Wednesday, April 16, 2008

NBA Playoff Match-ups: Eastern Conference

By: Byron Parker

Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks were able to squeeze themselves into a playoff spot within the last week and a half. They have managed to finish the season under .500 and still clinch the eighth seed. But that just means that they will have to face the No. 1 seed in Boston. It may not be fair for people to write off the Atlanta Hawks against the rejuvenated Celtics, but that just may be the case. The Hawks are 0-3 against the Celtics in their season series and in those games, Atlanta showed no kind of trouble for the C’s. In all three games against Boston, Atlanta lost by 10 or more points. Paul Pierce has been scoring 22.3 points a game against Atlanta in his match up against Hawks forward, Marvin Williams. Williams isn’t the right defender for Pierce for obvious reasons. Pierce’s strength and ability to drive the ball to the basket is too much for Williams and Doc Rivers knows that. So he tends to run plays that involve Pierce going straight to the basket. And with Pierce being the good ball handler that he is, he has no problem with setting up the play himself and trusting himself to do the right things. This is Doc Rivers’ fourth appearance in the playoffs as a head coach and he has not had success at all. All four appearances resulted in a loss in the first round but if there is a year to change all of that, it’s now. He has a hungry team in all stars like Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen. These three were the best on their respected teams but once they all got together in Boston, they’ve done nothing but show their strength in the NBA. All if them have basically been having fun and boosting the confidence of the rest of the team by leading them to the best record in the NBA. We all see that they are comfortable playing with each other. And there may be a lot of star power on this team, but they don’t let that affect how they play unlike some other teams would allow (cough-Denver-cough). Atlanta is eager to knock Boston out of their place but the numbers just don’t convince enough people to choose them over the C’s. This is a team that doesn’t possess a lot of playoff experience and even if they did, would it be enough to upset Boston? Mike Woodson has yet to accomplish anything in the NBA as a head coach, even though he’s only been coaching for 4 seasons. No disrespect, but it’s obvious that Atlanta doesn’t have enough weapons to overcome the powerful C’s.

Detroit Pistons vs. Philadelphia 76ers
If an upset were to occur in the playoffs, this would be the logical pick. Philly has been one of the hottest teams coming into the playoffs, believe it or not. Throughout February and March, the 76ers were able to compile a record of 19-9 which included a couple of “mini” win streaks. These hot runs surprised many and now they see themselves holding down the 7th seed in the East which leads them to face the veteran team in the Detroit Pistons. One bonus that the Pistons DO consist of are veteran players which enables them to know how to play come playoff time. They’ve been to the Eastern Conference Finals four seasons in a row. The last two seasons have been failures under the head coach, Flip Saunders as this might be his last year to retain his position in the Pistons organization. Many blame him for the weak playoff losses in the past couple of seasons and feel that he is not capable of guiding a championship caliber team into the Finals. That may be true but there is a lot you can learn from being booted out of the playoffs two years in a row, especially since he still has the same team. The Pistons have gone through the first round without a problem over Saunders’ tenure in Detroit and this is the time where it seems like the Pistons have their heads on straight. Saunders will usually rest his starters towards the end of the season and this gives them time to relax before the playoffs begin. So as soon as the first round comes, they come out with a lot of energy and tend to treat their opponents as no problem. The thing for Philadelphia is that they’ve been using their starters in the last couple of weeks of the season in order to retain a playoff spot and fight their way into a higher seed. Detroit on the other hand already had clinched the 2nd seed and they had nothing to worry about, therefore giving the starters the opportunity to rest and letting the bench develop over the last couple of weeks. Philly is no pushover though. The season series is tied at 2-2 giving Philly a confidence boost going into the playoffs against them. Andre Iguadola is averaging almost 20 points a game against the Pistons and he has been the strength of their success. But Detroit just may have too much for Philly, even though Philly is playing the role as the underdog.

