1. Chicago Bulls vs 8. Indiana Pacers – Bulls won season series 3-1
Point Guard – Derrick Rose is likely to be the MVP of the league, and he had an incredible season all around. Rose’s jumper is still relatively inconsistent and his defense is still improving, but there are few players in the game with his package of skills. Darren Collison had a solid season on both sides of the ball but he will have his hands full with Rose. Edge: Chicago
Shooting Guard – Keith Bogans is a good defender and can hit the occasional three, but he doesn’t provide much else for Chicago. The two-guard spot has been a bit of a revolving door for Indiana this year but rookie Paul George seems to have a strong grasp on the position at this point. Oddly though, the rookie actually produced better off the bench than as a starter. Edge: Even
Small Forward – Luol Deng vs. Danny Granger could be the most intriguing match-up to watch in this series. Granger has a better rounded offensive game, but can’t compete with Deng’s defensive prowess. With Luol’s improvement from beyond the arc this year, he can actually make a claim as the second best player on the Bulls roster. Edge: Indiana (barely)
Power Forward – Second-year Pacer Tyler Hansbrough had an impressive run of 20+ point games in late March, and his overall production since the All Star break has been surprisingly good. That being said, Carlos Boozer is a beast inside offensively and on the glass. Boozer has a bit of a negative aura surrounding his playoff performances, but a quick glance at the numbers put that concern to rest. Boozer’s point and rebound numbers have increased over his regular season numbers in three of four years. Edge: Chicago
Center – Roy Hibbert has developed into a solid NBA center. He can score in the post, rebound, and block a few shots. On the other side, Joakim Noah is one of those players who can make a difference without scoring. He is a rebounding machine, and his energy and hustle are contagious. Edge: Chicago
Bench – Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver, and Ronnie Brewer anchor a very capable bench for Chicago that is nearly as good defensively as the starting five. Mike DunleavyJr. missed most of March, but he’s back and adding a scoring punch off the bench for the Pacers. Josh McRoberts and Brandon Rush each had significant stints in the starting lineup this year and can contribute when called upon. Edge: Chicago
Coach – Tom Thibodeau and Frank Vogel are both first year coaches with a lot to prove in the playoffs. But Thibs has already earned more respect in his one year than many coaches do in a career. Edge: Chicago
Intangibles – Neither team has a ton of playoff experience, but the Bulls at least have a few guys that have been through the postseason rigors. The Pacers will be able to play loose without much pressure on them, but it won’t make much difference. Edge: Chicago
Summary – While the Bulls did win three of four in the series, all of Chicago’s victories came in the Jim O’Brien era. In fact, the third of those games was the final for O’Brien in Indiana. Interim Coach Frank Vogelhas helped the Pacersturn the corner but they’re still heavy underdogs here. The Pacers will put up a fight and could steal a game, but the Bulls just have the edge in too many areas.
Prediction: Bulls in five
2. Miami Heat vs 7. Philadelphia 76ers – Heat won season series 3-0
Point Guard - Jrue Holiday improved a ton in his sophomore season. He can get to the basket, score from the perimiter, dish and defend, but this will be his first trip to the playoffs. Mike Bibby has shot the ball very well since moving into Miami’s starting lineup, but he’s still a big liability on defense. This position has been one of the biggest concerns for Miami all season and it will continue to be in the playoffs. Edge: Philadelphia
Shooting Guard – Dwyane Wade would get considerably more MVP buzz if he didn’t play alongside LeBron. He is still Miami’s best closer, and probably their best leader. Jodie Meeks has provided some nice shooting and defense since taking the starting job in Philly, but there’s not much of a discussion here. Edge: Miami
Small Forward – Andre Iguodala’s knee is bothering him and that could be bad news for Philly. LeBron may not have won the hearts of America with his move last summer, but he is still the most talented player in the game. While Iggy usually matches up fairly well head-to-head with King James, any physical weakness will be exploited to it’s fullest. Edge: Miami
Power Forward – Elton Brand has had a resurgent year in Philadelphia, and is perhaps the Sixers’ most important player. Chris Bosh took a lot of heat (pardon the pun) during Miami’s down periods. But Bosh had another solid season, finishing with averages of 18.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Edge: Miami
Center – The other prime area of concern for Miami this season has been played by committee. Regardless of who stands at mid-court for the opening tip, the Heat will play all of their big men, depending on who is playing well. Spencer Hawes is not a game breaker but his offensive skill could give Miami problems at times. The Sixers will also move Brand over to the five and go small at times. Edge: Philadelphia
Bench – Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young will crank the action up a notch when they get chances in the open court. The Sixers also have good role players like hard-nosed Andres Nocioni in their stable. If Udonis Haslem can make his long awaited return soon, it would be a huge boon for Miami’s otherwise underwhelming bench. Mike Miller’s shot picked up in February before dropping off again in March and April, and other than a couple of streaky shooters the Heat don’t have much else coming in reserve. Edge: Philadelphia
Coach – Erik Spoelstra has been crucified by the media, and at times his own players, but he has kept an even tone throughout. Unfortunately, his scheme is either ineffective, or nonexistent at times for Miami. Doug Collins had a rough start to the year but had his Sixers playing very well in the second half of the season. Neither guy has won a title, but Collins clearly has the better overall resume and has done more with less this year. Edge: Philadelphia
Intangibles – Philly plays very hard and they play together, something Miami can’t always say. Experience levels are pretty close between these teams, but Dwyane Wade is the only starter on either side with a ring. Edge: Miami
Summary – The Sixers defense will keep these games relatively close but it’s just a bad match-up for Collins’ crew. The Heat are one of the few teams that can match Philly’s small rotation and actually get better in the process.
