Tag:2011 NBA Playoffs
Posted on: April 16, 2011 8:28 pm
Edited on: April 16, 2011 9:12 pm
 

Dwight Howard scores 31 in first half vs. Hawks

Dwight Howard scores 31 points in the first half against Hawks in Game 1.
Posted by Matt Moore

Dwight Howard finished the first half against the Hawks on Saturday night with 31 points. Thirty-one. Thirty, and then one more. The rest of the Magic had 17 points. Howard had nearly twice the total of his entire team. Which is partially why the Magic trail at the half to Atlanta. It was pretty good. 







The Magic fed Howard, and he delivered. But defensively, Kirk Hinrich is finishing off Jameer Nelson with an array of step back jumpers. The Hawks have played Jason Collins, Zaza Pachulia, and Josh Powell on Howard, but haven't stuck Al Horford on him. Which is odd, because Horford actually surprisingly does play Howard well and manages not to foul. The Hawks have a lead at the half, but if Howard keeps up this kind of production, is there any way the Hawks can win?

They keep shooting 55% and yeah, they've got a good chance. 

Follow along with Magic-Hawks here


Some thoughts from our Twitter followers on what the Hawks should do in the second half to slow down Howard: 

"Use a taser." 

"Do nothing, ur winning, let Dwight take every shot and not allow the other guys to get going"

"PRAY!"

"Bill Russell."

"Mix in some zone to keep multiple bodies around Howard and protect Horford from getting in foul trouble."
Posted on: April 16, 2011 7:31 pm
Edited on: April 16, 2011 8:52 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Sixers-Heat: Miami grinds it out


Posted by Matt Moore




And again, the underdog nearly pulls it off, but comes up short . The Sixers started hot against the Heat. Then, the Heat slowly chipped away, chipped away, and took over. It looked like an easy win for the Heat when they were up 11 with 5:57 to play. By the 2:26 mark, it was a one-point game. The Sixers made a late run, keyed by Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday, working inside and out, but couldn't close. Then, Wade did this fun thing .

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If we're trying to find a real theme in this game, it comes from this. The Heat turned this game into a slugfest. Slowed it down to a snail's pace and ground it out. The Sixers shot 42 percent from the field, but had an effective field goal percentage (factoring 3-point attempts) of 45.8 percent. That's bad, but still better than the Heat. And that was a big part of how they hung around. The reality is that, for a team that relies so much on transition, buckets and speed, the Heat turned into a slow-it-down, brutalize-it club. And that was their biggest success against Philadelphia. When the Sixers got in transition and sped the game up, they had considerably more success. Factor in Chris Bosh's 25 points and 12 rebounds and that's the model for a Heat win. 

Defensively for the Sixers, there has to be more help and it has to come before the point of attack. The Sixers gave up 39 free throws (as opposed to the fifteen they managed). Philadelphia gave up fouls on nearly 19% of all possessions for Miami. Some of that's star calls, sure. But that doesn't change it from being something Philly has to respond to. There needs to be more communication defensively to help out on possessions, especially when James is leading. 

The Heat were not efficient in this game, outside of creating free throws (which is, in itself, efficient, but bear with me). Their three leading scorers (the Triad) shot 41 percent from the field. On the one hand, you have to say the Sixers won't be lucky enough to run into that bad of a shooting performance across the board. On the other, the Heat have to convert more opportunities. This was a solid win that the Heat had control of for 3.25 quarters. But it was also a game in which they left the door open. 

That said, if the Heat's defense maintains its intensity for the entire game, Philadelphia's options become more and more limited. 

Notes: 

  • Somewhere in the back of their minds, the Heat coaching staff has to be concerned about the work of Jrue Holiday (19 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists).  Point guard is a soft spot for the Heat defensively, and Holiday has a higher ceiling than he showed Saturday. 
  • On the flip side, Philadelphia has to be terrified about Spencer Hawes. The Heat do not have strong center play and Hawes was totally overwhelmed in a limited 13 minutes. He shot selectively and efficiently but was unable to work well on the glass. 
  • Andres Nocioni should not play. He's too much of a liability in this series. 
  • Jodie Meeks did a great job in the first half against Dwyane Wade. Later, when switched against LeBron James, he was overmatched. Which isn't surprisingly. It's confusing that Collins would go that route. 
  • Late in the game, LeBron James largely played a "spy linebacker" position; waiting low to block whoever came to the paint. It was frightening to see him in that kind of lurking role. 
Posted on: April 16, 2011 5:16 pm
Edited on: April 17, 2011 1:42 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Pacers-Bulls: Back-breaker for Indy?

