Monday, April 18, 2011

NBA Playoffs Preview- Eastern Conference

While Case and Point is an NHL heavy blog, we try to keep our minds open to all things going on in the sports world.  As such, we realized that there were other playoffs happening and we had to cover them somehow.  That's right, the NBA Playoffs.  The NHL Playoff Preview was such a success that we decided to do it again, enlisting the help of some friendly bloggers to cover their respective NBA teams.  Soon we will tackle the West and give you round one predictions for the East and West.  For now, without wasting any more time, I present to you the 2011 NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Preview.

1. Chicago Bulls (62-20)

Preview from: Dave at Da Bulls' Eye

What a season.

What a season to not have been blogging as much as I wanted to.  Of all seasons.

Props to Horns to the Hardwood for covering Bulls basketball here at Bloguin while my life got kind of crazy.

But we're here now.  And by here, I mean HERE.

I was thinking about the '08 playoffs and the Celtics series.  Even then, I knew we were close.  We were a coach and a free agency class away.

The Bulls are now the best team in the league.  It's weird to actually type that.  The best team in the entire league.

Well, record-wise at least.  And maybe in reality, they ARE the best team in the league.  We're obviously about to find out.

This is going to sound crazy, but for me, this is not fun.  The first round of the playoffs.  The second round of the playoffs.  Just not fun.  Because at this point, expectations are so high that if we do not at least make it to the Eastern Conference finals, this city will be fairly heartbroken.  At least I know I will be.  That's why it's hard for me to emotionally invest myself in the Pacers series.  If I care too much about in completely revolve my schedule around it as I would the Eastern Conference finals...and then, say, they lose...I would be crushed.  That's why I'm going to be non-chalant about it and not go too crazy watching these games and just hope they take care of business like they should.

That's just my Chicago fan mentality.  You can never believe you are as good as you actually are.  That, and watching Tyler Hansbrough tear the Bulls a new one still eats away at my brain.  That's why I think I'm uneasy.  I do think the Bulls will win this series, but we're in for such a long struggle before we get to where we want to be this post-season, I don't think people realize that.

And the truth is, Danny Granger is right.  As Derrick Rose goes, the Bulls go.  Yes, I know we're a deep team.  Probably the deepest in the league.  And I'm confident the Bench Mob is dangerous enough and can hold their own, but the playoffs are just a different animal.  Teams play harder and untested teams get shook.  Luckily, while the Bulls are untested, I think they are all just mature enough where their legs won't fall out from under them when things stop going their way for stretches.

We need Boozer and Noah to play like men.  Why?  Because Roy Hibbert is a boy in a man's body.  He's soft.  If Noah and Boozer can dominate him from the start, this series will be over before it even started.  Obviously, Deng and Brewer and Watson and Omer and Kurt Thomas and Korver all need to play their respective parts and do what they've been doing all year.  This team is a well-oiled machine.  That's the best way of putting it.  It's like a car engine.  Derrick Rose is the motor.  And I guess that would make Noah the alternator and Boozer the radiator.  Either way, Derrick makes the rest of the moving parts work.  Without him, there is no engine.  And considering there is no shot-blocker on the Pacers and Collison can't guard him if his life depended on it, I think he'll do just fine this series.

Let's all pray for this team to avoid injuries, because they're all a little fragile right now.  So like I said, we're here and we're 18 hours away from tip off.  Time to do some work.  And since it's playoff time, and I'm going to be a lot more pissed and there's going to be a ton to write it about...I can promise you A LOT OF stay tuned.

2. Miami Heat (58-24)

Preview from: Benny at All You Can Heat

“You don’t have the guts to be what you want to be, so you need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your fingers and say that’s the bad guy, so what does that make you good?
On the verge of their playoff debut as a star ensemble the time has come for the Miami Heat to finally break out that all black on black uniform we’ve seen in team ads.

Face it folks the Miami Heat are now the ”It” team in American sports. Along with the media coverage and limelight comes the ice cold chill that one feels while being loathed by the majority of NBA fans.

The New York Yankees are hated for outspending everyone in baseball in order to tilt the odds in their favor year in and year out. Still that’s not a reason to put down the Heat, after all they are currently 20th in the league when it comes to team salary. They spend about $30 million less than the Los Angeles Lakers do.
So if not money then what has caused people to gripe about it for months? Was it the Heat’s mercenary manner in which Pat Riley and Miami hijacked the most anticipated free agent summer in league history?  Does the anger stems from the way in which the Heat pulled off the biggest heist ever in sports?
Since that fateful night at the Boys&Girls Club headquarters an avalanche of backlash and criticism has engulfed the Heat and their three biggest stars. For over ten months it has been open season on bashing LeBron and the Heat.

