NBA Playoffs: 2012 Preview and Predictions

2012 NBA PLAYOFFS PREVIEW AND PREDICTIONS

WhatIfSports.com presents its preview of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Below is the main bracket and round-by-round series breakdown. To the right of the bracket is a table explaining every NBA playoff team's chances of winning each round, including the NBA Finals.

We simulated the entire 2012 NBA playoffs schedule 1,001 times. Home court is taken into account. Average wins and losses per series are indicated in the bracket. To toggle between rounds, click the appropriate link. You can simulate any game in the playoffs yourself using our NBA SimMatchup feature.

1
8
Bulls
76ers
4
3
4
5
Celtics
Hawks
3
4
3
6
Pacers
Magic
4
2
2
7
Heat
Knicks
4
2
1
8
Spurs
Jazz
4
1
4
5
Grizzlies
Clippers
3
4
3
6
Lakers
Nuggets
3
4
2
7
Thunder
Mavericks
4
3
1
5
Bulls
Hawks
4
2
3
2
Pacers
Heat
2
4
1
5
Spurs
Clippers
4
2
6
2
Nuggets
Thunder
3
4
1
2
Bulls
Heat
3
4
1
2
Spurs
Thunder
4
3
2
1
Heat
Spurs
2
4

WINNING PERCENTAGES

Eastern Conference
Seed/Team Round 1 Conf. Semis Conf. Finals NBA Finals
2 Miami
77.5% 60.4% 43.2% 18.4%
1 Chicago
56.3% 39.1% 20.2% 7.1%
8 Philadelphia
43.7% 28.6% 11.7% 3.3%
3 Indiana
84.4% 26.8% 11.4% 2.2%
5 Atlanta
65.2% 23.0% 8.3% 1.8%
7 New York
22.5% 11.4% 4.1% 1.1%
4 Boston
34.8% 9.4% 1.2% 0.1%
6 Orlando
15.6% 1.4% 0.0% 0.0%
Western Conference
Seed/Team Round 1 Conf. Semis Conf. Finals NBA Finals
1 San Antonio
92.5% 74.4% 47.9% 36.2%
2 Oklahoma City
58.3% 39.0% 20.4% 13.4%
6 Denver
59.5% 25.0% 12.4% 6.3%
7 Dallas
41.7% 21.4% 7.6% 4.2%
5 L.A. Clippers
57.1% 15.8% 5.9% 3.0%
3 L.A. Lakers
40.5% 14.7% 4.8% 2.6%
4 Memphis
42.9% 7.3% 1.0% 0.4%
8 Utah
7.5% 2.5% 0.1% 0.0%
Bulls Logo
76ers Logo
1
8
Bulls
76ers
4
3
Bulls
Record: 50-16
Analysis: The Bulls have again ridden their defense to regular season success. After finishing the 2011 season with a league-best 62-20 record, the team's encore performance has netted a league-best 50-16 mark in 2012. The Bulls held opponents to the lowest scoring output in the NBA, limiting their adversaries to just 88.4 points per game. They also topped the league in total and offensive rebounds. Last year's MVP, Derrick Rose, was limited to 39 games, but appears to be healthy for the playoffs. Fifth-year player C.J. Watson has been a capable substitute in his absence, averaging 11.3 points and 4.6 assists in 25 starts. Newly acquired Richard Hamilton also suffered the injury bug, appearing in only 28 games, but the 34-year-old proved an effective option at shooting guard and is healthy heading into the postseason. All signs point to a playoff run for the Bulls. If the seeds hold true, they will meet the Heat in the Eastern Conference championship for the second year in a row. The two teams split four meetings during the season.

76ers
Record: 35-31
Analysis: It's rare that a team's leading scorer begins every game riding the pine, but that's just what Lou Williams does for the 76ers. He turned in a team-best 14.9 points per game while backing up both guard spots. If not for James Harden of the Thunder, Williams would be a favorite for the Sixth Man of the Year award. He exemplified the 76ers' balance and team approach that led to the league's third-best defense and held opponents to a scant 89.4 points per game. The 76ers also excelled at protecting the basketball, recording the league's fewest turnovers and the best assist-to-turnover ratio. However, consistency was not one of the team's strong suits. After racing to a 20-9 start, the 76ers faltered, going 15-22 down the stretch. With playoff eligibility at stake, they rallied to pull out victories in four of their last five games, securing the No. 8 seed. A long stay in the playoffs seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