Prediction: Heat in four
3. Boston Celtics vs 6. New York Knicks – Celtics won season series 4-0
Point Guard – Chauncey Billups can still play. People made the mistake of forgetting about him in the Carmelo trade. But at the same time he’s no spring chicken, nor is he the perfect fit for Mike D’Antoni’s system. Rajon Rondo had an incredible November and December, but has declined pretty steadily since. Injuries have clearly hampered him, as has the trade of his best friend Kendrick Perkins. At his best, Rondo is the engine that makes the Celtics go. But it is hard to guess which player Boston will get in the playoffs. Edge: Even
Shooting Guard – Landry Fields is not a spectacular player, but he’s heady and can do everything well. Ray Allen’s exploits need no introduction, and he doesn’t even seem to be slowing down. Don’t give him an inch or he’ll hit one in your eye. Edge: Boston
Small Forward – This will be one of the best individual match-ups in the entire playoff run, regardless of round! Paul Pierce is never going to average 25 points per game again, but his offensive efficiency is hitting new highs, and his defense is better than it ever was. Carmelo Anthony has taken some time to settle into New York, but he is clearly the star of that team now. Melo may be the best all-scorer in the game. Edge: Even
Power Forward – Kevin Garnett is clearly taking a back seat on offense at this point in his career, but the jumper is still there, and the explosiveness is better than it’s been in a few years. Defensively, Garnett is still among the league’s best, if for no other reason than his intensity and focus. Amar’e Stoudemire’s ankle appears to be 100% after a recent sprain. But his early MVP-type production did not continue into the second half of the season. Edge: Even
Center – Ronny Turiaf is still a high energy, high enthusiasm guy but he doesn’t provide much more than that. Health is the big key at this spot for Boston. Shaq will get the start if he can go, and his size and strength would be impossible for New York to match up with. Edge: Boston
Bench – Typical of a D’Antoni team, the Knicks have plenty of guys coming off the bench (Toney Douglas, Shawne Williams, Bill Walker) that can hit the three. If they could play some defense too, New York would be in business. Boston’s bench is more well rounded, with inside players, wing players, and guards who can all contribute on both ends. If Delonte West’s ankle doesn’t hold up though, Boston will have to rely on Carlos Arroyo at the backup point guard spot. Edge: Boston
Coach – D’Antoni’s teams have had significant success during the regular season, but not nearly as much come April, May and June. Doc Rivers has one title and two finals appearances under his belt, and is widely regarded as one of the best in the game. Edge: Boston
Intangibles – Chauncey Billups adds championship experience and big shot ability for the Knicks, and Carmelo Anthony is one of the better clutch performers in the game. That being said, they can’t compete with Boston’s experience, savvy, and attitude. Edge: Boston
Summary – If Boston continues to play as poorly as they did over the last 21 games, the Knicks just might pull off the upset. Amar’e vs KG could ultimately decide the series, but Bostons pride will likely kick in just in time.
Prediction: Celtics in seven
4. Orlando Magic vs 5. Atlanta Hawks – Hawks won season series 3-1
Point Guard – Jameer Nelson is a former All Star, but he hasn’t played anywhere near that level over the last two years. Nelson is the key to Orlando’s success. Kirk Hinrich is an upgrade for the Hawks, especially on the defensive end. But he still doesn’t do much in the way of creating shots for others. Edge: Orlando
Shooting Guard – Joe Johnson had an extremely up and down season. When he is right, Johnson is one of the best guards in the league. Jason Richardson has been the best of Orlando’s mid-season acquisitions, yet even he hasn’t played as well after the trade as before. Edge: Atlanta
Small Forward – Even though Hedo Turkoglu isn’t the same player he was during Orlando’s finals run a few years ago, he is still a good fit in this system playing along Dwight Howard. He can hit the three and feed the post better than anyone else on the roster, and he is a match-up nightmare. In this series, Josh Smith will probably slide over to the three because Jason Collins starts to match up with Dwight Howard. Smith is one of the most dynamic players in the league, as long as he doesn’t settle for long jumpers. Edge: Atlanta
Power Forward – Another escape from the norm here as Al Horford generally plays the power forward spot against Orlando. Horford is a solid rebounder and defender, and has improved his offensive game enough to garner consecutive All Star appearances. Brandon Bass can hit jumpers, bang inside, and rebound the basketball, but he could struggle against the longer Horford. Edge: Atlanta
Center – Jason Collins doesn’t start often, but his success against Dwight Howard necessitates it in this series. Collins won’t do much on the offensive end though. Even with sub par performances against the Hawks, Howard is still clearly the best player in this series. But if he struggles, Orlando’s season may get cut short. Edge: Orlando
Bench – Jamal Crawford is the only real factor on Atlanta’s bench. He had a down year, but can get hot at any time. Ryan Anderson is having a nice year, and JJ Redick may be ready for the playoffs. But Gilbert Arenas and Quentin Richardson have both suffered through horrendous shooting seasons. Orlando is also without any front line depth after trading Marcin Gortat to Phoenix. Edge: Even
Coach – Stan Van Gundy has not won a title yet, but he has advanced past the first round in all five full seasons that he’s coached. Larry Drew has largely produced the same results this year that Mike Woodson had the last few years, and Drew is completely untested in the playoffs. Edge: Orlando
Intangibles – The Hawks have struggled in the playoffs ever since this core of players was assembled. There is no reason to think that trend will wane even though they fared well against the Magic during the regular season.
Summary – Neither of these teams lived up to expectations this year but all of that can be forgotten with a few postseason wins. If Howard can produce at or near his top level, Orlando should win with relative ease.
Prediction: Magic in six
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