2014 NBA Playoff Preview

It is sometimes said that April is the cruelest month, but the guy who coined that phrase obviously wasn’t a sports fan. The fourth month of the year is one of my favorites, because it brings an awesome confluence in the sports world: the beginning of baseball season, and the onset of the NBA playoffs. I covered my love of the national pastime here, but my love of basketball is nearly as fierce, and basketball is at its absolute best when the NBA playoffs start. This is the time of year when the best athletes in the world have a chance to cement their legacies. (Keep your soccer and your Olympics and whatever else you have, by the way, because I refuse to believe anyone in the world is a better pure athlete than LeBron James. See below.)

What’s at stake this time around? Only questions like: Who is the best player in the world—LeBron or Durant? Can the Spurs ride their eternal deal with the devil to another championship before Satan comes to collect? Can Dwight Howard be more than just a clueless, candy-guzzling prima donna who farts a lot? Can Indiana recover from their second half slump to eclipse the Heat? Can Doc Rivers push CP3 to his first deep playoff run? How nuclear will Steph “Ghost Pepper” Curry go? Will anyone be maimed or killed in the Dubs-Clippers series? Read on for my answers to these questions and more.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

First Round

San Antonio over Dallas 4-2: This series is going to be so much fun! Dirk vs. Duncan! Popovich vs. Carlisle! Monta vs. Parker! Ginobili vs. male pattern baldness! The battle for Texas! I want there to be as many games as possible in this series. I don’t think it’s impossible that the Mavs could win this series, but I have to go with the Spurs’ precision offense against the shaky Mavs D.

This is a real treat for basketball fans

This is a real treat for basketball fans

Oklahoma City over Memphis 4-3: This will be the third time in recent years these teams have met in the playoffs: Three years ago, OKC took down Memphis in a memorable seven game series, while last year the Grizz devoured a Thunder team that had been crippled by injury. The Grizz are stronger than their seven seed, which they fell to because of Marc Gasol’s knee injury, and they will push the Thunder, but KD is playing too well to fall in the first round.

L.A. Clippers over Golden State 4-3: Two weeks ago I was really excited about the prospect of this series. The Dubs match up pretty well with the Clips, and this was measuring up to be an old school, ’80s-style NBA playoff hatefest. But the Dubs are struggling with injuries—the loss of Bogut to a broken rib is especially devastating—and turmoil on the coaching staff. Plus, the way the Dubs have played so inconsistently at home his year, you know they’ll blow at least one game at the Roaracle that they should win. Watching Curry and Paul go head to head is going to be fantastic, but unless Klay Thompson really steps it up, I don’t see how the Dubs can pull it off. Will a first round loss cost Mark Jackson his job? I’ll save my thoughts on that for my Dubs season post-mortem.

Can Ghost Pepper save his coach's job? I have my doubts

Can Ghost Pepper save his coach’s job? I have my doubts

Houston over Portland 4-2: I can’t believe how awesome the Western Conference playoffs are. This is the least interesting of the four series, and it’s a great series! I really want to pick the Blazers for a number of reasons: my abiding affection for the city of Portland (just wait until you read my Three Perfect Days: Portland story in July); my man-crush on Oakland’s own Damian Lillard; my intense dislike of Dwight Howard and Texas in general. But I just don’t see it. Houston has too many horses.

I'm rooting for you, Rip City

I’m rooting for you, Rip City

Second Round

San Antonio over Houston 4-1: There’s no fucking way Tim Duncan is losing a playoff series to Dwight Howard.

Oklahoma City over L.A. 4-2: Man, this is gonna be a fun one. So many marquee names: Durant, Westbrook, Paul, Griffin. And both teams play a fun brand of basketball. But I think OKC will ride Durant’s shoulders into the next round.

Conference Finals

Oklahoma City over San Antonio 4-2: What we’ve seen over the last three years is that the Spurs can carve up any team in the West—except the hyperathletic Thunder. OKC is the one team the San Antonio can’t match up with, and that’ll hold true again this year.

Durant will rise over Duncan again

Durant will rise over Duncan again

EASTERN CONFERENCE

First Round

Indiana over Atlanta 4-1: Even with Indiana’s struggles, this isn’t going to be much of a series. Losing Al Horford crippled this Hawks team, which only made the playoffs because of the Chernobyl-level meltdown that was the New York Knicks’ season.

Miami over Charlotte 4-1: The Hornets, er, Bobcats, er, whatever have been a nice story this year, and they might win one game while Miami fumbles around looking for their “on” switch and Al Jefferson drops buckets in from the block, but in the end this won’t be a series.

Brooklyn over Toronto 4-2: Both these teams played very well in the second half of the season after losing guys who were nominally their best players—the Nets, Brook Lopez to injury; the Raptors, Rudy Gay to a trade. The Raptors are young, and certainly have the edge in athleticism, but I think Brooklyn’s cagey vets Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have a lesson to impart to the new kids on the block.

This is probably a dumb pick, but screw it: BROOKLYN!!!

This is probably a dumb pick, but screw it: BROOKLYN!!!

Chicago over Washington 4-2: The Wizards have way more talent than the Bulls do, but they can be schizo, and no playoff team is better suited to a matchup with an inexperienced, inconsistent roster than the gritty, experienced Bulls of Tom Thibodeau and Joakim Noah.

Second Round

Indiana over Chicago 4-3: If this series comes to pass, there will probably be some sentiment for picking the Bulls. But as much as Indiana has been a terrible offensive team for the last two months, the Bulls struggle to score themselves. This will be an ugly, low-scoring series, but Paul George and home court in Game 7 will make the difference for the Pacers.

Miami over Brooklyn 4-2: I really want to pick an upset and scream BROOKLYN!!! all over this blog … but I can’t. The Nets played the Heat very well this year, but I’m not buying that they can actually take down Miami.

Conference Finals

Miami over Indiana 4-2: I re-wrote this pick three times; First I picked Miami because of Indiana’s second half swoon. Then I went back over to the Pacers, figuring that they still match up well with the Heat, and because I thought I should pick with my preseason prediction that Indy would win a series between these two teams in seven. But goddammit, this is the year of LeBron and Durant. We need these two guys to play in the finals. So Miami it is.

NBA FINALS

Oklahoma City over Miami 4-2: The Heat beat the Thunder two years ago for LeBron’s first title, and this year OKC takes revenge, giving Kevin Durant his first Larry O’Brien trophy. I hope we get to see this series. Either way, this is going to be a great spring for basketball.

Durant will drive past LeBron on the way to the title

Durant will drive past LeBron on the way to the title

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