Friday, April 15, 2011

NBA Eastern Conference First Round Predictions

Chicago (1) and Indiana (8)

How the upset can happen: Derrick Rose gts hurt. Roy Hibbert dominates Joakim Noah. Danny Granger gets hot from the three point line for an absurd amount of time. Carlos Boozer cares more about his numbers than the team. Luol Deng shrinks from the spotlight. The slow schedule makes for rusty play from the Bulls, and a lack of urgency in getting this done.

What will decide it: Deng ending Granger, and Rose continuing to be the Most Valuable Player. The Bulls play defense, and the Pacers generally don't, and defense is what wins in the playoffs, especially in a 7-game series.

What you might not expect: Kyle Korver proving all kinds of helpful, because he matches up well against Indy. Indy's crowds being underwhelming, because the Pacers have out and out lost this market, and everyone locally knows it; Butler is the stuff now. Larry Bird avoiding the cameras, because he knows this team isn't worth watching.

When the series is over: Midway through the third quarter in Game 3, when the 2-0 Bulls go on one of those 20-5 runs that's all about turnovers and Rose in transition, and the cheers in the building are all from road Bulls Fan. They will be loud, and this will be easy.

The prediction: Bulls in five.

Miami (2) and Philadelphia (7)

How the upset can happen: The Heat come up very small in crunch time, because the Sixers' bench overwhelms their Heat counterparts so much that their starters all have to log 40+ minutes a game, and they just run out of gas. The Sixers' defense makes this all about Chris Bosh, and he spits the bit in the spotlight. Jrue Holiday owns his matchup to the tune of 25/5/10 a game, and the Sixers force turnovers without turning it over themselves. LeBron James goes into pure Hero Mode to the point of shutting out his teammates, and Andre Iguodala makes that an ineffective strategy.

What will decide it: Dwyane Wade. The Sixers do not have a good match-up for him, as their games against the Heat have shown, and he's gotten carte blanche from the referees in past playoffs. Wade is also a solid two-way player, especially on weak-side help, and if Jodie Meeks gets out of this series with any semblance of confidence or career, that's a win for Philadelphia.

What you might not expect: Joel Anthony and Erick Dampier providing useful minutes and numbers for the Heat, because Spencer Hawes is cottony soft, and Anthony could prevent penetration from Holiday and the recovering Lou Williams from being effective. I also expect the ghost of Mike Bibby or Mike Miller to make a few open threes against what will be a more or less five foot buffer zone of open space. I also expect Evan Turner to be more helpful in this series than Williams, but that neither will be all that helpful. Finally, Wade has been making his free throws for the last six weeks, which isn't at all helpful.

When the series is over: In the fourth quarter of Game 6, when the Sixers run against the crippling talent gap that shows their ceiling against quality opponents... because, well, they just aren't going to be able to get the contested makes that they need, and Wade and James will. And it really doesn't help that the extra commercials and days off mean that the Heat starters will be OK with going 40 minutes a game...

The prediction: Heat in six.

Boston (3) and New York (6)

How the upset can happen: Every year, we dream the dream of a first-round Boston collapse from a roster that's just too long in the tooth, too thin on the bench and too troubled in crunch time due to the poor free throw shooting of Rajon Rondo. And every year, Boston looks like very vulnerable down the stretch, and in the early stages of Round One... before they flick the switch, go to the highest level of defensive lockdown in the conference, take the air out of the basketball and ride a hot streak from a bench scrub to a hard-fought but clear win. It's got to end sometime, and against a Knicks team that's got two takeover stars and a dramatic home court advantage, it just might happen. Really.

What will decide it: Rondo against Chauncey Billups. Boston's periods of vulnerability this year coincide quite strongly with Rondo having physical issues or mental breaks. He's got a clear winning matchup on speed against the aging Billups, and should also do a fine job in disrupting the New York offense. But if he comes up small for whatever reason, the Celtics are vulnerable. And it's not as if Billups doesn't know the man's game intimately from their battles over the years, and their mutual time on Team USA. Besides, it's not as if Billups has no positive playoff experience to draw from.

What you might not expect: Big Baby Davis doing his sad Kendrick Perkins impersonation against some small Knick player in transition (I'm thinking Landry Fields), and a real brawl nearly breaking out. Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal to be almost no factor, because they are over 700 pounds of guy that can't stay in the same picture with Amar'e Stoudemire. Reggie Lewis fighting Carmelo Anthony to a standstill, because that's just what he does in a playoff series. Mike D'Antoni to have his judgment challenged every step of the way, since Celtics Fan loves the soap opera of his eventual dismissal, and New York Fan needing to throw someone under the bus that isn't still a shiny new toy.

When the series is over: At the buzzer in Game Seven... with a quiet Boston crowd leaving in shock, after Anthony adds to his growing clutch reputation with a killshot. (And yes, Celtics Fan, you would have so won this series if you didn't make the Kendrick Perkins trade, because Jeff Green will lose games for you in this series.)

The prediction: Knicks in seven.

Orlando (4) and Atlanta (5)

How the upset can happen: 4-5 is hardly an upset, but after last year's steamroller crush, it would certainly feel like one... despite the fact that the Magic have been maddening this year, and the Hawks have won all three games. That's just the price you pay when you get steamroller punked a year ago in the playoffs to the same team. But let's not get too high on the Hawks, since they ended the year with six straight losses, and shooting guard Joe Johnson has spent the first year of his comedic contract stinking it up. But what the hey, maybe Kirk Hinrich goes nuts and Al Horford is the best player on the floor. That could happen, right? (And the real answer... Dwight Howard getting in constant foul trouble on one end, and missing a ton of free throws on the other. Not impossible.)

What will decide it: Howard and Jameer Nelson. Howard against Jason Collins, Zazu Pachulia and Horford is just comedy, really, and when Nelson has it going on, he can also own a game, especially in crunch time. When the Magic are hitting their threes, they appear to be one of the best teams in the league... but with a past-prime Hedo Turkoglu still trying to be what he was and Jason Richardson not getting the burn he should, the Magic aren't what they were. Also, if this was my team, I'd just release Gilbert Arenas by now; he's just not conducive to winning basketball. But that won't trip them in this round.

What you might not expect: Brandon Bass having good moments, Ryan Anderson looking much better than he actually is, and the Orlando crowd totally owning this series, because Atlanta Fan is just the worst. Though to be fair, they are justified in having no faith in these guys.

When the series is over: When Stan van Gundy forgets about getting Arenas involved, and Richardson hits the open threes that are provided by Howard outlet passes after the Hawks triple-team him in the post. It'll be closer than last year, because it can't help but be closer than last year... but not by that much. Both of these teams are less than what they were a year ago.

The prediction: Magic in five.

1 comment:

The Truth said...

Bulls in 4.
Magic in 5.
Heat in 5.
Boston in 6.

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