NBA playoff predictions: Will it be Heat vs. Thunder in finals repeat?

USA TODAY Sports

The SB Nation NBA staff has made its predictions. Who will prove to be the best prognosticator?

The first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs gets underway Saturday at 3 p.m. when the New York Knicks take on the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of that series. Who do SB Nation's NBA staffers think will come out of the first round? Tom Ziller, Ricky O'Donnell, Conrad Kaczmarek and myself make our predictions.

No. 1 Miami Heat vs. No. 8 Milwaukee Bucks

MP: Not only is this a matchup between a team that won 27-straight games and a team that finished six games under .500, it's a matchup between a team that won 27-straight games recently and a team that has played awful basketball recently. The Bucks really don't belong in the playoffs at this point, and Miami will make short work of them. Heat in 4.

TZ: The Heat could potentially prevent the Bucks from holding a single lead in this series, though Larry Sanders will probably win all of the opening tips, which could end this fantasy. Heat in 4.

RO: This one requires no explanation. The Heat are a behemoth who are giving some good reasons to believe they can make it to the NBA Finals without losing a game. The Bucks probably just really wish they had Tobias Harris back. Heat in 4.

CK: Sorry, Brandon Jennings. Heat in 5.

No. 2 New York Knicks vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics

MP: So much hinges on the health of Kevin Garnett. If he can be 80 percent of the player he was in last year's postseason, the Celtics have a chance. If not, Boston is in deep trouble. In any event, I'm selling the Celtics' stock because they lack Rajon Rondo, and he always took his game to another level in the postseason. Avery Bradley's being exposed offensively without him, Jeff Green remains inconsistent and Paul Pierce, despite his success against New York recently, can't do it by himself. I think this series will be over quicker than most think. Knicks in 5.

TZ: This is the worst Celtics playoff team of the KG era, and it's not close. Even with Garnett, the team is supremely overmatched against the elite teams of the league. I think New York will end it early, with Boston winning an emotional Game 3 at home. Knicks in 5.

RO: The Knicks shoot lots of threes, employ a legitimate superstar in Carmelo Anthony and have allowed Mike Woodson to teach them how to defend, at least to an extent. New York is far from a flawless team, but Boston shouldn't have enough to pull the upset, even with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trying to dig their heels in for one last stand in all of their stubborn glory. Boston's biggest problem: their shots are worth two points and New York's are worth three. Knicks in 6.

CK: These two teams don't really like each other. Similarly, I don't really like these two teams. But it should be a pretty tight series and I think Tyson Chandler's prowess on the offensive glass tips this one in New York's favor. Knicks in 7.

No. 3 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 6 Atlanta Hawks

MP: I think this will be a closer series than people think. The Hawks' ability to push the ball and drain threes in transition may partially negate some of Indiana's half-court defensive strength, and the health of Devin Harris (Atlanta is 27-13 when he plays at least 20 minutes) helps in that effort. Indiana's offense has also fallen off a cliff over the last few weeks as teams have figured out how to bump Paul George around his cuts. That said, the Pacers' physical front line is a tough matchup for Al Horford and Josh Smith, and they should be able to grind it out enough to win the series. Pacers in 6.

TZ: Indiana's defense is too good to give up lots of points to a mediocre offense like that of the Hawks. That said, it'll be a low-scoring series, which boosts the chances of an upset. If the Pacers don't win easily, they might be in trouble for the rest of the postseason. Pacers in 5.

RO: Poor Atlanta. They are just as formidable this season without Joe Johnson, though seemingly no closer to getting out of the NBA's version of purgatory. The Pacers are tough as hell, playoff-tested and they defended better than any team in the regular season. They also have an emerging star in Paul George, waiting for the perfect time to announce his stardom to the entire country. There's no better place to do it than in the postseason. Pacers in 5.

CK: The Hawks ended the season by tanking to draw the Pacers in a series. Why did they do that? Indiana's defense is incredible and the Hawks are not. Pacers in 5.

No. 4 Brooklyn Nets vs. No. 5 Chicago Bulls

MP: I was all set to take Chicago in 6 before Joakim Noah's injury cast a cloud over this entire series. Chicago's aggressive strong-side zone defense is perfect for controlling Deron Williams' early-offense probing, but without Noah, it isn't nearly as formidable. Chicago should still put up a heck of a fight, but I now have a hard time seeing them come away with the series win. Nets in 7.

