A few thoughts on the eve of the NBA Playoffs beginning...
MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED: CHICAGO
Six times the Bulls franchise has won 60-plus games. The previous five times Chicago went on to win the championship. At 62-20 this season, why should the Bulls stop a good thing? From missing out on LeBron James and Chicago’s own Dwyane Wade in the free agent frenzy that was this past offseason, the Bulls went with another Chicago-born product to claim the best record in the league and were easily the most consistent of all 30 teams in the NBA. Derrick Rose certainly had an MVP-type year and was the go-to guy as the Bulls spent nearly two-thirds of the season without its starting lineup thanks to injuries to free agent Carlos Boozer before the season began and to center Joakim Noah near midseason. The injuries enabled the Bulls to get minutes for others like Omer Asik and Taj Gibson inside; that should pay dividends as the postseason grind begins. By getting the No. 1 seed for the entire playoffs, the road to a championship goes through a United Center floor where Chicago posted a league-best 36-5 home record.
MOST LIKELY TO UPSET: ATLANTA & PORTLAND
Atlanta owned a 3-1 series advantage against Orlando in the regular season and is coming off an embarassing second-round sweep against the Magic last season. If the Hawks can get Dwight Howard in foul trouble then I have to like their chances to move into the second round. I don’t see it happening, but it is the playoffs and anything can happen over seven games.
The Trail Blazers are physical and seem to have put it together at the right time. Acquiring Gerald Wallace from Charlotte to go along with LaMarcus Aldridge gives them more defense and rebounding down low. Dallas is no slouch when Dirk Nowitzki is healthy, plus the Mavs have a force of their own in Tyson Chandler down low. The two teams mirror each other in that they both have an inside presence and the ability to get hot from the outside, but you just get the feeling that Portland is the team that will pull the upset in the first round. Did I mention Brandon Roy now comes off the bench to contribute? Yikes!
DON’T BE SURPRISED IF…
There are a number of things that would not come as a shock in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Is it the fact that it’s Boston vs. New York that makes me think the Knicks actually stand a chance against what seems to be a worn down Celtics squad? If the Knicks can get out there on offense and run Boston ragged then they might have a chance to sneak a couple of victories in, but defense wins championships and the Celtics had the leagues's best defense when it came to points allowed (91.1).
On the Western Conference side of the ball, don’t be surprised if top-seeded San Antonio actually has a tough go of it with the Grizzlies and then fall to fourth-seeded Oklahoma City in the second round. The Lakers could also find themselves in trouble in the second round if Portland advances.
— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter