It’s finally here—my favorite sports time of the year. Saturday will be the tipoff for the two-month long soap opera that is the NBA playoffs.
If you love the NBA playoffs like me, you’ll invest hours in the most exciting time for basketball. When all is said and done, you will have the perfect season finale that crowns an NBA champion.
The thing that gets me most about the NBA playoffs is the time I invest watching the games, because once the NBA finals roll around, I will be best friends with many of the players and enemies with the rest—not literally, but still.
Will this be the year that LeBron James holds up his first NBA Finals trophy? Will Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson win another title and go out on top? Do Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder prove themselves worthy to hang with the best, though they’re young across the court? And the Chicago Bulls, do they win for the first time since the days of Michael Jordan?
The answer to all these questions is unknown, and that’s what makes the NBA playoffs so exciting—no one knows what will happen.
There is still some round ball to be played in the Western Conference to determine the seeding, whereas in the Eastern Conference the seeding has been locked; I will separate the conferences into their own pieces.
This entry will break down the Eastern Conference and layout my expectations—and somewhat bold predictions—all leading up to the team that will represent the East in the NBA Finals.
Here it goes.
No. 1 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 8 Indiana Pacers—Bulls won regular-season series 3-1.
Bennett’s Bit: The Bulls are rolling along smoothly, and I don’t expect an upset in this series. The Pacers are a young and talented team, and though I like where they’re headed, they’re going to get stomped by Derrick Rose and the Bulls. There’s not much to say for what I expect to be an absolute manhandling.
Prediction: Bulls sweep the Pacers, 4-0.
No. 2 Miami Heat vs. No. 7 Philadelphia 76ers—Heat won regular-season series 3-0.
Bennett’s Bit: It’s time for the Heat to prove themselves worthy or not ready. It all starts with the dangerous team in the 76ers. The Heat’s biggest problem they will face this postseason is their lack of depth. A team like the 76ers might be able to steal a game or two from the Heat as long as Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand can take over. The 76ers are a balanced team with a ball spread that leaves six players in the double digits in points per game.
The Heat, on the other hand, have their “Big Three,” which averages a little more than 70 ppg—consisting of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Other than those guys, the Heat have no players averaging more than 10 ppg. As long as the “Big Three” are able to continue their production and refuse to choke, this series should be a good matchup to get them ready for other postseason opponents.
Prediction: Heat defeat the 76ers, 4-1.
No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 6 New York Knicks—Celtics lead regular-season series 3-0 (teams will meet for regular season finale).
Bennett’s Bit: This will be my favorite matchup to watch, even though neither of these teams are my favorite—exactly why I love the NBA playoffs. Of all the matchups in the first round, this is the one I expect to go to seven games, as well as give everyone the intense rivalry feeling they deserve. This is a matchup of two teams based around three key players.
For the Celtics, there is Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett—for the Knicks, there is Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. If you ask me, I’d take the Celtics’ “Big Three” over the Knicks’, but there’s some kind of funk that Boston needs to shake to advance. Since sending Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City, the Celtics have been slacking.
Likewise, the Knicks haven’t met their expectations since cleaning house for Anthony and Billups. The Knicks are the younger team, and the Celtics have the experience, but something gives me the feeling that the Knicks will be able to fend off defending Eastern Conference champs. Don’t ask, because I don’t know—that’s why I love being a writer, I can make bold predictions.
Prediction: Knicks send the Celtics home, 4-3.
No. 4 Orlando Magic vs. No. 5 Atlanta Hawks—Hawks won regular-season series 3-1.
Bennett’s Bit: I am almost as excited for this series as I am for the Knicks-Celtics, but for a different reason—to me, there’s nothing more exciting than watching a deep 3-pointer swish to the bottom of the basket. That’s exactly what we’ll see from these teams—a lot of long-range basketball. I love the balance both of these teams have, having bench teams as good as some of the starting lineups in the NBA. The Hawks lead the series 3 games to 1, and I think that trend will continue. These will be high-scoring games, as well as close ones, but I have to pick one to move on.
Prediction: Hawks advance over the Magic, 4-2.
Now, if you’re still with me, congratulations, you’ve read more than I expected.
On to the second round—where things get good.
No. 1 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 5 Atlanta Hawks—Bulls won regular-season series 2-1.
Bennett’s Bit: This should be a good series to watch. The games will be close. It will be interesting to see Kirk Hinrich play his former teammates the Bulls. This will be the first official test for Rose and the Bulls, which will make clear whether the Bulls are ready to make the run or not. If the Bulls find themselves not playing to their potential, they’ll also find themselves at home watching the rest of the NBA playoffs.
It’s not that the Hawks have what it takes to win the championship, but the fact that they are one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA. I expect the Bulls’ stacked lineup to survive, however.
Prediction: Bulls knock off the Hawks 4-2.
No. 2 Miami Heat vs. No. 6 New York Knicks—Teams split the regular-season series 2-2.
Bennett’s Bit: Another matchup of teams with a “Big Three” is what I like to see, especially because this series will most likely reignite one of the fiercest rivalries I have lived to see.
The rivalry started in the late ’90s, when the teams met in four consecutive postseason series, all of which went to the maximum number of games. James, Wade and Bosh against Anthony, Billups and Stoudemire on the same court will be very amusing—hell, it sounds like a good game of pickup basketball that I would set up in a game of NBA 2K11, a popular sports video game. T
he Heat had a head start with their “Big Three” and seem to have things almost figured out—the Knicks on the other hand, do not. I expect the Heat to win this matchup, foreshadowing a rivalry that NBA fans will love.
Prediction: Heat move forward, 4-2.
Now, if you’re still with me, you really deserve a pat on the back, because I should have quit a long time ago. Give yourself a pat on the back or something—I won’t do it for you.
Eastern Conference Finals:
No. 1 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 2 Miami Heat—Bulls swept regular-season series 3-0.
Bennett’s Bit: This series will be a mini-NBA Finals itself. The Bulls have had the Heat’s number all year, but each of the three matchups have been close—decided by 3, 4 and 1, respectively. From what I have seen thus far, the Bulls are the clear favorites to win the East.
The Playoffs bring a totally different atmosphere, so who knows what will happen and how these teams will be performing when it matters? If the current play by the Heat and Bulls is how the two will perform in the playoffs, the Bulls have this series—but not with ease. I expect a close series with some tough defensive performances.
Prediction: Bulls move into the Finals 4-3.
The NBA playoffs feature some of the most exciting matchups in all of sports, and I am excited for Saturday to arrive. I’m going to buckle my seat belt for what will be a bumpy ride with many twists and turns.
Thanks for reading my novel, and be sure to tune in for part two, which will break down the Western Conference playoffs.