NBA Playoffs 2012: Eastern Conference Preview
The match-ups and seedings are set for the NBA playoffs, so it's time for Iarla Duignan to preview the Eastern Conference
Chicago Bulls (1) v Philadelphia 76ers (8)
Philadelphia 76ers’ Evan Turner said that his side have avoided the better team – Miami Heat – by finishing with the eighth seed in the East. Hopefully, this has added some spice to the series that won’t exactly capture the imagination of the neutrals. Both teams have questions entering the playoffs, but they are complete opposite sides of the spectrum. The Bulls questions centre on injuries and in particular the numerous problems that have hampered Derrick Rose’s season. The Bulls continued to win in his absence and finished with the best record in the league, but the post-season is different. They need his scoring punch and playmaking ability on the court, as their offense can be pretty porous in his absence. The 76ers have been in freefall recently after they took the league by storm at the beginning of the season. Their easy schedule got harder and their coach, Doug Collins, appeared to lose his team’s focus. Their squad may have reached their ceiling, so expect this to be the 76ers last hurrah together.
Key Man: Chicago would probably be favourites in this series with Rose, but this series is vital for him to get fitness. Playing against a good defense, the Bulls will also rely on his abilities to get buckets if they are in funk.
X-Factor: Both teams have invariably had the advantage when their bench took to the floor this season. Philadelphia’s main scoring punch comes from their second unit, whereas the Bulls defensive intensity often picks up with their bench. Something will have to give.
Prediction: There will be some rocky moments for Rose and the Bulls, but not enough. With good defense on both sides, expect the games to be close but the Bulls should do it in five.
Miami Heat (2) v New York Knicks (7)
This is the series that everyone wanted to see. What’s not to like here? Star power on both sides, two great cities and the big superstar match-up of the likely MVP and the form player in the league – LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. There’s no point avoiding it, these playoffs are about James. In his ninth season, the time is now. The doubters are as loud as ever, all of them waiting for failure. Injuries have slowed down Dwyane Wade, so the Heat have become James’ team and he looks ready for the challenge. In his way are the rejuvenated Knicks. Anthony finally looks at home and is scoring like his old self. They may not be as good as the hype, but isn’t the NBA a much better with playoff games in the Madison Square Garden with a relevant Knicks again?
Key Man: Anthony will likely get his, but Amar’e Stoudemire needs to win his match-up with Chris Bosh. The Knicks will hope for close 20 points a game.
X-Factor: The Heat have been poor all season defending the three-point-line. If the likes of Steve Novak and J.R. Smith can hit consistently from downtown, this could be a long series.
Prediction: The Heat swept the Knicks in the regular season, and the Knicks may not have enough scoring punch to keep up. Heat in five is the predicition.
Indiana Pacers (3) v Orlando Magic (6)
The third seed Pacers have slipped under the radar this season. In the shadow of the teams in the big markets, they have quietly put together a great year. Now in the playoffs, and the national stage, it’s time for people to take notice and they won’t get a better chance to win a series that this time around. Coming off a season of turmoil, the Magic could not be in a worse position. All the antics from Dwight Howard were ignored because he wins series exactly like this one, but he is out for the season after back surgery. It will be a busy off-season in Orlando and there are problems they will likely have to face sooner rather than later.
Key Man: In the absence of Howard, 7ft 1 Roy Hibbert faces 6ft 9 Glen Davis. Hibbert is coming off his first All-Star appearance and this is exactly the type of match up an All-Star should dominate.
X-Factor: The Magic will rely on three pointers more than ever. To have any chance, Ryan Anderson and company will have to hit a lot of them.
Prediction: This is a bad match up for the Magic – Indiana’s size and athleticism should dominate, so Pacers should win in five.
Boston Celtics (4) v Altlanta Hawks (5)
Age was meant to end Boston’s challenge in the playoffs last season – and maybe the season before that – alas, do not underestimate the pride of this team. Entering the All-Star break, they were rock bottom and people expected Danny Ainge to blow up the squad and start over. Thankfully, he stuck with it and Boston started winning games again. Defense had been their staple since Kevin Garnett arrived and they are once again the stingiest defense in the league. The Hawks continue to win games, and have become an ever-present in the playoffs. They have failed to win a big series which much of the same squad. Without star Al Horford for this series at least, it’s tough to see a different outcome in these playoffs. But the Hawks’ athleticism is a tough match-up for the aging Celtics.
Key Man: Garnett and Paul Pierce will have their hands full with Josh Smith and Joe Johnson, so Boston will look to Rajon Rondo to make the difference. Rondo likes the big stage, and could have a big series.
X-Factor: Health. Both teams have injuries, but Boston, in particular, are carrying a few hobbled players. If injuries catch up with their aging players, it could finally spell the end of an era.
Prediction: This should be the most competitive series in the East. In the end, experience and home advantage wins out. Celtics in seven.