Beyond the anger over LeBron’s “Decision” and the burning jerseys there also lies a bigger reason for the hate. That of course being envy. Any basketball fan in the world would have loved for their team to have this trio but since they don’t all that is left is to try and belittle the merger of these stars.

Then a couple months after taking his talents to South Beach, we get LeBron’s Nike commercial. An ad in which he tries to tug at the understanding and empathy of fans while also trying to show that he is human and capable of making mistakes.

You guys have nothing more to apologize for. Thus stop trying to be loved and take comfort in being feared.
So what if America didn’t agree with the decision? So what if you are now viewed as some Benedict Arnold? But unlike the former colonial patriot, LeBron and the Heat have the means by which to win this war on their own.

Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and James started this revolution, now they must show they can win it.They came together last June to hoist the trophy a year later. Not just this year but for all those in the foreseeable future and it all starts now.

Folks what you’re all about to witness is the coup d’etat of the NBA world as we know it. Prepare yourselves because the Heat team you will see from today on will be nothing like the one that showed flashes and glimpses of brilliance during a roller coaster regular season. Miami may have lost six out of seven games versus Boston and Chicago during the regular season but would anyone be shocked to see them sweep both in the post season? I know I wouldn’t and will go so far as to say should Miami meet up with the Celtics or Bulls that neither will go past a Game 5 or 6.

This is all about the quest for rings and writing your own history. Miami now has control of its own destiny. They may be viewed as the bad guys but since good guys finish last this may not be such a bad thing.
  3. Boston Celtics (56-26)

Preview from: Rob at Boston Celtics Report

Doc Rivers has his first opposition for the post season standing before him. The New York Knicks are coming to town for a playoff series that the Celtics are heavily favored. The Celtics should be heavily favored because they are the better team. The Celtics have four all stars in the starting lineup that can both score and play defense. The key is the defensive part because the Knicks can match Boston’s scoring, but the defense is not the lockdown for stretches that the Celtics can bring that should make this a real short series. However, not every team has a defensive anchor like Kevin Garnett. The Celtics are also a deeper team.  The Celtics bench is solid with guys like Delonte West, Glen Davis, Nenad Krstic, and Jeff Green that can score and defend. The third string guys of Troy Murphy, Carlos Arroyo, and Von Wafer would probably be in the Knicks rotation. The Celtics also have the home court advantage that should be the final nail in the Knicks’ coffin. However, the Knicks are a great first round opponent to challenge Boston.

The Knicks offense is very similar to Miami’s (a possible playoff opponent). They like to run in transition and jack up the three ball. They have three players that can get the job done on offense. The Knicks have a solid inside scorer that can shoot from the outside like Amar’e Stoudemire. The Knicks also have one of the greatest scorers in the NBA in Carmelo Anthony. Anthony can score in every way imaginable. The jump shot is butter for him. He has both a post up game and can finish off the drive. Chauncey Billups can hit shots and has a knack for getting the job done in crunch time. Landry Fields can provide a spark with solid shooting and aggressive drives. The role players love to shoot the long ball. This means Boston’s defense will be tested.

The Celtics will need to limit the transition points for the Knicks with guys scoring the basket and getting back down the floor. The perimeter defenders will also have to run the Knicks off the three point line. Inside KG will have to contain Amar’e as best he can. Rondo will also have to lock down Chauncey Billups. Inside Jermaine O’Neal will have to get inside and make Carmelo a jump shooter by sealing off the driving lanes. Pierce will also have to defend Anthony closely and bring him into Jo’s double. The bench will also have to step up their defensive games to ensure there is no drop off as the starters rest.

If Boston can come out and execute and make it a quick series, Celtics Nation will have to feel good going into the next round against the Heat. My money is on a very quick series with Boston’s defense getting the job done. Remember Go Green Or Go Home!!!!!!!!!!

