Finally, it’s that special time of year when the lengthy 82 game season of NBA basketball crashes to a halt and the magic of the postseason ensues.
The Eastern Conference appeared to be set as far back as March, but even the standings in the league’s predictable conference have seen a slight shakeup since then. The matchups predictably favor the higher seed, but if playoff basketball has taught us anything, it’s to be ready for anything.
Here is a closer look at each of the matchups that awaits us in the Eastern Conference when the playoffs start on Saturday and just who will emerge victorious.
MIAMI vs MILWAUKEE
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Credit to the Bucks for figuring out how to get this far with without splitting up Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, but this is as far as they go. It doesn’t matter that Larry Sanders has emerged as one of the best shot blockers in the league or that they traded for a viable sixth man when they got JJ Redick at the trade deadline, Miami is going to crush them.
With LeBron James rolling, Dwyane Wade healthy and Chris Bosh rested, it’s hard to see the Bucks looking like a competitive team in this one. Even without those three, Miami probably wins this series, that’s how good their bench is. Miami took the season series 3-1, the sole loss coming during an mid season period where Miami was struggling to find their championship form. Needless to say, since then the Heat have found their way and won the last two matchups against the Bucks by convincing margins.
Milwaukee’s guards will be troubled by Miami’s defense which is the fifth best in basketball and includes Mario Chalmers, a solid defensive point guard facing up against Brandon Jennings, the key to the Bucks offense. If that doesn’t work, the Heat can always put James on Jennings since the Bucks starting small forward is likely going to be Luc Mbah a Moute.
Milwaukee’s biggest advantage over the Heat in their victory was an advantage on the interior, but with the Heat having signed Chris Andersen to back up Chris Bosh, that advantage is much less significant. With no one on the wing to threaten James on either end of the floor for the Bucks, the Heat should put this one to bed pretty quickly.
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Prediction: Miami wins series 4-0
NEW YORK vs BOSTON
Probably the most intriguing series in the East, the Knicks look to exact revenge against a Boston team that destroyed their playoff hopes last season. The Knicks took the season series 3-1 and are no longer intimidated by the Celtics presence.
Each game between these two sides is unique, a key factor in one proving an afterthought in the next, but one thing that is going to have to be consistent for Boston to have a shot at beating the league’s scoring champ in Carmelo Anthony is the play of its key role players. Guys like Jeff Green, Jason Terry and Brandon Bass can all make a huge impact on this series if they do what they do well. If Green can challenge Melo on the defensive end and add 15-18 points a night scoring, if Jason Terry can shoot the three and Brandon Bass can aide Kevin Garnett in pulling down rebounds, the Celtics may have a shot.
But, if Boston has trouble knocking down shots from three point range and allows the Knicks to outrebound them as was the case in their three losses to New York this season, the Knicks will run over them.
The Knicks will go to Melo, the Celtics to Pierce and the two may well cancel each other out. The key for the Knicks in this series is the performance of their guards. Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and J.R. Smith all have major roles to play in capturing this series for the Knicks. Each shoots around the 40% mark and on a given night can take over the second fiddle role and push the team toward victory, but they’ll have to do it in crunch time now if they’re going to beat a team that is playing to raise the spirits of its entire city right now.
A 54 win season is the best a Knicks team has done since the Patrick Ewing era, all Mike Woodson has to do is guide them to the next step and his job security in basketball’s Mecca is all but secure.
Prediction: New York wins series 4-2
INDIANA vs ATLANTA
You may want to grab some coffee before sitting down to this series. Against the top ten defensive teams in the league, the Hawks have failed to reach 90 points eleven times this season, a telling stat for a team that averages close to 100 per game. While the Hawks are a decent offensive team, they don’t do well when the opposition plays solid defense and, sadly for them, Indiana has the second best defense in the league.
Given their talent and the fact that Atlanta plays halfway decent defense themselves, they will be able to make this a series thanks to the fact that Indiana has the eighth worst offense in the league. Hang on though, this series evens out in more ways than that.
Indiana has a size advantage in the front court with David West and Roy Hibbert, while Atlanta has the speed advantage with Al Horford and Josh Smith. When these two sides met during the regular season, games were decided by an average of 7 points, so by no means has one dominated the other with the season series tied 2-2.
Atlanta will want to push the pace as the third best fast break scoring team in the league, while the Pacers will try to slow things down and maintain their defensive record of being the best team in the league at defending the fast break. Atlanta is one of the best passing teams in basketball and the sixth best shooting team, while Indiana is second overall in rebounding and the best in the league at defending the paint. It all could go either way on any given night depending on how the Hawks shoot and run the floor. In any case, this one may go seven, but don’t expect it to be pretty a lot of the time thanks to the Pacers defense and Hawks tendency to fold against this type of opponent.
Prediction: Indiana wins series 4-3
BROOKLYN vs CHICAGO
Now this ought to be a series to watch. These two teams have top ten defenses and rebound the ball and turn it over at about the same rate. Three of their four regular season matchups were won by Chicago, but three of the four games were decided by less than five points. Both play exciting brands of basketball and this series still holds the potential to see the return of Derrick Rose, something that would make for excellent television should it occur.
Neither team runs the floor very well and both boast front court players who complement each other in similar ways: one being a scorer from mid to close range who can be the centerpiece of an offense in the low post, the other a role player primarily in the rebounding and defensive department. The difference comes in the backcourt.
Whether Kirk Hinrich or Nate Robinson for Chicago, it doesn’t matter, neither can match up very well to Deron Williams. Likewise, neither Jimmy Butler or Marco Bellinelli is much for Joe Johnson to face up with and Chicago’s lead scorer in Luol Deng faces a tough test with Gerald Wallace defending him.
Despite Brooklyn’s personnel advantages, Chicago will hang tight. They defend the paint better, have a good deal of experience in the squad and they are a far superior passing team. That said, these two shoot the ball at about the same percentage and create turnovers at about the same rate. The advantages seem to cancel each other out.
Down to bench scoring, these two are extremely similar. Chicago is a bit more physical of a team, but the Nets have more firepower. The one deciding factor may come down to the fact that Brooklyn holds home court since Chicago has struggled somewhat on the road this season finishing 21-20 away from the United Center. That said, they did beat the Nets in their own building in the last meeting of these two sides on Apr. 4.
Prediction: Chicago wins series 4-3