Winning Percentage of 1001 Simulations: Bulls 56.3% - 76ers 43.7%
Celtics logo
Hawks logo
4
5
Celtics
Hawks
3
4
Celtics
Record: 39-27
Analysis: After losing seven of eight games in mid-February, it appeared the Celtics were on the verge of implosion. It was during this slump, which left Boston 15-17 on the season, that one of the NBA's worst-kept secrets made its way into the mainstream media: the existence of a clubhouse rift between point guard Rajon Rondo and the team's veterans. Coach Doc Rivers was additionally at odds with the mercurial All-Star, leading many to speculate Rondo would be ballin' in a different area code by season's end. Rondo wasn't the only Celtic name rumored in this conjecture, as Paul Pierce and Ray Allen found themselves hot commodities in the trade winds. Despite reaching the 2010 NBA Finals, Boston's dismantling seemed imminent.

However, the trade deadline came and passed with Pierce, Allen, and most importantly, Rondo, all remained with the Shamrocks. And when the dust settled, the Celtics flaunted a newfound sense of buoyancy. From that 15-17 juncture, Boston ripped off victories in 21 of their next 29 ballgames. Not only did Rondo get back on track (13.2 assists, 10.2 points during the club's revival), but the once worn-out Kevin Garnett and emerging Avery Bradley led a rededication to the defensive front, holding opponents to 89.3 points per game, second-best in the league. Formerly imagined to flame-out in the first round, Boston suddenly finds itself as legitimate contenders in the East.

Hawks
Record: 40-26
Analysis: The Hawks have been a staple in the Eastern Conference playoff picture lately, as 2012 marks the club's fifth consecutive postseason trip. Only six other franchises, the Celtics, Lakers, Magic, Mavericks, Nuggets and Spurs, have been to the playoffs the last five years in a row. However, the Hawks have managed less success than their peers, never advancing past the conference semifinals. If they hope to achieve more this season, they'll have to do so without the services of center Al Horford. The two-time All-Star was lost in the 11th game of the season and it appears he'll be unable to return for the playoffs. In his absence, Josh Smith has averaged career-bests in points (18.8 per game) and rebounds (9.6 per game). He and Joe Johnson (18.8 points per game) do most of the heavy lifting in the scoring column. Third-year player Jeff Teague has settled in as the team's full-time starting point guard.

Winning Percentage of 1001 Simulations: Celtics 34.8% - Hawks 65.2%

Pacers logo
Magic logo
3
6
Pacers
Magic
4
2
Pacers
Record: 42-24
Analysis: The Pacers snuck into the playoffs in 2011 despite a 37-45 record. Although they fell to the Bulls in five games, the franchise's first trip to the postseason since 2006 was cause for celebration. Heading into the new season, however, the bar was raised as new acquisitions David West and George Hill added experience to an incumbent roster of up-and-comers. The team exceeded expectations, claiming the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers are one of the hottest teams heading into the postseason, having won 12 of their last 15 games. The credit for much of their success can be doled out to West and Hill, as well as Leandro Barbosa, who was acquired from the Raptors in a mid-season trade. But the improved play of Roy Hibbert and Paul George has also been a welcome addition. Hibbert is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, blocks, steals and field goal percentage, while George has become a reliable option at shooting guard in only his second year in the league. Small forward Danny Granger led the team in scoring (18.7 points per game) for the fifth consecutive season.

Magic
Record: 37-29
Analysis: It's apropos that Orlando is home to some of our nation's most recognized amusement parks and attractions, as the Magic season has been one giant roller coaster ride. This turbulent trip can be blamed on the volatile nature and nonsense of Dwight Howard. Charged with the choice to become a free-agent or return for one more campaign in O-Town, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year made a relatively simple decision serve as a storm cloud that nearly submarined an entire season. Seemingly flip-flopping daily, Howard's selection not only affected his teammates, but also shined an unnecessary negative light on coach Stan Van Gundy, who Howard allegedly held beef with. Magic fans, as well as hoop enthusiasts, prayed for this intolerable saga to end. Unfortunately for Orlando, the distraction was temporarily put to rest thanks to season-ending back surgery for Howard, meaning the Magic will be star-less heading into the postseason.

