Eastern conference preview

The Eastern conference is on the rise.   The Bulls and Heat look like elite teams for the foreseeable future.  The Magic will join them if they can keep Dwight Howard, and the Knicks now have a couple superstars that they can build around.    Even the Nets landed a star and have a core that could make some noise if they can gather one more high quality piece to mesh with what they have.

In short, the East looks like the new West with the Bulls and Heat playing the role of the Spurs and Lakers with plenty of other teams having the ability to put quality out there.   This year, things won't get interesting until the second round.

Round 1

Bulls (1) vs Pacers (8)

I'll obviously spend a great deal of time breaking down this series and doing game by game recaps of it, so I won't go into too much depth here.   Instead, I'll relay an interview I heard from a guy who covers the Pacers on ESPN 1000 last night.  

When asked, "How far do Pacers fans think this series will go?"   He responded with five or six games.   Home fans typically think their team is at least one game better than it is, and they're predicting 5 or 6. 

I'm predicting 4 or 5.   The only question of whether there's a sweep or not is how focused the Bulls are.   In many ways, I think a sweep would hurt the Bulls, because I think they'll play better without having a massive layoff between series.

Bulls in five

Miami (2) vs Philly (7)

Philly has the individual man defenders and athleticism to bother Miami's offense.   Unfortunately, they don't really have the potent offensive players to do much on the other end. 

The Heat are simply better on both ends of the court and Philly even lacks the three point shooting that would give them a punchers chance of having a lucky series.

Much like the Pacers/Bulls series, you're only asking how long Philly can hang in here.   I'd say this one is also 4-5 games depending on how focused Miami is.

Miami in five

Boston (3) vs New York (6)

New York earlier said they wished they played the Heat.   So do I, it would have been more entertaining than this series, and New York would have had that 1/5 chance of  knocking Miami out.

That said, I think they stand a pretty good chance at beating Boston.   People fall into two groups right now.   Those who think Boston is just sandbagging because they put together a good playoff run last year, and those who think Boston really isn't that good anymore.

You know I'm in the second group.    If there's an upset in this round, it will be this game.   However, I think Boston matches up pretty well against New York.   A team that basically has a couple of star focal points will feed well into Boston's defensive strategy and New York doesn't really have the depth or athleticism to run them off the court.

As such, I think Boston does just enough to get by the Knicks in the only interesting first round series in the East.

Boston in six

Orlando (4) vs Atlanta (5)

You typically think of the four vs five matchup as one that can go either way.   This one can't go either way.   Atlanta is in a complete free fall ever since trading away Mike Bibby in order to get Captain glue whether those things are related or not is anyone's guess.

Atlanta's a team that ended the season in complete freefall and only racks up wins against lousy opponents for the most part.   They did beat Orlando three of four times during the season, so I suppose that counts for something, but not really...

The Hawks are further hurt by the fact that they have no homecourt advantage whatsoever, and the Magic fans might be louder and more present than the Hawks fans at their playoff games.   

They simply have no way to deal with Dwight Howard, while Horford is one of the better center's in the NBA, he's also a PF playing center and doesn't have the size or strength to do anything with Dwight.     The Hawks do have the shooting to give them some kind of puncher's chance in the series, especially if Orlando's shooters go cold.

However, it's hard to see either of those things working out as Orlando's shooters will likely be shooting open far more often than Atlanta's.

Magic in five

Round 2

Bulls (1) vs Magic (4)

The Magic are probably the team that scares me third most in the NBA for the Bulls to face after L.A. and Miami.   I think the Bulls would have an easier path if they played Boston in round two, as they match up better.  Amusingly, Nick Friedell was saying on ESPN 1000 that he thinks the Bulls would prefer Miami to Boston in the ECF.  

I'm not one to say I know more than the players, but I think players tend to discount how much guys decline due to age more so than sideline observers.

Anyway that's not going to happen, so no use thinking about it.  

The Bulls have beaten the Magic three out of four this season, but the final win was a hard fought contest and Dwight Howard wasn't even playing.   The only loss game in Boozer's debut game for Chicago where he rotated the wrong way on every help defensive play and the Magic still had Rashard Lewis, so that game also doesn't mean much to me either.

The Bulls have the bodies to throw at Dwight and make his life miserable.  Asik has done a serviceable job on Howard so far, Thomas will annoy the piss out of him with physical play, and Noah will use his energy to make Dwight work hard on both ends of the court moving around.  

I think the Bulls can manage Howard just fine, the question is whether or not the Bulls can successfully run the Magic shooter's off the three point line.  I think they've done a great job of managing wing players, but they struggle when having to defend stretch fours and fives.   As such Ryan Anderson probably plays a fairly absurdly important role for the Magic against Chicago relative to what he might play normally.

