Friday, April 20, 2007

Eastern Conference 1st Round Preview

(1) Detroit vs. (8) Orlando:
I have a good feeling this is the 1st round series that gets buried on NBATV. Not much to expound on here, series should be a formality where the Pistons breeze. Detroit is the most balanced team in the East, and their defense has not suffered with the loss of Big Ben.

Orlando's biggest issue is their lack of offensive firepower. Dwight is nice, but he's still fairly raw, and they have no one who can create much offense on the perimeter. Sort of reminds me of last year's Memphis team that got swept by Dallas. Plus, Detroit has the luxury of throwing a variety of capable big bodies at the one offensive threat that Orlando has.

The Magic also have had issues with turnovers all season--Orl is one of the worst in the NBA, while Detroit is one of the best at taking care of the ball. Detroit will probably sleepwalk thru one game on the road like they did last year vs. the Bucks so the Magic can steal one game.

(2) Cleveland vs. (7) Washington :
Obviously will not have the juice of last year's 1st round matchup. Kinda hard generating any interest toward this series. If Gil's injury happened 2 weeks earlier than it did, the Wiz ain't in the playoffs--there are probably 3-4 Eastern teams sitting at home who are currently better than the Wiz.

The Cavs have a distinct advantage on the defensive end & on the boards: the Cavs are a Top 5 defensive & rebound team, while the Wiz are bottom of the barrel in both categories. And the one distinct advantage the Wiz had over the Cavs was their potent offense, and that has been decimated. Caron Butler's status could play a factor in the Wiz maybe winnng an extra game, but even if Caron is relatively healthy there is no real chance for the Wiz winning this series. I think the Wizards will take one game where I expect the Cavs to bog down offensively & Jamison to heat up at the right time.

(3) Toronto vs. (6) New Jersey :
Expect this series to go the distance. The Nets are playing well of late & their bench has increasely gotten better thru-out the season. The key for the Nets will be--can Mikki Moore & other bigs contain Bosh? If they can do a solid job, I think this could tip the series in NJ's favor. The Nets need Vince to be aggressive off the dribble from the start of the series. In last year's opening round he came out in "fadeaway jumpshot mode" and made the Pacers' defensive focus easier.

PG matchup is intriguing. Something that I think Larry Frank doesn't do enough, and really needs to happen in this series, is run more post-ups for Kidd. Kidd can post-up any point in the league, and especially can go to work on Ford. As good as TJ played in the reg. season, the playoffs are where weaknesses are exposed and I expect to see TJ sagged off, go underneath pick/rolls on, and posted on the defensive end.

One underreported fact that could come into play--the Raps are one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA. Though they luck out a little since NJ is middle-o-pack themselves. Raps could very well miss the all-around defense of Garbajosa, and Bargnani not being in quality shape does not help the Raps' frontline depth. But the Raps' backcourt bench is an underrated bunch, and Calderon, MoPete, & Juan Dixon all are capable of playing a big role. This series could come down to who's bench plays better. And this year's Nets' bench has helped remedy the outside shooting woes of last year.

Wavering back-n-forth on the winner, my initial choice is the Nets, but one factor is holding me back. That factor is the Nets' tendency for poor late-game execution. It killed them last year in Games 3-5 vs. the Heat, and seemed to carry over to this year where they could have easily (even with the injuries) won 6-8 more games if not for shoddy offensive execution & dubious turnovers in the 4th quarter. If the Nets can make smart decisions down the stretch they should pull out series, but that's a big if.

Miami (4) vs. Chicago (5):
Boy, the Bulls got screwed by the new playoff format. Not only do they play the Heat in the 1st, they have to play the Pistons if they win. Rematch of unexpected competitive series from last year's 1st round.

We all know about Chicago's defensive prowess, but the Heat aren't too bad themselves. Actually, the Heat defense has been somewhat underappreciated the last 2 years. One difference from last year, I think the Bulls can guard Shaq one-on-one better & more often with Big Ben around. Also, the Bulls have a guy in Hinrich who happens to guard Wade as good as anyone. Miami's perimeter defense had issues with the Bulls last year, but Riley did happen to light a fire just in time for the Heat take the Bulls in 6. Also, expect the Bulls to try & get Shaq in a lot of pick/rolls where it's doubtful he will show hard on the guards.

Problem with judging this series is trying to figure out how healthy are the Heat? Obviously Wade's health is a major issue, but Payton's status is of some concern and Haslem is not 100%. But the Bulls have some issues as well with Nocioni. He was huge last year vs. the Bulls, and he allowed the Bulls to go smaller & get good offensive production from the PF spot.

It's imperative that the Heat get the same type of outside shooting from their supporting cast that they got last year. Posey & JWill had career years from 3pt. and Walker had one of his best years of his career. And this year the automatic Kapono gets added to the mix. Even with Big Ben around, the Bulls will still have to help on Shaq, and this is where the Heat shooters come into play. Although JWill & Walker have not shot the long ball well this year.

If Wade can't get comfortable getting in the lane & drawing fouls as usual, the Heat are in trouble. If he can physically take some lumps that will certainly come from a Skiles' coached squad, then the Heat could be in good shape. Right now it's just real hard to judge how Wade will respond since he just came back. Another series where I waver on picking the winner, but I think Wade will be effective enough to pull the Heat thru.
M Haubs' Playoff Picks
First Round
Pistons over Magic in 5 (Magic fizzled in second half)
Bulls over Heat in 6 (too much adversity for MIA to overcome this yr - bad matchup for them, too)
Raptors over Nets in 5 (rabid Raps fans get revenge for Vince)
Cavs over the Wizznutzz in 5 (no Gil, no love)


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