Not all hope is lost, however, as the Magic look to pull a rabbit out of their hat as underdogs. Ryan Anderson had a career year with 16.1 points, 7.7 boards and an 87.7 free-throw percentage. J.J. Redick chipped in as well, with a career-best 11.6 points. Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis all have playoff experience, give Orlando a fighting chance.

Winning Percentage of 1001 Simulations: Pacers 84.4% - Magic 15.6%

Heat logo
Knicks logo
2
7
Heat
Knicks
4
2
Heat
Record: 46-20
Analysis: After playing second-fiddle to the Mavericks in last year's championship series, Miami is prepared for another run. The cast of characters remains mostly intact, with new additions Shane Battier and Norris Cole joining the rotation. LeBron James appears likely to earn his third MVP trophy when the awards are handed out. Credit his overwhelming efficiency in submitting a stellar season that even the most jaded voters won't be able to ignore. James attempted the fewest three-pointers of his career (2.4 per game), making 36.2 percent, a career-high. As a result, his field goal percentage also climbed to a career-best 53.1 percent. James leads the Heat in points, rebounds, assists and steals. His running mate, Dwyane Wade, has been limited to the fewest minutes of his career (33.2 per game), but has still chipped in 22.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.7 steals per game. If Miami again meets Chicago in the conference finals, they'll concede home court advantage. However, that didn't prove to be a detriment last year when the Heat ousted the Bulls in five games.

Knicks
Record: 36-30
Analysis: Forget a tale of two seasons; the narrative of the Knickerbockers deserves a five-part TV mini-series. With the acquisition of defensive stopper Tyson Chandler to All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, the Knicks seemingly had constructed a core capable of going deep into spring. Alas, the faces may have been new, but the results reflected the past decade of disappointment in Madison Square Garden, as New York found itself 8-15 in the first week of February. Yet just as the season appeared lost, the improbable story of Jeremy Lin came to fruition. Lin, a backup, undrafted guard a year removed from Harvard, would guide the Knicks to eight wins in nine games, putting the team back at .500 and catching the hoops world by storm.

But just when the Knicks seemed to assert their name back into relevancy, the wheels flew off as New York lost eight of its next 10 ballgames. While some of the blame was pointed at Anthony, who had missed most of the resurgence due to injury, coach Mike D'Antoni ultimately was charged as the liability, leading to former Hawks coach Mike Woodson to take the reins. Although Woodson righted the ship (the Knicks would roll off Ws in nine of the next 11 contests), New York was dealt another blow, a likely season-ending injury to Lin. All is not lost, however, as Anthony has turned it on as of late, averaging 29.8 points in April and looking like the franchise player he was imagined to be when acquired last season.

With all the drama that has gone down in the Big Apple this winter, who knows what spring holds for Carmelo and company.

Winning Percentage of 1001 Simulations: Heat 77.5% - Knicks 22.5%

Spurs logo
Jazz logo
1
8
Spurs
Jazz
4
1
Spurs
Record: 50-16
Analysis: For seemingly the third straight season, the Spurs geared up for "one last run" at a championship. But these aren't the same Spurs that dominated the last decade, even if the old guard of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker remains intact. Gone is the defense-first philosophy in favor of a style more reminiscent of Mike D'Antoni's Suns squads. The Spurs are second in the NBA in scoring, while ranking only 16th in points allowed. It's hard to argue the success of the new style, as it's enabled the Spurs to capture the No. 1 seed while limiting the minutes of Duncan (career-low 28.2 minutes per game) and Ginobili (23.3 minutes per game). However, a faster pace hasn't traditionally translated to playoff success, as D'Antoni's Suns proved with four playoff appearances in five years without reaching the NBA Finals. Perhaps the Spurs will shorten their bench (12 players average 6.4 or more points per game) and slow their pace during the postseason. After last year's first round loss to the No. 8-seed Grizzlies, they certainly won't be looking past any opponents.

Jazz
Record: 36-30
Analysis: Little was expected of a squad that missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006. The venerable Jerry Sloan, the only coach to record 1,000 wins with one team, was unceremoniously jettisoned from the team last winter. Deron Williams, believed by many Utah fans as the one to lead the Jazz to the Promised Land, was exiled to New Jersey after management felt that re-signing the All-Star guard was impossible. With the 2011-12 team littered with young but unproven talent, piloted by a coach (Tyrone Corbin) with little experience, you can excuse those in Salt Lake City if they lacked postseason aspirations.