4. Orlando Magic (52-30)

Preview from: Eddy at Magic Basketball

When it comes to championship contenders in the NBA, there’s five teams that are universally agreed upon — for the most part. Ranking them by their efficiency differentials, they are the Miami Heat (+8.6), Chicago Bulls (+8.1), Los Angeles Lakers (+6.6), San Antonio Spurs (+6.6), and Boston Celtics (+6.2). And since their trades, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets get pub too.
Then there’s the Orlando Magic, sandwiched in between those teams with an efficiency differential of +6.6, right between the Lakers and Spurs.
At the start of the regular season, the Magic were widely regarded as a threat to win a title. And when Orlando jumped out to a 15-4 start to the year, they were fulfilling everyone’s expectations. There were no surprises. Then the month of December came and everything fell apart for the Magic in a hurry. Orlando hit a stretch of nine games where they only won once. A lack of energy and effort from the players on a consistent basis, plus the regression of Rashard Lewis and others aided in the Magic’s fall from grace. Scoring, which was supposed to be Orlando’s strength since they finished 4th in offensive efficiency last season, faltered and suddenly the offense became an average unit. General manager Otis Smith attempted to rectify the problem by acquiring Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, and Gilbert Arenas in two separate trades on December 19. For a time, it looked like Smith’s gamble paid off, as the Magic roared to a nine-game winning streak (tying a franchise record) that could have been longer had the basketball bounced in their favor in games against the New Orleans Hornets and Thunder that each resulted in losses. Nevertheless, it appeared as if Orlando fixed their woes and the chemistry seemingly improved. The acquisitions provided the Magic with the jolt of life they needed, especially offensively. But the honeymoon soon ended, as Orlando regressed to the mean on offense, and Smith was back where he started with the roster, except it can be argued things got worse than better.
For all the scoring that Turkoglu, Richardson, and Arenas were to provide, Smith sacrificed defense, depth, and size to get it. As the Magic began to come down from earth offensively, it soon became clear that they got weaker. Even though Orlando remains third in defensive efficiency, thanks in large part to Dwight Howard and Van Gundy, when the big fella is on the bench, the interior defense has been compromised without the presence of Marcin Gortat. Depth, the Magic’s calling card last year, is nearly gone now that only J.J. Redick and Ryan Anderson can be relied upon to contribute consistently. Free agent signees, Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon, have done little to help the cause. As for Orlando’s size, with Lewis and Gortat absent, they have gone from big to little. In the league, size is needed to win championships and the Magic had it with Howard and Lewis manning the frontcourt with Gortat, Bass, and Anderson coming off the bench. But the trades reshuffled things, and have put a lot of pressure on players like Howard to stay on the floor and avoid foul trouble. Earl Clark is an intriguing prospect, but he’s not a player that Van Gundy can rely upon and trust at the moment. Sure, it’s true that Mickael Pietrus, Lewis, and Carter are not playing right now due to various injuries but there’s no denying that Orlando isn’t the same team.
It’s been an interesting season for the Magic.
The question is, following the aftermath of everything that’s occurred, whether or not they’re a team that can be taken seriously in the playoffs?
Sort of. The answer isn’t strictly no. Howard and company can do damage in the postseason, but only if certain things happen along the way

5. Atlanta Hawks (44-38)

Preview from: Deborah at Hawks Highlights

The Hawks have the strength of winning three of four matchups in the regular season versus the Magic on their side for the first round of the playoffs.  They were able to keep the Magic off their love of the three-point game and also have Dwight Howard in foul trouble.  The Hawks were able to force the Magic to try and go inside, which is not their preferred style of play and it caused the Magic’s game tempo to be off.  The Hawks weaknesses are a lack of a true big man that can really play.  It has hindered them for the past several years and continues to do so.  They also have a very bad tendency to be inconsistent with their play.  They can come in and beat a Celtics or a Heat team and then lose by 30 to a Wizards team.  I hold no illusions that the Hawks could win it all this year.  In fact, I can say, I would be happy if they just get past the first round!

6. New York Knicks (42-40)

Preview from: Will at Buckets Over Broadway

At this point, you and I have read every preview and analyzed the series from every possible angle. Hell, we’ve been prognosticating about the team’s playoff chance since mid-February. You don’t need me or anyone else to tell you about the Celtics and how the Knicks match up.

There are, however, a couple of things I wanted to touch on before we settle in with our pillows, blankets and whatever comfort food gets you through a playoff game. As a begrudging resident of Boston I’ve watched almost as many Celtics games as Knicks games. Most of what I’ve seen is no different from their national reputation: they play incredible team defense, they are among the most unpredictable teams in the league in crunch time, and a big game from Rondo and one of Pierce/Allen/Garnett is usually enough for a win.

There’s only one thing I hear from the national media and even the Knicks blogosphere that I find objectionable, and that’s the idea that the Celtics are going to win this series “because they’re the Celtics and they know how to win.” That was true two months ago, but not today. Before the All-Star break I saw this team will its way to wins without its A-game – road back-to-backs, fourth in five nights, etc. They never lost the ability to lock down their opponents into a 15-point quarter to get themselves back into a game when they didn’t have the energy to get to their spots offensively. Never lost it, that is, until the Perkins trade. Since the trade deadline, they haven’t been winning those games that made you say, “Well, they’re the Celtics and that’s how they get to 60 wins every year.” I could point to maybe a half-dozen Celtics games I’ve watched since the trade where a win felt inevitable just because I’d seen it happen so many times…only it never came.
If the Celtics are going to win this series – and I’m not delusional, they are the heavy favorites – it’s going to be because Ray Allen exploded, or because Shaq came back from the dead, or because Billups broke out the air traffic control wands for Rondo, or even because Pierce got the better of Melo. But if you’re a Knicks fan lacking in confidence just because they’re the Celtics, I’m here to tell you these aren’t the Celtics you think they are. Yes, they turned it on last year in the playoffs, although you could argue the Cavs gifted them the Eastern Conference Semis. And yes, they may eke out a game or two on veteran savvy, but the Knicks aren’t losing four games to Boston because of it. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to worry; this isn’t one of them because this isn’t the same team.

