In a week’s time the NBA playoffs will be starting, pretty much the same time they start every year as this season’s condensed/lock-out schedule proved to be a 66-game mad dash to this spot on the calendar. Later in the week I’ll post a preview of the Western Conference playoffs, which are bound to be entertainment of the highest caliber, but currently there are too many possible changes, including the Spurs and Thunder battling for top seed and the Suns and Jazz battling for the 8th spot.
The East, on the other hand, is mostly set, with the Knicks and 76ers possibly flipping.
EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF MATCHUPS
1 CHI vs 8 PHI/NYK
It’s anyone’s guess as to where the Knicks and 76ers will land, but it seems they’ll both be making the playoffs with the Bucks too far back to grab the 8 spot, and neither have a realistic shot at moving to 6. Knicks have the tiebreak so we will assume they will hold at 7, which means the likely match up for the #1 seeded Bulls is the Philly 76ers.
The 76ers started the season as one of the hottest teams, spending the majority of the pre-All Star break at the #3 or #4 spot. The last two months or so have been dreadful, nearly dropping them out of the playoffs completely.
The Bulls on the other hand have been dealing without superstar Derek Rose for more than a third of the season, and the Bulls have been damn impressive, maintaining the best record in the East and beating top teams like Miami and Boston multiple times without Rose.
The problem for Chicago is that the few games they’ve seen Rose in this half of the season, he’s been, to put it lightly, rusty. This is to be expected, but Chicago is the definition of team right now, everyone doing their part, and Rose clearly effects the chemistry they’ve established in a negative way. Still, this might lead to a 1-1 start to a series with Philly, who also has a very balanced, deep roster, but losing a home game is about all it will take for Derek to get back to form.
PREDICTION: Chicago def. Philadelphia 4-2, very entertaining series
2 MIA vs 7 NYK/PHI
This could potentially be the opening match up to watch in the East. Or then Knicks could get swept again. Miami has been less than stellar in the closing weeks of the season, but you get the sense they are just mentally prepping for the playoffs. Sure, they have a chance at the top seed, but essentially Chicago would have to lose their remaining games for that to happen.
The Knicks, on the other hand, have been ravaged by injury, including a season-ender to rising star Jeremy Lin and elite front court presence Amare Stoudemire. But they are playing well currently, mostly because Carmelo Anthony has elevated his level of play to demi-god status.
Still, you can’t imagine the Knicks winning more than one game away from the Garden, whereas Miami will feel little additional pressure on the biggest stage in basketball. If Novak and JR Smith can combine for 50 points like they did vs. Boston, this could go 7, but it’s not likely.
PREDICTION: Miami def. New York 4-1, lots of drama
3 IND vs 6 ORL
No offense Orlando, but you have no chance. Orland lost Dwight Howard physically this week, though he’d mentally checked out the moment he had the absolutely boneheaded decision to exercise his one year option and stay in Florida, followed up by all this Van Gundy drama. I could say a lot about Dwight, but he’s ruined his reputation enough on his own.
I’ll make this simple. Indiana has been the hottest team in the East this month, and possibly since the All Star break discluding Boston. They will rock Orlando in Games 1 and 2 on their home court, go to Florida with tons of confidence, and sweep the Magic. There is a 50/50 shot the Magic win game 3, but if not get out your brooms, we’ve got ourselves a sweep people.
PREDICTION: IND def. ORL 4-0
4 BOS vs 5 ATL
Just last night we were provided an interesting preview of this match up: the Hawks edged Boston in Atlanta, despite Boston playing without (get this) Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen AND Rajon Rondo. Avery Bradley scored a career-high 28 points while the Celtics reserves said “Hey, we can beat you on your own court with our reserves. This aint gonna be a series.”
It remains to be seen which team will finish with the better record and get home court advantage, but Boston owns the tiebreak 2-1, winning in mid-March on Atlanta’s court and edging them again in OT at Boston.
The Celtics have all the momentum going into this one, the confidence of overcoming a wretched start to the season and an opportunity to face Chicago in the 2nd round, arguably a much better match than the Heat. The Hawks have the size to trouble Boston (who doesn’t?) but the Teague vs Rondo/Bradley match up alone swings this series in the favor of Boston. Still, as a Boston fan, I know a dangerous series when I see it.
PREDICTION: Boston def. Atlanta 4-3, most physical opening round
There you have it. Probably middle of the week the West will be ready for a preview.