Eastern Conf. 1st Round Previews
CELTICS (1) vs. HAWKS (8): Let's keep this brief. I expect the Celtics to be fired up from the start, and if the Hawks can keep any game within single digits they should be satisfied.
CELTS IN 4
PISTONS (2) vs. SIXERS (7):
If the Pistons don't dick around, like they are prone to do, not sure why this series should go more than 5. But then again, Detroit has a habit of treating some playoff games as they're meaningless regular season games. If the Pistons just make a concerted effort of getting back in transition, not sure how Philly will compete.
Detroit's defense is just too good in the half-court. I think the Pistons can absolutely suffocate the Sixers' offense if they really want to. The Pistons can trap & scramble freely knowing that they will probably not be punished by the pass coming out of the doubles since the Sixers can't catch-n-shoot (Lou Williams is the only one to be slightly concerned about).
Flip also likes to mix in zone looks as much as any coach--3-2 zone with Tayshaun on top is a favorite. A great idea vs. maybe the worst outside shooting team in the league; Philly really has no outside shooting threat. Not to mention no dangerous post option or anyone who really needs a double-team. It's pretty amazing Mo Cheeks has this team hovering around .500.
The strength of the Sixers defense is the ability to force turnovers which helps trigger there break, where their collection of wing athletes can excel--Philly is 4th in the league in steals. The issue for the Sixers--Detroit is one of the best teams at taking care of the ball.
Philly maybe can get by with their style in the regular season catching team in one-game scenarios, but when a team has a week to two weeks to focus on them, especially a team as good defensively as Detroit, not sure how Philly is gonna score consistently.
PISTONS IN 5
MAGIC (3) vs. RAPTORS (6)
Think this will be a relatively competitive series, and the Raps could push the Magic if they keep their mistakes to a minimum. The Raps are great at taking care of the ball, and they have a distinct advantage in the series with a favorable turnover margin.
Toronto has to consider the strategy of hacking Howard when he has deep position & trying to score. Dwight's shooting 59% from the line this year. The Raps have some expendable big bodies in Humphries & Brezec. And Rasho & Bargs can use some fouls as well; basically every big besides Bosh should be hammering Dwight. Just send Humphries out the floor with the edict to be as physical as he can with Dwight & clobber the piss out of him if he's in a good position to score (just like Eddie Shore, old-time hockey, eh).
Hedo running the high screen/roll has caused problems for many teams this year. And I'm not really sure the Raps have anyone who can challenge his shot on the perimeter. Will see if Jamario Moon & Delfino can disrupt Hedo's rhythm.
Both squads are adept at drilling outside shots, should just neutralize each other from the 3pt. line.
Raptors definitely have the advantage at the point, and need to attack the Magic defense with Calderon/Ford's creativity off the dribble. Bosh needs to play with much more aggression than he did last year vs. the Nets, and he has the ability to cause Rashard Lewis problems. The Raptors should not be afraid to take the ball into the lane at Dwight. Sure, he will block a few of your shots, but you could also draw a few fouls. And Dwight might become less active if he picks up a few fouls knowing he does not have much interior help off the bench.
MAGIC IN 6
CAVS (4) vs. WIZARDS (5)
The hardest series in the 1st round to gauge in my estimation. Not really sure what to expect from either team. Neither team has been at full-strength all year.
The Cavs have had guys shuffle in-n-out with injuries and have not seemed to gel since the multi-player trade. Never had their full compliment of players in the lineup at the same time. And the Wizards have to make room for Arenas, a high-volume shooter who needs a lot of touches, after getting use to functioning well without him for 60+ games. Plus, add Caron Butler's uncertain health to the mix.
Cavs have been slowly getting better on the defensive end throughout the year, but they are still not back to being where they were last year. They probably had the top defense in the East last year, and combined with its stellar rebounding was the key for their conf. title.
The Wizards are hard to get a bead on with Arenas just coming back, and trying to implement him back into the lineup. Never know what you're gonna get with Gil: he might go off for 30+ one night, but follow it up with a 6-22 shooting night with 5 TOs. And sometimes you get the ying/yang of Gil in the same game, like the other night vs. Philly.
Cavs have to get more creative in the offensive sets. I have always been a proponent of running more offense thru Big Z. His underrated passing skills have been underutilized for my tastes. Will surely see some pick-n-pop action with Bron & Z, and Big Z needs to drill some jumpers to hopefully peel Haywood away from the lane.
Wally, Delonte, & Gibson must drill outside shots to open up Lebron's lanes. Otherwise, the Wizards will block off the lane and dare LeBron to be a jump-shooter.
Wizards will look look to get Jamison & Butler going on the offensive end. Jamison & Butler have the ability to post-up, but also can float out on the perimeter. Jamison will frustrate the defense with his quick release around the rim--he uses a very unique shot that's sort of a combo of a hook & jumper, he kinda pushes the ball up at the rim. It will interesting to see how often Coach Jordan chooses to post Butler if Lebron is guarding him.
DeShawn Stevenson has really turned himself into a long-ball threat, he usually will drill 2-3 bombs a game, and needs to be identified in transition because he will pull the trigger on the run.
Can the Wizards' defense piece a few games of solid play together is a key question. Probably don't have to be great, since they have such an advantage on the offensive end overall. The Wizards still are the worst defensive team in the playoffs. Then again, the Cavs are one of the worst offensive team in the playoffs (only the Sixers are worst), so they might balance out.
Could go either way with this pick; should be the most competitive matchup in the East. If the Cavs were playing defense like they were last year I think I would feel more confident with picking the Cavs. Think the Wizards' improved rebounding & not-terrible-anymore defense should sneak them by this year.
WIZARDS IN 6
M. Haubs' Picks:
First Round: Celtics in 4, Pistons in 5, Magic in 6, Cavs in 7
Conf Semis: Celtics over Cavs in 5, Pistons over Magic in 5
Conf Finals: Celtics over Pistons in 5
NBA Finals: Celtics over Lakers in 6