Finally – and I think everyone around the net has done a great job with this – I hope we all remember what a reward this series is, that it’s the icing on the cake of a season that legitimized Knicks basketball once again. No one is getting fired over the team’s performance here, and no one deserves to be. (And actually, if they get swept it will probably lead to a nice buyout for Mr. Big Shot, which at least for me would be quite a silver lining.) So, even if the worst happens this week, let’s be classy in defeat and thankful for what we’ve got, and look forward to next season, when we won’t just be happy to be here.

7. Philadelphia 76ers (41-41)

Preview from: The good folks at 76ers Gab

First off, no matter what happens in this series I will consider this season a success for the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sixers had a horrific season last year led by former head coach Eddie Jordan. The so called “Princeton Offense” didn’t work out as planned and the players did not like the system. They finished the year with a record of 25-57.
Then the start of this season came along, a new coach in Doug Collins was at the helm and fans felt that this young team could make a little noise. But suddenly the Sixers start out 3-13 and things were looking like another bad season.
However, things started to turnaround and before fans knew it– the Sixers were as high as chasing the Atlanta Hawks for the fifth seed, Elton Brand rejuvenated himself, Doug Collins is in talks for possible Coach of the Year Award and the Sixers are one of the hottest young teams in the league finishing the season on a 38-28 run (41-41 overall).
Now they find themselves in the playoffs facing off against one of the best teams league and arguably the best team out there. But one question has sat in the back of Sixers fans minds– Do they stand a chance against the star-studded Heat?
The Sixers have lost against them the three times they played, but they have put up a fight in the past.
Many analysts and writers are generally predicting a sweep or the Heat to win in just five games. Logically and most likely, this will happen. But this made me wonder– what are the chances for the Sixers to pull a dramatic upset?
The Heat have the better starting lineup, but the Sixers bench is by far one of the best in the league and Collins is the better coach over Erik Spoelstra.
But still, the right players need to step up, including Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday. If Holiday outplays Mike Bibby and Iguodala can play some shutdown defense on LeBron, then there could be a chance that the Sixers bring the series to game 6 or even 7.
Jodie Meeks’ shot needs to be 100 percent to fulfill the absence of Lou Williams and Brand needs to do a good job on the boards and fighting off Chris Bosh.
The Heat have shown throughout the season that they can breakdown. They are hit or miss really.
If the Sixers catch them on a cold night in Miami, then anything can happen. The littlest thing that happens in a game can change an entire series.
It’s a long shot, but if the chips fall the Sixers way and the players that need to step up exceed their duties, then the Sixers could find themselves upsetting one of the best teams in the league (I know I’m banking on a lot here).
But hey, anything is possible.

 8. Indiana Pacers (37-45)

Preview from: Pace at Pacers Pulse

Let's be perfectly honest here.  Just making the playoffs (for the first time in five years) as the eighth seed is all the Indiana Pacers could have asked for.  Even the most optimistic Pacers fan is not predicting a first round upset over Derrick Rose and the red hot Chicago Bulls.  They might steal one if they're on their game.  Two if they're lucky.  But in all likelihood, we're probably looking at a brisk and brutal sweep.  Winning the championship?  Even I'm not that crazy.

That said, there is a sliver of hope that a miracle can happen.  The Pacers (37-45) are indeed a full 25 games behind the (62-20) Bulls, but they are a solid 20-18 under interim head coach Frank Vogel, including a 1-0 record against the Bulls (they were 0-3 under former coach Jim O'Brien).  On top of that, this is a young, unpredictable squad that has shown that they can beat the top teams in the NBA when they are on their game.  This season, the Pacers have beaten the likes of the Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Denver Nuggets, the Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks, amongst others.  Some of these victories came on the road.

On the other hand, when they are off their game, the Pacers are really off.  They've always been a mediocre defensive team that relies on streaky offense, and when the shots aren't falling, they are almost unwatchable.  Against the Bulls, one of the top defensive teams in the league, the Pacers will need more than just a lucky break or two to not be embarrassed.  They key, as it will be for every team, is to contain Derrick Rose.  There is not a single player on the Pacers that stands much of a chance, so they will have to really beef up the help defense and take gambles to allow other Bulls players to beat them.
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