Yet those in the Jazz locker room must have been oblivious to this apathy, as the team pulled off one of the biggest surprises in the abbreviated season, winning 36 games to clinch the final playoff spot in the spirited Western Conference. While most of the NBA has converted to an up-temp offensive style, Utah went with an old-school approach, pounding it in the post, creating an inside-to-out attack. This vintage strike correlated to 99.7 points per game, fourth-best in the Association. Big men Al Jefferson (19.2 points, 9.6 rebounds) and Paul Millsap (16.6 points, 8.8 boards) directed this assault, with greenhorns Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter assisting the effort under the boards. But Utah's destiny will be tied to the guard play of Devin Harris (11.3 points, 5.0 assists) and Gordon Hayward (11.8 points). While Hayward has turned it on as of late (17.2 points in April), Harris has been a precarious point. If the Jazz hope to making an extended run this spring, Harris will need to be a consistent and safe presence running the show.

Winning Percentage of 1001 Simulations: Spurs 92.5% - Jazz 7.5%

Grizzlies logo
Clippers logo
4
5
Grizzlies
Clippers
3
4
Grizzlies
Record: 41-25
Analysis: Coming off an exciting playoff run last spring, one that saw the eighth-seeded Grizzlies topple the top-seeded Spurs in the opening series and engage in an epic duel with the Thunder in the conference semifinals, Memphis was pegged as an upstart squad prepared to make the leap into the league's upper echelon in the 2011-12 season. Not only was the franchise's core intact, but star Rudy Gay, who was sidelined during the team's postseason conquest with a shoulder issue, would be returning to the lineup. Alas, All-NBAer and offensive catalyst Zach Randolph succumbed to a knee injury in the first week of the season, leaving a cavernous hole in the post. As a corollary, the Griz sputtered out of the gate, sitting at a mediocre mark of 14-14 in mid-February.

Yet thanks to the unwavering contributions of Gay (19.0 points, 6.4 rebounds) and stalwart center Marc Gasol (14.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.9 blocks), Memphis righted the ship, winning 20 of their next 29 contests. Aiding the two in this endeavor were efforts from the defensive-minded trio of Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Marreese Speights, as well as the sharpshooting of sixth-man O.J. Mayo. With Randolph back in uniform and providing a powerful presence off the bench, the Griz are a dark horse Finals candidate.

Clippers
Record: 40-26
Analysis: Is it fair for Clippers fans to dream of postseason success when simply making the playoffs was a feat in itself? The franchise is playoff-bound for the first time since 2006 and just the fifth time in the past 36 years. Regardless of the outcome of their first round matchup with the Grizzlies, the season has to be considered a resounding success for the other team in L.A. The December trade for Chris Paul instantly transformed the Clippers into a contender. He teamed up with Blake Griffin and Chauncey Billups to form a nucleus that ignited the Clippers to a 15-7 start before Billups was lost to a season-ending injury. Without Mr. Big Shot's veteran presence at off-guard, the team struggled to find consistency, losing 14 of their next 25 games. Ignoring calls to dismiss head coach Vinny Del Negro, the Clippers righted the ship and finished the season by winning 14 of their remaining 19 contests. The late-game heroics of Paul will likely determine how far the Clippers are capable of advancing.

Winning Percentage of 1001 Simulations: Grizzlies 42.9% - Clippers 57.1%

Lakers logo
Nuggets logo
3
6
Lakers
Nuggets
3
4
Lakers
Record: 41-25
Analysis: After suffering a sweep in the second round last May, little was expected of an aging Lakers squad in the truncated 2011-12 season. Legendary teacher Phil Jackson called it a career, leaving Los Angeles to turn to former Cavs coach Mike Brown, a decision that was not met favorably by those in the City of Angels. Worse, the team traded away reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom after a botched attempt to acquire All-Star point guard Chris Paul left Odom disgruntled. And we'd be remiss in failing to mention Kobe Bryant traveling to Germany to receive experimental plasma therapy on his knee. In short, a fourth trip in five years to the NBA Finals did not look promising for the Purple and Yellow.

