Jon Harper aka "The Enforcer"
#1 OKC Thunder vs #8 Houston Rockets
Match-up to watch: Kevin Durant vs Russell Westbrook
Who will get to 40 first?! Kevin Durant should win this one. He will be guarded by Chandler Parsons. That's not going to work. I'm sure they will try to come up with something to slow him down, but there isn't a lot of that game film to study. Westbrook may decide to employ the best strategy, ball denial. The Rockets best chance in this series may be to let Russell be Russell.
Best potential subplot: James Harden may defect by game three, part of a complicated long con by “The Beard.” If not, he may wish he hadn't shown quite so much to Thabo Sefolosha during practice during his years with the Thunder; a very good defender with great familiarity is going to make Harden's life very difficult for four games.
Prediction: Not close. Oklahoma City Supersonics win in four.
#2 San Antonio Spurs vs #7 the Lake Show
Match-up to watch: Los Spurs vs Father Time
Two time MVP and Johannesburg-born Steve Nash (yeah, who knew?) is reunited with new coach Mike D'Antoni in LA. Wait, they've both been there all year? The run and gun returns, making life difficult for the aging Spurs. If Howard can hit a few free throws and plays Timmy Duncan tough I think the Lakers are going to surprise some people.
Best potential subplot: Media coverage of Kobe Bryant as cheerleader
Kobe Bryant's reputation as a teammate is less than impressive. When the Lakers play well, I predict the media will find some bizarre way to give Kobe credit for their success, proving he is the heart and soul of an improved Laker team that couldn't have done it without him...by doing it without him.
Prediction: Watch out now! Lakers in 7.
#3 Denver Nuggets vs #6 Golden State Warriors
Match-up to watch: AI vs Klay Thompson
Andre Iguodala (aka “Andwe Igwodwala”) will run rampant in this series against an inferior defender. And by the way, the Warriors' backup shooting guards are Kent Bazemore and Brandon Rush...'nuff said. But their options at three behind rookie Harrison Barnes are Draymond Green, a rookie who may not be healthy, and Richard Jefferson. Mark Jackson will need to really flex his coaching muscles to keep him under 30 a game.
Best potential subplot: Stephen Curry's coming out party
The world at large doesn't know who this kid is yet, but very soon they will. Coupled with a great fit at coach for a guy they're trying to move to the point, Curry and former Pacer Mark Jackson are going to make some serious waves for years. But this won't be one of those years.
Prediction: Go Mark! I hope your do better than I think. Nugs in six, but maybe not as close as it sounds.
#4 (The Other) LA Clippers vs #5 Memphis Grizzlies
Match-up to watch: Not a fair question
I think that every position match-up in this series in intriguing. This series is going to be close, maybe the best first-round series as JT has pointed out. I am picking Tayshaun Prince vs Jamal Crawford. That's right, I just picked bench players over CP3 and Blake Griffin. It may come down to the little things in this one and if Tayshaun can shut down Jamal (and he's got the game to do it) it will not only validate the Rudy Gay trade but also give them a real shot in this series.
Best potential subplot: Chris Paul vs Tom Hanks
CP3 will break out all the tricks of the trade in this one. In what may be a very tight series, Paul may finally get the best actor Oscar nod he deserves but Tom Hanks has two movies out this year. It's a pick 'em.
Prediction: Picking against this defensive-minded Memphis team would be like picking against the Pace. That said, nobody rolls over here. Grizz in six, but look for two overtime games.
# 1 Pacers vs #6 Atlanta Hawks
Match-up to watch: Hawk twos and threes vs PG
Paul George's natural match-up in this series will be Kyle Korver. Paul George is poised to prove he is ready for the big stage and this isn't going to be the guy who stands in his way. They are going to have to show Paul George a lot of different looks to slow him down. Dahntay Jones has defensive game, but he won't be the answer to PG in this series. Worse for the Hawks, if they spend too much time on PG, Lance may show he would be in the most-improved race but for his teammate.
Best potential subplot: The Pacers are better than you.
Prediction: Gonna be a hard-fought series. We won't win more than one game by fifty. Pacers in four.
