The four ties
- (1) Chicago Bulls vs (8) Philadelphia 76ers
- (2) Miami Heat vs (7) New York Knicks
- (3) Indiana Pacers vs (6) Orlando Magic
- (4) Boston Celtics vs (5) Atlanta Hawks
Chicago Bulls vs Philadelphia 76ers
The Bulls won the season series 2-1 this year and Phily won 2-1 last year.
A few of the main deciding factors in those games where:
(1) Philadelphia caused Chicago a lot of problems when Thaddeus Young came into the game. His speed both offensively and defensively caused the Bulls issues on both ends of the court.
Tom Thibodeau has been uncomfortable using Boozer against T.Young in the past and has often turned to Taj Gibson for that matchup. That has taken the Bulls second best offensive player off the court which has hurt the Bulls offense while Young has boosted Philly’s offense. Or, on some other occasions, Thibs has left Boozer in at center and sat Joakim Noah instead which robbed Chicago of it’s best rebounder and defensive anchor. Either way, it’s taken a valuable player off the floor for the Bulls on a regular basis.
The Sixers can use either Spencer Hawes or Elton Brand as centers alongside Thaddeus Young (PF) which has caused problems for Chicago also. Hawes is one of the better high post centers in the NBA with his passing ability and mid-range / long two point jump-shooting while Elton Brand is one of the more consistent midrange shooting big men in the league. This has helped stretch the Bulls defense and made it more difficult for their defensive rotations.
(2) Meanwhile, Chicago has had two major advantages against the Sixers.
The biggest advantage has been on the backboards especially when Philly has gone small up front with Young. It’s given Chicago a great opportunity to build a large rebounding (and possession) differential over the Sixers which has helped lead them to wins.
(3) The second has been the advantage of having a shot-creator of Derrick Rose’s quality to finish out close games while the Sixers continue to be one of the weaker teams around in tight contests in large part due to their lack of a genuine go-to guy.
Other factors to watch out for:
(a) One of the other interesting things about this matchup is that both teams rely heavily on their benches and for my money they are two of the top three benches in the league (along with Denver). Expect to see both sides second units to have a major impact in this series.
(b) The Bulls starters on the perimeter are banged up. Derrick Rose has had a lot of injury issues especially in the second half of this season. He has only returned recently and isn’t in top form yet. Rip Hamilton has struggled with injuries throughout the year but has appeared to pickup some form lately. While Luol Deng is playing through a major injury and has been very hit-or-miss over the last two months.
(c) The Sixers started the year off like gangbusters but fell apart shortly after Spencer Hawes went down with an injury. They have struggled to regain their form since then as has Hawes who has failed to recover his early season performance levels. I have read that Phily played a little better over the past few games but I didn’t see any of them so I am not sure how accurate that is. If they can get back to where they were earlier in the year, that would give them a huge boost in this series.
Overall, I could very easily see this series becoming one of those long hard fought contests that stretches six or seven games. The Sixers matchup better with the Bulls than most teams do and have caused them problems over the past two seasons. I think this matchup has a chance to be the best series in the East (first round).
Miami Heat vs New York Knicks
I know some people are getting excited about the Knicks chances of knocking off Miami after their strong finish to the season in contrast to Miami’s stuttering play since the All-Star break, but I have to say, I am not yet convinced by New York.
They have ridden some excellent play from Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler to some good results but they have gotten very little elsewhere. Their point guard rotation has been very weak. Landry Fields hasn’t played as well as last year. Iman Shumpert is very aggressive and very streaky (which means if he isn’t playing well offensively he can do a lot of damage to his own team). Similar issues with JR Smith although he is a lot more reliable than Shumpert. They have gotten nothing from their backup bigs. A lot has been made of Novak’s play, and yes, he is a fantastic shooter as a stretch four but the rest of his game leaves a lot to be desired.
Amare Stoudemire is back and maybe he can give the team a major lift. He struggled earlier in the year but showed flashes of his old self in the final games of the regular season. If that happens, that would be a nice boost for New York. Might make the series more competitive.
Plus, The Knicks still haven’t resolved their chemistry issues when playing Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler together. They have looked good when any combination of the two are on the court together but have struggled to find their balance and cohesion when all three are out there. Unless, they find a miraculous cure to his problem (and it would be a miracle given the short time frame at play here) and fix this problem before the series begins, this will continue to be a major problem for the Knicks.
Editors note: I can’t help but wonder if New York would be better off in the immediate sense bringing Amare off the bench as a sixth man. Start Melo (PF) and Tyson (C). Play the overwhelming majority of the minutes with two of the three on the court and only a few minutes with all three on the court together. Then try to reinsert Amare into the starting lineup next year. I can’t help but feel that that is their best short term option here.
Meanwhile, the Heat, yeah they’ve struggled but this is the playoffs and everything they have been waiting for. I think they’ll step up to the challenge and raise their games immediately and that they’ll have more than enough to handle a solid but unexceptional team like the Knicks.
I like Miami to win this in a short series. Probably five games with New York riding some hot-shooting to at least one win. If Amare can play at a high level, maybe New York can stretch this to six games and make things a bit uncomfortable for the Heat but I would still fully expect Miami to always have another gear to go to see off the Knicks challenge.
Indiana Pacers vs Orlando Magic
I would have liked the Magic to take the Pacers in this series if they had Dwight Howard in the lineup, but without him, the Magic do not stand a chance.
As I have said in the past, I consider this Magic team (minus Dwight Howard) to be one of the weakest teams in the league while the Pacers are a legitimate playoff squad.
So yeah, I am expecting this to be a short series. Four or five games. I like the Pacers to sweep Orlando.
Boston Celtics vs Atlanta Hawks
Without Al Horford, the Hawks do not have enough weapons to take down a team as talented as the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics have three major difference makers in their starting lineup with Garnett, Rondo and Pierce. They have gotten very good play from Avery Bradley since he has moved over to the SG position. Bass is decent.
Ray Allen is probable for the series and would give Boston another difference maker off the bench. They have Stiemsma who has been a very effective backup center and allowed Boston to maintain it’s defensive integrity even when KG is off the floor. Plus, Pietrus who is a high end defensive player and capable spot up shooter.
Meanwhile, the Hawks have two difference makers in Joe Johnson (who is blunted by their small-ball starting lineup which forces him to matchup against Pierce instead of the smaller Bradley or R.Allen) and Josh Smith (who is still maddeningly inconsistent). Then they have Jeff Teague who has been decent and two low end starters in Zaza Pachulia (who has injury concerns heading into this series) and Kirk Hinrich (SG).
Their bench has a difference maker in Marvin Williams. When he comes into the game at small forward and makes Atlanta big on the perimeter, the Hawks become a much more difficult team for this Boston squad to matchup with. They also have Tracy McGrady who is a multi-faceted wing who could cause Boston’s small guards (Bradley, Dooling, maybe Ray Allen) some problems. And Vladamir Radmanovic who can stretch the floor with his shooting at the PF position.
Overall, the Hawks do not have enough offensive talent to beat this exceptional Boston defense. They do have enough defensive talent to ugly up the game and make Boston struggle some offensively but the Celtics will always have another gear to turn to in order to pull out wins.
I think the Hawks take a game or two from Boston but Boston always wins. Celtics in five.
Editors Note: This will likely be the most unwatchable basketball in the first round. Well besides Orlando who would be looking at a top five pick in this year’s lottery if not for Dwight Howard.