The regular season is over and it's time for the Playoffs. The Five-Man Weave crew breaks down the first round, looking at the most and least exciting matchups and which underdogs are primed to pull an upset.
1. Which first round matchup are you most excited for?
Josh Lewenberg: Spurs vs. Lakers. In the end, it might not be the most thrilling series. It might not be the longest series and it almost certainly won't be the most aesthetically pleasing. It doesn't have Kobe. Neither Tony Parker nor Manu Ginobili will be 100 percent. I'm really selling this aren't I? It's not ideal but it's the Spurs and Lakers! The storylines are endless and one way or another it will end up being a battle. Dwight Howard and company have a lot to prove… Now's their chance. Clean slate.
Will Strickland: Tough. Almost like splitting hairs between Celts-Knicks and Lakers-Spurs, despite being follicly challenged, but I'll go with LA-San Antonio. The Spurs have looked awful as of late, limping into the playoffs. Wildly inconsistent play from Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, injuries slowing Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and the losses of playoff-tested Stephen Jackson, aka I Make Love To Pressure, and Boris Diaw make this not as daunting a task for Los Angeles to overcome without Kobe. Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard backed up Kobe's playoff guarantee with stellar performances in the final two games of the regular season, doing so DESPITE Mike D'Antoni. It's gonna be good!
Tim Chisholm: San Antonio vs. Los Angeles. Losing Kobe has obviously taken a lot of the drama out of this series because there is virtually no way that LA can take four games against the Spurs, but I am nonetheless incredibly curious to see if the Lakers can put up any kind of a fight considering (and I hate to keep harping on this) they still have THREE HALL OF FAME PLAYERS ON THEIR ROSTER.
Duane Watson: The Houston Rockets versus the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not just because it's fun to watch OKC, but the drama of James Harden facing his old squad and the fact he has emerged as a legitimate star in this league. I don't think Harden and Co. can take out the best in the West, but it's sure going to be fun to see them try.
Mitch Ward: For pure basketball excitement I'm going with the Nuggets and Warriors. The Nuggets love to push the pace and the Warriors will happily oblige them. This will be a fun, fast and high-scoring series - that's my kind of television. On the storyline side, I'm also pretty excited for Boston-New York, OKC-Houston and LA-San Antonio.
2. Which first round matchup are you least excited for?
Lewenberg: Pacers vs. Hawks. The Hawks have mailed it in and it's hard to blame them. This is likely their swan song before Danny Ferry completes the team's makeover in the offseason. They've overachieved this year but they're simply not talented enough on either end of the floor to make significant noise in the playoffs. The Pacers are a force to be reckoned with defensively but their style doesn't exactly scream excitement, especially against this opponent.
Strickland: Indiana-Atlanta. I've already typed too much on it...
Chisholm: Chicago vs. Brooklyn. Without Derrick Rose (and with a hobbled Joakim Noah) this doesn't promise to be much of a series, and that is especially true since I find Brooklyn so uninteresting. Besides, all this series determines is who is going to get throttled by the Heat in the second round so it's really hard to... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Watson: Miami vs. Milwaukee. Despite the Bucks claiming that the Heat are a "good match-up" for them, they are going to get swept in the first round. I'm not sure how "good" they are as the Bucks only managed to beat Miami once in four meetings. Larry Sanders won't be much of a factor if he's guarding Chris Bosh out at the 3-point line and Dwyane Wade will abuse Monta Ellis on the defensive end.
Ward: Miami-Milwaukee. Four game sweeps rarely produce much excitement. I will start getting excited for the Heat once we hit the Conference Finals and they actually have to start trying.
3. Which lower seed in the West is most likely to pull an upset?
Lewenberg: The Warriors. One way or another this series won't disappoint. The Nuggets – a balanced, well-coached team – are the understandable favourites after enjoying a remarkable season. They've only lost three games at the Pepsi Center, where they'll host the inexperienced Warriors to begin this series. However, they'll do so undermanned. Injuries to Danilo Gallinari – who'll miss the series – along with Kenneth Faried and Ty Lawson, who'll be limited, could open the door for Golden State. Denver has allowed the second-most three balls this year… good luck with Steph Curry! If the Warriors get hot, it's a new ball game.
Strickland: Lakers, for the reasons I listed in my first answer. If Dwight, Pau and Steve Nash pass this test without Kobe and dare I say make it to the Western Conference Finals... well... I'm speeding. Let's get through the first round!