The Bulls barely survived against the Pacers. But was the best effort for the Pacers in a loss a back-breaker for Indy?
Posted by Matt Moore





Count your blessings, Chicago, and pat yourself on the back for a great fourth quarter. But with the Bulls getting a stiff wake-up call against the Pacers, you'd think that it would set the table for a long, hard-fought series. 

Unless the Bulls just delivered the back-breaker. 

Before we start here, there's going to be a lot of talk about overreaction to one game. And that's totally fair. We need to see how the rest of the series plays out. We need to see more than one could-be outlier game, and whether the trends that put the Pacers in the game hold or totally fall apart. What we want to do, though, is guide you through what's happening, ask the questions the narrative creates, and not feed you traditional talk. We could prattle on about the Bulls and a great win, because that fits the narrative, right? MVP wins the game with a superb effort, and the sweep is on. But that's not what happened. The Pacers pushed the Bulls and exploited a lot of narratives. Yes, Rose was incredible, on offense. But Darren Collison and A.J. Price both had good contributions against Rose's defense, and in the name of all that is holy, can Carlos Boozer guard Tyler Hansbrough? We can't brush over this game. We're still confident the Bulls have this series under firm control, but there's stuff to talk about. That's basketball. 

 

More on Pacers-Bulls
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Royce Young Royce Young
Here's the thing about Indiana's near upset of the Bulls -- this was good for Chicago. Read More >>
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And one thing to talk about is whether this is a back-breaker for the Pacers. 

Tyler Hansbrough had a huge game (his second of the year against the Bulls). The Pacers shot 56 percent from the arc, when their season average is 35 percent, and 31 percent against Chicago . Four Pacers made double-digits. The Pacers' offensive efficiency was 113.8 against the Bulls Saturday. In the regular season, they were at 93.29 versus the Bulls. Darren Collison torched  Derrick Rose. (Not as badly as Derrick Rose torched Collison, and every one of the Pacers, but still, it should be noted). The Pacers had dozens of things go right for them.

And they lost. 

To have a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and lose? To lose like that? How do you come back from that? On the one hand, you could argue it gives the Pacers confidence. They can hang with the Bulls, right? They played them tough, in Game 1, on the road. But on the other hand, they played so well in just about every area, good enough to win if the game was 45 minutes long. But it's not, and the Pacers lost. If an 8 seed is going to hang with the 1 seed, it has to be done with emotion and confidence. Instead of walking out feeling like they could take down the Bulls, they just proved they can play as well as possible and walk out with a loss. How does a team that young respond? 

Tyler Hansbrough was a huge emotional lift for the Pacers and, oddly, he's probably the most sustainable success story from Game 1 for the Pacers. Boozer can't guard him. Can't do it. And the pick-and-pop work is the one thing the Bulls' tremendous defense will allow. But unless Hansbrough can go on a ridiculous shooting streak, even that seems circumspect. Meanwhile, Roy Hibbert had a huge start, then completely vanished. There was enough in that game to show that what gave the Pacers the lead won't wind up maintaining as the series goes forward. 

The Bulls allowed the Pacers to push them to the edge, and then largely one player (with a nice Korver three thrown in and a good spurt from Noah, who wasn't great overall) took over and sent them back to the lockers dejected. If the Pacers stare at how close they came and how far they fell, it may be an early end to what looked like a tough series, with even five minutes left in the game. 

That's the impact of a great player in the NBA playoffs. 

Posted on: April 16, 2011 4:23 pm
Edited on: April 17, 2011 1:44 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Bulls-Pacers: Bulls needed the push

Posted by Royce Young



It took 47 minutes and 12 seconds for the Bulls -- the top seed in the entire NBA playoffs -- to take a lead over the 37-win Indiana Pacers. For those first 47 minutes and 11 seconds, it looked like we had the seeds mixed up. The Pacers looked sharp, confident and crisp while the Bulls looked nervous and tight. And, after a three-point play from Tyler Hansbrough that put Indiana up 10 with three minutes left, worried.

