Mar 28, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) scores over Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) during the second half at the United Center. Portland won 91-74. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NBA Eastern Conference First-Round Playoff Predictions

It’s the best time of the year – the NBA playoff season.  This is the first time in league history that the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, and Los Angeles Lakers all missed the playoffs in the same year.  Young and upcoming teams (Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards, etc.) who have struggled for years are finally getting their chance in the playoffs – this is a good thing for the league. The games begin today and below you can check out my predictions for each opening round series in the east:

Apr 2, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward David West (21) shoots the ball over Detroit Pistons forward Josh Smith (6) during the fourth quarter at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Pacers won 101-94. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana Pacers (1) vs. Atlanta Hawks (8)

Season series: tied 2-2

Bottom line: The Pacers come into the playoffs struggling mightily and playing nothing like a one seed.  With that said, the Atlanta Hawks have been depleted by injuries all season and shouldn’t put up much of a legitimate fight in this series. Had the Hawks’ all-star center Al Horford been able to return from a pectoral tear this series, the Hawks could have done some damage; without him, Roy Hibbert, David West and company will own the boards and wear down the Hawks inside.

Prediction: Pacers in 5


Apr 6, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) shoots against the New York Knicks during the second half at American Airlines Arena. Miami won 102-91. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Heat (2) vs. Charlotte Bobcats (7)

Season series: Miami won 4-0

Bottom line: The Miami Heat coasted through the regular season and the way I see it, the real season for the Heat starts now.  Dwyane Wade has missed almost a third of the season with various injuries and rest but will be ready to go game one.  LeBron James also received some much needed rest over the last week of the season which he clearly needed down the stretch.  The Bobcats have been the joke of the NBA for years now but that is no longer the case.  The addition of Al Jefferson and the development of Kemba Walker has been a nice story for the Bobcats this season, but they don’t stand a chance going up against the back to back champs who have their eyes on a three peat.

Prediction: Heat in 4


Apr 11, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry (7) is fouled as he goes to the basket against the New York Knicks at Air Canada Centre. The Knicks beat the Raptors 108-100. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Brooklyn Nets (6)

Season series: tied 2-2

Bottom line: This should easily be the most exciting series in the Eastern Conference first round.  Everyone knows about the Brooklyn Nets and their experienced playoff roster.  Toronto has been flying under the radar all season long getting very little national attention.  I am a firm believer in the importance experience plays in the NBA playoffs but I just have a hard time believing Kevin Garnett can hold up considering he couldn’t get on the court much this season. Other Nets with various injuries (especially Deron Williams and that ankle) make me wonder how serious of a threat the Nets are in the conference. Toronto’s one of the more athletic teams in the NBA and I feel as though this will not be an easy matchup for the Nets older roster.  Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Terrence Ross are for real and that city will be fired up for their Raptors.

Prediction: Raptors in 7


Chicago Bulls (4) vs. Washington Wizards (5)

Season series: Washington won 2-1

Bottom line: It doesn’t matter who the Chicago Bulls roll out there on any given night, coach Tom Thibodeau has them ready to compete.  You would think losing Derrick Rose (again) would demoralize the Chicago Bulls – that wasn’t the case. You would think the Bulls trading veteran and key leader Luol Deng would affect their performance on the court – that wasn’t the case either.  Love him or hate him, Joakim Noah is a beast and easily a top 10 player in the NBA.  The Wizards and a terrific story but to be honest, I had much higher expectations for them.  It’s good to see John Wall appears to be removing that injury-prone bust label from his resume, but this is a nightmare matchup for the young star’s first playoff experience because of what the Bulls do defensively.

Prediction: Bulls in 6


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