NBA playoff predictions

Story by Scott Hansen

Posted: 5:55 p.m., Saturday, April 17

The NBA playoffs may not be interesting for those of you who are Timberwolves fans, but for Milwaukee Bucks fans, it should be at least somewhat exciting. The Bucks got a good matchup and could potentially make it to the second round. But how does it look for the rest of the playoffs?

In the Eastern Conference, look for LeBron James to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers over the Chicago Bulls in five games. The Bulls managed to split the season series with the Cavs, so it’s hard to believe the Cavs will get a clean sweep. The same goes for the Orlando Magic, who lost one game in their season series with first-round opponent the Charlotte Bobcats and will likely lose at least one game on their way to a 4-1 series victory. The Bucks will give the Atlanta Hawks a run for their money and push it to at least six or seven games. But with the Hawks’ depth and the Bucks’ lack of a big-man presence, expect the Hawks to win in six. The most intriguing first-round matchup in the East may be between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat. The Heat have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA as of late and have been playing playoff-like basketball for a while as they tried to secure the No. 5 seed. The Celtics, on the other hand, have been on a down-slide, losing six of their last four and looking extremely old and slow at times. Look for this one to be a great series that Dwayne Wade and the Heat will lock up in six games.

From there, the Heat will push the Cavs to the brink of elimination, only to have James advance the Cavs to the conference finals in a game seven. The Magic won the season series against the Hawks, and their one loss came on a last-second shot. Look for the series to be a competitive one that the Magic will take in six games.

Many think Shaquille O’Neal being on the Cavs makes them match up better with the Magic than last year’s Cavs did with last year’s Magic. But the Magic are a different team, too, and the addition of Matt Barnes and Vince Carter gives them a dimension they sorely lacked last year when they managed to beat the Cavs. The Magic are tougher with Barnes and have a player that can drive to the basket in Carter, taking away the double-team option the Cavs would like to throw at Magic star center Dwight Howard. The key to the series will come down to whether Howard can stay out of foul trouble and not let O’Neal get inside his head. I think the Magic will take the series in six, although it will be a lot tougher to do so this year than it was last year for them.

In the West, the Lakers have been reeling since the all-star break. But they are a great team, so they eventually will grind out a series victory over the young, underdog Oklahoma City Thunder in seven games. The Dallas Mavericks take on the San Antonio Spurs in a matchup of in-state rivals. The Spurs are a great team and shouldn’t be counted out because of their poor regular season performance. But the fact is the Mavericks are younger and better, meaning they will win the series in six games. The Phoenix Suns are one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now, and their series against the injury-plagued Portland Trailblazers should be the only sweep of the playoffs, as the Suns will win in four games. And although the Denver Nuggets won the season series against the Utah Jazz, they have been struggling as of late and lost key player Kenyon Martin to injury. Carlos Boozer may be out for the Jazz as well, but the Jazz have a great coach in Jerry Sloan and a strong bench that can make up for Boozer’s absence. On the other side, the Nugget’s head coach George Karl is a question mark for the playoffs as he undergoes treatment for cancer. The Jazz will close out the series in six.

In the second round, the Lakers will have a tough time against the Jazz. If Boozer is healthy and back for Utah, they will win the series against the Lakers in six games. Because the Lakers’ series with the Thunder won’t be a cake walk and will push them to playing more minutes than the veteran team can handle, look for the Jazz to win again. A series between the Mavericks and the Suns would be intriguing, as it would pit former Maverick Steve Nash against his former team. Although his efforts would be enough to keep the series close, the Mavericks have the better all-around team and would close out the series in six.

In the conference finals, then, look for the Jazz to advance over the Mavericks in six games. With Jazz coach Sloan being so experienced and the Jazz having the better starting center, the Jazz will win a memorable and tough series.

In the Finals, the Magic will defeat the Jazz in seven games. If this matchup were to happen, the Magic would have the easiest road to the finals and therefore would have more left in the tank. The Jazz, on the other hand, would have gone through three straight tough series, and pulling an upset over the Magic, who have the better overall team, would be unlikely.