Schmeelk: NBA Playoff Preview
By John Schmeelk
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Chicago Bulls vs. Indiana Pacers – The Pacers are easily the worst team in the playoffs and they have the pleasure of taking on the hottest team in the NBA. To make this simple, they don’t have a chance. If the Pacers manage to win a single game I’d be surprised. If they win two I’ll be blown away. Darren Collison might have the quickness to stay with Derrick Rose but he doesn’t have the strength. Roy Hibbert , Jeff Foster and Tyler Hansbrough should do a decent job of challenging Rose when he drives, and banging with Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. The Bulls just have too much defense and the league MVP Rose will put on a show. Prediction: Bulls in four
Miami Heat vs. Philadelphia 76ers – The Doug Collins led Philadelphia 76ers are the NBA poster boy overachievers. Without a ton of talent they managed a .500 record and played hard every night. Unfortunately, they are running into a team with too much firepower that they won’t be able to keep up with. Andre Iguodala should do a decent job on LeBron James, but counting on Jodie Meeks and/or Jrue Holiiday to guard Dwyane Wade will be extremely problematic. The 76ers’ leading scorer, Elton Brand, is outclassed by the Heat’s third best player, Chris Bosh. Thaddeus Young might provide some matchup problems off the bench, but it won’t be enough. Effort won the 76ers many games they didn’t have the talent to win in the regular season, but that doesn’t help as much in the playoffs where every team is playing at full effort. The Heat have flaws, but the Sixers aren’t good enough to take advantage. Prediction: Heat in five
Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks – You can see my much more detailed column for an in depth look at the series, but I’ll summarize here. The Celtics play too much defense, are too tough, and will turn it on in the playoffs. Their late season slide was more a mirage than a reality. The Knicks will have to click on all cylinders offensively to have a chance in the series, and the Celtics defense will prevent that. They have great matchups for the Knicks three best players – Garnett on Stoudemire, Pierce on Anthony, and Rondo and Billups. All three Celtics should be able to contain their counterparts on the Knicks offensively. The only way the Knicks win this series is they win two out of three of those matchups by a decent margin. They also need to play a modicum of defense and keep the game at their tempo. They won’t be able to pull all of those off. This will, however, be the most competitive series in the Eastern Conference. Prediction: Celtics in six
Orlando Magic vs. Atlanta Hawks – Based on their records and seeding, this series should be a relative tight one, but I just don’t see it. The Hawks managed to finish with just 44 wins and played uninspired basketball for much of the second half of the season. Al Horford is a good player but he is undersized compared to Dwight Howard. And no, Jason Collins is not a Dwight Howard stopper. Josh Smith and Jamal Crawford might provide some matchup problems for Orlando. Joe Johnson and Hedo Turkoglu should be a fun matchup to watch. With all that said, the Hawks play too much one on one, are sluggish offensively, and don’t play enough defense to make up for it. I’m far from enamored with the Magic roster, but they’re the better team with the far superior coach. Prediction: Magic in four
2nd Round: Celtics beat the Heat in seven games, Bulls beat the Magic in six games.
Eastern Conference Finals: Celtics beat the Bulls in seven.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies – It’s a shame the Grizzlies couldn’t have been matched up with a team other than the Spurs. They could have been a potential first round upset, but they don’t have much of a chance against the Spurs. San Antonio is simply too balanced and deep of a team to lose in the 1st round. Expect to see a vintage Tim Duncan as he turns it on in the playoffs. If his elbow injury turns out to be minor, Manu Ginobli is healthy and that more than anything else should scare opposing teams. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol (don’t forget Darrell Arthur off the bench) are one of the best center-power forward combinations in the league. Watching them match up with Duncan, McDyess, Tiago Splitter and Dejuan Blair should be fun. The Grizzlies play excellent defense anchored by Tony Allen, and their numbers defensively are actually better than San Antonio’s. If Memphis had Rudy Gay healthy they might be able to push the Spurs. Without him, they come up short. Spurs in five.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Orleans Hornets – The Lakers get the softest landing of any team. The Hornets are a one man band, Chris Paul, and then a bunch of other guys. Losing David West for the season cost them any chance of a real playoff run. Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, and Carl Landry are good support players but nothing more. Even if Andrew Bynum ‘s knee is worse than it looks, the Lakers will roll through the first round but it will not be that easy moving forward. Phil Jackson will not get another three-peat. Kobe Bryant is slowing down and the rest of the team won’t make up for it this year in a stronger western conference. Lakers in four.
Dallas Mavericks vs. Portland Trailblazers – The Mavericks were my pick to come out of the Western Conference at the beginning of the season. If they still had Caron Butler (even if he comes back in this series he won’t be himself), I’d pick them to make it all the way to the finals. Without him, despite their bad finish, the Mavs are still a very good team with great balance from top to bottom. Dirk Nowitzki still plays at the highest level, shooting 52% and playing the best basketball of his career. Jason Kidd can still manage a team, Tyson Chandler plays his role perfectly at center, and Jason Terry is a great spark off the bench. Peja Stojakovic is even giving them something. In other words, I don’t buy their slow finish. The Trailblazers have done a great job this year succeeding without Brandon Roy. LaMarcus Aldridge has stepped up as a legit All-Star at power forward. Andre Miller runs the team well. Wesley Matthews, Gerald Wallace, Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum have provided solid production from the wings. Nate McMillan teams play hard and will make the Mavs work for it. If Brandon Roy can look like his old self for a game or two, this might get interesting, but I don’t think he has it left in him. Mavs in six.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Denver Nuggets – This will probably end up being the best series in the first round of either conference. The Nuggets have played good, inspired basketball since the trade deadline. They are playing better defense and JR Smith, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Ty Lawson have made up for the scoring void left by Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. The Thunder, on the other hand, have the talent to make some serious noise in the playoffs. Kevin Durant led the NBA in scoring and Russell Westbrook is a top point guard. Kendrick Perkins has solidified a shaky interior defense and James Harden has picked up his game since the Jeff Green trade. When all is said and done, the Thunder’s superior talent will win out but it won’t be easy. Thunder in seven.
2nd Round: Assuming Ginobli is healthy, Spurs beat the Thunder in seven. Mavs beat the Lakers in six.
Western Conference Finals: Spurs beat the Mavs in six.
NBA FINALS: The Spurs get back on top and knock off the Boston Celtics in six games.
Here’s my caveat. If this Manu Ginobli injury turns out to be serious and he is out for a significant period of time, I’ll take the Thunder out of the West, and the Celtics to beat them in the NBA Finals in seven games.
You can follow me on twitter throughout the playoffs for everything Knicks and NBA Playoffs: http://twitter.com/#!/Schmeelk