Eastern Conference Semi-Finals Preview

I’m a little upset that I missed the pair of opening games on Sunday, but sometimes life gets in the way.

Fortunately for both you and I, only one game has been played in any series. I can still make my predictions, and they were only minutely affected by the outcome of today’s games. Let’s start with the East.

5. Atlanta Hawks v. 1. Chicago Bulls

Both teams revealed a lot about themselves in the first round of the playoffs. The Bulls, fresh off their first 60-win season since the Michael Jordan days, struggled to put away the sub-.500 Indiana Pacers. The Hawks pulled off the only upset East of the San Antonio River Walk by defeating the Orlando Magic, knocking them out of the playoffs, and all but assuring that D12 will not be a Floridian for much longer.

Living in California, you don’t meet very many Atlanta Hawk fans. The one Atlanta fan that I know is also a blogger, and his page can be accessed via the blogroll to your right (stage right, to0). That said, it’s hard to get some perspective on Atlanta. In my Eastern Conference Playoff Preview, I gave my readers a list of reasons why they should win against Orlando, then decided to pick against them at the end (I did the inverse for my Western Conference Playoff Preview with the Denver-OKC series). I won’t be doing that again. Let’s be honest here. The Hawks aren’t going to win this series, but they will be a tougher out than people realize.

The Hawks have more favorable matchups going for them than the Bulls do. Al Horford is a better big man than Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. He slightly edges out Booz, who is a good player in his own right. Josh Smith is a better player than Luol Deng, and he can guard him as well. His jump shot leaves much to be desired, but ability to get 500,000+ YouTube hits on his dunk clips displays his athletic supremacy. Joe Johnson has been up and down all year, but he’s not losing any sleep over his matchup with the “shooting” guards of Chicago. The key here is the point guard matchup, and that’s not going to bode well for Atlanta.

Derrick Rose is still nursing his ankle from his game 4 injury, but he’s going to be fine. The Hawks are not going to be able to contain him for an entire series. Look for Chicago to exploit that matchup, as it’s the single biggest advantage that they have over the Hawks. Well, that and their defense. For all intents and purposes, though, the Hawks match up just fine against the Bulls. The regular season indicates that Chicago will win, as they nabbed the 2-1 lead in the season series with blowout wins and their one loss to Atlanta was by a mere 3 points, but this is the playoffs.

Playoffs.

We can’t bank on which Atlanta team will show up, and therein lies the problem. Assuming it’s the one that just knocked off Orlando, the Bulls will win in 6, but they’ll be tough.

If it’s the Atlanta team that Hawks fans saw in March and early April, expect a 5 game romping.

If Chicago wins big in game 1, expect the Hawks to get down on themselves. If they can steal game 1, which I don’t see happening, they have a chance to go to seven. And lose.

Chicago in 6.

3. Boston Celtics v. 2. Miami Heat

This is the series that everybody wanted to see. As a Laker fan and resident of Southern California, I assure you that everybody here hates the Celtics, but they hate LeBron James more.

You can imagine how bitter-sweet this is for us.

With everything inside of me, I am rooting against the Heat. They could be playing the Monstars from “Space Jam” in a game that will decide whether or not Earth and its inhabitants become slaves to business-venturing aliens, and I’d probably still root against them. LeBron is at the top of a long list of professional athletes that go on my “Least Favorite Players” (you can guess that it’s a euphemism) list (and players 2-13 are all Celtics) list. So, yeah, for the second post-season in a row, I’m rooting for the Celtics to make it to the NBA Finals. If they do, for the second year in a row, the Lakers will have homecourt advantage against them (assuming they emerge from the West). That factors into my thought process as well.

Despite all that homerism and haterism, there is still a basketball series to be dissected.

Boston won the season series with the Heat, but in games played against them without Kendrick Perkins, they are 1-1. And their 1 victory without him against the Heat came at the beginning of the season when they were still trying to figure out who they were. Suffice it to say, the Heat unique advantages you’d want to have in a playoff series against an opponent.

Best player? Check (Bosh. Err. Joel Anthony*).

Best second best player? Check.

Homecourt? Check.

After that, things get a little murky. Miami has the two best players in the series, and two of the top 5-10 players in the world, but that doesn’t convince me that they’ll win. LeBron and Dwyane (what a ridiculous spelling) have redundant skill-sets. If it were the best guard playing with the best center or power forward (Kobe and Shaq 2000-2002), then I wouldn’t be worried. We can’t compare LeBron and Dwyane to Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen because those two complimented each other on the court. LeBron and Dwyane compliment each other off the court. As in, “Hey LeBron, nice tie!” and “Hey D-Wade, check my stats!” Oh yeah. LeBron only compliments himself. My bad (by the way, how do LeBron’s PR missteps go over so well with his teammates? In my opinion, they’ve buried their heads in the sand, or they don’t question their meal ticket. Sometimes both. This guy has 2 glaring red flags about him as a teammate. 1. THAT SHIRT. 2. The way he did what he did to Cleveland and they still think they can trust him is…special. That qualifies as a whole other type of disillusionment. That’s like you getting a new girlfriend or boyfriend that broke up with their current one in order to be with you. Do you think they’re not going to do the same thing to you? Seriously? Oh, let me guess, what you have with them is special? Sure Miami. Sure.)

