Finally all the playoff spots in the Eastern Conference of the NBA have been filled. It took all 82 games to decide the eighth and final spot, plus the seeding of the teams.
The 2010 NBA playoffs could play a big part of the huge summer of 2010 free agency market. Several big names in the Eastern Conference are up for max contracts this summer.
Players and teams will be watching each round of the playoffs to evaluate what to do when the NBA Finals finish in June. But before we can get to free agency or the NBA finals, the eight teams in the East must find away to make it past the first round of the playoffs.
Eight teams are fighting for four second round spots. Here are previews and predictions of the first round matchups of the 2010 NBA Playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
Western Conference previews and predictions will follow after this article.
It is championship or bust for the second year in a row for Cleveland. The results of this year’s playoffs could have a huge impact on this franchise.
A championship parade all but wraps up LeBron James this summer. The main reason is that James cannot leave the city without trying to defend the championship there.
If the Cavaliers come up short this season, the city can kiss LeBron goodbye after the playoffs. LeBron can basically figure if he has not won a title in Cleveland after seven years, that he will never win a title there.
There will be three things to watch for the Cavaliers this postseason. The first will be how well Shaquille O’Neal comes back from injury and how well Zydrunas Ilgauskas plays after such a long layoff.
The second and third things to watch are much the same thing. Keep an eye on how much help LeBron gets from the starting role players and from the players on the bench.
Cleveland should not have much trouble early in the playoffs. However, LeBron and Coach Mike Brown cannot fall into the same traps as last season.
Chicago needed the full 82 game schedule to get into the playoffs. The Bulls are surrounded by drama with John Paxson and Vinnie Del Negro at each other’s throats.
This team does have a max contract slot to use this summer, so a good showing in these playoffs could entice a big named free agent. But there is still plenty of bad news for the Bulls going into this first round matchup.
Chicago fans should know that in the Eastern Conference, no number eight seed has beaten a number one seed in the last ten years. Also, since 2000, the number one seed has swept the eighth seed four times.
The Bulls also finished seven games below .500 on the road and with a negative point differential. However, there is some good news for Chicago in the fact they split the regular season series with Cleveland.
The only way this team is going to advance is to have a huge series from Derrick Rose and plenty of help from his teammates. Chicago is very scrappy so do not expect them to rollover for the Cavs but do not expect them to advance either.
Winner: Cleveland 4-0
The Magic hope a return trip to the NBA Finals is in their future again this postseason. The first step of that journey begins in the first round.
This Orlando team is pretty much the same team that made a run to the finals last season. The major difference with this team from last year’s team is the addition of Vince Carter.
The play of Carter might decide just how far this team goes in the playoffs this year. The Magic also need Dwight Howard to take over games in the fourth quarter.
Howard seems unwilling at times to assert himself offensively when the game is on the line. There is no center but O’Neal in the East that has a chance to guard Howard.
If the Magic are going to make a deep playoff run again and win a title, then Howard and Carter will be the key.
The Magic will face the new Charlotte team that is making its first playoff appearance. The Bobcats are one of the many up and coming young teams in the NBA.
Charlotte will find itself in most playoff games because of their coach Larry Brown. No coach seems to get more from his team than Brown does nearly every season.
The problem for the Bobcats will be if they can win on the road. During the regular season, Charlotte was 15 games below .500 when away from home.
One upside is that Charlotte is great at home with the fourth best home record in the Eastern Conference. If the Bobcats can steal a game on the road, they could steal a series.
Since 2000, no seventh seed has beaten a number two seed and the two seed has won in a sweep three times. Lack of playoff experience will more than likely doom this team.
Winner: Orlando 4-2
Atlanta was the eighth seed two years ago and the number four seed last year. If any team is going to challenge the Cavaliers and the Magic in the East it will be the Hawks.
This team has made steady improvement since that eighth seed appearance two years ago and the young Hawks gave eventual champions Boston all they wanted. A second round appearance came about last year.
Atlanta has all the scoring it needs with Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, and possible sixth man of the year Jamal Crawford. What the Hawks need to focus on this postseason is their play on the defensive end of the court.
The Hawks were great at home tying the Magic for second place in home wins. It was on the road where Atlanta struggled at three loses below .500 this year.
A deep run is possible for the Hawks if they can defend and play better on the road. If not, an early exit could be possible.
Milwaukee has not been in the playoffs since 2006, when they were defeated as an eight seed by Detroit. The Bucks will try to advance pass the first round for the first time since 2001.
Accomplishing that feat this year might be a stretch for the Bucks. Milwaukee has budding super star Brandon Jennings but will be without the center Andrew Bogut due to injury.
Just like Atlanta, the Bucks are a good home team but struggle on the road. Milwaukee will have to steal a game on the road to win this series. Some good news for the Bucks is that since 2000, the sixth seed has beaten the three seed four times.
Winner: Atlanta 4-3
(4) Boston Celtics vs. (5) Miami Heat
This could be the final playoff run for Doc Rivers, Ray Allen, Paul Peirce and, Kevin Garnett. Boston looked old and disinterested for most of the season, which is bad for a team that won the title just two years ago.
For the Celtics the addition of Rasheed Wallace has done little to improve this team. But Boston does have a nice bright spot in Rajon Rondo.
It would not be out of the question if the old war horses of the Celtics made a deep playoff run. Boston still has the talent to challenge the other top three seeds; the question is will they perform up to their talent.
An early exit is quite possible considering the way they struggled down the stretch if the regular season. The Celtics were 25-25 after the All-Star break.
On the other hand, Miami hopes that a good playoff showing convinces its star Dwayne Wade to return this summer. Wade is one of the tope free agents who will be weighing all his options after the season.
An early playoff exit for the Heat could influence the super star to look elseware to play his next contract. Miami needs to find help for Wade if they even want to make it past the first round.
The good news for the Heat is that they are decent at home and on the road. This team should be in every game against the Celtics, unless no one steps up to help Wade.
More good news for Miami is that the fifth seed has defeated the fourth seed four times since 2000 in the East. Also, since 2000, only once has a team won this match up with a sweep.
As far as the Eastern Conference goes this matchup, it has gone close to the distance most of the time since 2000. When the first round was just five games this series went to four to five games three times at the turn of the millennium. After it went to a seven game series this matchup has gone to six to seven games, six times since 2003.
Winner: Boston 4-3
Stay tuned for the Western Conference preview and prediction. Also be on the lookout of an Eastern Conference round two preview and prediction after the completion of the first round.