The 2011 NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday, with eight first-round series all playing their first game over the weekend. Who do we think will move on? Will there be any upsets? Which series will end quickly, and which will go the distance? SB Nation's trio of NBA writers -- Tom Ziller, Mike Prada and Andrew Sharp -- will be making their picks for each pick in this StoryStream. Next up: the Mavericks vs. Blazers series.
Mavericks in 7. They are better than you think. A new wrinkle here is Gerald Wallace, the toughest monster on either team and a new Blazer. He'll be charged with defending Dirk in spots (or more), and he could be a real difference-maker. But the Mavericks' defense is strong, too, with Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood ready to meet LaMarcus Aldridge. It's too close to count either team out, which is just perfect.
ANDREW SHARP (link)
On paper, this series should go to the Blazers. The Mavericks overachieved all season long--maybe the best testament to Dirk Nowitzki yet-and then finally came crashing back to earth over the final stretch of the season. Except for their season finale against the Hornets, since March 1st, Dallas lost to every single Western Conference playoff team they played.
Meanwhile, winning the Gerald Wallace Charity AuctionTM (sponsored by Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Bobcats) has given Portland new life. With Wallace next to Nicholas Batum, Lamarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews, Marcus Camby, and a one-legged Brandon Roy, they look like the biggest sleeper in either conference. So, what happens when one of the NBA's hottest teams plays the team that hasn't beaten a good team since February? Uhhh... Duh. Blazers win, and set up a fascinating second round matchup with the Lakers. You would think...
But while we're here, consider two things. First, whether it's fair or not, just when it looks like things are going right for the Blazers, things have a tendency to fall apart. Sam Bowie, Greg Oden, the 2000 Conference finals... Take your pick. Second, Dirk Nowitzki may not be good enough to carry Dallas to the Finals by himself, but isn't he too good to let them lose in the first round? I know Dallas isn't playing well, but Dirk's the only true superstar in this series, he's far more clutch than he gets credit for, and both those things matter twice as much in the playoffs. The Pick: Dallas in 7.
This is being billed as a series with lots of upset potential, but I think we're overreacting to the end of the season. Dallas had a lot of lineup changes to deal with at the end of the year, which they won't have now. Tyson Chandler is fully healthy, and that means Dallas' defense will be locked in. The Mavericks also won't be trying too hard to get Rodrigue Beaubois integrated, meaning they can go back to being themselves. Portland, meanwhile, has a lot of guys to throw at Dirk Nowitzki, but they also are a poor perimeter shooting team and lack a really good gameplan at crunch time. I like LaMarcus Aldridge, but I don't think he's ready to assume that mantle yet, especially going against one of the strongest crunch-time teams in the league. I suspect this series will go seven because I don't see Dallas winning at the Rose Garden, but I think Dallas is the much better team. Mavericks in 7.
Follow our Mavericks vs. Blazers section for everything you care to know about this series. For more on the Mavericks, visit Mavs Moneyball and SB Nation Dallas. For Portland analysis and news, check out Blazers Edge.