On the other end, the Magic's best hope of stopping Derrick Rose is for Dwight to beat the hell out of him, and he's certainly shown that he's willing to do just that (even if I don't think either foul was as bad as most people).   Luol Deng will destroy Hedo Turkoglu, and we'll have to hope Carlos Boozer shows up with his share of offense against the rather uninspiring Magic PF rotation of Bass and Anderson.

As noted above, after L.A. and Miami, the Magic have the third highest chance of knocking out the Bulls, so I don't think this series is a pushover, still I think the Bulls are solid favorites and will go on to win.

Bulls in seven

Heat (2) vs Boston (3)

I don't think this will be a series at all.   Chris Bosh said that Boston's a tougher opponent than Chicago, but I don't know which NBA he's been watching lately.   The Miami Heat are going to absolutely throttle the Boston Celtics in this round.   I doubt I'll even get killed for this opinion at this point.

The Celtics are 3-1 against the Heat this year, but two games were really early in the season when Miami hadn't gotten their crap together yet, and Kendrick Perkins was there for the other game.

The Heat have too much athleticism and too much talent for the Celtics to deal with.   Their lone hope is that Rajon Rondo gets his head out of his ass which I suppose isn't entirely unrealistic.   Still, I don't think this one is even close.

Heat in five

Eastern Conference Finals

Bulls (1) vs Heat (2)

The Bulls are 3-0 vs Miami this season, but I don't think that carries much meaning.   All three games were close, all three games could have gone either way, LeBron missed one of them as well.

The Bulls have the kind of defense that can give Miami a hard time as I think they do a nice job of stopping star players.   The Heat have no one who can even pretend to match up with Derrick Rose on the defensive end, nor do they have anyone who can provide any help once he blows by whomever they put on him.  

The Heat will be able to take the ball out of Rose's hands if they aggressively trap him with both Wade and LeBron, but then the Bulls should find a lot of success moving the ball as there are no other athletic defenders available to stop anyone else when they're defending four with three guys.

All that said, the Heat are dangerous as hell.   They have immense top end talent and Chris Bosh may have finally found his niche on this team after that five game losing streak.   They can overwhelm the Bulls with their offensive creation power and multiple points of attack.   The Bulls have made Bosh beat them in the past and he's failed, will Chris Bosh fail again?

I've gone back and forth in my mind on this series over and over again.   I typically come to the conclusion that if my house was on the line that I'd pick the Heat, but I think it's more or less a 50/50.   I think the Heat probably have a more talented roster, but I trust Thibodeau to make better adjustments and homecourt could be a huge factor. 

So just because I can't force myself to print anything else....

Bulls in seven

Comments

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  • So excited for these Playoffs. Not even just the Bulls, I want to see basically every matchup. In fact, I might be least excited for Bulls-Pacers (well, not really). This season has been so great, I hope the Playoffs can deliver a fitting end.

    I'm with you, the Magic scare the crap out of me. The combination of multiple shooters, and a guy that can mess with Rose feels like big trouble. I really hope that's not how this run ends. After such a great year, it feels like we should either win a ring, or lose to a real powerhouse like LA or Miami in an epic seven gamer. Losing to a lame team and city like Orlando would be a real buzzkill.

  • Results exactly follow the seedings?

    Yeah, I'm good with that.

  • Does anyone think that stopping/slowing one of Wade/LeBron is more important than Bosh or to put it differently, make Wade and LeBron not to get in sync with each other in passing, trapping etc..

  • In reply to schaumburgfan:

    I think you have to try to stop LeBron and Wade first of course.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Do you think LeBron is under a lot of mental pressure this post-season. The problem with one of them(Wade or LeBron)going bad is they can put another player totally out-of-sync.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Doug, got this from Sam's mailbag, supports your belief (and mine) that Derrick is the best defender @ PG 9playing over 25mpg):

    I was glad to see in your column some numbers and statistics presented positively on behalf of Derrick Rose

  • In reply to schaumburgfan:

    He can always have a hot shooting night, but I think keeping Wade shooting jumpers is a key to slowing him. Lebron is most likely going to get his typical stats no matter what. I think Wade is the easier of the two to slow and then get physical with Bosh and you're good to go. The "Fake Tough Guy" can't handle a little pounding down low.

  • So you're really saying the Heat will beat the Bulls without saying it. I'd have to agree if I were betting simply because Joakim is so important to the Bulls, and he has been very much diminished by these injuries. With a healthy, vibrant November Jo I pick the Bulls over the HEat. If he somehow returns then Chicago will find a way to win.

  • In reply to MikeKeane:

    By the time the Bulls play the Heat, Noah's ankle shouldn't be an issue. He'll have plenty of off days in between.

