NBA Playoffs 2014: Preview and predictions

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San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) reacts to being called for a technical foul during the first half against the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

OPENING ROUND

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Indiana vs. No. 8 Atlanta – The Pacers (obviously) enter as a significant favorite in a series that they begin as the number 1 seed, but with how Indiana has played recently (they finished the year with a 10-13 mark in their last 23 games), nothing is assured. Atlanta hasn’t been at full strength since Al Horford exited with injury more than 50 games ago, but they are still blessed with firepower from 3-point range and a quality coach in Mike Budenholzer. Indy will win, but it won’t be a cake walk. Pacers in 7

No. 2 Miami vs. No. 7 Charlotte – Because of how poorly the No. 1-seed Indiana Pacers are playing at the moment, this is likely the most lopsided of the eight series taking place in the first round. To be fair, the Bobcats have impressed the entire league behind Al Jefferson and company this season, but when LeBron James and a (healthy) Wade team up against a team that has documented issues on the offensive end, the results can get ugly in a hurry. Heat in 5

No. 3 Toronto vs. No. 6 Brooklyn – Upset! Toronto enters the playoffs for the first time in a long while after an impressive, 48-win season, but the Raptors are a team that has very little in the way of playoff experience, and that is a recipe for disaster against this Brooklyn team. The Nets have struggled at times this season (especially in the early going), but since moving Kevin Garnett to the center spot, they have been on a 50+-win pace, and Brooklyn brings four guys (Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Deron Williams) with extensive playoff experience to the table. Give me the underdog. Nets in 6

No. 4 Chicago vs. No. 5 Washington – The 4/5 match-up in the East brings a nice face-off of contrasting styles, as the Bulls play a grinding, defense-based style while the Wizards like to get up and down with young guns like John Wall and Bradley Beal. From a pure talent standpoint, Chicago is lacking in the absence of Derrick Rose, but Tom Thibodeau will have his crew ready, and the Bulls are battle-tested to the point where it’s tough to pick the Wizards. Bulls in 7

Western Conference

No. 1 San Antonio vs. No. 8 Dallas – It’s hard to fathom that the Spurs and Mavericks can be facing off in a 1/8 match-up, but that is the nature of the beast in this year’s Western Conference, and that’s unfortunate for Dallas. San Antonio mowed through Dirk and company to the tune of a 4-0 series sweep this season, and the Spurs finished the regular season ranked in the top-6 in both offensive and defense efficiency. The Mavs have enough talent (read: Dirk going off) to steal one, but Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the entire Spurs cast are just too much.  Spurs in 5

No. 2 Oklahoma City vs. No. 7 Memphis – This is an ultra-intriguing series and these two clubs always seem to play classic basketball games. Memphis is considerably better than their final record (50-32) would indicate, thanks to a long term injury to Marc Gasol, but the Grizzlies still aren’t quite up to the task of consistently scoring points to keep up with OKC. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the best two players in the series, and we’ll back them. Thunder in 5

No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 6 Golden State – Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, and Blake Griffin in the same series? Sign me up! The Clippers and Warriors are two of the most exciting teams to watch in the league, but more than that, you won’t find two more appealing ball-handlers than Curry and Paul. The Clippers are the more dynamic team in my mind, and with the recent health concerns for the Dubs (Andrew Bogut is out indefinitely), the lean is to Los Angeles. Clippers in 6

No. 4 Houston vs. No. 5 Portland – Houston and Portland aren’t as “sexy” as some of the other teams, and therefore, this series won’t generate quite the same buzz. However, these two teams rank 4th and 5th in offensive efficiency this season (both scoring more than 108 points per 100 possessions), and there won’t be a shortage of offense. James Harden and Dwight Howard don’t exactly play “pretty” basketball at times, but the Rockets will make enough threes to overwhelm LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and the upstart Blazers. Rockets in 7

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