Chisholm: Memphis. This team will have serious revenge on its mind after the way their first round series went against the Clippers last year, and Memphis looks better equipped to handle LA this year now that they've straightened out their roster by jettisoning Rudy Gay. I know that the Clippers took the season series and have the more dynamic roster, but if someone is going to come out of the bottom half of the West bracket it's going to be Memphis.
Watson: Golden State. Steph Curry wasn't voted an All-Star and has played at a better rate ever since and Ty Lawson won't be able to stop him. While the Nuggets are deep the loss of Danilo Gallinari hurts them and makes them one less deeper; and my money is on Jarrett Jack against Andre Miller every time. If anyone can do it in the West my money is on the Warriors.
Ward: I'm picking the Grizzlies over the Clippers but that can't really be considered an upset. So instead, I'll say the Kobe-less Lakers. Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol are playing big-boy basketball right now and learning to play off of each other much better. If the Lakers can get Steve Nash back at some point he will bring some much-needed playmaking ability. Throw in the fact that the Spurs are nursing some injuries and maybe the Lakers can earn some redemption for their miserable season. Likely not, but maybe.
4. Which lower seed in the East is most likely to pull an upset?
Lewenberg: The Celtics. The San Antonio Spurs of the East, the Celtics are the team you never quite feel comfortable betting against, nor should you. Conventional wisdom would have us believe they're done. Rajon Rondo is out, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are another year older. But anyone who has faced them at this time of year will tell you otherwise. This is what they play for. Melo is playing out of his mind right now but the Knicks, who rely heavily on the three-pointer, are beatable when the shot isn't falling.
Strickland: Boston. In what may be their last hurrah, which is about the same thing people had been saying about them since they lost the 2010 NBA Finals. The Celtics still have Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers. Sometimes, that's just enough...
Chisholm: Milwaukee… haha, just kidding, they're going to lose in three. Probably the Celtics. The Knicks have yet to prove themselves in the postseason in their current configuration, and with Mike Woodson dropping the tidbit that Amar'e Stoudemire is likely to miss the entirety of the first round, that's a huge x-factor that's been neutralized for Boston. The Knicks have been on a tear, but I won't buy this team as a Playoff outfit until they do something to change my mind.
Watson: The Boston Celtics. Jason Terry, KG and Pierce play for the Playoffs and that's it. The Celtics proved they can play and compete without Rajon Rondo and while the Knicks did the same without Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler for stretches, Boston's veteran savvy and superior coaching give them an edge. Avery Bradley has blossomed into the defender and player that they expected and if Melo has a couple of bad games, "the ship be sinking" in New York.
Ward: Again, I'm picking the Bulls but I can't really consider a five-seed knocking off a four an upset so it has to be the Celtics. Playoff basketball is what matters to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and the other Celtics veterans at this point in their careers. They made it in, now it's time to turn it up. If Melo's torrid shooting cools down or his knee starts acting up, Botson definitely has what it takes to knock off New York.
5. Pick your first round winners?
Lewenberg: Heat over Bucks in 4… Knicks over Celtics in 7… Pacers over Hawks in 5… Nets over Bulls in 7… Thunder over Rockets in 5… Spurs over Lakers in 6… Warriors over Nuggets in 7… Clippers over Grizzlies in 6.
Strickland: Miami in 4, Knicks in 6, Indiana in 6, Nets in 7; OKC in 6, Lakers in 7, Denver in 6, Grizzlies in 7
Chisholm: Thunder in 5, Spurs in 5, Nuggets in 7, Grizzlies in 7, Heat in 3, Boston in 6, Indiana in 4 and Brooklyn in 6
Watson: In the East: Heat in 4, New York in 6, Indiana in 5 and Los Bulls in 6. For the Western Conference: OKC in 5, San Antonio in 4, Denver in 6 and the Clippers in 7.
Ward: East: Heat in 5, Celtics in 7, Pacers in 6, Bulls in 6. West: Thunder in 5, Spurs in 6, Nuggets in 5, Grizzlies in 7
The Five-Man Weave is made up of TSN.ca Raptors blogger Tim Chisholm ( @timpchisholm), TSN Radio 1050 Raptors reporter Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050), Duane Watson (@sweetswatson) and Will Strickland (@WallStrizzle1) from TSN Radio 1050's 1-on-1 with Will and Duane, and TSN.ca NBA Editor Mitch Ward (@jmitchw).