NBA capsules for the playoff series
No. 1 Oklahoma City Thunder (60-22)
vs. No. 8 Houston Rockets (45-37)
How they got here: Because they won seven of their past nine games, the Thunder earned the top seed in the West and finished with the second-best record in the entire NBA behind the Miami Heat. In other words, no James Harden, no problem. Olympians Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook again showed why they’re a terrific duo. Durant finished second in the league in scoring with 28.1 points per game, and also averaged 7.9 rebounds per game. Westbrook (23.2 ppg, 7.4 assists per game) also was very productive. Meanwhile, newcomer Kevin Martin averaged 14 ppg in his first season with OKC. Martin was part of a blockbuster trade which sent the popular James Harden to the Houston Rockets. The Rockets lost four of their last six games in losing their bid to get the No. 7 seed. Harden averaged 25.9 ppg and 5.8 apg. Houston’s other big off-season acquisition, Jeremy Lin, averaged 13.4 ppg and 6.1 apg. Omer Asik averaged 10.1 ppg and 11.7 rpg.
Key to the series: Jeremy Lin needs to play like the Jeremy Lin who gained fame last season with the New York Knicks. If he can do that, the Rockets have a shot at pulling off the upset.
Prediction: Thunder in 5
No. 2 San Antonio Spurs (58-24)
vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers (45-37)
How they got here: The Spurs were neck-and-neck with the Thunder for the top seed out West down the stretch, but wound up losing five of their last seven games. The Spurs can run with any team in the league and they don’t mind sharing the ball. San Antonio leads the NBA in assists (25.1 apg) and is fourth in scoring (103 ppg). Tony Parker (20.3 ppg, 7.6 apg) paces the Spurs, Tim Duncan (17.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg) appears to have found the fountain of youth, and Manu Ginobili (11.8 ppg) returned for the last game of the season after missing the previous nine with a strained right hamstring. The Lakers will try to advance without Kobe Bryant, who is out until next season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Paging Dwight Howard. This is Howard’s chance to show the Lakers he can carry them. Howard averages 17.1 ppg and is first in the NBA in rebounds (12.4 rpg), second in field goal shooting (57.8 percent) and fifth in blocks (2.45 bpg).
Key to the series: For obvious reasons - no Kobe - the Lakers are huge underdogs. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni must find a way to play Pau Gasol and Howard at the same time, and make sure the Lakers pound the ball inside repeatedly.
Prediction: Spurs in 6
No. 3 Denver Nuggets (57-25)
vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors (47-35)
How they got here: The red-hot Nuggets won 23 of their final 26 games, including a stretch where they emerged victorious in 15 consecutive games. The victory total (57) amounted to an NBA-franchise high for the Nuggets’ franchise. Denver has so many high-energy players, starting with Kenneth Faried, Corey Brewer, Wilson Chandler and JaVale McGee. And that’s not to mention Ty Lawson and Andre Iguodala. But the loss of Danilo Gallinari (knee surgery) will seriously cripple the Nuggets’ chances of going deep into the playoffs. The Nuggets have the league’s best home record at 38-3. Meanwhile, the wet-behind-the-ears Warriors are a fun and young bunch led by Stephen Curry. Averaging 22.9 ppg, Curry was third in the NBA in three-point shooting (45.3 percent), and also set the league’s single-season record for the most three-pointers made this season (272).
Key to the series: Get out the stop watch and put on the track shoes. This promises to be an old fashioned American Basketball Association-style track meet, with the team which can prevent the other from running so much emerging as the victors.
Prediction: Nuggets in 6
No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers (56-26)
vs. No. 5 Memphis Grizzlies (56-26)
How they got here: The Clippers won their first divisional title ever this season when they showed that they are indeed the best team in Los Angeles. Lob City, as the Clippers are affectionately known, had a field day dunking on whoever dared get in their way. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan might get the lion’s share of the Clippers’ dunk, but it is point guard Chris Paul who stirs LA’s new version of Showtime. Griffin averages 18 ppg and 8.3 rpg and Paul is averaging 16.9 ppg, 9.7 apg and 2.4 steals per game. Meanwhile, Jamal Crawford (16.5) is one of the top reserves in the NBA. As far as Memphis goes, maybe this will be the year Lionel Hollins gets credit for being a solid coach after the Grizzlies set a franchise single-season record for wins. Memphis opened the season with a 12-2 record, won 14 of 15 during another stretch, and finished the season with wins in nine of the final 11 games. A lockdown defensive team, Memphis led the NBA in fewest points allowed at 89.3 ppg.
Key to the series: If Grizzlies’ big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol can hold their ground against Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, then Memphis will win this season.
