NBA Playoff Preview Part 1: The East

Hands down, this is my favorite time of the sports year. In my opinion, it edges out March Madness, it blows away the ninny Masters1, it’s even bigger than the Super Bowl. It’s just plain BIG2. My girlfriend has been dreading this for weeks. She knows that for the next two months between the hours of 7pm and midnight I might not leave my couch and I’m definitely not entertaining the thought of outside conversation. Conversation is for people with lives and who care about their future. I just want to watch playoff basketball. To each their own.

And this is how it’s going to go. I’m going to write round by round articles telling you what’s happening, my predictions and such and, of course, what you should think. That’s just how this blog rolls. Eventually, I’m going to predict everything with such vivid accuracy that ESPN will give me a job. In fact they will probably just replace Bill Simmons with me. But since I’m really just a crappy imitation of his style they might just keep him. Again, to each their own. But I digress….

This season has presented us with a jubilee of storylines to follow this postseason. Will the Heat repeat? Do the Kobe-less Lakers have a chance? Can OKC get over the hump without James Harden? Do the Spurs have enough in the tank to make one more title run3? So let’s look at the matchups.

 

Eastern Conference

 

1 Miami Heat vs. 8 Milwaukee Bucks

Will the Bucks win a single game? I could sit here and ramble about how “if Jennings and Ellis catch fire and Larry Sanders is able to protect the rim and Ilyasova can hit from outside, then these guys could steal this series!” but let’s be honest, Milwaukee doesn’t stand a chance. They finished the season six games under .500 in a weak East for gosh sakes. Lebron James and crew just need to avoid injuries while they coast to the second round.

Hey Brandon Jennings, cool story bro…

Player to Watch: Of course it’s Lebron James as he tries to cap his MVP season with another ring buuuuuut let’s try to mix it up a bit. Sometime in the 2nd quarter when the games get out of hand take a couple possessions and spotlight Larry Sanders. This third year player is a serious candidate for break out player of the year, finishing second in the league in blocks. His energy level and intensity reminds me of a defensive version of Kenneth Faried. As an added bonus, he also has a terrible temper (like possibly career derailing if he doesn’t get it together soon) and might snap at any moment. Good times.

Final Prediction: Milwaukee will be lucky to have more than one relevant 4th quarter in the entire series. Heat in 4.

 

2 New York Knicks vs. 7 Boston Celtics

Is this the end of the Boston Celtics era? Despite staying afloat (and some) without Rondo I don’t think they can make a legitimate run from the seventh seed. This is a team that always seems to have an ace up their sleeves for the playoffs but playing the Knicks first is going to be tough. Carmelo Anthony is red hot (averaging roughly 77 ppg the past couple weeks) and the Knicks have home field advantage. Celtics’ fans might say the Knicks’ front court is beat up right now but do the Celtics have anyone that can take advantage of that on offense. Garnett isn’t much of an offensive threat anymore and Bass has no post game what so ever. Realistically the Celtics are just as thin at those positions.

Matchup to watch: I’m a sucker for great on ball defense and Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee do it better than any pairing in the league. Bradley alone has evolved into the best perimeter defender since Gary Payton but together these two terrorize opposing ball handlers. Jrue Holiday personally asked them to “cool down” their defense earlier this season. Although I’m sure he was half joking, I’m also sure he half wasn’t. These two are like pit bulls on poodles.

Prediction: Unless Bradley and Lee absolutely bottle up the first 10 seconds of every possession, I don’t see the Celtics surviving. I got Knicks in 6. And if this happens expect major shakeups in the Celtics roster this offseason, GM Danny Ainge is a business man who wants wins4.

Yeah Paul, they feel like big bags of sand.

Ehh, I don’t think he knows what he’s talking about…

3 Indiana Pacers vs. 6 Atlanta Hawks

Will this be the most boring series in the playoffs? Roy Hibbert and Josh Smith walk into a boxing ring. *Cue old timey boxing announcer* In the red corner you have the incredibly boring, defensive minded Pacers, a team that actually gives Tyler Hansbrough minutes. In the blue corner you have an irrelevant void called the Hawks who, despite being in the same division as 3 of the 5 worst teams in the conference, only managed 44 wins5. I imagine Josh Smith and Roy Hibbert meeting in the middle of the ring, touching gloves and being asked to please, please keep their shooting percentages above 35%. And both of them avoiding eye contact afterwards. Let’s get it on!! But seriously, let’s not.

