Most intriguing matchups? Upset city?

Five ESPN.com writers weigh in on five questions surrounding the 2011 NBA playoffs

Originally Published: April 14, 2011
ESPN.com

Amare Stoudemire/Kevin GarnettNathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesAmare vs. KG ... New York vs. Boston ... Knicks-Celtics is one of the most intriguing playoff matchups.

The playoff bracket is set. It's time to explore the most intriguing first-round matchups, biggest potential upsets and more. Let's go 5-on-5:

1. Mystery theatre: What's the most intriguing first-round matchup?


Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Knicks-Celtics.

Never thought I'd pick a series in the East over three tasty matchups in the West, but the combo of Boston's fragility since the Perkins trade and the havoc New York can cause with two elite scorers/nothing to lose sucked me in. As did the historical stature of the two franchises ... because I'm a nostalgic sap.


John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Nuggets-Thunder.

Because these are the two post-trade-deadline mystery meats. Both played extremely well after making big trades, but with only a quarter of a season to judge, we still don't know enough about them.


Chad Ford, ESPN.com: Grizzlies-Spurs.

The Spurs have the best record in the West, but the Grizzlies have finished stronger. The Spurs have experience, but the Grizz have youth and athleticism. It should be a great series.


J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Celtics-Knicks.

It's great to have the playoffs back in Madison Square Garden, for the final time before it's reconfigured. For now the arena will still look the same as it did when the Knicks battled the Bulls and Pacers in the 1990s. And (via TrueHoop), you have to love any rivalry that can produce moments like this.


Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Nuggets-Thunder.

Denver and OKC are the two teams that improved mightily at the trade deadline. They're also two of the West's three up-and-coming teams each with a chance to make a long run.


2. Out on a limb: Which first-round prediction do you feel shakiest about?


Stein: Denver over OKC for sure. The Thunder can easily make me look bad here, obviously, but I'm playing a hunch based largely on the fact that Denver is a really tough place to win in and that OKC carries the weight of expectation for the first time. The problem? The Nuggets might not be healthy enough to pull this off.

Hollinger: Denver-Oklahoma City, for the reasons enumerated above. Not exactly feeling ironclad about my Mavs-Blazers pick, either.


Ford: Blazers over Mavs. I have no faith in Dallas as a playoff team, but I'm not in love with Portland, either. That series is a real toss-up for me.

Adande: Mavericks over Trail Blazers. The Mavericks are a little too one-trick-pony for my tastes -- and what if Dirk Nowitzki has some cold stretches? Portland is so deep and scary after acquiring Gerald Wallace, and LaMarcus Aldridge could cancel out Dirk. But the Blazers were going to be too trendy a pick … and the Mavs can't keep losing in the first round, right?

Abbott: I picked Dallas over Portland. The Mavericks have home court, but the reinvigorated-by-Gerald Wallace Blazers got the opponent they were hoping for. It's a toss-up. And it's possible that I picked against my favorite team because I still have the taste of balut in my mouth from last year.


3. Oops: Which team screwed up worst in terms of playoff seeding?


Stein: Celtics.

Don't think the sulking Celts were intentionally trying to finish 10-11, but that post-Perk funk has made their road back to the Finals as complicated as possible with a tricky Round 1 matchup and home-court advantage in presumably zero rounds after that.


Hollinger: Grizzlies.

I still have no idea why Memphis tanked that game in Portland. The Grizzlies would have murdered Dallas. They beat the Mavs three out of four times this season. Now they're going to lose to San Antonio in five or six.


Ford: Grizzlies.

They were the most obvious about tanking. But few teams want to play the No. 1 seed. If the Spurs roll and the Lakers (who look very mortal right now) stumble against the Hornets, the Grizzlies will just reinforce a long-standing stereotype of ineptitude.


Adande: Hornets.

They fumbled away control of their own destiny, and couldn't even lose their way out of a matchup with the Lakers. Once it became apparent that all the Grizzlies had to do was lose twice to get down to the eighth seed, the Hornets were done. Their problem was they had to keep winning enough to get in the playoffs; by then it was too late to adjust their seeding.


Abbott: In theory, Denver could have dropped a spot, had they wanted, to get the Mavericks instead of the Thunder. (Or -- revisionist history -- they could have traded Melo six weeks earlier, and had home court.) But in the end, that probably matters less than the fate of the Celtics, who had some silly losses on the road and gave the Heat home court for their inevitable second-round matchup. Could be fatal.


4. Surprise, surprise: Biggest upset in the seven East series?


Stein: Chicago getting all the way to the Finals figures to be treated as an upset no matter what the seedings say, because this group -- as we're going to hear ad nauseum now -- hasn't done anything in the playoffs … yet. I once thought the Hawks could take out Orlando, but they look like they've given up as a group after a 1-6 April.

Hollinger: I'm not sure we'll have one, but if you're looking for upsets in that conference, look at Orlando. The Hawks are a bad matchup for them and the Bulls are a good one, so both the Atlanta series and the Chicago series will be closer than people think.

Ford: I picked the top four seeds to advance in the East. But if there's an upset, I think it will be the Knicks taking out the Celtics. If Carmelo, Chauncey and Amare all get rolling, Boston could be in trouble.

Adande: I haven't picked any, but I wouldn't be stunned to see the Knicks take out the Celtics. Carmelo or Amare could go off at any time, and Chauncey Billups usually stays going to the conference finals. The Celtics looked broken in their games against Chicago and Miami at the end of the season. But I think their pride and experience will kick in to get them out of the first round.

Abbott: Believe it or not, I think the home team will win every series in the East. It'll be thrilling, though, and an upset to many, when the Celtics and Heat get knocked off.


5. Surprise, surprise: Biggest upset in the seven West series?


Stein: If my Denver dice roll hits, that's the one. Because the Thunder -- assuming they survive -- will be picked by a lot of people to beat San Antonio in Round 2 and maybe even stun the Lakers in the West finals. So OKC losing early, as tight as its series with the Nuggets looks on paper, would be a shocker.

Hollinger: Oklahoma City over San Antonio. The Thunder may not make it out of the first round, but if they do, I like their chances in Round 2 in a "changing of the guard" series against the franchise they've tried for so long to emulate.

Ford: I've got the Blazers defeating the Mavs. If Dallas drops out again in the first round, we'll see what Mark Cuban's made of. It might finally be time for the Mavs to blow this thing up and rebuild.

Adande: The Thunder over the Spurs. That requires a Thunder victory in San Antonio, where the Spurs lost just five times this season. But the Spurs won by only four points in their second meeting in San Antonio (which marked a 23-point improvement for the Thunder from their first meeting). And Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker might not be so inclined to go to the hoop now that Kendrick Perkins is lurking there for OKC.

Abbott: Denver, Oklahoma City and Portland all have a shot at knocking off either the Spurs or Lakers. The West's top seeds are still my picks to make the conference finals, but they have been shaky lately and will both get real tests in the second round -- and it would not be surprising at all to see one go down.

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