    I think the Heat and Bulls series is mostly a toss up, but if Miami and Chicago both bring their A game, I think Miami probably wins.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    I definitely agree that it's a toss up but I think the Bulls have advantage with how well they play at home. My money is also on Miami's role players being more likely to disappear than Chicago's defense disappearing. I think if Miami brings their A game and Bulls bring their B game, Miami wins, but if both bring their A game, my money is on Thibs defense every time.

    This is the great part of this year's season and playoffs...no clear cut favorites and almost every series could go either way. It'll be fun to watch!

  • This is why I said yesterday that the Bulls need to prove to the teams that they face in the playoffs that this season was no fluke. There are too many players on other teams that simply have no respect for the Bulls and I guess with reason. If a team can stop or slow down Rose, that teams chances at winning against the Bulls are better. I really do feel that the Bulls having home court throughout the playoffs will be the difference in the team going deep in the playoffs.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    Worth nothing though that the Bulls are 12-0 against the other top 7 teams in the NBA outside of themselves since Dec 3rd.

    If people don't respect the Bulls they don't respect them, but there's nothing more Chicago could have done to earn respect than what it's done.

  • fb_avatar

    LOL @ "Home fans typically think their team is at least one game better than it is", as a Bulls fan who said Cavs in 6 last year. Guess it's true then. So, Bulls v Pacers?

    Bulls in 3.

  • With home court advantage, I feel perfectly comfortable picking the Bulls over the Heat in 7. I respect the threat Miami poses, and they're playing well, but they are still a team that has an unimpressive record against good teams, great teams, and in close games.

  • In reply to muhammond:

    It's interesting to decide what value you put on record in close games as an argument for future success. A consistent ability to close out those types of games is great, but in the end, I think a lot of the ends of those games is simply luck and not necessarily likely to repeat.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    I don't find the Heat to be that scary if they reach us in the ECF. If ANY of James, Wade or Bosh goes down to injury, then they are sunk. That is more likely to happen to Wade than the other two. But still, they don't have the size to rebound the ball and they don't play well in a half-court offense. Yes, they are a good defensive team, but the game slows down tremendously in the playoffs. I wouldn't be surprised if Boston beats them, or if they beat us, but I give us a 60% chance of beating the Heat with home court advantage.

    NBA analysts have been saying recently that the Bulls may be like the recent Cavs teams, winning lots of regular season games but losing in the playoffs. The problem I have with that is this: one thing that most analysts are not really talking about is Thibodeau. Those Cavs teams had a mediocre at best coach in Mike Brown, but Thibodeau is a game-changer. He has been amazing adjusting during the second half of a game. Imagine what he can do in a playoff series! I'm excited just to see him coach us during the playoffs.

    Between the Heat's weaknesses, our home court advantage and Thibodeau's coaching ability being vastly superior, I take the Bulls in 6.

    I do think there is cause for concern for us in that the Bulls may have trouble scoring if Rose is having an off night or is defensively contained, but our defense is vastly superior and Thibodeau will find us ways to win. I put a lot of trust in him.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Finally the Playoffs are here! Is it ECF or bust? or Finals or bust?

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    in the past I have seen analyses that suggest dominating your weaker opponents has a stronger correlation to winning a championship than does your record against other top teams. Seems counterintuitive.

    Also, a high overall scoring differential seems to mean more than your record in close games.

    I agree with your luck theory, all the Bulls wins against the Heat seemed more like a relief to survive than a victory.

    But in order to get that luck you usually need a dominant scorer, the Bulls have only one Miami has at least 2.

  • While I appreciate all these breakdowns it seems silly to do all the rounds ahead of time. There are variables that aren't known yet that would have to be factored in. It seems exfremely unlikely that not one player from any of these teams gets an injury that would effect the outcome of a series.

    I like the result of your predictions but I am going to look at things one series at a time. I also am interested to see this Atlanta / Orlando series. I think Atlanta has more of a shot to win than you do but I could also see them being swept as well if they get down 2-0. All the records don't mean anything any more and how players / teams respond in playoff conditions is everything.

    There are many good playoff teams with players who can make a difference in a series. The question is who will.

  • In reply to UnstopaBull:

    Really glad the bulls have home court throughout, will likely be the difference in at least one of these series.

  • In reply to UnstopaBull:

    Agree...I feel the three things which matter most in the playoffs more than talent are:
    1. Mental and Physical toughness(how they react when they are down, when the other team makes a run etc..)
    2. Home-Court
    3. Match-ups(I think that's one advantage the Bulls have. They are very versatile and can match-up well against almost all playoff teams.

