For years, the Eastern Conference has been tagged as the weaker of the two conferences in the NBA, and possibly for good reason. This season, the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks were the only two teams to win 50 or more games, with Miami winning the conference by a staggering 12 victories. Compare that to the West, who presented fans with five teams with 56-60 wins, the lowest seed (the Houston Rockets) with 45.
The 5th-seeded Chicago Bulls, with 45 wins, may have been a lottery team if they were out in the West.
Unfortunately, injuries started to pile up among some of the top East teams. Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Danny Granger, and Amare Stoudemire are big names who will either miss the playoffs entirely (Rondo, Granger) or that could return to their team after possibly missing a few postseason games (Rose and Stoudemire).
Regardless, injuries are part of the game, and nothing will delay what could be an interesting first round of games, so let’s dip our hands into the match-ups.
#1 Miami Heat (66-16) vs. #8 Milwaukee Bucks (38-44)
Game 1 @Miami: Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 2 @Miami: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Game 3 @Milwaukee: April 25, 7 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 4 @Milwaukee: April 28, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 5 @Miami: April 30
Game 6 @Milwaukee: May 2
Game 7 @Miami: May 4
Despite Bucks guard Brandon Jennings’ comments predicting a series win, there truly is no reason to think the Heat won’t sweep the Bucks. Here’s what we know: Milwaukee shoots more shots than any other team in the NBA, ranked 1st in field goal attempts. How can this be viewed as a negative? Their shooting percentage is only 43.5 percent, 28th in the league. This is fantastic news for the Heat, who are one of the better teams in the NBA in defensive field goal percentage.
Miami will push the tempo, and Milwaukee may not have a problem with that, as they are one of the fastest teams you can find, but when the smoke clears, the Heat will not fizzle out against a Bucks team that doesn’t necessarily have the superstar power to stop the “Big Three” at the other end of the court. Once Miami begins firing from the perimeter, with the likes of Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Mario Chalmers, you could see a few blowouts in the making.
Miami should sweep the Bucks, in contender fashion, 4-0.
#2 New York Knicks (54-28) vs. #7 Boston Celtics (41-40)
Game 1 @New York: Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 2 @New York: Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 3 @Boston: April 26, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Game 4 @Boston: April 28, 1 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 5 @New York: May 1
Game 6 @Boston: May 3
Game 7 @New York: May 5
Two years ago, in 2011, the Knicks fell to the Celtics in the 1st round, 4-0. Both Anthony and Stoudemire shot 38 percent from the floor, Chauncey Billups missed three of the four games, and the Knicks didn’t stand a chance. Lucky for us, this series will be a bit more exciting.
Boston enters the playoffs without Rondo, as mentioned earlier, but when their star point guard was forced to wear a suit every game, Boston rallied to win seven consecutive. The 21-17 finish to the season had a lot to do with injuries to Kevin Garnett, Jeff Green and Paul Pierce, so in short, you’re looking at a series that contains quite a few hobbled players. With no Stoudemire and injuries to Tyson Chandler, Pablo Prigioni, Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin, the Knicks have their own issues to deal with.
The Celtics can still defend, but they are one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA. The high-powered Knicks offense, led by Anthony (who won this year’s scoring title), should walk out of this series with a 4-2 victory, although seven games won’t be a reach if the Celtics defend the perimeter well (4th in the league in opponent three-point percentage).
#3 Indiana Pacers (49-32) vs. #6 Atlanta Hawks (44-38)
Game 1 @Indiana: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 2 @Indiana: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Game 3 @Atlanta: April 27, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Game 4 @Atlanta: April 29
Game 5 @Indiana: May 1
Game 6 @Atlanta: May 3
Game 7 @Indiana: May 5
This needs to be said: historically, leaving out any lockout seasons, only nine other teams have had a better opponent field goal percentage than the Indiana Pacers, who are at 42 percent. Just nine. Ending the season as the best defensive team in 2013, and one of the best of all-time according to the statistic just mentioned, was overshadowed by their struggles to score the ball. However, if you’re getting that many stops on the defensive end, scoring 90-95 points will most likely be enough to win comfortably, and that’s what the Pacers bring to the table.
Atlanta doesn’t seem to be a dangerous squad this year, but the trio of Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Ivan Johnson do defend well enough to place their team in the top 10, defensively, and these particular Hawks have absolutely no problem hoisting threes to close gaps or increase leads, especially with Kyle Korver on the floor. Only one team in the NBA throws more assists per game than Atlanta, also.
Don’t be surprised to see the Pacers lock down the Hawks in this series, even though you could see a barrage of threes put up against Indiana. Roy Hibbert is a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, and Paul George has more than made up for what Granger would supply on that end of the floor. Indiana could wrap this up in six games, 4-2.
#4 Brooklyn Nets (49-33) vs. #5 Chicago Bulls (45-37)
Game 1 @Brooklyn: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Game 2 @Brooklyn: Monday, 8 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 3 @Chicago: April 25, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Game 4 @Chicago: April 27, 2 p.m., TNT
Game 5 @Brooklyn: April 29
Game 6 @Chicago: May 2
Game 7 @Brooklyn: May 4
Will Rose return to play the Nets in this 1st round series? There’s no doubt the Bulls could use the extra scoring and facilitating, but defensively, they will always be a nuisance, and that’s what these Nets are not looking forward to. It’s only convenient that Chicago has collected the defensive talent in Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, to slow down the likes of Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams.
Brooklyn does play a slow game, and you’ll find that they do get caught up in isolations quite often, which only puts a smile on Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s face. They also tend to foul a lot, most of the time to stop breaks or easy buckets at the rim, but that’s common for a team that doesn’t exactly play the defense they seem to be capable of.
With Noah gimpy, there’s a part of me that wants to call this a seven-game series—so I’ll do just that. Chicago has the means to “cut down” the Nets in seven, though, as long as their defensive anchor (Noah) is out on the floor and active. If Rose returns, it could be over in five.