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Eastern Conference Playoffs - 1st Round Predictions
Written by on 04/15/2011
#1 Chicago Bulls vs. #8 Indiana Pacers
They didn’t exactly go from worst to first over the past couple of years, but the Chicago Bulls have gone from barely skating into the playoffs in 2009 and 2010 to being the number one seed in the entire league this year.
You can look to the Tom Thibodeau hire, the addition of Carlos Boozer and the maturation of Joakim Noah for reasons why the Bulls have improved, especially defensively, but their biggest weapon is obviously the emergence of Derrick Rose as one of the league’s best players and this year’s MVP.
Rose has kept the team afloat while both Boozer and Noah took separate stints on the injured list. The Bulls believe, and the Pacers are going to have trouble making any impact in this series. Danny Granger is the best player hardly anyone talks about. If the Pacers want to sneak a game or two, they will need him to be great. But Luol Deng has proven he can guard the best small forwards in the league, so even the Pacers best weapon will likely be neutralized.
Prediction: Bulls in 4
#2 Miami Heat vs. #7 Philadelphia 76ers
Doug Collins should be lauded for the amazing job he did of getting the Sixers to buy into his vision. If it were not for Thibodeau, Collins would be able to make a strong case for Coach of the Year. On the other sideline, Eric Spolestra has weathered the storm, avoided the ax and managed to get his team playing solid basketball heading into the playoffs.
The Heat may not have a great record against the best teams in the league, but they know how to handle the weaker sisters. Andre Iguodola, Elton Brand and Lou Williams have impressed, but the fact of the matter is they are no James, Wade and Bosh. And believe the Big Three will be out to send a statement to the upstart Bulls and aging Celtics.
Prediction: Heat in 4
#3 Boston Celtics vs. #6 New York Knicks
It’s hard to find two bigger cities to face off in the first round of the NBA playoffs. And it’s hard to find two bigger sets of big-name forwards going up against each other. Pierce and Garnett vs. Anthony and Stoudemire will make for some amazing fireworks.
Obviously there is no love lost between Garnett and Stoudemire, as they have banged each other hard in putting up big numbers in the regular season series, with Garnett going for 23 and 11 and Stoudemire putting up 26 and 10. The Knicks had plenty of fight against the Celtics in the regular season, but it wasn’t enough, as they got swept, even after the Knicks acquired Carmelo and Chauncy Billupps.
Anthony will have to make sure he drives the lane and does not settle for jumpshots, which Boston will try and lure him into. Paul Pierce will attack over and over again. Anthony needs to take a page from Pierce’s book.
The Knicks added more offensive firepower with Anthony, but it slowed down their full-court game. They are still finding out their identity, having gone only 14-14 since the trade. One thing is certain, their defense is terrible and Rajon Rondo will try and exploit them by pushing Boston in transition.
The Knicks as a franchise are on the rise and the Celtics look to be on the back end of their pseudo dynasty days with their Big Three + One. The Knicks may eventually have their day, but the old dogs in Celtic green still have a little bite left.
Prediction: Boston in 6
#4 Orlando Magic vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks should go find some sort of gypsy or magician to help them erase their memories. Because there is no way they want even a trace of last year’s humiliating playoff sweep in their mind. The Magic dominated the Hawks by an average of 25 points a game, a historic butt kicking.
Dwight Howard has to make sure he does not get frustrated and that he can find a rhythm against a Hawks team that does a solid job of getting in the big man’s kitchen. The big man needs to prove that he is a true leader and not a volatile and immature player. He could be an amazing force, but he needs to make sure he gets a number of touches and imposes his will on the game offensively and not just defensively. With the center position more diluted than it’s ever been, Howard must dominate on the inside on both ends.
As great as Howard is, or should be, the fact of the matter is the Magic are more of an outside team than an inside team. Orlando leads the league in three-point attempts and makes. If the Hawks can hustle on their perimeter defense, they may be able to take the Magic to the distance. The Hawks won three of four in the regular season this year, so maybe they have proven they have already forgotten about last year’s playoffs. Then again, they lost their last six regular season games, so maybe they could smell the Magic around the corner.
Prediction: Magic in 6