TZ: Perhaps the closest series in the first round hinges on health, particularly that of Joakim Noah. A defensive monster who is the No. 1 threat of slowing Deron Williams in the paint, Noah needs to be healthy for the Bulls to challenge Brooklyn. Getting Derrick Rose back at some point would be nice, too. Nets in 7.

RO: With the news that All-Star center Joakim Noah is doubtful for Game 1 and might not play in the entire series, this could very possibly be the second-consecutive postseason in which the Bulls will be without their two best players (yes, Derrick Rose is still technically part of this year's team). Chicago will be hard-pressed to protect the rim if Noah is hobbled or out completely, but fortunately for the Bulls, power forward Taj Gibson looks like he's getting healthy at the right time. The challenge for Chicago will be defending Deron Williams. How will the Bulls hide the much-needed offensive firepower of Nate Robinson when they're defending Brooklyn's starting backcourt? It's an interesting problem, but Tom Thibodeau will figure something out. He always does. Bulls in 7.

CK: I totally forgot that this was a series for a few minutes. But apparently it is. The Bulls have been a mess for the latter part of the season and unless Derrick Rose suddenly decides to play basketball again, I think the Nets take this one. For whatever reason, I think we'll see each team blow out the other team at one point in this series. Nets in 6.

No. 1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 8 Houston Rockets

MP: Tough luck for James Harden's mates. The Rockets would have challenged any other top seed in the West, but the Thunder's ability to go small makes this a horrible matchup for Houston. Oklahoma City's aggressive defense should slow down Houston's spread pick and roll game, and the Rockets will have much more trouble using their small lineup to change the terms of engagement. Thunder in 5.

TZ: Because the Rockets are really quite good, I will give them a chance to win a game in this series. The Thunder are, however, the best team in the league. Thunder in 5.

RO: This is the series everyone wanted for one obvious reason: James Harden, fresh off a regular season that turned him into a superstar, taking blows at the title-contending team that traded him away a year before they had to. It's a great storyline, sure, but it belies larger truths about this series. The Thunder finished the regular season averaging an absurdly high 110.2 points per 100 possessions; the run-and-gun Rockets finished 16th defensively. There will be some fun moments and plenty of great highlights, but OKC should advance without much trouble. Thunder in 5.

CK: The story line in this matchup, between James Harden and his former team, is fantastic. And the Rockets are fun to watch. But you need a darn good defense to stop Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, and the Rockets do not have a darn good defense. Thunder in 5.

No. 2 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers

MP: This one should be interesting. The Lakers have played San Antonio tough all year, especially with Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard both on the floor, and the Spurs are banged up. Tony Parker's nagging issues are especially problematic, as he's the Spurs' best trump card against L.A.'s leaky defense. In the end, though, I think the Spurs were resting more than fading down the stretch. They'll get their act together and come through. Spurs in 6.

TZ: The Spurs are reeling because they lost Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson. The Lakers lost KOBE BRYANT. Spurs in 5.

RO: Let's raise our metaphorical 40s and pour a bit on the asphalt for Kobe Bryant. With Kobe, we'd be looking at one of the most intriguing first round series in recent memory. LA, after a treacherous regular season few saw coming, trying to salvage their gaudy reputations against the last standing member of the old Western Conference guard. Unfortunately, injuries exist, and Bryant will be here on Twitter only, trying to motivate the Lakers one too-wordy hashtag at a time. San Antonio might be aging and hampered by injuries, but this is still a playoff-tested juggernaut led by the wisest coach in the land. For the Lakers, this isn't going to be fun. Spurs in 5.

CK: The Spurs limped to the finish line during the regular season but, luckily for them, they got a great matchup. Now that the emotional boost of losing Kobe Bryant for the season has worn off, the methodical Spurs should be able to pick about the Lakers' shoddy defense. Tim Duncan vs. Dwight Howard in the post should be a treat though. Spurs in 6.

