Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks would be among the favorites to come out of the East.
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Two more months of the NBA. And they just happen to be the most critical. By this time in June, we could have a new champion. Or it could be the Miami Heat for the third straight time. The Heat do, after all, have LeBron James. No one else does. That can be a problem if you’re trying to beat the Heat.
But regardless of that key information, here is how I see the 2013-14 postseason playing out:
Indiana Pacers vs. Atlanta Hawks: The Pacers basically backed into the top seed, but now that they own it, they should get new life. The Pacers are playoff-savvy and deep, and while Paul George isn’t James, he’s no slouch. It will be too much for Atlanta. The Hawks really move the ball and are very determined. But they’re overmatched here. Pacers in six.
Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats: This the battle of one team that may have one last title in it, and another that’s basically just happy to be here. I would make the argument that the Bobcats own a better coach, and that may enable them to steal a game. They’re also lots of fun with the likes of Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker and the forever-underrated Gerald Henderson. But LeBron, man. You don’t really need to say anything else. The Bobcats’ time is coming, but this isn’t it. Heat in five.
Toronto Raptors vs. Brooklyn Nets: The Raptors were (supposedly) built for the lottery. The Nets were (supposedly) built for a championship. But behind Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors played smart and steady all season. With Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Joe Johnson, the Nets just started doing so. But the Nets’ understanding of how to win in times like these is everything. Still, it’ll be close. Nets in seven.
Chicago Bulls vs. Washington Wizards: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t care how much his team scores. And that’s a good thing, because the Bulls don’t really have any scorers. But with Joakim Noah leading the way, they will scratch and claw and beat the living tar out of you, and it works. They’ve been playing playoff basketball all season. Meanwhile, the Wizards play with a lot of moxie and John Wall and Bradley Beal make them tons of fun. They’ll be near the top of this conference someday. Right now, just getting here is plenty. Bulls in six.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks would be among the favorites to come out of the East. Instead, they’re stuck with an unfortunate conference affiliation and get the defending West champs in the first round. And amazingly, the ageless Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are even better this year. How that happens, no one knows. But it does. And it’s too much to overcome. Spurs in seven.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Memphis Grizzlies: This is a terrible matchup for the Thunder. The Grizzlies will push around and slow down Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Then they will pound the ball into Zach Randolph (another ageless wonder) and Marc Gasol. And Mike Conley is having a career year. Expect every game to be very close. Expect the Grizzlies to win one at OKC. And expect Durant to prove why he’s this season’s MVP and lift his team when things get tough. Thunder in seven.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors: The battle of the two best point guards in the NBA this season and two of the deepest and most-enjoyable teams to watch. But the Clippers’ Chris Paul controls the game like no one else (including the Warriors’ Steph Curry) — and while Blake Griffin takes some heat for being incomplete, he really is having a career year. There’s no better place than the NBA’s grandest stage to prove it. Clippers in six.
Houston Rockets vs. Portland Trail Blazers: What a year from the Blazers. Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and the rest have a lot about which to be proud. They will be representing the West in the Finals someday, and it won’t be long. But Dwight Howard and James Harden are the ultimate inside-out combo, and if you think Howard was impressive in carrying Orlando to the Finals five years ago, just wait until you see this. Rockets in five.
Pacers over Bulls in six; Heat over Nets in seven.
Rockets over Spurs in six; Clippers over Thunder in seven.