Previewing the 2013 NBA Playoffs This year’s first round offers some intriguing matchups and a chance to watch the best players in the world at the highest level of competition

By Henry Kittle

Finally, after 82 games, the 2012-2013 NBA regular season has come to a close and the top 16 teams are set in their respective playoff slots. With March Madness over, the focus of the entire basketball world now shifts to the pros.

Certain elite squads, such as the reigning champions Miami Heat and last year’s runners-up Oklahoma City Thunder, solidified their playoff spots relatively early in the season while others, such as the Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks, were just barely able to hop on the playoff wagon with big wins in their final games of the season.

Impeccable record or not, however, no one is safe in the playoffs. First round upsets are far from out of the question as top teams battle squads that had to scratch and claw their way to perhaps the most fiercely competitive postseason in professional sports. With all that said, here’s a preview of the first round matchups.

Oklahoma City Thunder (1) v Houston Rockets (8):
These two teams play a similar style of basketball, but look out for the Thunder to overwhelm the opposition with a super charged offense led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Jeremy Lin and his teammates will need to go absolutely lin-sane for the Rockets to come out on top in this series. In the regular season, the Thunder were 2-1 versus the Rockets.

San Antonio Spurs (2) v LA Lakers (7):
It appears the Lakers are in big trouble in this opening series without superstar scoring machine Kobe Bryant, who recently tore his Achilles tendon. The Lakers still have championship-tier players in their starting lineup such as Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, and Metta World Peace, but team chemistry has been highly questionable. The Spurs, on the other hand, seem to fit together like a puzzle and have championship experience that will help them down the line. Between guards Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker, and center Tim Duncan, anything is possible. The Spurs went 2-1 versus the Lakers in the regular season.

Denver Nuggets (3) v Golden State Warriors (6):
The Nuggets may not have been the big story of the regular NBA season, but they did have a 15-game win streak that went largely overlooked due to the Heat’s 27-game run. The Nuggets are nearly unbeatable at home with a record of 38-3 in Denver this season. That does not mean they won’t have their work cut out for them facing the Warriors, whose franchise player Stephen Curry broke the NBA record for most three pointers in a season this year. Curry and his teammates are going to need to step up and play to their full potential in order to counter the lightning fast transition offense of the Nuggets that is sure to do some damage in this series. The Nuggets were 3-1 versus the Warriors this season.

LA Clippers (4) v Memphis Grizzlies (5):
This series will be replay of last year’s first round series that lasted the full seven games. The Clippers came out on top last year, but do not count out the Grizzlies who have less recognizable, but just as ferocious, ballers such as Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, Jr. However, it is hard to imagine the Clippers falling when they are being led by assist guru Chris Paul and dunk artist Blake Griffin. The Clippers were 3-1 versus the Grizzlies this season.

Miami Heat (1) v Milwaukee Bucks (8):
If anyone can stop the Heat, it probably will not be the Bucks. Sure, the Bucks will try their hardest and maybe even get a close game in, but do not expect more. The Heat’s absurdly talented “Big Three” of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh seamlessly crush the best teams in the league without blinking. Bucks fans should pray for miracle performances from Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, and big men Ersan Illyasova and Luc Mbah a Moute. The Heat were 3-1 versus the Bucks this year.

New York Knicks (2) v Boston Celtics (7):
This will no doubt be an emotionally charged series for the Celtics after the Boston Marathon tragedy. But, in a seven-game series, emotions may not be enough to carry them through, especially when facing an offense led by Carmelo Anthony, this year’s scoring champion. Anthony also has one of the strongest supporting casts with the likes of JR Smith and Tyson Chandler. The Knicks were 3-1 versus the Celtics this season.

Indiana Pacers (3) v Atlanta Hawks (6):
Historically, the Pacers have made great playoff runs. This year, they are overflowing with young talent such as Paul George, George Hill and Roy Hibbert. Veteran forward David West will be a leading voice for the Pacers when things get tight. The Hawks are making somewhat of a surprise appearance in the playoffs but could be deadly with their frontcourt combination of Josh Smith and Al Horford. This series should be one of the closest in the East as the teams split their season series 2-2 this season.

Brooklyn Nets (4) v Chicago Bulls (5):
This matchup holds one of the more compelling stories in the league. Having recently picked up Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Gerald Wallace, the Nets are ready to make a stand in the first round. The Bulls have shown the power of teamwork this season by locking down a playoff spot without their ultra talented guard Derrick Rose. Experience wise, the Bulls should be favored. However, much of their production will depend on how well their guards, Kirk Hinrich, Richard Hamilton and Nate Robinson can execute under playoff pressure. The Bulls are 3-1 against the Nets this season.