Chicago Bulls vs. Indiana Pacers (Chicago leads 3-0)
1) Derrick Rose is absolute royalty in the eyes of the refs. Everyone is squawking about how great the young point guard has looked so far, yet through three games the likely MVP has shot 38% overall, 20% from deep, and has as many turnovers as assists (14), and that’s against a sub-.500 team with a hobbled point guard. Thankfully for the Bulls, though, he’s been given the benefit of the doubt by the officials any time he gets spinning in the lane and jumping into Indiana defenders. Yes, he’s earning a lot of these calls, but somewhere between a third and a half of them are nothing short of BS star treatment.
Some context for this absurdity: Rose averaged 6.9 free throw attempts per game during the season, but is currently at 16.3 for the post-season; the entire Pacers squad has only 13 more free throw attempts through three games than Rose; Rose is averaging 18 ppg on actual baskets, but an additional 15 ppg on free throws; Rose has shot at least 13 free throws in all three games, but he shot double-digit free throws only three times during the entire months of October, November, December, and February (41 games); Rose shot 47 free throws in his first 12 career playoff games covering 2009 and 2010, but has 49 in these three games; in three of their four match-ups during the regular season, Rose shot a grand total of 11 free throws against Indiana, as many as he attempted in the second half of Game One.
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2) After gutting out the NBA’s best record in the NBA behind a lot of hustle and hard work, the Bulls may not be the best team anymore now that everyone is finally going hard. They’re having trouble with Indiana’s mid-range and long-range shooting, two things Miami, Boston, and Orlando are all very good at. Not only that, Rose is having difficulty making smart decisions against long-armed, athletic defenders through three games – cue up Rondo and Wade’s entrance music. I’m not saying Chicago’s post-season days are numbered, but they aren’t exactly looking like a title contender in three tight wins against a terrible excuse for a playoff team.
Miami Heat vs. Philadelphia 76ers (Miami leads 3-0)
1) LeBron James may have good enough teammates to finally stay motivated throughout the entire post-season. In the past he was dependent on players like Mo Williams, Drew Gooden, and over-the-hill versions of Antawn Jamison and Shaq to make him feel like his team’s success wasn’t completely on his shoulders, but now he’s got two All-Stars capable of big scoring loads next to him, allowing James to take on roles other than “necessary team hero,” which helps relieve a lot of stress. If he stays focused while Wade and Bosh do their things, and the team’s defense remains strong, look for James to finally earn a Finals game victory.
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2) The Heat are winning with a tremendous defense, overpowering rebounding at both ends, and by getting to the free throw line. These are all areas that are very dependent on hustle, so future opponents could have some real problems game-planning for a squad this dialed in right now, especially if they start hitting their threes (only 11 for 44 through three games).
Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks (Boston leads 3-0)
1) The Knicks need to be Exhibit A to GM’s everywhere on how to not build a team around two superstars. When both stars don’t have particularly good shooting percentages (in Amar’e’s case, compared to the rest of his teammates on the fast break dunks Suns), don’t play much defense, don’t rebound well for their positions, aren’t good passers, need the ball in their hands on offense or they’re not sure what to do, and don’t strike you at all as intelligent players, that’s a problem. When putting the two together also requires losing tons of young role players who play their parts well plus numerous draft picks, that’s another problem. Those are the stars you avoid putting together if you plan on becoming a star-heavy contender. Speaking of which, Melo has gotten out of the first round once in eight years, so can we please stop the talk about the Nuggets needing an elite scorer like Anthony.
2) Ray Allen is shooting lights out, Rondo just got another one of his playoff triple-doubles, KG is rebounding like a mad man, Jermaine O’Neal is showing some flashes, Paul Pierce has gone off for his points, yet Boston just doesn’t strike me as a title contender at all. The team defense is looking good, but a lot of that has to be attributed to New York playing poorly and being injured. Frankly, the C’s just aren’t playing like champions right now with way too many up-and-down performances from their aging stars. They looked bad down the stretch, aren’t looking great against a disorganized Knicks team, and were recently blown out by the team they’re about to face in Round Two (77-100 to the Heat on Apr. 10). I know Shaq is eventually supposed to come back and they return almost everyone next year, but we really may be watching the last few weeks of this particular era of Celtics’ greatness.
Orlando Magic vs. Atlanta Hawks (Atlanta leads 2-1)
1) We saw some stretches during the season when Orlando simply lost all their mojo while missing seemingly every perimeter shot. Well it’s happening again, at the perfectly wrong time. Dwight Howard is an unstoppable beast (33 ppg, 18 rpg, 67% FG – but a killer 6 turnovers per), but nothing else is working. All of the shooters have been off the whole series, perimeter defenders are rotating well but are either too slow or too short to be effective against a jump shooting squad like the Hawks, and no one is capable of being a true #2 behind Howard (unlike 2009 when half the team was doing so). Long story short, the Magic shooters are dead cold and generally not in any sort of sync, turning what should have been a tune-up for the Bulls into a 2-1 hole.
2) Have you ever seen a team with three All-Star quality players in their primes, plus the league’s best sixth man scoring threat, carrying a 2-1 series lead that you have less faith in than the Hawks? They’re shooting well while Orlando isn’t, but that’s one of those things that has the ability to swing wildly from game to game or when facing a new defense. The things that remain even when the shots aren’t falling—rebounding, being aggressive in order to get to the line—are things the Hawks are not doing well right now. They’re a jump shooting squad that’s knocked them down through three contests, but that can change without much warning. Something else needs to be improved upon for Atlanta to put the Magic to bed and make the Bulls work in Round Two, because if there’s one thing Chicago does really well, it’s contest jumpers.