But the Bulls have the luxury of possessing a special, special player that wears No. 1 on his back. Derrick Rose was every bit the MVP in this one, keying a 14-1 run for Chicago and leading the Bulls to a hard fought 104-99 victory over the scrappy Pacers. Rose had 39 points and basically carried his team, but it was a smart decision late in the fourth that put the Bulls over the top.

With the game tied at 99-99, Rose had the option to attack in transition. Instead, he deferred to Kyle Korver, who was open on the 3-point line. Korver dropped in a massive shot that pretty much ended the dream day for the Pacers. A brilliant play, and one that showed Rose is entirely willing to trust teammates in big moments, which is a big key for Chicago moving forward.

The story will likely be about how Chicago nearly dropped a dud in the first game, but don't overlook what these young Pacers did. They know they're overwhelming underdogs. They know most aren't giving them a chance to even win a game in this series. Yet with 3:28 left in this game, they led by 10 and really had the Bulls up against a wall.

Every punch the Bulls threw, Indiana came back with two. Danny Granger had a huge second half with 18 points (24 overall), Hansbrough basically took over in stretches and, most importantly, the Pacers played smart. They had this game. They really did. But in those last three minutes, they couldn't figure out where to go for points. It was almost like they looked at the scoreboard for the first time and said, "Holy crap, we're up 10!" and then tightened up and tried to just take a couple knees and run out the clock.

For 97 percent of the game, the Pacers played without fear, without hesitation and without any idea that they were supposed to lose. It was impressive.

More on Pacers-Bulls
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Matt Moore Matt Moore
Tyler Hansbrough was huge, the Pacers shot lights-out ... and Indy still lost. Backbreaker? Read >>
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Here's the thing though: This was good for the Bulls. They're a heavy favorite not just to win this series, but the entire Eastern Conference. But they're young and inexperienced. They haven't played this favorite role yet. This is new. And they just got a little message in the mail from Frank Vogel and the Pacers that this is the postseason and you can't just expect to show up and advance.

Maybe it was just me, but I sensed an air of arrogance from the Bulls for the first three quarters. Kind of like they just expected to handle the Pacers. Like they thought the Pacers were just a cricket they needed to squash before leaving the house. Obviously, not the case.

The Bulls didn't play very well, especially in terms of their standards. Their defense was sketchy (allowed 55 points in the first half and 50 percent shooting the first three quarters). The offensive execution was inconsistent with most of Chicago's offense being called "Derrick Rose." All of that compromised Chicago's overall performance and really, the Bulls were lucky to escape with a win.

Look at the shot selection just by Rose. He was 10-23 overall, but 0-9 from 3. He did a terrific job getting to the line (19-21; by contrast Indiana as a team was 14-17), but the Bulls played with the kind of frustration you see in a team that's confused about why they're not up by 15. They kept trying to score six points at a time instead of just taking the game possession by possession.

It's not unexpected though. We've all placed grand expectations on this Bulls team, but really, they're not too different from Indiana. They're young, inexperienced and unproven. Only difference is the Bulls have the target on their back and have to play with the weight of expectation. The Pacers got to play with house money.

Where Chicago won the game was on the glass with 21 offensive rebounds and a 49-34 edge overall. The biggest was the last one by veteran Kurt Thomas with 18 seconds left that forced the Pacers to foul. If Indiana grabs two or three more defensive boards, we're all writing much different stories that probably have headlines like, "Panic time in Chicago?"

But that run in the last three minutes was a title team style effort. It's what you see the great squads do. Lull for 45 minutes, turn it on for three. And win. That last part is the most important.

It's probably better in the end for Chicago to understand that nothing comes easy in the postseason. Playing with fire is dangerous and Tom Thibodeau definitely isn't psyched about how his team played, but he definitely has something to talk about with his group now. The Bulls need to sort some things out. Rose is amazing, but they aren't advancing past Miami if Rose has to score 40 every night in a seven-game series. Other players have to step up. They knew that already, but they got a pretty good reminder of it today against a lesser team.

