NBA Playoff Picks and Predictions for Sunday April 19

NBA Playoff Picks and Predictions for Sunday April 19

NBA Playoff Picks and Predictions for Sunday April 19

Our team of writers and handicappers hand out their NBA picks and predictions for Sunday, April 19.

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Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Lakers, 3:05PM ET

Phil Jackson padded around in flip flops and Sasha Vujacic attempted free throws off his foot at the end of practice. If the Los Angeles Lakers are worried about opening the playoffs against the Utah Jazz, it sure didn't show.

``We're just ready to go,'' Kobe Bryant said Saturday. ``Everybody is pretty relaxed. It's a long haul so you can't psych yourself through the roof already.''

Tell that to Laker fans and pundits, who already have Los Angeles advancing to face Portland in the Western Conference semifinals.

``We're just not talking about stuff like that,'' Jackson said. ``But we won't condemn those people, that's their job. That's what they have to do. They have to make choices like that, put themselves on the line. I'm not going to put myself on the line.''

What the Lakers will cop to is that anything less than winning the NBA championship for the first time since 2002 would be a major blow. They came close last season, losing to Boston in six games, including a 131-92 rout to end it that still stings.

NBA Free Pick: Los Angeles | Best Line: -11 Sports Interaction

Miami Heat at Atlanta Hawks, 8:05PM ET

ATLANTA (AP) - Every team relishes a trip to the NBA playoffs. Is there any team that appreciates it more than the Atlanta Hawks?

Well, maybe. How about the Miami Heat?

Both teams experienced life at the bottom of the league in the not-so distant past, which makes them especially grateful to still be playing at this time of year.

``I savor every moment of it,'' Hawks forward Josh Smith said. ``You're more appreciative going from the bottom to the top than you are going from the top to the bottom.''

Try telling that to Miami.

The Heat reached the pinnacle in 2006, winning its first NBA title with a team led by Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade. Just two seasons later, with Wade battling injuries and O'Neal having been dealt to Phoenix, Miami plummeted all the way to the bottom of the standings with a 15-67 record.

It was an awful experience, but one that taught a valuable lesson about the fleeting nature of championships. No one wants to forget what happened, even those who were fortunate enough to be playing somewhere else last season.

NBA Free Pick: Miami | Best Line: +5 Sports Interaction

New Orleans Hornets at Denver Nuggets, 10:35PM ET

DENVER (AP) - It's been 21 years since the Denver Nuggets opened a playoff series at home and 15 years since they were anything but first-round fodder.

Their reward for tying their franchise record with a 54-win season and earning the second seed in the Western Conference? A first-round date with the New Orleans Hornets, All-Stars Chris Paul and David West and their nasty pick-and-roll offense.

To capitalize on their home-court edge, the Nuggets need to handle both Paul, who beat out Chauncey Billups for the backup point guard spot on the U.S. Olympic team last summer, and West, who essentially took Carmelo Anthony's spot on the All-Star team.

Kenyon Martin said that will be easier to do at the Pepsi Center, where the series starts Sunday night.

``It's huge. If you win all your games at home nobody can beat you,'' Martin said.

Paul was runner-up in the MVP voting last year and had an even better encore, averaging 22.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and an NBA-best 11 assists this season.

And many of those numbers came right off the pick-and-roll, the Hornets' bread and butter.

NBA Free Pick: Denver | Best Line: -6 Sports Interaction

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