The NBA playoffs are finally here! This is where the games really matter. The 1-seeds are the Indiana Pacers for the East and San Antonio Spurs for the West. Miami just dropped down to a 2-seed after losing three games in a row to end the regular season. Oklahoma City fell three games behind San Antonio, but they did end the season with a 112-111 win over the Detroit Pistons last night where Kevin Durant went off for 42 points. Speaking of 42, that’s how many consecutive games Durant scored 25 points or more. That streak is longer than what Michael Jordan did in that magical 1986-87 season. The small forward’s streak ended at Sacramento on April 8th where he scored only 23 points in the 107-92 win. Durant also wins the NBA scoring title for the 4th time, averaging 32 points per game. He also finished with 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game, leading the Thunder to a 59-23 record with Russell Westbrook gone most of the season. Look for Durant to finally win that coveted NBA MVP award that has eluded him so many times. The Thunder will play the Memphis Grizzlies this Saturday in the first round of the playoffs at 9:30 P.M.
This year, the Memphis Grizzlies did pretty well under first-year head coach David Joerger. His Grizzlie’s squad ended up 3rd in points allowed, making them one of the most underrated defenses in the league. The team finished 50-32 and ended the regular season on a 5-game winning streak (tied with Portland Trail Blazers). Their last game was a 106-105 overtime victory over the Dallas Mavericks. Zach Randolph finished the game with 27 points and 14 rebounds, his 47th double-double of the season. The big power forward averaged a double-double in the regular season with 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Look for him to step up big in the upcoming game against the Thunder.
Staying in the West, San Antonio finished the season with the best record in the NBA at 62-20. Gregg Popovich’s squad led the league in assists with 25.2 per game and ranked 6th in both points scored and points allowed. With Tim Duncan dominating inside and Tony Parker running the offense, there is no telling how far they could go this year. Their first test will be Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks on Easter Sunday at 1:00 P.M.
The other 1-seed, Indiana, finished the season on a high note, winning their last two games of the season and landed a 56-26 record. Their defense has been the talk of the NBA. They are 2nd in points allowed per game and are 8th in rebounds per game. The addition of injury-prone Andrew Bynum actually worked out pretty well in their favor. They were able to put big-man Roy Hibbert on the bench and still produce great numbers with Bynum snagging 9.5 rebounds a game. Speaking of Hibbert, he only missed one game this entire season and was very productive with 10.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. The Pacers will play the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday at 9 P.M. They are expected to easily win this series, seeing that the Hawks are the only team in the playoffs with a losing record of 38-44.
I thought that the biggest surprises this year were the Washington Wizards and the Charlotte Bobcats. Both of these teams were horrible last year (none of these two teams had more than 30 wins in 2012-13). Led by point guard John Wall, the Wizards have a 5-seed and a 44-38 record. They will play against the Chicago Bulls, who have won 8 of their last 10 games. As for the Bobcats, Al Jefferson has been a great addition to this club. He has led the team in points (21.8) and rebounds (10.8) and has provided veteran leadership for this team. After putting up solid numbers in Boston, Minnesota and Utah, the 6’10 center might have finally found a home in North Carolina. His Bobcats squad will play the Miami Heat on Easter Sunday at 3:30 P.M. The last time Jefferson played against the Heat, he put up monster numbers with 38 points and 19 rebounds in the 124-107 loss back on March 3rd. He will have to elevate the play of his team around him if they want to defeat the NBA Final-favorites.
As for the other playoff match-ups, the Los Angeles Clippers will play the Golden State Warriors, the Houston Rockets will square off against the Portland Trail Blazers and the surging Toronto Raptors will take on the Brooklyn Nets, a team that has struggled to beat opponents within its own conference. In the NBA, there’s always at least one upset. This year, I can’t truly predict who will rise and who will fall, but I will promise you this: it will be a fantastic playoff run this year.