I have to say this.
I'm feeling good about my chances at picking the NBA playoffs' winners. On a whim, I looked back at my regular season predictions today and was surprised to find that I correctly picked 14 of the 16 playoff teams - I was wrong about the Clippers and Pacers, leaving the Warriors and Raptors out of the mix. But I did pretty well, picking the top two teams in the East (Pistons and Cavaliers) and getting the West's top three, although I had Phoenix No. 1 and Dallas No. 2.
So it's nice outside, I’ve got a new haircut, and I'm feeling good. And with that said, here are my first-round playoff picks.
No. 1 Detroit vs. No. 8 Orlando
The most interesting thing about this series will be the return of both Grant Hill and Darko Milicic to Detroit. Other than that, it won't be very competitive. The Pistons always seem to drop Game 3 in their opening series, so I'll stick with the trend, but they'll take the series in five games. Detroit's wealth of big bodies will wear down Dwight Howard, and Chauncey Billups will post up Jameer Neslson all day long.
- Prediction: Detroit in 5 games
No. 2 Cleveland vs. No. 7 Washington
It's a shame Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler are out, otherwise this would be one heck of a series (remember last year?). Instead, it will only be mildly competitive because the Cavs suffer from "off-game" syndrome, meaning they don't always show up to play. LeBron James will dominate a couple games. Washington's Antawn Jamison will have his way in one game. But in the end - and I can't believe I'm saying this - James' supporting cast will lead the Cavaliers to an easy series win.
- Prediction: Cleveland in 5 games
No. 3 Toronto vs. No. 6 New Jersey
This is a very intriguing matchup, as Vince Carter returns to the city he left (expect boos). New Jersey obviously has much, much more playoff experience than the Raptors, but I don't put too much stock into that. Chris Bosh will have a huge series against the Nets' inferior post players, but New Jersey will dominate the perimeter. Carter, playing the final games before his contract is up, will have a huge series, and Jason Kidd will outplay up-and-coming point guard T.J. Ford. It will be a competitive series, but the Nets survive.
- Prediction: New Jersey in 6 games
No. 4 Miami vs. No. 5 Chicago
It is important to note that Chicago has homecourt advantage, and that last year the Bulls won two of three home games as a No. 7 seed against the Heat. Still, the result will be the same this year. How can you possible go against Dwyane Wade (regardless of his shoulder problems) and Shaquille O'Neal in the playoffs? You can't. The Bulls will play hard-nosed basketball, throwing bodies at both of Miami's stars, but it won't be enough. The Heat is rested and ready for the only part of the season it cares about. O'Neal showed when Wade went out what he can do when he's motivated. He'll dominate Ben Wallace. The Bulls' outside shooters will win a couple games for them. But just a couple.
- Prediction: Miami in 6 games
No. 1 Dallas vs. No. 8 Golden State
This is the most intriguing 1-8 matchup in quite sometime. The Warriors owned Dallas during the regular season, winning all three games, including two when Dallas played its big guns. So there will be no lack of confidence on the Warriors' bench. Plus, they have Don Nelson, the former Dallas coach, who knows everything about his former team. But Dallas has worked way too hard after last year's heartbreaker in the Finals to lose this early in the playoffs. The first few games, the offenses will rule as the teams run up and down the court, but then the Mavericks will lock up on defense, winning the final two games to take the series.
- Prediction: Dallas in 6 games
No. 2 Phoenix vs. No. 7 Los Angeles
Another rematch from last year's first round (there are a total of three rematches). This one probably won't have the drama of last year's, when Phoenix rebounded from a 3-1 deficit to take the series in seven games. Phoenix should overwhelm Los Angeles, especially with Amare Stoudemire playing well down low. The key for the Lakers will be how well Andrew Bynum can stand his ground against Stoudemire. And then, of course, there's the Kobe Factor. If Kobe Bryant goes off, scoring 50 points a game and making all the right decisions, anything is possible. But I just don't see it. Phoenix has much more talent all around.
- Prediction: Phoenix in 5 games
No. 3 San Antonio vs. No. 6 Denver
This one's just as intriguing as the first two Western Conference matchups. On paper, Denver is as talented as San Antonio. It can score tons of points with Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony running the show, and Marcus Camby has had a great comeback year after all the injury-plagued seasons. But the Spurs are a great playoff team, and they have all the key pieces back from their championship team of 2005 and their squad last year that lost in the seventh game of the conference semifinals to Dallas. As long as the Spurs make the series into a slowdown, half-court matchup, they'll have no problems. Denver needs to run as much as possible.
- Prediction: San Antonio in 6 games
No. 4 Utah vs. No. 5 Houston
Houston, with the better record, has homecourt advantage in this one, and that could turn out to be the difference, because this is going to be a back-and-fourth, bruising series. It's also going to mark the emergence of Yao Ming as a strong playoff player. Yao, while healthy, has had a very auspicious year, and it's going to carry over into this series. Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer will have problems with Yao, Tracy McGrady will draw the key fouls, and Shane Battier and Luther Head will combine to hit the huge 3s. The home team will win every game in this series.
- Prediction: Houston in 7 games
And there you have it. The first round of the NBA playoffs. It's going to be hard to match last year's first round, which featured Phoenix's great comeback and the LeBron-Gilbert showdown. But who really knows what will happen?
I'm just hoping my success from my preseason picks carries over.