Prediction: Grizzlies in 6
No. 1 Miami Heat (66-16)
vs. No. 8 Milwaukee Bucks (39-44)
How they got here: Is anyone out there really surprised the Heat has the best record in the NBA? After all, the defending NBA champions have the top trio in the league in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Miami zipped through the season with ease, at one point winning 27 games in a row, which is the second-longest streak in NBA history. James, arguably the league’s best player, averaged 26.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 7.3 apg and shot 56.5 percent from the field. His sidekick, Wade, averaged 21.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg and 5.1 apg, and Bosh averaged 16.6 ppg and 6.8 rpg. Milwaukee reached the playoffs, despite being the only squad among the 16 playoff entrants, with a losing record. The Bucks would have been an 11th seed - and not a playoff participant-had they been operating in the Western Conference. Guards Monta Ellis (19.2 ppg, 6.0 apg) and Brandon Jennings (17.5 ppg, 6.5 apg) lead the way for the Bucks.
Key to the series: The Bucks have a very slim chance, and it is very slim. Behind Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee should be able to have their way with the Heat on the boards. The Bucks finished fifth in the league with 44 rpg, while the Heat was dead last with 38.6 rpg.
Prediction: Heat in 5
No. 2 New York Knicks (54-28)
vs. Boston Celtics (41-40)
How they got here: Injuries are hitting the Knicks at the worst possible time. Forward Amar’e Stoudemire could miss the series against the Celtics after he underwent surgery on March. 11 to clean debris in his right knee. But that didn’t stop Stoudemire from predicting that the Knicks will win the series against Boston. Meanwhile, center Tyson Chandler missed 16 of the past 29 games with a bulging disk in his neck, but is expected to play. Also, guard Pablo Prigioni is questionable for the series opener with a sprained right ankle. But the Knicks do have a healthy Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd and J.R. Smith. Anthony led the NBA in scoring (28.7 ppg), Kidd is one of the game’s smartest players, and Smith led all reserves in scoring (18.1 ppg). Three of Boston’s top players-Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry - are at least 35 years old. And with Rajon Rondo out following knee surgery, the Celtics are just not as effective as they would be with him.
Key to the series: The Celtics must slow the pace, defend the three-point line and beat up the Knicks inside in order to have a chance in this series. They also need to find a way to slow down Carmelo Anthony.
Prediction: Knicks in 7
No. 3 Indiana Pacers (49-32)
vs. Atlanta Hawks (44-38)
How they got here: Feeding off last year’s success, the Pacers won the Central Division, therefore, didn’t have to worry about ending the season with losses in five of their final six games. Indiana did it mainly with defense as they finished second in the NBA in fewest points allowed (90.7 ppg). They led the league in rebounds (45.9 rpg). Paul George (17.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg), David West (17.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and George Hill (14.2) comprise a formidable trio, while Roy Hibbert is one the league’s most underrated big men. As for the Hawks, behind Jeff Teague they were the second-best passing team in the league with 24.5 assists per game. Teague averaged 14.6 ppg and 7.2 apg. But Josh Smith (17.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and Al Horford (17.4 ppg, 10.2 rpg) must carry them. They also need some assistance form Kyle Korver, who averages 10.9 ppg and finished the season second in the NBA in three-point accuracy at 45.7 percent.
Key to the series: With his long wingspan and proficiency for blocking shots, Roy Hibbert can dirty up a game and control it all by himself. Hibbert’s matchup in the middle with Al Horford could be some classic stuff. Whoever wins it, his team should win the series.
Prediction: Pacers in 6
No. 4 Brooklyn Nets (49-33)
vs. Chicago Bulls (45-37)
How they got here: The Nets made Brooklyn proud in their first year in New York after moving from New Jersey. While they didn’t win the battle of New York with the Knicks, they did finish second in the Atlantic Division. Deron Williams, who shunned the Dallas Mavericks in free agency last summer so he could continue playing for the Nets, averaged 18.9 ppg and 7.7 apg. Reggie Evans is ae monster at power forward. Evans finished the season with nine 20-plus rebound games, and eight other 15-plus rebound games. Other than not having superstar Derrick Rose (knee) all season, the Bulls’ biggest problem is the availability of center Joakim Noah, who might only play part of this series - if any at all - due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot. But the Bulls snapped Miami’s 27-game winning streak while Noah was sidelined with that foot injury. Luol Deng (16.5 ppg), Carlos Boozer (16.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg) and Nate Robinson (13.1) also are go-to players the Bulls can lean on.
Key to the series: The Bulls are a hard-nosed team that can use physicality to will their way to victories. How the Nets handle Chicago’s bull rush will be a key factor in this series.
Prediction: Bulls in 6