NBA Playoffs Preview (Part 1): Eastern Conference
by Mike Maloney(NBA)
Posted on April 21, 2006, 7:44 PM
The NBA season wrapped up Wednesday night, and the playoffs are set to start this weekend. The Sports Oratory would like to take this opportunity to give our readers some insight into the eight first round match-ups that are set to take place. NBA writers Mike Maloney and Keith Frederick will break down each pairing and give their thoughts on how the round will play out. Part 1 of this Preview will show us the first round match-ups for the Eastern Conference, while Part 2 will cover the Western Conference.
(1) Detroit vs. (8) Milwaukee
Mike: Statistically, Milwaukee actually matches up decently with Detroit. However, upon realization that Detroit has almost 30 more wins than the Bucks, stats clearly arenít the story here. Detroit is the favorite to win the NBA championship, with an impressive 64-win season, despite having to adapt to a new head coach. The Pistonsí strengths lie in the fact that they have four All-Stars that start for them on a daily basis. Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, and Ben Wallace could be superstars on any team in the NBA; but put them all together, and you have a devastating group of players both on offense and defense. Detroit has outscored its opponents by 6.6 points this season, and are allowing a mere 90.2 points per game. Chauncey Billups is having a career year, averaging 18.5 points per game and 8.6 assists per game. With the offense running through him, he has options in Rip Hamilton (20.1 ppg) and Rasheed Wallace (15.1 ppg).
Milwaukee, on the other hand, really only has one Ďsuperstarí in Michael Redd, who is averaging 25.4 ppg. Redd has a decent supporting cast, with the rookie Andew Bogut making an impact at 9.4 ppg and 7 rpg, and Bobby Simmons, TJ Ford, and Mo Williams all averaging around 12-13 ppg. Unfortunately for the Bucks, they are really outmatched going up against the Pistons. In order to beat the Pistons, a team has to play enough defense to shut down Rasheed Wallace and at least contain Rip Hamilton, and on the other end, their offense has to be effective enough to be able to score against the Pistonsí prolific defense. This Bucks team does not have a lot of playoff experience, does not have the talent Detroit has, and overall canít match the intensity that the Pistons will bring.
Detroit wins series, 4-0
(2) Miami vs. (7) Chicago
Keith: Miami's Dwayne Wade has been phenomenal this year, averaging career highs in points (27.3), rebounds (5.7) free throw percentage (78.3%) and field goal percentage (49.5%). Throw in his nearly 7 assists per game and who cares that he only shoots 17% from three? While Wade has become the undisputed leader of the team, Shaquille O'Neal is still the man behind the throne. The Big Everything has put up career lows in points and rebounds, but for a normal human being 20 points and 9 rebounds is still pretty good. And even when those two falter, Coach Riley has one of the deepest squads in the league to turn to. If the game called for it, the Heat have two guys - Antoine Walker (12.2 ppg, 35% 3PT), Jason Williams (12.3 ppg, 37% 3PT) - who have the potential to go for 20-30 points a night and others, like James Posey (7.2 ppg, 40% 3PT) and Udonis Haslem (9.4 ppg, 7.8 boards), who have the ability to take over. And don't forget that Gary Payton and Alonzo Mourning are both spending their twilight years in the Miami sun.
Chicago has shown that it has one of the best young teams in the league this year. Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni all average between 13-19 ppg, while three other players hover in the 8-9 point range. So they can spread it around. Hinrich is a natural playmaker at the point, and Gordon, Deng and Nocioni, along with Chris Duhon and Tyson Chandler, can all finish. Unfortunately for the Bulls, Darius Songaila will miss the playoffs with a broken foot, leaving Chicago with only Malik Allen at the 4. Allen is a servicable defender but isn't the shooter that Songaila is. And neither man could hang with Haslem on the boards. Fortunately for Chicago, this series has one giant, glowing silver lining: The Bulls have OWNED Wade this season, holding the stellar two guard to just 12.3 points on 24.3 percent shooting in three meetings. But no matter how many times Wade is touted as an MVP candidate, this is still O'Neal's team, and Shaq doesn't lose in the first round. The Bulls have shown that they'll be a force in this league soon. But they can't hang with a team this deep.
