After their memorable championship run last year, the Miami Heat are looking to repeat this year and they seem stronger than ever. This season boasts a 27-game winning streak, career high percentages for the big three, a scarier supporting cast, and a lot more confidence. The race in the east was not in doubt throughout this whole season. The first victim of this raging Heat squad would be the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks are the only team in the playoffs that have a losing record. They spiraled down as of late but they do have one win over the Heat and perhaps that can boost their confidence in this series.
Matchup: The high-volume shooting, dynamic backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis will have a hard time going to the rack or scoring in bunches because of the athletic defenders of the Heat. Although the Bucks boast DPOY candidate Larry Sanders at front, it still wouldn’t be enough to stop Wade and James from doing what they do best.
Sidestories: Brandon Jennings is trying to prove himself as a max contract worthy guy. It is most likely that he becomes more aggressive but he has a tendency to force the issue which might backfire on him. This would be a great experience for the young players in the Bucks squad.
Prediction: Miami in 4
Some people wrote off the Knicks after a subpar performance after the All-Star break. However, their late season run lead by Carmelo Anthony’s scoring tear (leading to the scoring title) put the Knicks back up there as the best challengers to the Miami Heat. Although Amare Stoudemire is out of the equation, the whole squad is clicking at the right time just before the playoffs start.
The Celtics lost their All-Star Rajon Rondo to injury mid-season and everyone thought that their post season hopes are over. The loss of Rondo gave way for other players to rise to the occasion. Jeff Green and Avery Bradley, the young ones in this squad stepped up in Rondo’s absence. Add that to Paul Pierce, who can still score in bunches, and Garnett, who is still a scary defensive anchor.
Matchup: The Knicks are very much dependent on the three point shot. But we all know that Boston’s defense is its trademark. Anchored by Garnett, this should be an interesting matchup of offense vs. defense. This will be a good chess matchup between Coach Mike Woodson and Coach Doc Rivers. A shootout between Pierce and Anthony may come out in one of these games.
Sidestories: Boston signed Terry to be its man off the bench. So far he has underperformed but perhaps the playoff atmosphere can change the picture. The recent tragedies in Boston may boost the morale during the home games of the Celtics and could be a big factor.
Prediction: Knicks in 6
The Pacers are an interesting squad. Last year they almost took out the Heat lead by Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert. This year, Hibbert underperformed and Granger was injured. The young all-star Paul George stepped up and filled that void. Together with the dependable David West and the Pacers supporting cast, they hung around the number 2 spot for most of the season until the Knicks got hot towards the end. They put up good matches against the defending champs and are expected to be the “Heat Killers.”
The Hawks on the other hand were expected to be in rebuilding mode after the Joe Johnson trade. But a squad featuring big man Al Horford and the athletic and talented Josh Smith won’t be kept away from the post season that easily especially in a weak Eastern conference. Although they lost key guard Lou Williams, the other guards, Devin Harris and Jeff Teague are there to fill the void.
Matchup: The frontcourt will be great matchup featuring Josh Smith and Horford vs David West and Roy Hibbert. Paul George should look to step up since I don’t think anyone on the Hawks squad can match up to him. Supporting cast of both squads would have to play a big role in this series.
Sidestories: Josh Smith is in contract year and he is said to be expecting a max contract. This is the perfect time to prove it. It is exciting to watch the evolution of Paul George. He’s like Granger except better. And please some Gerald Green 360-degree windmill alley-oop!
Prediction: Pacers in 6
In their first year in Brooklyn, the Nets have made it to the playoffs. This is expected of them especially after all the off-season moves they did. Williams started to get back into his old self and Brook Lopez has emerged to be one of the best centers in the league. Joe Johnson is as deadly as ever. The only missing factor is the dynamic play of Gerald Wallace which has been missing all season long.
Although Derrick Rose has not played a single game this season yet, the Chicago Bulls still remain a formidable force especially on defense. This shows how good the Bulls system is. This also allowed some players to grow and step up their play. Who would’ve thought that Nate Robinson would be so valuable to a team.
Matchup: Now that D-Will is getting back to his old form, it will be nice to see how the Bulls’ defense will handle him. I’m also looking forward to the Brook Lopez Joakim Noah matchup and whether Gerald Wallace can still guard and slow down Luol Deng.
Sidestories: The only story that really matters here is the return of Derrick Rose. It is a gamechanger.
Prediction: Nets in 7