The playoffs are upon us again and it’s time to see if we get a repeat of the 2012 NBA Finals between the Thunder and Heat. Two months is enough time to weed out the pretenders and revel in the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. It’s also enough time to see which teams are fortunate enough to be healthy when the time is right. There are a lot of factors that go into winning in the post season, but the most important of all is consistency.
What team can sustain success and keep their head over a four to seven game stretch? Which team can make the best adjustments, even if they won the game before? What coach is best prepared for a close game where one of his key players has just fouled out? There are a lot of ways this second season could go, and it will be a treat to watch it unfold.
1. Miami Heat vs. 8. Milwaukee Bucks
What to watch for : Well, more like who, and that is LeBron. Namely, can he average a triple double in a playoff series? He is tied for 6th all time in triple doubles in the post season, with Oscar Robertson. Against this Bucks team, LeBron averages 27.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg and 7.3 apg. While it’s not out of the equation, I think Miami will build a big enough lead to where LeBron will be getting rest in the fourth.
Best performance in the series : Once again, LeBron. I believe we’ll see a triple double to start off the series and LeBron will revert back down to his season averages as the series goes on.
How the Bucks could win this series : Besides Spoelstra sitting his starters, then completely forgetting about them? Injuries to Miami and really hot shooting from Milwaukee could make it an interesting affair. Miami forfeiting the series would guarantee Milwaukee in the second round too.
How the Heat could win : Doing what they do best : Defense. It’s easy to see the Heat’s ball movement, team speed and shooting and just assume their offense is their calling card. But, the Heat have held Monta Ellis, the Bucks leading scorer to 9.5 points in their 4 meetings. Miami has also held the Bucks to 15 points or less in one quarter of every one of their four meetings this season, including 13 points in the third twice.
Who wins and how many games : Miami in 5. Milwaukee will have an inspiring home game, but Miami will gain the early upper hand and rarely let off the gas pedal.
2. New York Knicks vs. 7. Boston Celtics
What to watch for : New York trying to come out from under Boston’s shadow. Ever since Garnett joined Boston, the Celtics have gone 21 – 7, including the playoffs. This represents the first time New York has won the season series and has higher seeding since Carmelo has worn the Knicks uniform.
Best performance in this series : Carmelo. It’s easy to harp on the points Mr. Anthony can pour in, but don’t overlook his 7.5 rebounds and 3 assists as well. Paul Pierce saves some of his best for MSG, as Knicks fans can begrudgingly attest. But, Carmelo is in the middle of his best run, coming off of 27.9 points , 6.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists in April. This is his time to leave his mark on the series.
How the Celtics could win this series : By being the stingy defensive team spearheaded by Kevin Garnett. If KG is not on the court, they are outrebounded and have no shot blockers inside, and it which places more pressure on guys like Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee on the perimeter. Shooting will be a key as well, and Jason Terry should be looking to make up for a season in which he scored the fewest points since his rookie season. He is still a big key, especially for those tight games.
How the Knicks could win this series : By playing from their advantageous position. They have the better record, better seeding and better player. And all it takes is a loss at home to lose the home court advantage. The Knicks small ball lineup can also dictate the pace of the game as well. Defensively, they will be exposed without Chandler on the court, but with scorers like JR Smith and Anthony, they can handle the scoring droughts better than Boston can.
Who wins and how many games : New York in 6. Boston is tough, no matter their roster or condition. This will be a very entertaining series.
3. Indiana Pacers vs. 6. Atlanta Hawks
What to watch for : If you can stay awake. Aside from the lack of flash, this series will be a tale of two philosophies. Indiana’s defensive prowess against Atlanta’s jump-shooting. Ultimately, it will come down to what team deviates, and since Indiana has been more consistent with their defense, look for them to stifle the Hawks.
Best performance in this series : Paul George. He’s made a big jump this season with the absence of Danny Granger, and he has averaged 18.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists. In a series with very little firepower, George can have the most consistent impact on both ends.
How the Hawks can win the series : By sinking their jump shots and running whenever they get a chance (17.7 fast break points, good for third in the league). The Hawks don’t get to the line much, and their lack of size will put them at a disadvantage against the league leaders in rebounds. Horford and Smith will have to play huge parts in the interior and Teague will have to put George Hill on his heels when he has the ball.
How the Pacers can win the series : By maintaining the consistency they’ve had all season. There is no reason to hoist more shots than Atlanta or focus on fast break points (11.8, good for 21st in the league. Indiana held the Hawks to 46.7% shooting in their 3 meetings, which is also their average for the season. Indiana also holds opponents to 90.7 points per game, but Atlanta scores 98.8 per game. But, without Louis Williams, the Pacers have won the final two meetings of the season. On offense, a healthy dose of David West in the paint and Paul George on the perimeter can help the Pacers keep the pressure on Atlanta.
Who wins and how many games : Pacers in 6. It’s easy to dismiss Atlanta, but they have performed very well against Indiana and actually won the rebounding battle among the two. This series is a very tough test for Indiana, but their bench and consistency should prevail.
4. Brooklyn Nets vs 5. Chicago Bulls
What to watch for : Defense and who can simply make the least amount of mistakes. Both Brooklyn and Chicago are very close in terms of turnovers and points off of turnovers as well. It will come down to execution … and if Derrick Rose can return for Chicago.
Best Performance in the series : Deron Williams. This is his series to make a statement as the best point guard in the Eastern playoffs. With the likes of Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich guarding him most of the time, he should be able to perform above his season averages.
How the Bulls can win the series : Defense. Defense. Defense. Chicago holds opponents to 92.9 points per game, and their pace is not made for up and down play. Chicago’s deliberate pace is its main strength and forcing opponents into bad shots and longer possessions. A lot of that depends on the health of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson on both ends.
How the Nets can win the series : Deron on offense, Reggie on the boards. When Brooklyn wins, Reggie averages 12 rebounds and Deron averages 19 points and 8 assists. Brooklyn has trouble on the interior without Evans, and if they can’t contain Gibson, Boozer and Noah, it will be a long series. Going to Brook Lopez will help as well, since his game has steadily improved all season long.
Who wins and how many games : Brooklyn in 6 games. This will be the toughest series in the East to predict, since both teams play a deliberate pace and play stingy defense as well. It will come down to who blinks first and with Deron Williams, Brooklyn can dictate the pace.
About the Author
Written by Michael Reid