As cool as March Madness can be, let's face it--April through June is when playoff basketball really begins. The NBA Eastern Conference standings are pretty much set in stone, and as far as the playoff seedings go, we already have first round matchups set and game times being released. Here is a preview of each Eastern Conference playoff matchup, and a prediction for what will happen.
#1 Chicago Bulls vs. #8 Indiana Pacers
This is a series that should be a cake-walk for the Chicago Bulls, but that doesn't mean the Pacers cannot make it interesting. Indiana has a ton of talent offensively with Danny Granger, Tyler Hansbrough, Paul George, Mike Dunleavy, and Roy Hibbert, but they lack the defensive ability to really be able to hang with Chicago. Indiana did get a win against the Bulls this year--an overtime victory in a home game where Derrick Rose scored 40 plus points.
Still, the Bulls managed to win three out of four games against Indiana, who was the only team within the Bulls' division to actually beat them in 2010. I think this series should be a clean sweep, but the Pacers could steal one game at home.
Derrick Rose and the Bulls are one of the most complete teams in the league, leading the NBA in half-court defense and point differential on the season. Rose is the likely MVP of the NBA, and executives Gar Forman and John Paxson were able to put an excellent array of complimentary pieces around him. The Bulls could finish the year with the best record in the NBA, and really they are the better team here.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau will have his team focused and ready to play, and while the Pacers could provide some intrigue, I just don't think they have enough to put up with the Bulls.
PREDICTION: Bulls in four, maybe five
#2 Miami Heat vs. #7Philadelphia 76ers
I think this is a lot more intriguing a series than meets the eye. I'm not saying I expect an upset here, but I do expect the Sixers to put up a solid fight and maybe take this to six games. Philadelphia is a very underrated team, and probably rightfully so. They have a new head coach in Doug Collins who really took that team to new heights this year, and amid so many different trade discussions and other factors, this team was able to make it to the playoffs.
The Sixers have a really balanced scoring attack, led by Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala. This is not a team that has playoff experience, so they are going to need someone like Brand or Iguodala to really step up for them. In the end, I think Iguodala will step up as the "go to" guy in this playoff series for Philadelphia. I think this series compares favorably to the Bulls/Celtics series of a couple of years ago, where Chicago had some intriguing pieces to win some games they shouldn't have, but just not enough.
The Miami Heat have been one of the more disappointing teams in the NBA this year. They finally beat the Celtics for the first time last Sunday--the first time they have beaten either the Bulls or Celtics all year. The bottom line for me is, this team doesn't have quality depth or point guard play, and thus they are not a major threat to me as the playoffs develop, though I do believe they have the firepower and the star power to beat Philadelphia in the first round here.
PREDICTION: Miami in six
#3 Boston Celtics vs. #6 New York Knicks
This is a very intriguing matchup, and will probably be one of the more popular to watch among casual NBA fans. This series has a ton of intrigue because of all the star power on both sides, and the sheer contrast of the style of play.
The Celtics are a half-court team that likes to dominate the opposition with a slow pace and their league leading defense. The Knicks are a lock-and-load unit that likes to push the ball up and down the floor, and they don't play defense whatsoever.
The Knicks do not rebound, they do not play defense. That is a recipe for disaster for New York. They have the firepower from three-point range to be able to hang around in games, but they are not any match for the Boston Celtics. New York has no depth on the front line, and I really don't think Carmelo Anthony and Amare' Stoudemire mesh well together, especially not this soon after the trade.
PREDICTION: Boston in five
#4 Orlando Magic vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks
This will be a fun series to watch, and not surprisingly possibly the most competitive of the four that we will have the opportunity to watch in this conference. The Hawks won the season series 3-1, but the Magic seem like the clear favorites.
I don't think Atlanta has anyone that can compete with Howard down low, and they don't have the ability to consistently come back and win games. They ranked in the bottom five of the NBA in scoring and rebounding, that that is a problem when you play the high-scoring Magic who are a rebounding machine, especially with Howard in the lineup.
Orlando plays good defense, and they are one of the top rebounding teams in the NBA.
Still, I love this matchup, and something about the Atlanta Hawks intrigues me. This Magic team had better be on top of its game, or they could fall in the first round.
PREDICTION: Magic in six