Player to Watch: If you’re forced to watch multiple games in this series keep in mind that Josh Smith is playing for a contract. He has to realize that if he can lead his team to a first round upset and look good doing it, he might get a (close to) max contract. Is this enough to keep him from chucking those juicy long 2’s? Who knows. I feel like half the time he doesn’t even realize they are keeping score.

Prediction: Paul George has turned into a great young player and hopefully can deliver us some big games but even if he plays averagely I got Pacers in 5 in a snoozer.

4 Brooklyn Nets vs. 5 Chicago Bulls

Can the Bulls play well enough to convince D. Rose to come back? This is the most evenly matched series in the East and could easily go either way. The Nets have played their way into sleeper team territory (but how sleepy can you get with the Heat coming in the next round) and the Bulls’ have played some great games against great teams (they ended the Heat’s 27 game winning streak and the Knicks’ 13-gamer). The deciding factor could be the health of Joakim Noah. He finished the regular season with two straight sub 20 minute games which were preceded by four scratches due to plantar fasciitis6. Earlier in the year I wrote about how the Bulls couldn’t survive an entire season if Thibs kept playing Noah 40 minutes a game and look what happened. Yeah that’s right. I boldly predicted that a guy who plays balls out for every minute he’s on the court would break down if played 40 minutes per game for 82 games. I’m basically psychic. Or have common sense.

Player to watch: How about a player who’s not even playing? Derrick Rose has long been cleared to play but has yet to suit up despite practicing at full speed, dunking, and participating in shootarounds. If it’s related to his brother claiming it’s due to a lack of supporting cast then the rest of the team is not only playing to advance but possibly for the return of Rose for the second round. Would he come back only to play the Heat? It would be an interesting story to say the least but unlikely. If you’re already looking towards next season then this series is really about whether or not Jimmy Butler can play Luol Deng, the most underrated player in the league over the past half decade, into being expendable.

Prediction: I’m not much of a believer in the Nets. I know they finished the season really strong Deron Williams looks like the D-Rock of old but between Joe Johnson (19.7 million), Kris Humphries (12) and Gerald Wallace (9.6) they just have too much money going towards too much underachievement. So I have Bulls in 6. The Bulls on the other hand have a knack for squeezing water out of rocks when it comes to talent (see: Nate Robinson, Marco Bellinelli) and consistently outcoach and outhustle their opponent. Plus, their brutal style has been foaming at the mouth to be uncaged. Just ask Lebron James.

Since I said I would post articles on a round by round basis I’m not going to spend too much time on the rest of the playoffs in the East. I do, however, want to state for the record that…

• I have the Heat over the Thunder in the Finals. Heat over Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Yikes

• The Heat will only lose two games prior to the Finals. And these will come @ Chicago in the 2nd round and @Indiana in the 3rd. I really only want to say the game in Chicago too but it just seems too bold.

• Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony will each post a 40 point game in this postseason.

• Joakim Noah will post a 20-20 this postseason. With all the talk about Jimmy Butler replacing Luol Deng (and no D-Rose) this is his team now.

• Paul Pierce will have at least one triple double in the first round. He’s been incredibly versatile since Rondo went down and I don’t think he gets enough credit.

*Check out my NBA Preview Part 2 for my thoughts on the Western Conference*

1. Sorry, I only like athletes that break a sweat. But hey Adam Scott, sweet polo.

2. I’m willing to use the NBA’s catchphrase du jour once for free. After that they need to pay me. Everybody gets one, David Stern, everybody gets one.

3. Yes. No. No. No.

4. He has a pretty ruthless background. It wouldn’t be beneath him to move Pierce (who would have to agree to any move of course) or Rondo and build around Bradley, Lee, Green, and the remaining pieces.

5. I have an irrational hatred for the Hawks. This is a team that, five years ago, had a good to great young player at four of five positions in PF Josh Smith, SG Joe Johnson, C Al Horford and SF Marvin Williams (#2 overall pick at one point) and turned it into exactly zero Eastern Conference Finals appearances.

6. Is it just me or was plantar fasciitis recently invented? I never remember hearing of people having this until every big man in the league starting getting it. Same goes for running backs and turf toe.

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