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Saturday April 16, 2011 12:46 am

NBA Playoffs: Eastern Conference Preview

Posted by Dennis Velasco Categories: Editorial, NBA, Playoffs,

LeBron James leads the Miami Heat into the NBA PlayoffsThe 2011 NBA Playoffs kicks off on Saturday, April 16th with the Eastern Conference's top-seeded Chicago Bulls matching up against the eighth-seeded Indiana Pacers at 1PM ET on ESPN. It's appropriate that the Bulls start the NBA postseason since they are also the NBA's top-seeded team, earning homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs with a regular season record of 62-20. So, how do the Eastern Conference series shake out for all of the playoff participants? Peep the preview below.

1. Chicago Bulls (62-20) vs. 8. Indiana Pacers (37-45)

The Bulls (36-5 at home; 26-15 on the road) are led by MVP-favorite Derrick Rose, but certainly have more than the dynamic point guard to thank for the organization's stellar success this season. The Bull have a good mix of scorers (Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer), defensive-minded big men (Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson) and solid role players (Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver). They were second overall in points allowed (91.3) and the new attitude of non-stop effort and defensive cohesiveness has a lot to do with new head coach, Tom Thibodeau, who has to be considered as the favorite Head Coach of the Year.

The Pacers (24-17 at home; 13-28 on the road) are almost a vagabond group that made the playoffs due to the overall weakness of the Eastern Conference as they are the only under-.500 team in the postseason. They made a spirited effort when assistant Frank Vogel was named interim head coach, going 20-18 and obviously made the playoffs. Danny Granger is the top talent in the group and while Darren Collison was a bit of a disappointment, other players stepped up their games, particularly Tyler Hansbrough, Josh McRoberts and Roy Hibbert. Rookie Paul George also showed flashes of big-time ability.

However, the Bulls will be too much for the Pacers who seem disjointed compared to the smooth-running machine that is the Bulls. Prediction: Bulls in four games.


2. Miami Heat (58-24) vs. 7. Philadelphia 76ers (41-41)

The Heat (30-11 at home; 28-13 on the road) are led by the highly-publicized and mostly-hated Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The trio of Heat players have been polarizing since the announcement of James joining Wade and Bosh before the season. There are a lot of people that would like to see the Heat fail and their are some chinks in the armor considering the surrounding players. The rest of the team is limited in ability and/or past their prime. Mike Bibby, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Mike Miller would have been significant contributors several years ago while Juwan Howard would have been several decades ago. Mario Chalmers and Eddie House are limited, as well as Erick Dampier and Joel Anthony. How far can this team go with that disproportionate balance between the Big Three and Everyone Else?

The Sixers (26-15 at home; 15-26 on the road) went beyond expectations and that has a lot to do with players such as Elton Brand and Louis Williams doing better than expected. The versatile Andre Iguodala took a step back in production relative to previous seasons, but in a short series could become a stand-out player.So too can Thaddeus Young, who should garner a lot of interest during the offseason as a restricted free agent. The Sixers, under new coach Doug Collins, are limping into the playoffs having lost six of their last 10 games.

Meanwhile, the Heat are 8-2 heading into the postseason and because of the overpowering magnificence of talent from Miami's Big Three, the Heat should move past the Sixers somewhat easily. Prediction: Heat in five games.

3. Boston Celtics (56-26) vs. 6. New York Knicks (42-40)

The Celtics (33-8 at home; 23-18 on the road) are the defending Eastern Conference champions and are looking to win their 18th NBA championship. However, opposed to previous postseasons, they will be without the services of defensive enforcer and inside presence, Kendrick Perkins. He was traded during the season (along with Nate Robinson) for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. There was much hullaballoo about the move by Danny Ainge, particularly from the players themselves such as Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. However, if the Celtics don't meet their goals, a main factor in that would be the decline in play from Rajon Rondo. Is it possible to "flip the switch" as the Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have done in recent seasons?

Speaking of questions, there are a few with the Knicks - Can a defensively-challenged team go far in the playoffs? Will the trade for Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups be worth it, especially when you consider how well the old Knicks are doing with the Denver Nuggets? Were the aforementioned additions along with Amar'e Stoudemire as a free agent during the offseason be difference-makers for the organization, especially when you consider fans' expectations? Considering New York's thirst to win, as well as the Knicks finishing with an above-.500 record for the first time in a decade, there will be expectations galore. There has to at least be a fighting spirit in the Knicks' performance or the city will turn against them.

The old adage goes that defense wins championships and that's something the Celtics have while the Knicks don't. Prediction: Celtics in six.

4. Orlando Magic (52-30) vs. 5. Atlanta Hawks (44-38)

The Magic could very well have the fate of Dwight Howard hanging in the balance dependent on how they perform during the playoffs. Howard becomes a free agent in the summer of 2012 and there have already been rumors that he will jump to another team. The additions of Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu have not worked out quite as the Magic would have wanted. Although the progression of Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson was a nice aside for the team. But how will the story unravel?

The Hawks have been a very solid team in recent seasons, but have been uneven in their play this season. Al Horford, Joe Johnson and Josh Smith are always consistently good, but can Marvin Wililams be? Can Kirk Hinrich facilitate the offense effectively? Williams, Hinrich and supposed point guard of the future Jeff Teague will need to elevate their production if the Hawks are to get past the first round.

I believe the Hawks do and fly over the lost Magic of Orlando. Prediction: Hawks in seven.



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