With the playoffs now here and an awesome NBA season in the books, we can now look toward the NBA Finals and every teams ultimate goal: hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy. This is the moment that I’ve been waiting for since the All-Star break. There is nothing better than playoff basketball folks, I guarantee that.
With that being said, lets dive in. I’m going to preview each series for you and give you a few key match-ups that you’ll need to look out for in each series.
Chicago Bulls(1) vs Philadelpha 76ers(8)
I believe that this will be the most physical series of the first round. It was pretty obvious that the 76ers were tanking games in the last week of the season to avoid playing the Miami Heat in the first round. Everyone seemed to be undermining Chicago and their 50-16 record. Evan Turner said that they were likely avoiding the better team by getting the eight seed, but I don’t understand that ideology. The Bulls are obviously good, but no one seems to think so around the league.
This series outcome hinges on many factors. One of the most important being Derrick Rose’s health. He played in five of the last 10 games that the Bulls have played and definitely isn’t in the best shape to perform. This should be something that worries Chicago as the series, and the playoffs, go on because Rose is their best player. If he can’t stay on the court he’ll hurt the Bulls more than he’ll help them. He already must develop chemistry with Rip Hamilton, who has missed his own share of games, as his back court mate. It’ll be a challenge to do this, but this is the advantage of being a top seed.
Both team’s benches will definitely come into play here. The Bulls will look to their bench to provide that extra umph on defense that they have consistently done all season long. Their second unit doesn’t always score, but they’ll always stop the opposing team from scoring. One line up that you must look out for is JLIII, Kyle Korver, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, and Omer Asik. That lineup has played 152 minutes this season and has registered a 90 on the +/- side of things. The second unit with Luol Deng in is crucial.
The 76ers must find the juice that they had at the beginning of the season. Andre Iguodola must be the catalyst that he was earlier in the season. He’s such a versatile player and can do so much with or without the ball. He’s one of the best defenders in the league so look for him to be stuck on Derrick Rose. Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young must also give the same contribution that they were at the start of the season from off of the bench. If Philadelphia can find their groove, I think they’ll be able to give the Bulls fits.
Give me the the Bulls in five.
Miami Heat(2) vs. New York Knicks(7)
This is the series that everyone has been waiting for. The New York Knicks have captured the hearts and minds of many NBA fans out there with their roller coaster ride of a season. From Linsanity to Melo catching heat, many people have picked this team to make a deep run in the post season. I think that it ends here though. This match up isn’t favorable to the Knicks at all whatsoever.
I think that a danger of this series for Miami is that they stumbled into the postseason instead of playing as well and as hard as they could to get in. They could easily be the best team in the league with the best record, but they seemed disinterested and lost to teams that they had no business losing to. Whenever you play like that at the end of the season, its never a good sign. It shows that your team has a lack of discipline. The thing about it is, though, it can all be dissolved with playoff basketball.
One thing that you must look out for is the Knicks defense. Believe it or not, the Knicks have one of the top defenses in the NBA right now. They rank fifth in defensive efficiency because of Tyson Chandler, the man who stifled the Heat’s offense last year. I’m not sure that the same thing will happen this season, but if the Knicks catch the Heat on a lull we could be in for one great series.
There isn’t much background to this series besides the star power in it. I think that the Knicks will catch Miami sleeping with the first game and win that. Then Miami will win three straight. The Knicks may get one more, but then their magical run is over. I think that the Knicks offense is too simple for Miami’s perimeter defense to not be able to stifle. They have some of the best athletes in the World and they play the passing lanes extremely well. All the Knicks offense really shows us is a plethora of post ups by Melo and Amar’e. Then the ball is kicked out and swung for open threes. Miami doesn’t play the three ball particularly well, especially the corner three, because of their help defense.
What New York has to to is keep the ball moving crisply and throw perfect passes so that Miami’s perimeter isn’t able to get their hands on the ball. If they can do that then they definitely have the chance to win this series.
Give me Miami in six.
Indiana Pacers(3) vs. Orlando Magic(6)
This series is dead to me, but its only right for me to talk about it. The Pacers are one of my sleeper team to make it to the NBA finals. They are one of the deepest teams in the league, especially in their front court, and they play some of the best defense that I’ve ever seen. I had a chance to watch the Pacers when they came to Washington a few months ago and they were such a fundamentally sound team. They were getting some good looks, that they were missing, but they didn’t stop getting them. They came back from 22 down on the Wizards to win that game. I was sold on them at that point.
Orlando is a team that is in shambles and has been for a while now. With all of the Dwight Howard drama going on, I don’t think that they ever had a chance in the postseason even with him. Now that he’s out for the season and they’ve developed this new found togetherness, I still don’t think they have a chance. This team lacks the scoring presence that you need when the post season comes around. They don’t have any scorers at all–only shooters. Jameer Nelson isn’t the creator he used to be and won’t be able to penetrate and kick on this stifling Pacers defense. Glen Davis will be far from 100% playing in the series because of his recently suffered ankle injury. Now all they have left are a bunch of three point shooters that can’t defend.
The Pacers will win this series off of Roy Hibbert alone. He has come into his own this season and should be a huge factor for them this postseason.
Give me the Pacers in 4.
Boston Celtics(4) vs. Atlanta Hawks(5)
This will probably be the most intriguing series of the Eastern Conference first round because it can go either way. Boston is a team that is capable of getting to the Finals but is also weak enough offensively where they could be eliminated in the first round. They’ve been on a tear recently and have shown that they aren’t too old to play with the best of them, but I fear that their offense is too simple to defend.
Too often the Celtics bench doesn’t provide enough of a punch to propel the team into victory. This was definitely shown during the New York Knicks game not too long ago where Boston’s bench was outscored 55 to two. That’s a pitiful effort to say the least, and I think that the Hawks can take advantage of that. Their bench second unit is more consistent and have more guys who can score the ball. In the postseason that will be crucial, even though the benches and the minutes get thinner. If you need that second unit to come in and provide for your starters, then its best to not be left stranded with no one to depend on.
This series rests on the shoulders of Rajon Rondo. He’s a master facilitator and when he scores the ball as well, you’re likely going to lose the game. The best way to defend him would be to take away his passing lanes. He’ll be able to get his assist numbers, but you just have to make it hard on him. If the Hawks can get him to turn the ball over they’ll likely be able to win the series. Rondo is known for his postseason play and his big game ability. The Hawks have to control that by controlling the tempo themselves. If Rondo is allowed to get comfortable, then he’ll make them pay for it.
Boston will get a break as Al Horford says he’ll be out until at least the second round of the playoffs if they win. They’ll only have to worry about keying in on Joe Johnson and Josh Smith as well. If they can keep those two from hitting their outside shots then they’ll be fine. I’m sure Boston will bait Smith into taking those 16-23 foot horrible jumpers that he loves to take. According to hoopdata he shoots an abysmal 36 percent from that area of the floor. He takes six of those shots a game, so the Celtics will key in on that weakness.
Give me Boston in six games.