2011 NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Preview
The 2010-2011 Eastern Conference NBA Playoffs are upon us and the seeds are set. Some last minute shuffling occurred last night, with the Celtics benching their starting roster & allowing the Miami Heat to wrap up the #2 seed, but otherwise the match-ups have been set for about a week. The first two pairings below are hopefully easy to predict, while the Orlando/Atlanta and Boston/New York series are a little tougher to forecast.
#1 Chicago Bulls vs. #8 Indiana Pacers
No one expected the Bulls to leapfrog both Boston and Miami, but after both of those teams struggled this the season and Chicago withstood their own injuries, we find Chicago at the top of the heap – potentially with homecourt advantage throughout the NBA Finals – and Derrick Rose believes they can.
“I think that we can…. Last two years I was in the league, we went to the playoffs when nobody thought we were going to… In college, we made it to the championship game… so why can’t we win the Championship?” – Derrick Rose on 4/6/11 (Source)
The Bulls rise is mildly surprising, considering the fact that they a) hired a new head coach, b) signed Carlos Boozer as a free agent, and c) had Boston/Miami/Orlando to contend with in the Eastern Conference.
Through all this, (lock) MVP Derrick Rose has pushed the Bulls into the #1 overall seed in the East and the new favorite to reach the Finals. Joakim Noah is finally healthy, as is Boozer, and the team is playing terrific defense under 1st year coach Tom Thibodeau (Coach of the Year). After 3 seasons as an assistant in Boston, Thibodeau excelled w/ the young Bulls team and his strategies have paid off ten-fold.
Regular season: Bulls won the series 3-1
Keys to the series: Don’t let off the throttle… Seriously, the Bulls should have no problem blowing through the Pacers as long as they continue pushing hard and playing good defense.
Prediction: Bulls in 4 games
#2 Miami Heat vs. #7 Philadelphia 76ers
Consistency was not the Miami Heat’s forte this season, but the regular season also means little to a team many projected to reach the NBA Finals when LeBron James and Chris Bosh initially joined Dwyane Wade during the summer of 2010. The team has been in the national spotlight since “The Decision” and every loss has been picked apart by the media in an effort to squash the theory of 3-superstars united to win a championship, yet they remain resilient and poised to make a playoff run as the #2 seed.
The 76ers have perhaps outperformed many expectations this year, largely in part to the arrival of head coach Doug Collins. The roster is nearly identical to last season’s so Collins has simply extracted more value from the same personnel that struggled so mightily in 2009-10. The Philly defense has been one of the notable improvements on the season – showing that when a team comes together and works hard toward a single goal (winning), they often achieve success (hint, hint… Knicks). I expect a spectacular game or two from Andre Igoudala, but a few stinkers as well – he’s just not that consistent.
Miami is superior to Philadelphia in almost every aspect of the game, so there’s not a whole lot to breakdown in this match-up. I think the 76ers may push the Heat in one game – possibly forcing overtime – but don’t think they’ll pull out a win.
Regular season: Miami won the series 3-0
Keys to the series: Don’t get hurt… If the Big-3 are all healthy throughout the series, the Heat win in a landslide.
Prediction: Heat in 4 games
#3 Boston Celtics vs. #6 New York Knicks
The Boston Celtics had a clear path to the NBA Finals until 2/24/11, when they traded a key piece of their starting-5 for more athleticism.That player, Kendrick Perkins, may surely have been on his way out after the season anyway, but to disrupt your championship-caliber team just 2 months before the end of the season… that’s just suicide for Danny Ainge & Doc Rivers.
Since his departure, the Celtics have not looked the same — a post patrolled by Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal and Glen Davis doesn’t exactly strike fear into anyone. And the idea that Boston could attempt to bring back both O’Neals just 10 games before the end of the season and expect them to get playoff-ready in time is just ludicrous. It took Shaq a total of 6 minutes to end up back on the bench in his first game back.
Despite the loss of Perkins, the Celtics are still stronger overall than the New York Knicks. Four of their starting five are still intact and those four have a great deal of chemistry together, as well as ample playoff experience.
The Knicks on the other hand, are still trying to integrate Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups into their offense, much to the (appeared) regression of Amare Stoudemire, who looked like a potential MVP candidate through January. NY lacks mostly in defense — not a surprise given the D’Antoni philosophy of scoring more than the other team each night, defense be damned.
Some surprising rookies and role players have emerged for the Knicks including Toney Douglas and Landry Fields, but they have no playoff experience and as a whole, aside from Billups maybe, they are a soft team. That is in high contrast to the Celtics who will be verbally and physically enforcing their will upon New York — and I don’t think there’s anything Amare, Melo’ or Ronny Turiaf can do about it.
The Knicks best chance of winning is catching fire and catching the Celtics off-guard. If NY can shoot lights out and play even an ounce of defense, then they have a chance to potentially reach a Game 7 scenario. The lack of consistency we’ve seen from the Knicks all season, however, is likely to raise its ugly head again in a bloody match-up with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the Celtics.
Regular season: Boston won the series 3-0
Keys to the series: Boston’s ability to beat-down a softer Knicks team and basically bully their way to a series win. NY has a chance if Melo, Amare & Chauncey play out of their minds, but otherwise it will be a grind-em-out type of series that suits the Celtics.
Prediction: Celtics in 6 games
#4 Orlando Magic vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks
Regular season: Orlando won the series 3-1
Keys to the series: Orlando’s bench players, including Gilbert Arenas need to play beyond their regular season contributions. Atlanta’s late season funk may be a mirage (doubtful) so the Magic need to be cautious, but Dwight Howard’s size/strength give the Magic the edge.
Prediction: Magic in 5 games
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