Yet the Lakers held tough, shaking off injuries and trade rumors to compile a 41-25 record, good for a No. 3 seed in the tough Western Conference. Bryant turned in another fantastic display, averaging 27.9 points despite dealing with a wrist injury. Pau Gasol was able to put trade speculation aside to contribute 17.4 points, 10.4 boards, 3.7 assists and 1.4 blocks. But the real catalyst for L.A. has been the performance of Andrew Bynum. Able to stay healthy for the first time in his career, the big man posted personal bests in points (18.7), rebounds (11.8) and minutes (35.2). Kobe will undoubtedly get his points, but it's the back of Bynum o which the Lakers will ride to their final destination in the 2012 playoffs.

Nuggets
Record: 38-28
Analysis: The squad's inclusion in the playoffs is testament in itself to the fortitude of this Denver team, as the club was dealt a plethora of injuries and underwent a major roster upheaval midway through the season. Despite prolonged absences from scorer Danilo Gallinari, the Nuggets led the NBA in points (104.1) and assists (24.0) per game on their way to a 38-28 record and No. 6 seed in the postseason.

While coach George Karl undoubtedly deserves praise for keeping the team's focus intact through turbulent times, unwavering guard play from Ty Lawson, Andre Miller and Arron Afflalo was the catalyst for the team's success. Lawson and Miller have directed the up-tempo pace, fueling this engine with a combined 26 points and 13 assists per contest, while Afflalo has bounced-back from injures in winter to pour in 18.7 points per game during April. Gallinari, while still battling a thumb injury, appears to be coming into form, contributing 12.1 the past month. Down low, newly-acquired JaVale McGee has assimilated into the high-octane offense fairly smoothly, and rookie Kenneth Faried has been a pleasant surprise, leading the team in rebounding with 7.7 boards a game. Though they lack a bona fide star, Denver's depth and speed make the Nuggets a worthy first-round adversary.

Winning Percentage of 1001 Simulations: Lakers - 40.5% - Nuggets 59.5%

Thunder logo
Mavericks logo
2
7
Thunder
Mavericks
4
3
Thunder
Record: 47-19
Analysis: Oklahoma City's methodical ascent to the league's elevated stratum has come to fruition, as the Thunder enter the playoffs as one of the top seeds in the Western Conference. Franchise foundation Kevin Durant submitted his finest overall campaign, sporting career highs in field-goal percentage, rebounds, assists and blocks. Oh, and he also led the league in scoring at 28.0 points per game, good enough for his third straight scoring title. At age 23, the Durantula has already fulfilled his prophecy as savior to the once-beleaguered ball club.

Not that he's alone in this quest. Russell Westbrook continues to develop into one of the Association's elite guards, averaging 23.6 points on the season, although his drop in assists (8.2 mark last season to a 5.5 clip this year) is somewhat disconcerting. Helping Durant and Westbrook light up the scoreboard has been James Harden. The Arizona State product, a shoo-in for Sixth Man of the Year and fresh off a 40-point performance against the Suns, is chipping in 16.8 points a game off the bench. On the defensive end, Serge Ibaka led the NBA in blocks, swatting shots to the tune of 3.7 rejections a contest, while Kendrick Perkins provides an overpowering presence in the post. Perhaps a little green in last year's conference finals, Oklahoma City is more than ready to cast their claim as top dogs in the West.

Mavericks
Record: 36-30
Analysis: The NBA's reigning champions have suffered through a tumultuous season. It began with the departure of free agent center and defensive stalwart Tyson Chandler. He was replaced with disgruntled Lakers player Lamar Odom, whose drama-filled season ultimately concluded with his dismissal from the team in early April. Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki submitted a disappointing season by his standards. Nowitzki's 21.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game were his fewest since the 1999-00 season. He shot 45.7 percent from the floor, his worst mark since his rookie campaign. The good news for Mavericks faithful is that Nowitzki may be returning to form. Prior to the All-Star game, he averaged 19.6 points on 27.8 percent three-point shooting. Since then, he's upped his averages to 23.6 points on 43.4 percent from three. However, it may be too little, too late for the Mavericks, whose daunting road to the Finals could include the Thunder, Lakers and Spurs. If the Mavericks do face an early exit, fans can begin daydreaming about Deron Williams and Dwight Howard in blue and white.

Winning Percentage of 1001 Simulations: Thunder 58.3% - Mavericks 41.7%

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