More than likely, Indiana blew its best chance to steal a game from the Bulls. Now, Chicago has that first one out of the way and it survived. They can refocus, loosen up a bit and just go play their game. The Pacers have the Bulls attention now. That's for sure. And that's probably a good thing for the Bulls going forward.
Posted on: April 16, 2011 1:43 pm
Edited on: April 16, 2011 2:20 pm
 

Celtics C Shaq to miss Game 1 against Knicks

Boston Celtics center Shaquille O'Neal will not play in Game 1 against the New York Knicks due to injury. Posted by Ben Golliver. shaquille-oneal

Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge told the media on Saturday that center Shaquille O'Neal will not be available for Game 1 against the New York Knicks on Sunday as expected. "He's not ready. We don't know when he's going to be ready," Ainge said, according to Celtics.com. The team's doctor, Dr. McKeon, said: "He's been working his tail off."

NBA.com reported on Twitter that O'Neal "tried to run this am, couldn't go. No timetable."

O'Neal missed a significant amount of time during the latter half of the regular season due to a variety of ailments, including an Achilles injury. He attempted to make a comeback on April 3 but was shut down after just six minutes of action. Those six minutes were the only court time he's seen since February 1.

The Celtics could certainly use O'Neal as their vaunted interior depth took a hit with the midseason trade of Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Without O'Neal, the Celtics will have to make due with Nenad Krstic and Jermaine O'Neal and can also shift to some small ball lineups. Against the Knicks, Shaq's absence isn't critical -- as New York could not care less about defense and rebounding -- but his availability for a potential second round series against the Miami Heat or a potential Eastern Conference Finals with the Boston Celtics could be a major factor.

On the season, O'Neal is averaging 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds in 20.3 minutes. He appeared in just 37 games for the Celtics.
Posted on: April 16, 2011 12:51 pm
Edited on: April 16, 2011 10:40 pm
 

NBA Playoff Buzz 4.16.11

Posted by EOB Staff

Continuing updates throughout the day on playoff miscelanea.

Update 10:35 p.m. EST: Here's your nightly roundup of all our CBSSports.com Eye On Basketball coverage. 

Update 9:26 p.m. EST: Liberty Baller with an interesting note. The Sixers had a lot more attempts at rim than the Heat did in Game 1. Something to watch going forward. Some of those are accounted for by fouls drawn by the Heat. But there's still a gap there, considering the slasher talent the Heat have. 

Update 9:18 p.m.: With 10 minutes left to go in the 4th, Dwight Howard picked up his fifth foul (3 fouls in the 3rd quarter). Stan Van Gundy has left him in, with the Magic down 12. Risky move by the Magic coach. 

Update 8:47 p.m: Dwight Howard had 31 points in the first half. And the Magic are down 11 in the second half. 

Update 6:36 p.m.: It took over 10 minutes for any other Magic player to score outside of Dwight Howard. The big guy had the Magic's first 12 points before Hedo Turkoglu hit a free throw. Despite all that, the Magic are only down two to the Hawks inside of a minute. 

Update 6:24 p.m.: Danny Granger compared Derrick Rose to a "crazy, stalker ex-girlfriend." No, really

Update 5:22 p.m.: The Sixers had a great start, but as the game has worn on, the Big 3 for Miami have just pounded the hammer on them, and the Pacers are grinding down. Jrue Holiday has played well, but the defensive matchups are starting to overwhelm them. If we're not providing upsets, it's because we've fallen asleep. Sixers looking a bit overmatched right now. 

Update 4:50 p.m.: Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert, who finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and a block, told the Indianapolis Star after the game: "There's no way they’re going to sweep us." That's the perfect attitude for the Pacers to possess, given that there's no pressure or expectations for them to do anything. There's nothing to lose.