  • In reply to UnstopaBull:

    I agree with the ultimate results but,
    Knicks will make it a 7 game series,
    Celtics will make it a 7 game series v. Heat.
    Bulls will beat Magic in 5 and Heat in 6.

  • In reply to UnstopaBull:

    I will also redo the matchups after each round in greater detail and if the seeds don't go the way I expect (which is almost a certainty as they never do).

  • In reply to UnstopaBull:

    I agree with your thoughts that Atlanta has a chance against Orlando. In the breakdown, Doug mentions Horford being a PF playing center, but Atlanta matches Jason Collins up on Dwight, not Horford, who seems to give Howard trouble for some reason. I guess he's just a big body who defends him well. We'll see how he does in a best of 7, but he is the x-factor for Atlanta. If he has similar results as in their season head to head, this has the potential for an upset.

  • In reply to UnstopaBull:

    Before the season started, many of the experts were predicting 70+ wins for the Heat. Not surprising. The NBA is known as a star-driven league and no team has ever had 3 stars of the Heat's caliber who were all in their prime on their roster (for those who don't think Bosh deserves to be included with Wade and James, keep in mind that he was 24-11 with a 25 PER before joining the Heat).

    Both the Heat and the Bulls got off to rough starts. The experts were surprised by the Heat, but not the Bulls. Then both teams turned it around, but the experts' perception of these turnarounds were different. The Bulls became a team that was better than the sum of their parts, but the Heat remained something less than the sum of their parts. If the experts were describing the two teams like they were prospective draft choices, they'd say that the Heat have a "much higher ceiling."

    Even if they're not saying it, the experts still think that the Heat are the best team in the East. It's just hard to say it out loud given the Bulls 62 wins and 3-0 record head-to-head vs the Heat.

    Should the Bulls and Heat meet in the EC Finals, which I think will happen, I expect the experts to "come out of the closet" and back the Heat.

    Personally, I look forward to a Bulls-Heat EC Finals matchup.

  • In reply to Nossem:

    Bulls are LaMarcus Aldridge while the Heat are Tyrus Thomas..

  • In reply to schaumburgfan:

    LOVE that comparison!

  • In reply to UnstopaBull:

    Anyone see Rick Reilly's predictions (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/news/story?id=6360850). I don't usually read his columns, but I'm glad I peeped this one. It had me chuckling.

  • In reply to magestew:

    Best quote of that article!
    "Rose is so quick and full of energy against the Lakers, he looks like a squirrel trapped inside an assisted living home."

    Hilarious!

  • In reply to magestew:

    Check out Wilbon's comparison to Jordan Bulls and Rose Bulls.
    http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=6350234

  • In reply to kayak0109:

    Thanks for the link. Wilbon's an OK guy in my book. Personally, I think Michael says a lot of things publically any more that he doesn't necessarily mean. I think he was just trying to be nice to the fans like it was a pep rally or bid for an election. Just taking a totally homeristic, pie in the sky swat out of the ballpark with expectations/praise to rouse the crowd/fans. Then again he probably sees something in Derrick Rose that says chamipionships..? Maybe.

  • In reply to UnstopaBull:

    They(Atlanta)were embarassed badly in the playoffs last season by Orlando. Interesting to see how they respond to a very different Magic team.

  • In reply to UnstopaBull:

    Hey, help a brotha out... I'm in Boston, I'll be
    watching the game tomorrow at a sports bar - in silence, since they're featuring a Red Sox day game. Anyone know how I can listen to a commentary on my Droid phone? On-line radio station, sports ap with audio, any suggestions that will work for tomorrow's game? And dammit, I'll be in the air flying home on Monday night, I sure hope USAirways shows ESPN... Any advice would be great, thanks!

  • In reply to petert23:

    Not sure if this will help but, go to this website: atdhe.ws You can watch pretty much any sports game live online for free.

  • Great analysis as always, Doug.

    The one thing not mentioned above is the coaching match-up, which I think is key. I actually think the Heat-Bulls matchup (if it gets there) is going to come down to coaching. And in terms of tactical basketball and game-planning, I think Thibs easily outclasses Spoelstra.

    Thibadeau knows what his team must do to win, and subsequently his gameplans vary slightly by opponent. He is excellent at recognizing other team's weaknesses and how to exploit them, mixing things up basd on personnel/style faced (e.g. playing Howard straight up, but doubling Carmelo). He will be ready for whatever the Heat have to throw at the Bulls. The reason we have beaten the Heat - a team of equal or superior talent - consistently this year is Thibs knows his team and has complete command of all it's assets. Spoelstra runs non-stop iso's and P-N-R (not unlike Vinny) and relies on his team's athleticism to win all battles, which frankly they won't be able to do against good teams in teh playoffs.

    Bulls in 6.

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