Atlanta Hawks (leading ORL 3-1)
Good: have won two tight ones in a row at home after there being some questions about their lackluster home court advantage (24-17 during the year in Atl), Jamal Crawford is blowing up off the bench for 24ppg on 47% FG and 57% 3FG, the team is hitting mid-range and long-range jumpers while avoiding Howard inside, Al Horford and Josh Smith are combining for nearly 18 rpg against one of the top rebounding clubs
Bad: overall team rebounding is bad, look extremely passive with their jump shooting, are doing well with jump shots because every non-Howard Magic player is slow or short or uncommitted to perimeter defense
Expectations: A 3-1 lead against Orlando is certainly not what anyone expected, but their gameplan is working at the same time the Magic shooters have gone cold. It looks like they’ll win this series, but then they’ll get the Bulls who are outstanding at contesting jumpers, plus they have far more offensive possibilities than Orlando right now. Derrick Rose can definitely create some foul troubles for a lot of different Hawks, and it’s tough to imagine the Hawks winning more than 1 against the Bulls, who won their last two games against Atlanta by a combined 51 points.
Boston Celtics (beat NYK 4-0)
Good: have time to rest after sweeping New York, won 2 close games and then 2 blowouts – good order to do that in, help defense looked sharp for most of the series, fought hard for offensive boards, Ray Allen is lights out, KG is on
Bad: still no idea what’s going on with Shaq who’s spot in the rotation is unknown, we don’t know how they’re really playing because they beat an injured club that was put together poorly and overhyped, way too many turnovers (playoffs worst 15.7% of possessions), way too few free throws because they’re currently in love with their jumpers
Expectations: Miami is a far better defensive club than the Knicks, plus the C’s won’t be able to exploit an advantage against the interior-lacking Heat if Shaq still isn’t up to speed. Boston’s defense alone should make the next round the good series everyone is expecting, but expect Miami’s stars to continue to stay focused and continue where they last left off with this club (a 100-77 win just two weeks ago).
Chicago Bulls (leading IND 3-1)
Good: Rose is getting free throws, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah are combining for 23 rpg, overall team rebounding is really good, team defense is still good, Kyle Korver absolutely killing it from distance (8 for 10)
Bad: are not taking care of business like they should be against a 37-45 team (wins were all by 4 to 6 points), surrendering way too many 3’s, Boozer isn’t doing much offensively, Rose is shooting terrible percentages and turning it over way too much
Expectations: There’s no doubt they’ll win this series, but the fact they can’t blow out a team as bad as the Pacers even once in four games is a bad sign. All year their effort level was tops in the NBA, but now it’s being matched by everyone else and they suddenly don’t look so super. Thankfully Atlanta plays much slower than Indy, which should make the next round (assuming the Bulls and Hawks get through) much easier considering how great the Bulls’ half-court defense is. Beyond that, the Heat have looked far more impressive against a much more dangerous club.
Indiana Pacers (down to CHI 1-3)
Good: are hustling on defense and making some things happen on that end, playing pretty well in transition, Paul George’s defense against a plethora of positions has to be encouraging for fans, coach Frank Vogel is a keeper (does he remind anyone else of Brad Stevens?), are hanging on and making things interesting every game against the top team in the NBA
Bad: have shot well in streaks but not so well overall, Darren Collison has a lot to learn before he becomes the PG they want him to be, don’t have the overall talent or go-to guy to really make this interesting
Expectations: This is a fun little series because Indy is right in every game, but we all know the Bulls will win it. That being said, I love Vogel and hope he’s kept on board. The Pacers have money to spend this offseason, so there’s plenty of reasons to believe this young team will only be better next year and have another great opportunity to be in the playoffs.
Miami Heat (leading PHI 3-1)
Good: they’re staying extremely aggressive on the boards and on offense even while their shots aren’t dropping, the Big Three are playing well overall and look motivated, team defense is great
Bad: those end-of-game-in-a-tight-comeback woes are getting louder, shots aren’t falling (especially from deep – only 24% outside the arc), supporting cast can be exposed
Expectations: It shouldn’t shock anyone that they lost one against the dangerous Sixers, but expect the Heat to move on after a focused Game Five. From there they meet the Celtics who still don’t have Shaq back and aren’t looking that good considering who they were facing. Expect to see the Heat in the Conference Finals with the Bulls, and right now I’m leaning slightly toward the Heat in that one if LeBron, Wade, and Bosh can all keep each other motivated and involved. It also wouldn’t hurt if Udonis Haslem’s foot finally allows him to return.
New York Knicks (lost to BOS 0-4)
Good: are able to get the longest summer of every playoff team, Carmelo put up points even if it was inefficiently (26 ppg, 38% FG, 43% eFG), Anthony Carter showed a lot of grit and was fun to watch, had two close games and at least made Game Four interesting even while dealing with injuries to Amar’e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups
Bad: terrible overall offense and defense, everyone shot awfully, Carmelo and Amar’e really tried to force the action and be heroes, this club is big-time lost without a good PG and some more defenders
Expectations: They’re in a terrible position for this year’s draft, and the club has some serious issues with how it’s been assembled. Their two stars bring almost nothing to the table if they don’t have the ball in their hands, and they lost a lot of role playing talent to bring them together. Hopefully they can get some cohesion going next year, but there are plenty of issues to address in the offseason (Isiah’s place?, who at PG?, role players?, defense?).
Orlando Magic (down to ATL 1-3)
Good: Dwight Howard is impossible to stop (32 ppg, 18 rpg, 17 free throw attempts per, 67% FG) and on defense is forcing Atlanta to be little more than a jump shooting team
Bad: everything else, including Howard’s awful 6.5 turnovers per
Expectations: Their perimeter players are shooting terribly and not stopping the Hawks from shooting well. It is possible for Orlando to come back and win this series (they aren’t getting blown out), but it’s looking unlikely at this point. If they do get knocked out, especially if it takes less than 7 games to do so, the Howard-won’t-return-as-a-free-agent-in-2012 talk will intensify. Management has to do something to stick a group a players other than a 2007 dream team around him or fans will be stuck forever talking about what could have been in 2009.
Philadelphia 76ers (down to MIA 1-3)
Good: aren’t backing down from the Heat, showed a lot of toughness to close out Game Four on a 10-0 run, were right in two of their losses (during both of which the Heat shot way more free throws than the Sixers), are getting nice contributions from Elton Brand, Jrue Holiday, and Evan Turner
Bad: playing poorly overall, it’s sad watching Andre Iguodala be such a non-factor
Expectations: It’s inevitable they’ll lose to the Heat, likely in Game Five back in Miami. Philly improved by 14 wins from last year, made the playoffs, made the Heat sweat and even won one at home, so this has been a good season for the Sixers. With tight finances and almost no trade bait, I’m not sure what the team can do in the offseason to really make a move in the East, but Doug Collins has definitely got them in a good spot to remain a playoff squad, and the improvement of rookie Evan Turner will be crucial as Iguodala seems to be slowing down.