Orlando Magic vs. Toronto Raptors
Orlando has taken the season series between these two teams, 2-1. And if you want honesty, the Raptors 41-40 record is a fluke. The Raptors have a really young, energetic team that hasn’t showed their full potential yet this season. So the chance of it showing in the playoffs just doesn’t favor them. Orlando on the other hand, has showed their potential throughout the 07-08 season. They were able to get off to a hot start and play consistent, team basketball which has led them to clinch the 3rd seed in the playoffs. Not many would have picked the Magic to do what they’ve accomplished this year, but their team is amongst the top in the East. The Raptors still show weaknesses in their lineup and many question their toughness. They do have Chris Bosh who has put together another solid season, scoring 22.5 points and grabbing 8.7 boards a game. But they don’t have anybody that can replace him off of the bench. So Bosh could easily get into foul trouble and the middle would basically be open for Dwight Howard. The match up between Howard and Bosh will be a fun one to watch because they are both the big men whom which their franchise is revolved around. They are dangerous scorers inside, Bosh is probably the most versatile and Howard is probably more intimidating. Both are excellent defenders and they bring a lot to the table when it comes to leadership. But when it comes to the all around team aspect, Orlando has a lot more. Hedo Turkoglu is one of the most underrated players in the NBA who can do things like hit clutch three’s, to drive the ball to the basket. Another threat that Orlando has is Rashard Lewis who is among the best at the small forward position. He compliments the team in all aspects of the court. And since coming to Orlando, Maurice Evans has been a key for the Magic’s success by both, coming off of the bench and contributing to starting on the floor. There are just too many threats on the floor for Orlando…at least when it comes against playing Toronto. Both teams rank among the top five in the NBA in shooting the three ball, but Orlando is mediocre at protecting the perimeter. That shouldn’t be a main problem for Orlando because they are among the best when it comes to scoring in the paint; something that is needed in playoff time because you can’t win off of jump shots all day. Orlando is the favorite for this series.

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Washington Wizards
This should be one of the most intriguing match ups in the Eastern Conference. This has showdown has a lot of significance to it because of the trash talking that has already occurred on the Washington side. Wizards guard, DeShawn Stevenson had the nerve to say that the NBA’s leading scorer, LeBron James is overrated. And superstar Gilbert Arenas went on to say that he doesn’t believe that the Cavs can beat the Wizards in the playoffs three years in a row. In saying that, Arenas does have a point. The Cavs have entire different look to their team with the additions of Ben Wallace, Delonte West, Joe Smith and Wally Sczerbiak. So it will be interesting to see how head coach, Mike Brown can get them to run well in the playoffs. It shouldn’t be any different than the regular season, but the energy level will have to be turned up a notch if they want to dominate the 1st round. On the other side, Washington didn’t have Gilbert Arenas in last years 1st round against the Cavs, so they have a different look to their lineup that Mike Brown didn’t see in last years playoffs. Since Arenas has returned from that knee injury that sidelined him for most of the season, he has been held to limited minutes for precautionary reasons. In only about 21 minutes per, Arenas has been able to come off of the bench for the last part of this season and put up 14.6 points a game. That is an encouraging sign for the Wiz going into the playoffs. The only thing that concerns people is that the Washington “Big Three” haven’t all played that much together in a while. Caron Butler has been bothered by injuries over the last several of weeks of the season and he’s basically been on and off of the court. Antawn Jamison will be the key going into this series for plenty of reasons. Jamison possesses all kinds of abilities on the floor. He knows how to play exceptional defense, he can make cuts to the basket and his jumper is a threat. This has been one of his best seasons thus far, averaging 21.4 points and 10.2 rebounds a game. The Cavs are coming into this match up with questions still surrounding their ability to play team basketball. Lebron is the pure star on this team, but they tend to get the job done when it needs to be accomplished. And with all of the recent trash talking that has been going on in the Washington locker room, the Cavs feed off of that. We all know LeBron loves it, as he showed it a couple of times this season when he had fans taunting them and he went on to take over those games and lead the Cavs to victory. If he is on the court with the same people who were talking trash about him and his team, imagine the possibilities. This looks like a match up that is truly evened out on all sides, and it looks like it will go deep. But the Cavs may be the ones that take this one away for the third consecutive year. As you can see, there are a few terrific match ups coming out of the first round in the Eastern Conference. There will likely be a lot of series going to deep, so the great match ups indicate that it will be difficult for a sweep to occur in this first round.

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