Update 3:53 p.m.: Rose takes over down the stretch and finishes off the Pacers with an assist to a wide-open Korver and a great job of getting to the line. Question is, will that be the backbreaker for the Pacers or give them confidence? Have to think they have to wonder what more they could have done. Great win for the Bulls, heartbreaker for the Pacers, but the Bulls have some work to do on both ends. More analysis coming soon on CBSSports.com

Update 3:26 p.m.: Coach Rick Carlisle told reporters that Rodrigue Beaubois will miss Game 1 vs. the Blazers. That just makes the Mavericks even more thin on the perimeter where the Blazers already have the advantage. He hasn't been great since returning from injury, but it's just one more thing going against Dallas right now. 

Update 3:17 p.m.: New Orleans coach Monty Williams describes Kobe in terms of what other players don't have, the dagger mentality. 

Update 3:04 p.m.: Tyler Hansbrough got an elbow from Kurt Thomas and went down hard. Hansbrough missed almost the entirety of his rookie season with vertigo. The Pacers checked his equilibrium and he's expected to return via ESPN TV. Bulls starting to chip away at the lead.  Here's video of the hit and the scary fallout.

Update 2:47 p.m. Lionel Hollins believes Manu Ginobili will play in Game 1 vs. Memphis. 

Update 2:42 p.m.: So much for that idea, as the Pacers score 12 in the first six minutes of the third, and now lead by 12 with 6:04 to go. Danny Granger has responded from a terrible first half and Darren Collison continues to light up Rose. 

Update 2:30 p.m.:  Both teams grabbed over 40% of all available offensive rebounds.  Hibbert was big the first eight minutes, then vanished. IF he doesn't have a big second half, Pacers will run out of steam. We're calling 25-13 third quarter advantage Bulls. 

Update 2:18 p.m.: Pacers... lead at the half? Collison with 15, Hibbert with 10, A.J. Price with 6. Derrick Rose is getting anything he wants in terms of perimeter transition. Pacers are trying to outgun the Bulls which you can't believe will work. Boozer with three fouls early.

Update 2:06 p.m.: Shaq is out versus the Knicks. Glen Davis and Jermaine O'Neal better have huge games. 

Bulls making a run, have cut the lead to 4 within 2 minutes to go in the half. 

Update 12:55 p.m.: Derrick Rose can get to the rim whenever he wants. So can the Pacers point guards. Rose has 13 and 2 assists, Pacers point guards 17 and 2 assists. Here's video as Rose blocks a shot and goes coast to coast, dropping a sick 360 spin in traffic before finishing the lay-up.


Update 1:30 p.m.  After one, the Pacers... lead the Bulls? Darren Collison has 10 points despite Rose's spectacular plays. Roy Hibbert is owning the offensive glass, but Carlos Boozer is getting some work done. Not much ball movement from Chicago. 


Original post 12:30 p.m. The NBA has opened up a new stats tool which is pretty significant, called StatsCube. So we'll be peppering you with information from that all day. Here's a start. The Pacers actually shoot 10% better with Rose on the floor versus off. But then, they are also outscored by 8 points more per 48 minutes when Rose is on the floor. 

The Orlando Sentinel reports J.J. Redick reports no pain and is good to go versus the Hawks Saturday night. Redick's role in this series isn't important. He can't check Joe Johnson, and won't run point. Though him versus Kirk Hinrich could be really good and that's not a joke. Redick's rust will be something to watch. The Magic need shooters. That make them. As opposed to Gilbert Arenas, who's a shooter that doesn't. 

Pacers bloggers are not exactly confident going into this series. Not that they should be, but it shows the difference between the NBA and other sports. Fans don't have hope in the first round when they're overmatched. 

Another nice touch, the Bulls shoot 12% worse when Roy Hibbert is in, but don't lose much in rebounding.
Posted on: April 15, 2011 7:52 pm
Edited on: April 15, 2011 7:55 pm
 

Lakers C Bynum (knee) goes through practice

Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum practiced on Friday despite a knee injury. Posted by Ben Golliver. andrew-bynum

Back on Wednesday, we noted that Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum hyperextended his knee during a Tuesday night game against the San Antonio Spurs but that an MRI revealed he had only suffered a bone bruise and no structural damage. At the time, Bynum was cleared to play for the Lakers once the postseason started.

