The NBA playoffs are about to get started, and we should be in for some tremendously entertaining basketball in every series. The Eastern Conference playoff picture is set, so here is a preview and some predictions of the first round match-ups.
#1 Chicago Bulls vs. #8 Indiana Pacers
We all know that Derrick Rose has established himself as one of the league’s most dominant players this season and will likely take home the MVP award at just 23 years old, averaging 25 points and 8 assists a night, with perhaps the biggest improvement in his game coming from beyond the 3 point line where he shot 34% this year compared to just 22% and 27% in his first two seasons. The scariest part of all is that Rose has historically played his best basketball in the postseason, even before he took his game to this MVP level. In his first two seasons, he has averaged 23 points per game in the playoffs compared to 17 points per game in the regular season, so we could be in for some historic performances from him in the coming weeks and maybe months.
The Bulls won the first 3 games of this season series by double digits, but lost the last game at Indiana in a tough overtime battle despite some late game heroics from Rose (which you could and should watch here: . With that said, Chicago’s league best defense and likely league MVP will simply wear Indiana down in a long series, and this series should not last very long.
Chicago 4, Indiana 1
#4 Orlando Magic vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks
Perhaps the least interesting of the first round match-ups, but it could also be the closest. Both of these teams could either bring it or come out flat on any given night, although the Hawks are more prone to the latter as they enter the postseason with the record for most 20 point home losses of any playoff team in NBA history with 5 (including a 41 point loss to New Orleans and a 34 point ass kicking by Philadelphia). If you can’t even slightly protect your home floor in the regular season, then you are likely in for a long postseason. However, the Hawks went 3-1 vs Orlando in the regular season, with no team scoring over 93 points in any of the games. This should be a low scoring and likely ugly series with two teams that people seem bored of. Dwight Howard will certainly bring some excitement (although Atlanta held him under 20 points in three of the four meetings) as always, and this series could easily go down to the wire. It will come down to what works better, Joe Johnson’s isolation and Jamal Crawford’s chucking, or Orlando’s three point shooting.
Even with Atlanta’s success in the season series, Orlando has looked pretty good since their major mid-season trades as Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu seem to have revitalized both of their careers, especially in the clutch.
Orlando 4, Atlanta 2
#2 Miami Heat vs. #7 Philadelphia 76ers
Yeah I know, we all want Miami to lose to Philly in this one. As much as we hate Philly sports, it would be hilarious to see the “Big 2.5” go down right away in the playoffs. However, don’t get your hopes up. Miami swept the season series 3-0, and has won 14 of their last 17 entering tomorrow’s regular season finale at Toronto. Philly got off to a brutal 3-13 start (in which 2 of those 3 losses to Miami came, so perhaps take those losses with a grain of salt), then proceeded to go on a 37-23 run that put them in position to get all the way up to the #5 seed, but they have lost 4 out of 5 as the regular season winds down. Philly has some fight, they run the floor and play hard defense, but that likely isn’t enough to do anything more than put a small scare into Miami in a 7 game series because they could do this: .
Miami 4, Philadelphia 1
#3 Boston Celtics vs. #6 New York Knicks
This is what happened the last time these two teams met up just a few weeks ago. There was a lot of physical play, and clearly blood was drawn. This is the Knicks’ first winning season in 10 years, and their first playoff appearance since 2003-2004 when they were swept. The hype is huge, as this is exactly what Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony wanted when they came to the biggest city in the world to play on the biggest stage under the brightest lights in the world’s most famous arena. This is their chance to finally back up all of that talk.
Although the Celtics have swept the season series 3-0 (the teams play in the regular season finale which all of the starters will likely sit out), the Knicks had 4th quarter leads in two of the games that they simply failed to close out. Amar’e Stoudemire has had his way with the Celtics’ frontline this year, dropping 27 points in a 2 point loss and 39 in a 4 point loss before he had the help of Carmelo Anthony. Now, Stoudemire will be rested as he has sat out the past few games after playing nearly 40 minutes a night at the center position and taking a physical pounding all year. Combine that with the fact that his production usually increases across the board in the playoffs, and the fact that Carmelo Anthony is red hot (he has won Eastern Conference Player of the Week each of the past 2 weeks as he has averaged 31.5 points per game and hit two game winning shots), and just throw in that the Knicks are riding a 7 game winning streak while Boston has struggled since the foolish trade of Kendrick Perkins (9-11 in their last 20 games)…to quote fake tough guy Kevin Garnett, “Anything in possible.” With Perkins gone and Shaq unhealthy, I don’t think a big man like Nenad Krstic or Jermaine O’Neal is going to be able to slow down a well rested and highly motivated Amar’e.
In basketball, it is a huge advantage in a playoff series when you have the best player, regardless of which team is better. In this series, the Knicks will have the services of the best player as well as the second best player on the floor, which should be a serious concern for Boston.
In Melo’s own words: “It’s going to be a battle, a very physical series. It’s going to be a war.”
New York 4, Boston 2