I know we are waiting on the two game 7 matchups for the western conference while the Thunder and Spurs await to see who they will face next. However, the East is ready to begin their games and I must write this before that happens (I’ll update this later when the west is set).
4) Boston Celtics vs. 8) Philadelphia 76ers- I don’t think anyone saw the 76ers moving on in their series against the Bulls two weeks ago before the Derrick Rose knee injury. Once that occured, I knew it was a game changer for not only that series, but for the entire Eastern Conference. But this shouldn’t be a knock on how weak the Bulls were on Rose was out, it should be more on how the 76ers have flown under the radar as a good team playing well when they needed to do so. It’s not just the great coaching from Doug Collins, it’s also the mixture of the players (mostly young talent) with great team chemistry that, at one point, was the leader in the Atlantic Division because of their great ability to win games and surprise everyone in the process. However, towards the end of the season, the Boston Celtics have pulled it together to win crucial games to propel them to win the Atlantic Division, and in the process, beat their current playoff opponent in key games to help them become division champs. The key match up to watch is the battle of the point guards, specifically the pace of the game. Rajon Rondo has the ability to be aggressive and push the tempo of the offense to be fast paced if necessary, but also has the ability to slow the game down and run effective and efficient plays to help them keep control of the game in their favor. Jrue Holiday of the 76ers has the ability to play a semi- run and gun offense (esecially in transition) because of the players around him. Experience is key as well, but what will determine the winner of this series is which point guard will control the pace.
Celtics in 5-6
2) Miami Heat vs. 3) Indiana Pacers- The Pacers didn’t have much of an opportunity to show off why they are the number 3 seeded team in the east because they faced a weakened Orlando Magic that was without Dwight Howard due to injury. They will get their chance now that they will not only be facing the Miami Heat, but everyone will be watching to see if the Heat will be successful with their super star loaded roster. In a division where the Bulls dominated, Indiana did what they could to keep on their heels in the regular season. And in doing so, they earned their seed in the playoffs. What is interesting about the Pacers is that their a young group of players that, if they are intact for a few more years, can contend with the likes of Chicago or Miami. Why? It’s because of their ability to play team basketball. No one knew of Roy Hibbert being a legitimate Center until he was selected to this year’s All-Star team. They also have guys like George Hill, Tyler Hansbrough, Darren Collison, David West, etc. They may appear to be role players on the teams that they came from, but they know that games are not won by one player, it’s through a collective team effort. That’s what makes them a legitimate team/hurdle for the Miami Heat. Having said that, the Pacers will give the Heat some headaches, but the one thing to look for is how will Miami’s supporting cast help out thei Big 3. If they step up and contribute, they will advance. If they cannot, the Big 3 will have a tougher time then they anticipate to advance to the conference finals.
Heat in 6.
1) San Antonio Spurs vs 5) Los Angeles Clippers- On paper, anyone can easily go with the marquee matchups to give a great storyline (Griffin vs Duncan or Paul vs. Parker), but what will makes this interesting is what kind of strategy and adjustments the coaches will make to out play the opponent as well as the bench play from both teams. The bench of the Clippers won the series for them in game 7 on the road. If the bench can play that well every game, they’ll give San Antonio fits throughout the series (and may even steal a game or two). The Spurs’ bench is just as potent and Coach of the year Greg Popovich running a ten man rotation will keep the entire Clipper’s players and coaches busy trying to find weak spots to exploit.
Spurs in 5-6
2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 3) Los Angeles Lakers- Let the storylines/drama fly in this new rivalry fueled by wins for both teams during the regular season and an elbow thrown by a man who won the league’s citizen of the year award last year (oh the irony). The Lakers are coming off of a 7 game series against the Nuggets (a series that should have only lasted 5-6) and they have their full roster back and ready to contend for another NBA title. The opponent standing in their way…a young Thunder team loaded with Superstars and role players who have beaten the Lakers twice during the regular season. Their only loss to the Lakers was the game that both Russel Westbrook and Kevin Durant combined to shoot about 25% of their shots throughout the game that went into overtime (and the media made it seem like the Lakers can hang with the Thunder in the playoffs). I saw it as an overreaction and and over exaggeration because I’m pretty sure that will never happen again for the rest of the playoffs. And you can bet money that the crowd in OKC will give Metta World Peace a very unfriendly welcome to the arena when he steps on the floor. The player formerly known as Ron Artest may not be phased by the ‘booing’, but he’ll definitely know that his elbow to James Harden was a cheap shot and he knew what he was doing when he did it.
Kobe will put all the pressure on him to win the series and pull the team into the conference finals, but it will take a team effort to win 4 games against the Thunder; however, I don’t see that happening with the young talent around Durant and Westbrook.
Thunder in 5