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, these guys can shoot their way into any game that they are playing. Both of these young stars will need to have big series, if they want to hang with Lob City in the first round. For the Clippers, Blake Griffin will need to keep up his efforts, which has been enough as of late to propel him into MVP talks. And with Chris Paul in the backcourt, the Clips certainly are going to be a tough out. Just like the rest of the series’ in the West, this one should be great.
#4 Houston Rockets vs. #5 Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers were one of the hottest teams in the beginning of the season. The Houston Rockets have been consistent all year long with the help of newly acquired Dwight Howard and superstar James Harden. The Rockets are second in the league with 107.7 points per game and fourth with 45.3 rebounds per. The Trail Blazers are fourth in the league in points with 106.7 and first in rebounds with 46.4. And while the Rockets cooled off at the end of the season, finishing 5-5 in their final 10, the Blazers were best in the league in their final 10, going 9-1 over that stretch.
NBA Playoff basketball is finally here. You can rely on sportspicks.com handicappers for insight into all of these series and how they change throughout the playoffs.