The Lakers open their first round series with the New Orleans Hornets on Sunday and the Associated Press reports that Bynum will be ready to go after going through a full practice on Friday.
"I'm fine," Bynum said. "It's nothing that's not normal for me at this point." 
Bynum believes he'll be back to normal when second-seeded Los Angeles hosts the Hornets in the first-round opener Sunday, even while acknowledging "my normal is a little bit skewed." 
Coach Phil Jackson isn't quite so optimistic, saying he'll see how Bynum reacts from Friday's practice on Saturday before guessing how effective he'll be against New Orleans.
"Actually, I was a little concerned," Jackson said. "He started out practice and felt like the knee was a little loose, a little different, but he proceeded and played fine."
As noted in our CBSSports.com Hornets-Lakers preview, Jackson should have the luxury of managing Bynum's minutes carefully, as New Orleans has an undersized and thin frontline that Pau Gasol has feasted on all season. Assuming everything goes as planned and LA continues its dominance of New Orleans, all the Lakers need from Bynum is for him to use the series as a tune-up for later tests.
Posted on: April 15, 2011 6:38 pm
Edited on: April 15, 2011 6:56 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Western Conference First Round Picks

The NBA playoffs are here. We've previewed the Western Conference. Now here are our picks along with the rest of the CBS NBA staff for you to mock or praise. Be gentle. 




Here are the EOB picks for the Western Conference, with a little 'splainin. Leave your picks below. 

8 Grizzlies vs. 1 Spurs

Ben Golliver: The Manu Ginobili elbow sprain is a real drag and Memphis will surely give San Antonio all it can handle in the paint, but the Spurs are near untouchable at home and this isn’t their first rodeo. The Grizzlies deserve all the credit in the world for how they played the second half of their season – especially given the absence of Rudy Gay – but disciplined, experienced veterans with a clear system almost always beat out the enthusiastic, aggressive upstarts during the post-season. Look for Tony Parker to introduce Mike Conley to a crisis of confidence. Prediction: Spurs in five.

Royce Young: The Grizzlies wanted the Spurs, well now they're going to get them. It's silly to wish for things, but man, I can't help but think what the Grizzlies would look like with Rudy Gay. Alas, it's not meant to be. The Spurs are proven winners and the Grizzlies are the young, talented kids. It's not going to be easy for San Antonio, but Memphis just isn't ready to move on. Prediction: Spurs in six.

Matt Moore: It wouldn't surprise many to see Memphis take two games in this series. It also wouldn't surprise many to see a sweep by the Spurs. I'll aim for the middle. A five-game gentleman's sweep, which means Memphis wins a playoff game, and that's a step forward for the franchise. Prediction: Spurs in five.

Ken Berger: There are two big health questions for the Spurs: Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan. The Grizz have a lockdown defender, Tony Allen, capable of minimizing Manu's impact. The Grizzlies are a dangerous offensive-rebounding team, and they're second in the league in turnover differential. But the Spurs have the experience and presence to win on the road, they have enough big bodies to contend with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and Tony Parker will be the best player on the floor in this series. Prediction: Spurs in five. 

7 Hornets vs. 2 Lakers

Ken Berger: This could get ugly for the Hornets, who I fear will be seeing the Lakers team that won 17 of 18 after the All-Star break, not the team that got bored and lost six straight at the end to nearly squander the second seed. New Orleans is among the grittiest defensive teams in the league, but not against the Lakers; Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined to shoot 67 percent in the four-game season series, swept by the L.A. Even if Bynum isn't 100 percent, the defending champs should cruise. Prediction: Lakers in four.

Royce Young: With David West being out, I think the Lakers are privately saying it's sweep or bust. Everyone is expected a sweep and it's hard to argue it, but with the semi-uncertainty of Andrew Bynum's knee and the fact Chris Paul is very, very good, the Hornets might be able to sneak up and steal a game. That would be the goal for New Orleans because they are climbing a mountain here and they're barefoot. Lakers in four.

Ben Golliver: Los Angeles got its dream match-up – finally – when it put away the Sacramento Kings in overtime on the last day of the regular season. The Hornets enter the series without their All-Star forward, David West, and with question marks surrounding Chris Paul, who recently had his knee drained of fluid and was held scoreless for the first time in his career. The Hornets don’t have much of a bench and certainly can’t compete with LA’s monstrous, versatile frontline trio of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Forget about it. Prediction: Lakers in four.

