Let’s be honest here: it’s been a long time since anybody looked more forward to playoff action in the Eastern Conference than the West.
Over the past decade, nearly every series in the West has been of interest. We’ve had dominant teams like the Lakers and Spurs with exciting teams in the Mavericks, Suns and Nuggets periodically challenging those top squads. The Jazz and Trailblazers have been consistent threats and the Thunder have emerged as contenders over the past two seasons.
The East, though, has been short on drama. Early in the 2000′s teams like the Nets and 76ers made the Finals before the Pistons rose to power. LeBron’s Cavaliers, D-Wade’s Heat, Dwight Howard’s Magic and the Big Three-era Celtics have been the preeminent teams over the past few years.
There have been some nice series from those teams but, for the most part, they have been few and far between. The gap between the haves and have nots has been so wide that there have only been a couple teams capable of even making the Finals. Besides, big name teams like the Knicks and Bulls have been largely absent from any sort of meaningful involvement.
Oh how things have changed. The Celtics, in spite of age, remain strong. The Magic are still contenders. The Bulls have turned into serious threats as Derrick Rose has made the leap. The Heat…well, you know what happened there. The Knicks signed Amare’ and pulled off a trade for arguably the best pure scorer in the NBA. Pretty much every series in April, May and June is going to be eminently watchable, a claim that could not be made last year or any other year in recent memory.
If the season ended today, here’s what the first round match-ups would look like:
(1) Boston Celtics vs. (8) Indiana Pacers
(2) Miami Heat vs. (7) Philadelphia 76ers
(3) Chicago Bulls vs. (6) New York Knicks
(4) Orlando Magic vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks
C’s-Pacers is the only clunker in the bunch. Bulls-Knicks would obviously be great. The Bulls are elite defensively and the Knicks are going to be putting up plenty of points. The Hawks and Magic have been going head to head in the Southeast for years. Even the Sixers are playing much better ball and could steal a couple from the Heat.
Things would really get good in the semi’s though.
(1) Boston Celtics vs. (4) Orlando Magic
(2) Miami Heat vs. (3) Chicago Bulls
Those would be a couple slugfests. You’ve got defense, you’ve got superstars, you’ve got fantastic cities, you’ve got great arenas. I’m already getting excited about this and that doesn’t even take into account an Eastern Conference Finals between the Celtics and the Bulls/Heat.
The best part of all of this is that these teams really don’t like each other. This has been written about elsewhere, but that hatred has been missing and I’m so happy it’s back.