In most analysts’ eyes, the Eastern Conference is the Miami Heat’s to lose. With injuries to key members of the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics, there appear to be only two teams, Indiana and New York, that have any real chance of challenging the defending NBA champions. Unfortunately for NBA fans, this means a pretty dull first round is probably on the way. Still, the designated underdog always has a chance of pulling off the unthinkable (except you Bucks. Sorry.) and winning a first round series. With that said, I doubt this is the year that’s going to happen. The second round is where the action will happen in the East, so if you’re on the East coast, use the first round to brush up on the Western Conference.
(1) Miami Heat vs. (8) Milwaukee Bucks
Analysis: The only real question about this series is whether it will end in four or five games. Even with the NBA’s best interior defender in Larry Sanders, the Bucks have no chance of slowing down the Heat. Milwaukee doesn’t match up well on the wings and doesn’t have a post presence to exploit Miami’s biggest weakness. The Heat recently beat the Deer on April 9th by 11 points with both Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade out. Enough said.
Prediction: Miami sweeps a team for the first time in the Big 3 era. Heat in 4.
(2) New York Knicks vs. (7) Boston Celtics
Analysis: Coming into the playoffs, the New York Knicks have been playing some of their best basketball. They are getting career years from both Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith and have built a style of play predicated on quick ball movement and a high volume of three point shots. Although they have defended well in stretches this season, the Knicks are still shaky on that end of the court, which makes Tyson Chandler’s health issues all the more troubling.
After a devastating injury to star point guard Rajon Rondo, the aging Celtics were left for dead. However, Boston has played better without him at times on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. For the Celtics to win this series, they’re going to need someone to step up and be a consistent presence alongside Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Whether Jason Terry or Jeff Green can be that player over an entire series remains to be seen.
Prediction: Boston will challenge the Knicks, but they can’t keep pace with New York’s scoring. Knicks in 6.
(3) Indiana Pacers vs. (6) Atlanta Hawks
Analysis: Man, the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs only gets more and more exciting, huh?
Atlanta, which looked so promising early on this season, slid back to their usual place in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack. At the trade deadline, the Hawks flirted with throwing in the towel and trading Josh Smith, but couldn’t find a deal they liked. They opted to hang on to the incredibly dynamic (but unbelievably inefficient) power forward, to allegedly see if they could make a playoff run (but most likely to try to attract Dwight Howard in the offseason by keeping one of Howard’s best friends around). By slipping into the sixth spot, however, the Hawks likely played themselves out of a competitive series and into a beatdown.
Indiana won’t say it, but they’re happy the Atlanta Hawks fell to sixth in the standings at the end of the regular season. The Pacers defense, the most efficient in the league, is going to be a puzzle Atlanta won’t be able to solve. Indiana has the size advantage at every position and in a series where points will be hard to come by, it will make the difference.
Prediction: Definitely the least watchable series in the first round. Oh, and Indiana in 5.
(4) Brooklyn Nets vs. (5) Chicago Bulls
Analysis: This seems like the only first round series that has a chance to go either way. Chicago without Derrick Rose is still a pesky team. The Bulls, whose defensive scheme has served as a blueprint for the rest of the league, are relentless on that end of the court. Without Derrick Rose, though, they struggle scoring points. Will the return of Joakim Noah from a recent foot injury be enough to get them out of the first round?
Brooklyn, meanwhile, has been slowly improving throughout the season, and has recently really seemed to come together as a unit rather than a collection of individuals. One of the most obvious reasons for this development is the play of Deron Williams. The point guard is finally looking like his old self again, pushing the ball up in transition and taking it hard to the basket. Still, the Nets are suspect on the defensive end and will likely struggle in the rebounding battle.
Prediction*: The Bulls are a team that is playoff-tested and plays the type of grinding defense that wins playoffs games, but lacks a player that can get a basket. While the Nets have multiple players that can get a basket, I’m not sure that they can get a big stop on the defensive end if they need it. In the playoffs, I’ll always take the team that excels defensively. Bulls in 7.
*Updated 4.20.13 — New information has come out about the health of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Noah might not be able to return at all in this series and Gibson might be very limited due to a sprained MCL. This new information is enough to tip the scales of the prediction. Nets in 7.
Previously from Charlie Crespo:
♦ Talking About Madonna is Just Talking About Ourselves
♦ Bubba Watson’s Hovercraft, More Like Bubba Watson’s Borecraft
♦ Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”: The Essential List Part 2
♦ State Island Woman Discovers Key to Longevity: Booze Hard
♦ Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”: The Essential List Part 1