Matt Moore:  HORNETS SEASON = OVER; OVERMATCHED = VERY YES. Prediction: Lakers in four.

6 Blazers vs. 3 Mavericks

Matt Moore: When was the last time a three seed was slept on this much? All of a sudden the Blazers, with Wesley Matthews as a key weapon (fine player that he is) are going to knock off a team with playoff experience who shored up their biggest weakness with Tyson Chandler? The Mavs miss Caron Bulter. They're not going to miss him that much. Prediction: Mavericks in six.

Ben Golliver: Mavericks/Blazers has become the hot upset special pick, but I see Dallas eventually pulling it out because Portland has struggled to win on the road, has dealt with inconsistent outside shooting all season and isn’t nearly as deep as everyone thinks they are. The Mavericks have the cohesiveness factor on their side and Portland doesn’t have a good option for defending Jason Terry. The Andre Miller / Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby / Tyson Chandler match-ups are very much toss-ups, and the Mavericks will need to pay extra attention to Gerald Wallace, but it’s difficult to see Dirk Nowitzki and company not taking care of homecourt. Prediction: Mavericks in seven. 

Ken Berger: What does it mean that this is the only first-round series I'm picking to go seven games? It means that I'm too much of a wimp to pick an upset. There is ample evidence to support the theory that Portland could dump the playoff-fragile Mavs, not the least of which are the Blazers' advantages in turnover differential (No. 1 in the league) and offensive rebounding rate (third). This could come down to a really fun Dirk Nowitzki vs. LaMarcus Aldridge show. But even after the trade for Gerald Wallace, the Blazers haven't won on the road consistently enough to suggest they could pull off a Game 7 upset in Dallas. Prediction: Mavericks in seven. 

Royce Young: I like the Blazers. It's almost irrational, but I can't help but like them. I see them as a team ready to challenge almost anyone. But the Blazers have almost become too much of a chic pick to be entirely comfortable with it. The Mavs are good. They won 55 games. They have Dirk. But it just seems like Portland is the better team. Blazers in seven.

5 Nuggets vs. 4 Thunder

Royce Young:  Why is everyone acting like this will be a high scoring, up and down series? The two games these teams played in the last couple weeks were won by the Thunder by an average score of 102.5 to 91.5. Oklahoma City plays some serious defense now. They match up well with the Nuggets and Denver doesn't have anyone to defend Durant. But getting a healthy Arron Afflalo is a wildcard and as we know, don't doubt the Nuggets. They're dangerous. Thunder in five.

Matt Moore: We have yet to see the Thunder in a series where Kevin Durant just takes over (because they've only been in one series). Durant could choose to end this series if he hits that level. But until he does, you have to believe George Karl will have some tricks up his sleeve, that the Nuggets will continue to play hard, and that the Thunder will have some trouble with dispatching the Nuggets. Prediction: Thunder in seven.

Ben Golliver: Thunder/Nuggets has epic potential given how well each team has played since making massive moves at the trade deadline and how selfless each team’s overall approach to the game is. In a nailbiter, I give the Thunder the edge because both of their stars score efficiently, can get to the line and because newcomer Kendrick Perkins fits in with the rest of the starting unit perfectly. Denver’s depth is second to none but Oklahoma City’s bench is no slouch, either, and when it comes to crunchtime I have a feeling Kevin Durant will add to his legend in a big time way. Prediction: Thunder in seven.

Ken Berger:  Along with Blazers-Mavs and Knicks-Celtics, this will be among the most entertaining and competitive first-around series. The Knuggets like to push the pace, shoot threes, and exploit mismatches in the pick-and-roll game by getting opposing bigs on the move and forcing them to make decisions. The Thunder are almost as efficient offensively, though at a slightly slower pace. Both teams are better defensively after their major deadline trades, though the Thunder are more consistent in that area. It could come down to which team has a superstar to make big shots and carry the load down the stretch. The Knuggets traded theirs, Carmelo Anthony; the Thunder acquired a diabolical screen-setter, Kendrick Perkins, to make things easier for Kevin Durant. Prediction: Thunder in six.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com