Miami wins series, 4-1
(3) New Jersey vs. (6) Indiana
Mike: New Jersey has been one of the hottest teams in the NBA as of late, going on a 14-game win streak that included wins against Dallas, at Detroit, Phoenix, and Miami. The trio of Jason Kidd (8.4 apg), Richard Jefferson (19.5 ppg) and Vince Carter (24.2 ppg) is formidable, and matches up well with anyone in the league. They also have a couple of seven footers in Nenad Kristic and Jason Collins to give them some presence on the inside. The Netsí biggest challenge will be answering the questions regarding their depth. After Carter, Kidd, Kristic and Jefferson, all averaging double digits in points-per-game, production drops off severely, with their next three scorers being Clifford Robinson (6.9 ppg), Marc Jackson (4.6 ppg), and Jason Collins (3.6 ppg). This is not a deep team, and the Netsí success and failure will be determined by how well their starters can perform.
The Pacers have had a very up-and-down season, and have more question marks surrounding them as they head into the playoffs. After trading away arguably the top defender in the league in Ron Artest to Sacramento for Peja Stojakovic, the Pacers struggled to remain consistent, including a span from March 3rd to April 9th that saw them go 7-15 and almost bumped from the playoffs. They hit survival mode and managed to win five of their last six games and stay in. However, now that they are in, injuries are going to be a big concern for this team. Fred Jones (9.6 ppg) missed the end of the regular season, and is questionable for Game 1 with a thumb injury. Jamaal Tinsley (9.3 ppg, 5.0 apg) is out the first two games with an Achillesí tendon problem. This places a ton of pressure on Stephen Jackson (16.4 ppg), who starts in front of Jones, as well as Anthony Johnson (9.2 ppg), who will have to start in place of Tinsley. Fortunately for the Pacers, they have a fairly deep team, with ten guys averaging at least 7 points-per-game. If Indiana comes in playing their best basketball, and if their backcourt can overcome the injuries theyíve suffered, they can give New Jersey a run for their money. However, the Pacers lack the star power and consistency that New Jersey has shown they have down the stretch. Experience also favors the Nets, as they know how to win and get to the NBA Finals, something this Pacer team hasnít done.
New Jersey wins series, 4-2
(4) Cleveland vs. (5) Washington
Keith: This is probably one of the most anxiously awaited matchups of the playoffs. Why? Because the teams are the most evenly matched in the East and might be the best matched in the whole league.
The Cavaliers have a legitimate MVP candidate for the first time in recent memory - heck, for the first time in ANY memory - in Lebron James. There's no denying that this was a breakout year for him. He averaged 31 points, 7 boards and almost 7 assists. James has proven that he is beyond question as a leader this season. He took a group of role players (Drew Gooden, Donyell Marshall and Eric Snow, among others), a chronically unhappy scorer (Larry Hughes) and a solid but sometimes inconsistent center (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) and guided them to the playoffs for the first time in 8 years. Cleveland has won 14 of its last 17 games with James leading the way until he sprained his left ankle last week. That'll slow him down a bit, endangering his team's chances, because the Cavs formula is simple: Lebron scores, Lebron rebounds and Lebron dishes. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Washington, third in the NBA in scoring with 101.3 points per game, also has a simple recipe for success: Stand back and watch Gilbert, 'Tawn and Caron. That would be Gilbert Arenas (29.3 ppg, 6.1 assists), Antawn Jamison (20.5 ppg, 9.3 boards) and Caron Butler (17.6 ppg, 6.2 boards), the Wizards' Big Three. Consider them a less spectacular, but more consistent version of New Jersey's Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson. Scoring is Washington's game, not defense. They're ranked in the bottom half of the league in opponents' scoring average, allowing almost 100 points per, but the only defensive job they need to worry about is the one backup center Brendan Heywood will do on Ilgauskas while starter Etan Thomas is out with a lower back strain for the first two games of the series.
Conveniently, these two teams matched up just days ago, giving fans a peak at their upcoming series. Last Sunday, the Wizards blew past their first round foes 104-92 behind Arenas' 32 points and Butler returning from a thumb injury to put up 21 points, 8 boards, 4 steals and 3 assists. Granted, the Cavs were resting Lebron's ankle and only backup guard Ronald Murray played more than 20 minutes, but the game has to give Cleveland supporters chills. It gave Washington the advantage in the season series 3-2. Those two wins came very early in the season for the Cavs, but I'm not quite willing to bet against Lebron yet, even if he is a playoff virgin.
Cleveland wins series, 4-3
That concludes the Eastern Conference portion of this preview; look for the second half analyzing the match-ups in the Western Conference. Thanks for reading.