Number one rule in the James Household: Don't interrupt Daddy while he's staring at himself in the mirror for 10 uninterrupted minutes.

Because of their redundancy on offense, they are a crap shoot as far as post-season success. They form the best 1-2 punch in the league and the best perimeter defensive duo in the league, bar none. Like we saw in the Philadelphia series, they can shut down the upper level swingmen of the league like they did with Andre Iguodala.

But Ray Allen isn’t Iggy, and neither is Paul Pierce. Those guys aren’t going to let you off the hook by averaging 11.4 points per game on 42% shooting. Pierce has sub-par games in series’ versus LeBron historically, but those numbers are deceptive for two reasons:

1. Pierce expends his energy guarding LeBron and really keys in on him throughout the duration of the series (and does a great job, too, as he forces him away from his spots and does as good a job as anybody does staying in front of him).

2. The offense isn’t built around Pierce, it’s built around Rajon Rondo.

The Celtics’ mindset is always to get players involved, and that can be hard when you have as many stars as they do. Because of that, Pierce has to deliver one vintage Paul Pierce game in order to win, but he doesn’t have to be “the guy” for the 5-7 games that the series goes. His percentage suffers, but in the process, LeBron’s impact is nullified.

Expect the Heat to throw a plethora of players at the aforementioned Rondo, as he is the engine that makes the Celtics go. If he puts his stamp on this series like he did in game 3 against Cleveland last year, the Heat is in trouble.

As evidenced by today’s game, this series is going to get chippy. At times, it’ll be down right dirty, too. Eastern conference teams play great half-court defense, so the scores will be relatively low. I knew going in to the series that all the talk about Dwyane’s poor offensive numbers against Boston in the regular season was overblown. Dwyane torched the Celtics in the playoffs last year regardless of who was guarding him. He will be fine. It’s the other guy that the Heat has to worry about.

Chris Bosh is the guy you worry about the most if you’re a Heat player, coach, or fan. He can quickly become a malcontent if things don’t go well for him or if the Heat lose, and the defense of Kevin Garnett is going to make sure that at least one of those things happens. The two are related, by the way. Not KG and CB, but things not going well for Bosh and the Heat losing. Those are related. KG has been in Bosh’s head since he first came to Boston, making his life hell 3-4 times a year. Now that he gets the chance to play against him 4-7 times in two weeks, he’s going to be seeing KG’s ugly mug every time he steps on the hardwood, goes to the barber shop, goes clubbing, and goes bike-riding as the third wheel of the LBJ-Dwyane dual-bicycles (You know that Dwyane and LBJ secretly talk about how much better they would be if they had Amar’e Stoudemire instead of Bosh. Come on now. The problem is that Amar’e has too much self-respect, or too big of an ego, to have tried to ride the coattails of players that are better than him, and Bosh is the exact opposite. He’s good. He’s very good. But he’s not great. Let’s clear that up.).

It could get ugly.

The one thing I’m curious to see is how the Heat react if they get down in this series. If you’ve talked NBA playoffs with me, you know that I think they’re prone to getting down on themselves when things go poorly. This was evidenced by the complaining of Bosh and the “Crygate” press conference. They’re still a young team, and, outside of the Free Throw Fest that was the 2006 NBA Finals, they’re virtually unproven.

The Heat could win this series, but I don’t see it happening. Boston isn’t the same team without Perkins, but the Heat isn’t built to exploit his departure. LeBron isn’t a low-post player, and honestly, neither is Chris Bosh. I don’t think we’ll see Celtics lose to any team that’s not based in L.A.

Celtics in 6 (5 if Delonte West ends up in the same hotel as LeBron’s mother).

Western Conference Preview coming later.

Till then.

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2 Responses to “Eastern Conference Semi-Finals Preview”

  1. daniel "cool beans" lee Says:

    Atlanta in four. Les do this.

    Also, how appropriate that the “s” on his shirt is a dollar sign.

  2. Sina Says:

    First off, thanks for the shoutout man, appreciate it, but that is for my old site. The new one is thesportsintake.wordpress.com. But, I think that it won’t be much of a blowout, Atlanta has gained rhythm and begin to play like people have expected them to. Match-ups do favor them like you said, but just like the Orlando series, will Atlanta let Derek Rose get his while keeping the other 4 at bay? Losing Kirk Hinrich hurts a lot as well, just hope Jeff Teague can mature in a good…I dunno, 3 days. It will be interesting, and I’m pulling for Atlanta, but will it happen? No, not with Jeff Teague, but who knows, like you said, this is the playoffs…

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