Never before have I been excited for the NBA playoffs to start. With everything at stake, there so much to look forward to and a lot of questions to be answered. Can Los Angeles three-peat? Have the Heat figured things out? Are the Bulls really this good? Is San Antonio for real? With the drama building, Take No Prisoners will give its perspective on the 2011 NBA playoffs.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

  1. Chicago Bulls (1) vs Indiana Pacers (8) – The Bulls are back! No, Michael Jordan isn’t coming out of retirement nor did he discover a fountain of youth. There’s a new star in town and his name is Derrick Rose. Rose, the leading candidate for league MVP, almost single-handedly took the Bulls from playoff contenders to being the favorite to come out of the East. At 62-20, Chicago has the best record in the NBA and home court advantage throughout the 2011 playoffs. Rookie head coach Tom Thibodeau has his young squad believing in his defensive scheme and it’s paying off. Their first round opponent is a scrappy Indiana Pacers team that won’t go down easy. The Pacers’ star player, Danny Granger, can easily light up the score board but can he do it on the defensive end? Second year player, Tyler Hansbrough has lived up to his nickname “Pyscho T” especially after the All-Star break. Hansbrough along with Roy Hibbert will need to control the paint and try to prevent Rose from getting to his sweet-spots. Prediction: This series won’t be pretty nor will it break any television ratings records. With that said, Bulls in five!
  2. Miami Heat (2) vs Philadelphia 76ers (7) – The “Chosen Ones” of South Beach seems to have finally figured it out. Since their five game losing streak in early March, the Heat went 15-3 the rest of the way. The Heat wiped the tears away and used them as fuel to prove to the rest of the NBA that the union of the “Big Three” was no fluke. Wade, James and Bosh along with their supporting cast are playing with a chip on their shoulders and the rest of the Eastern Conference should take notice. The 76ers has played above all expectations. At 41-41, Coach Doug Collins is credited for Philly’s 14 game turnaround from a season ago. Collins have made a mediocre team into a playoff team. The problem is that they don’t match up very well with Miami. Prediction: Miami swept the season series pretty easily. I don’t see a way for Philly to compete. Heat in four!
  3. Boston Celtics (3) vs New York Knicks (6) – Can the reigning Eastern Conference champs duplicate their run of the 2010 NBA playoffs? Yes they can, but they will have to do it without the services of Kendrick Perkins, who now plays with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The “Big Four” (Peirce, Allen, Garnett and Rondo), will bring their championship swagger to the court. The Celtics will definitely need it in these playoffs as they are thin at the center position. Both O’Neals’ (Shaq and Jermaine) missed a lot of games due to injury and even when healthy, they aren’t what they once were. The new-look Knicks with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire have made New Yorkers believing again. New York can score as they were second in the league in that department, but the Knicks were almost dead last in points allowed. That will not bode well in this round. Boston’s ability to get to the basket will make it a tough go for the Knicks. Prediction: If this were a scoring contest, New York would win hands down. But it’s not. Boston is too strong on both sides of the court to lose this series. Boston in six!
  4. Orlando Magic (4) vs Atlanta Hawks (5) – One would think that this match-up might be the most competitive one in the first round. Both teams play each other close. Both teams play pretty good defense. The wildcard in this series is Orlando’s Dwight Howard. Howard can wreak havoc on both sides of the paint. He’s has a tremendous paint presence, especially within the blocks. Orlando’s weakness is turnovers and in contrast, Atlanta has difficulty creating turnovers. The Hawks are a run and gun team with its athletic group of Josh Smith, Joe Johnson and Al Horford. That style of offensive might win games in the regular season but not in the playoffs. Prediction: Atlanta won the season series but they stumbled into the playoffs by losing their last six games. Orlando is too talented of a team to lose this series and the Hawks aren’t good enough to flip the switch at will. Orlando in six!

WESTERN CONFERENCE

  1. San Antonio Spurs (1) vs Memphis Grizzlies (8) – Coach Gregg Popovich changed his team’s approach by implementing more of a offensive-minded style of play. This system paid dividends as the Spurs shocked the West earning the number one seed. The big question is, can it work in the playoffs? Memphis will truly miss the services of Rudy Gay due to season ending shoulder surgery. Gay is the Grizzlies’ best scorer but they do have other weapons. Zach Randolph is a great low-post scorer and Marc Gasol can bang with the best of them. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker may have to shoulder the load due to the uncertainty of Manu Ginobili’s heath. Ginobili suffered a hyperextended elbow during the Spurs season finale against the Phoenix Suns. San Antonio will rely on DeJuan Blair to do the dirty work in the paint. Prediction: In order for Memphis to win this series they will have to do three things: 1) pound the ball in paint, 2) control the boards and 3) defend the perimeter. San Antonio can do all the above and they are deadly from behind the arc. With that said, Spurs in six!
  2. Los Angeles Lakers (2) vs New Orleans Hornets (7) – The defending champs have a history of taking games for granted. This season was no different. Los Angeles have had some low points this season with a four game losing streak as well as a disappointing loss in Cleveland. A two-time defending champ can’t lose to the worst team in the league, especially after beating that team by 55 points earlier in the season. Los Angeles went on an impressive 17-1 run after that Cavs loss, only to follow that up with five straight losses to inferior teams. With this schizophrenic play, the Lakers at 57-25 have the same record from last season and are poised to defend their title. They face a Hornets team that hobbled into the playoffs after the loss of power forward David West, who sustained a torn ACL in March against the Utah Jazz. Chris Paul will give the Lakers guards fits and will keep L A honest but that’s about the only threat New Orleans have. Prediction: Los Angeles has too many weapons with Bynum and Gasol down low, Odom coming off the bench and Kobe being Kobe. Lakers in five!
  3. Dallas Mavericks (3) vs Portland Trail Blazers (6) – This is a scary contest for the Dallas Mavericks. Portland has been playing excellent since adding Gerald Wallace to its roster. Portland’s guards, Brandon Roy and Wesley Matthews can penetrate and defend. LaMarcus Aldridge is limitless on the floor offensively. With Dirk Nowitzki as Dallas’ offensive  focal point, Portland will throw Marcus Camby, Gerald Wallace and Aldridge at him defensively. Nowitzki can easily get those guys into foul trouble with his versatility. Center Tyson Chandler will try to neutralize the paint against Portland’s big men. Jason Kidd along with his backup Jose Barea will provide key match-ups in the series. Portland will have to keep Jason Terry under control as he can change the outcome of a game extremely quick with his scoring ability coming off the bench. Prediction: These teams will give us with an entertaining series. Having the home court advantage will be the reason why Dallas will advance. Mavs in seven!
  4. Oklahoma City Thunder (4) vs Denver Nuggets (5) – Oklahoma City added some toughness in acquiring Kendrick Perkins from the Celtics. This move pushed the Thunder more into contention for a title. Kevin Durant is arguably the most complete player in the league now. Russell Westbrook is so quick he’s almost unguardable, and he’s developed into a good jump shooter. Denver however, was supposed to be in dismantle mode after dealing Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to the Knicks for Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton,  and Danilo Gallinari. Since the trade, Denver finished the season with a 18-7 record. The Nuggets have a work horse in Gallinari. Felton has provided a spark for Denver. The bench mob will need to show up for the Nuggets to have a chance. Prediction: Both teams will battle hard in this series but it will be hard for Denver to stop Durant and Westbrook in a seven game series. Thunder in six!

By Keith Madyun

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