Matchup #1: (1) Miami Heat vs. (8) Milwaukee Bucks
RB: No disrespect to the Milwaukee Bucks, but the Miami Heat won’t even have to exert that much effort to win this series. My pick: Miami in 4
Ryan: This isn’t even going to be close. Miami’s a juggernaut, and this will be a warmup round for them. No offense to the Bucks. My pick: Heat sweep.
Matchup #2: (2) New York Knicks vs. (7) Boston Celtics
RB: Carmelo Anthony is playing the best ball of his life, and so is JR Smith. Those two plus a supporting cast of veterans led by Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler should be enough to put the Knicks into the second round. It would be a great story for the city of Boston if these Celtics could go beyond the first round, but I just don’t think they have enough pieces. My pick: Knicks in 6.
Ryan: The Knicks enter the Playoffs with a healthier roster, and Carmelo Anthony should continue to shoot and score. If Paul Pierce and Jeff Green manage to keep the offense afloat, the C’s have a chance. Not having Rajon Rondo and even Jared Sullinger really hurts this team, though, so winning the series is a long shot. My pick: Knicks in 6.
Matchup #3: (3) Indiana Pacers vs. (6) Atlanta Hawks
RB: Atlanta does not have the size to match up with Indiana. Remember, the Hawks had Zaza Pachulia when they beat the Pacers early in the regular season, and Roy Hibbert was playing terrible basketball then. Now, Pachulia is out and Hibbert has rediscovered his touch. And then there’s Paul George, Indiana’s first-time All-Star who will probably use this series to announce his superstardom to the world. There is no one in Atlanta’s lineup who can stop him. My pick:
Pacers in 5.
Ryan: Paul George is going to make this series his party. There’s nobody on the Atlanta side that can stop him. The Pacers are too strong and win too many key matchups (Hibbert over Horford, Hill over Teague). The season series split may indicate that the Hawks match up better than we think, but Indiana won the last two games with Lou Williams already out for the season. My pick: Pacers in 5.
Matchup #4: (4) Brooklyn Nets vs. (5) Chicago Bulls
RB: You have to hand it to Tom Thibodeau and the rest of the Chicago Bulls. They didn’t have Derrick Rose this season, and they have had to deal with a lot of injuries, but they got the fifth seed in the East. Having said that, the Bulls are just too banged up to make any real noise in this year’s playoffs. Deron Williams looks lke himself again, and Brook Lopez has gotten so much better. Even with all of Brooklyn’s issues, I just don’t think Chicago has enough to win. My pick:Nets in 6.
Ryan: If only Joakim Noah wasn’t injured, I’d probably pick the Bulls. As it stands, the Nets are looking good this series and should see steady play from Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, and Brook Lopez. If Derrick Rose plays, we may see a different story unfold, but I don’t think anybody believes he’ll get over his injury/layoff jitters in time to change the course of this first-round series. My pick: Nets in 6.