No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors

MP: This is not an ideal matchup for Denver -- though in fairness, neither was Houston. The Nuggets' defense has struggled to guard the three-point line all year, and the Warriors are deadly from out there with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Navigating Golden State's screen mazes will also be difficult for Denver. I'd expect lots of switching, but that's a tough strategy to keep up over seven games. The Nuggets' saving grace, though, is that Golden State can't guard them on the other end. Expect seven great games, featuring a lot of 118-112 results. Nuggets in 7

TZ: The Warriors really are not as good as their record indicates. And remember, a shot here or a shot there and they are the No. 8 seed. Meanwhile, Denver is really quite good!, and basically unstoppable at the Pepsi Center. Nuggets in 5.

RO: It's impossible to dislike the Nuggets, with Ty Lawson pushing the ball end-to-end with unparalleled speed, with Kenneth Faried crashing the glass as hard as anyone in the league and with JaVale McGee providing his signature brand of basketball-themed comedy. The Warriors are a likable bunch too, mostly thanks to Stephen Curry, who has been a revelation this season. Denver doesn't lose at home, though, and they should have enough to overcome Golden State even without Danilo Gallinari. Nuggets in 6.

CK: Picking this series in five games does not mean I think the Nuggets are THAT much better than the Warriors. I think there will be close games and I think Steph Curry is going to be a monster. It just seems that for whatever reason, the Nuggets manage to pull out close games, especially at home. Nuggets in 5.


No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 5 Memphis Grizzlies

MP: A really difficult series to call. I'm not sure if I'm more worried about the Clippers' defense or Memphis' offense. The former righted the ship a bit recently after a really bad stretch at midseason ... but that was mostly against subpar competition. The latter was a revelation after the Rudy Gay trade ... but that was mostly against subpar competition.

In the end, though, I'm taking the Grizzlies. Last year's series was close in large part because Zach Randolph was a shell of himself coming off injury. He hasn't been all that great down the stretch this year either, but at least he'll be better than he was in 2012. I also think the Clippers are going to find it hard to keep both of Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe on the floor when Memphis rolls out its Mike Conley/Jerryd Bayless lineup, negating some of the strength of their second unit.

With trepidation ... Grizzlies in 6.

TZ: The Clippers are the second-best team in the West according to scoring margin. The Grizzlies are excellent, too, but the Clippers have consistently been better. To me, this series comes down to Z-Bo's decline and Memphis' inability to score efficiently on a consistent basis. And also Chris Paul. Clippers in 7.

RO: Here we are again. A year ago, the Clippers and Grizzlies met in the same spot and delivered a fantastic seven-game series that Los Angeles pulled out in the end. Not a ton has changed 365 days later, save for Memphis' decision to deal Rudy Gay at the trade deadline. They're doing just fine without him, thanks for asking. The Grizzlies play arguably the league's most physical brand of basketball. Lob City is still very much living up to its nickname, with Chris Paul dictating everything and Blake Griffin flushing home dunks whenever chance allows it. A strong case can be made for Memphis here, but when in doubt, go with the team who has the best player. Clippers in 7.

CK: This series is going to rock. These two teams played last year. They don't like each other. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are about as exciting a pick and roll combination that ever existed in my lifetime. It's going to be a slugfest. But I think the Clippers are just a tad more talented and, in a long series, there's no defense that Chris Paul can't figure out. Clippers in 7.

SECOND ROUND

MP: Heat over Nets in 5; Knicks over Pacers in 6; Thunder over Grizzlies in 7; Nuggets over Spurs in 6.

TZ: Heat over Nets in 4; Knicks over Pacers in 7; Thunder over Clippers in 7; Spurs over Nuggets in 7.

RO: Heat over Nets in 5; Pacers over Knicks in 7; Thunder over Clippers in 6; Nuggets over Spurs in 6.

CK: Heat over Nets in 5; Pacers over Knicks in 6; Thunder over Clippers in 6; Nuggets over Spurs in 7.

CONFERENCE FINALS

MP: Heat over Knicks in 6; Thunder over Nuggets in 6.

TZ: Heat over Knicks in 4; Thunder over Spurs in 4.

RO: Heat over Pacers in 5; Thunder over Nuggets in 6.

CK: Heat over Pacers in 7; Thunder over Nuggets in 5.

NBA FINALS

MP: Heat over Thunder in 5.

TZ: Thunder over Heat in 6. (Gulp!)

RO: Heat over Thunder in 6.

CK: Thunder over Heat in 6.

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