# 1.5 Miami Heat vs #8 Milwaukee Bucks
Match-up to watch: Brandon Jennings vs King James
Brandon Jennings forgot to watch the game film of the Pacers' playoff series against the Heat last year. In a less-than-impressive moment in Pacer history, Lance Stephenson gave LeBron the old choke gesture after a missed free throw in our second playoff game. The rest is history. Jennings decided predicting that the Bucks would upset the Heat in six was a smart play. I'm guessing that giving one of the hottest teams in NBA history some bulletin board material may not play to their advantage. Look for LBJ to flash a triple-double in the first game, but not because he has to--just to prove how easy basketball is.
Best potential subplot: Dwayne Wade's worst playoff series ever
LeBron is going to yolk so hard on the Bucks after being begged to do so that Dwayne will be unable to take more than two shots in the first two games. He will split his time laughing his ass off at the overmatched Bucks while on the court and napping on the bench after LBJ and Ray Allen score 25 each.
Prediction: Yeah, Miami. Can you win in three if you win by 30 every night?
#2 NY Knicks vs #7 Herotown Celtics
Match-up to watch: Kevin Garnett vs Carmelo Anthony
I think we have every reason to believe that the Celts will shift defensive duties of Brandon Bass to Tyson Chandler. No doubt that Carmelo will see a ton of different schemes, but as a game plan I think that Doc Rivers goes to Garnett (15 time All-Star) to make the league's leading scorer work hard for his points. There will still be plenty. I think that Woodson would love to counter big but the injuries he has in his frontcourt make that impossible. Instead, he will be forced to go small and will need at least two great (relative term) games from Steve Novak.
Best potential subplot: NYC vs all of America
New York has, since the dawn of time 5000 years ago, enjoyed the unflagging support of every other market in the country except Boston. This year, NY will find out what it's like to have to play against a team that no one could root against. Boston will have the best home court advantage in their history and won't lose a game in front of a thankful crowd after one of the most traumatic weeks in their long history. NY, though, knows a thing or two about adversity and isn't going to give Boston any quarter.
Prediction: If I had picked the Eastern Conference first, I would have taken the Spurs on the other side in seven and an upset here. There won't be two upsets at this seed, however, and I'm already committed. The Knicks will need all seven games.
#4 Brooklyn Nets vs #5 Chicago Bulls
Match-up to watch: Brook Lopez vs Joaquim Noah
Lopez is really underrated. Noah is very good. Joaquim will play despite not being 100% and won't show much sign of weakness. However, I think that Brook Lopez is ready to have a great playoff series and will benefit from Deron Williams being very hot, as JT correctly noted. He's also correct that no one gets to walk through Thibodeau's defense. Lopez will turn this series by negating the Bulls' rebounding advantage, containing Noah, and making him work hard on both ends.
Best potential subplot: Discovery of players who aren't Derrick Rose
I'm fairly sure that until game 5, the majority of pregame will be dedicated to talking about a possible return of Derrick Rose. If it happens the Bulls will win. When it doesn't...drum roll please:
Prediction: Jay-Z gets garbage minutes in a game six victory for the Nets.
OKC vs Grizzlies
Prediction: Look for OKC to pull this out, taking them deep to seven. It's a tough playoff run for the Thunder, but they're up to the task. Too much greatness.
Nuggets vs Lakers
Prediction: The magic will wear out for the Lakers here and a hot Nuggets team will win the day. Nuggets in six.
Miami and the other guys
Prediction: Unless Rose surprises with a comeback (which he may) the unlucky team here will be the Nets. Either way, Heat in 5.
Pacers vs Celtics
Prediction: The Celtics will not have learned more than us from the regular season matches. Physical series, but the Pacers will have enough in the tank thanks to a few extra days of rest. Guess what? Pacers in four.
OKC vs Nuggets
Prediction: The road for OKC finally gets a little easier. They match well against this team and win in a less physical series, six games.
Indiana vs Miami
Prediction: There is no team playing better basketball than the Miami Heat. Luckily we are able to stay hotter yet and continue our road to perfection. There's a chance we could lose one, but I am taking the Pacers in four.
OKC vs Your Indiana Pacers
Prediction: Well, another tough match-up, but the Thunder will look past the Pacers to the next round against the only team they thought they would have to face in the Finals, the Heat, and lose in a surprising four games.