NBA Playoffs 2011: Which Eastern Conference Team Has Easiest Finals Road?
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The season is over, the East matchups are set, and John Hollinger is probably running each pairing through a computer hundreds of times to determine who will be hoisting the trophy in June.
Advanced metrics aside, which team in the East is smiling the most right now as it maps out its road to the NBA Finals?
While earning a top seed does not always mean a team will breeze through the playoffs with relative ease, the Bulls have to be liking their chances.
Let's start with Round 1. The Bulls are 3-1 against the Pacers this season, winning the three games by an average of 17 points. Their only loss came in overtime without the help of Carlos Boozer, whose health was an issue all season.
Unfortunately for the Pacers, Boozer looks healthy heading into the postseason. Roy Hibbert is a formidable anchor at center for Indiana, but good luck trying to overcome the deadly Noah-Boozer tandem in the frontcourt.
I'm sorry, Tyler Hansbrough, but this is not going to be pretty.
Let's not forget Derrick Rose, who added 42 in their last meeting and looked absolutely unstoppable. Bulls in five, at most.
In the second round, things start to get interesting. Last year, the Orlando Magic made a mockery of the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, so let's examine a potential Bulls-Magic series for convenience.
Who has the easiest path to the Finals?
What do the Magic thrive on? How do they win games? They let Dwight Howard dominate the boards while their guards make it rain from three-point territory.
For most other teams, Howard is an intimidating, overwhelming force inside. Too bad the Bulls are one of the best defensive teams in the league and have enough depth in the frontcourt to throw bodies at Howard all night long.
Howard scored 40 when Noah was sidelined, but he only averaged 16 points in the other two games (he was suspended in the last).
A similar story holds true for Rose, who exploded for 39 in the game Howard missed but averaged only 20 in the other three games while shooting a combined 39 percent.
Overall, the season series between these two clubs finished 3-1 in favor of the Bulls. I can't see them dropping more than two in a playoff series.
While Conference Finals matchups are tougher to predict, let's assume the Bulls face up with either the Heat or the Celtics. History says the Bulls have a thing for showing up in big games, as they are 3-0 against the squad from South Beach and 2-1 against the Big Three (Four?) of Boston.
The difference between the Bulls and the Heat — two very talented teams — is the ability to close out games.
Miami has struggled all season in crunch time, which happens to be Derrick Rose's favorite time of day. Just look at the season series, in which the Bulls won by an average of less than three points.
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Those are winnable games for the Heat; they just couldn't win them.
As for the Celtics, if they had problems with Chicago before the trade deadline, things should only be worse now. Krstic is no Perkins, and the Bulls' frontcourt knows that.
The Celtics have not been the same since the trade, and the New York Knicks are the toughest first round matchup of any favored team.
Anything can happen, but the Bulls are in the best shape in the East. Eclipsing 60 wins was not an accident.
Follow Brandon Putre on Twitter @bputre.
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