I'm so excited for these NBA playoffs, I can barely contain my excitement.
I've been watching Youtube highlights of Michael Jordan's games in the Finals. I've been looking at metric stats like a huge sports nerd. I've been breaking down film of Jeff Teague. I've been hallucinating while playing two-on-two pickup games, imagining that I'm Derrick Rose driving to the hoop for an insane up-and-under layup. Okay, maybe I actually look like Mark Madsen blowing a finger roll, but my point remains the same; these are perhaps the most heavily anticipated NBA playoffs since #23 was still raining jump shots over hapless defenders.
Living in Florida and being a Magic fan however, I have a vested interest in the Eastern Conference side of things. And I could not be more intrigued and excited. Who will come out of the East? Will it be the upstart Bulls behind Derrick Rose and their forest of big men? Perhaps the Miami Heat behind the unstoppable tandem of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade? Could the Celtics turn it on yet again in the playoffs? Or maybe Dwight Howard and his undersold Magic squad could do the unthinkable?
As part of a running diary of sorts, I will breakdown the first round match ups in the East as best I can. I will provide concrete info, and make my best estimation of who will make their way into the second round.
Season Series: 3-1 (advantage Bulls)
Bulls - PG Derrick Rose (25.1 PPG, 7.8 APG, 44.6%FG, 33.5%3FG)
Pacers - SF Danny Granger (20.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 42.5%FG, 38.5%3FG)
The Bulls have a record of 36-5 at home this year. The Pacers are 13-28 on the road this year.
Bulls - The Bulls house three of the top defenders at their position in terms of defensive rating (a metric measured by basketball-reference.com) in Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng.
Pacers - Indiana is 6th in the NBA in terms of possessions per 48 minutes, meaning they run a fast-paced game that may affect the slower Bulls, who rank 22nd in the league.
The Bulls are simply the better team. Indiana's one victory over the Bulls this year was an overtime victory in which the Bulls did not have Carlos Boozer, and Tyler Hansbrough went off for 29 points and 12 rebounds. They were also able to overcome a 42 point explosion from probable MVP Derrick Rose. Both seem to be anomalies that will not hold up over the course of a 7-game series.
The Bulls win the series in a sweep, barely receiving a challenge from the overmatched and less-talented Pacers.
Season Series: 3-0 (advantage Heat)
Heat - SF LeBron James (26.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 7.5 APG, 1.6 SPG, 51.1%FG, 33.0%3FG)
76ers - SF Andre Iguodala (14.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.5 SPG, 44.5%FG, 33.7%3FG)
In their three match ups this year, the Heat have gotten to the line for 88 free throw attempts versus the 76ers' 46.
Heat - The Heat as a team are tied for second in the league with the Celtics for defensive field goal percentage allowed at 43.4%.
76ers - Outside of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the Heat have zero players who average double-digit scoring figures, with the next highest active player being Mike Bibby at 7.3 PPG through 21 games with the team.
The Heat have not had any problems with the 76ers this year, rarely even seceding a lead in the 3 games they played. Philly is a young, energetic team, but they simply do not match up well with the pure talent level of the Miami Heat.
Miami will sweep the 76ers in a statement series, building momentum as they move a step forward towards the Eastern Conference Finals.
Boston Celtics (56-26) vs. New York Knicks (42-40)
Season Series: 4-0 (advantage Celtics)
Celtics - PF Kevin Garnett (14.9 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 52.8%FG, 2nd in NBA in defensive rating)
Knicks - PF Amar'e Stoudemire (25.4 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 50.3%FG)
Despite a 4-0 record against the Knicks, Boston has given up an average of 105.3 points per game against New York. Against the rest of the league, the Celts are giving up a mere 90.4 PPG - best in the NBA.
Celtics - Since acquiring superstar SF Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks are 14-14. Within that record there was a 7-game winning streak. However, taking away the first win of the streak against the Magic (in overtime), the wins came against the Nets, the Cavs, the Raptors, the 76ers, the Nets, and the Pacers.
Knicks - The Celtics are similarly cold, going 9-11 in their last 20 games.
Both teams have fizzled down the stretch despite white hot starts. The now-infamous Kendrick Perkins trade has seemed to crush the Celtics' collective spirits, and the team has not played with the same vigor and energy since. Despite this, the Celtics may be able to get back on track against the Knicks who simply cannot defend anyone, and have the 27th ranked defense in terms of points given up per game.
The Knicks may just be what the doctor ordered for the Celtics, who win the series in 6 games. I believe New York may be able to take a couple games at home, but simply do not have the defensive prowess to win a 7 games series against the more experienced Celtics squad.
Orlando Magic (52-30) vs. Atlanta Hawks (44-38)
Season Series: 3-1 (advantage Hawks)
Magic - C Dwight Howard (23.0 PPG, 14.1 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 2.4 BPG, 59.4%FG)
Hawks - C Al Horford (15.5 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.1 BPG, 55.8%FG)
In their three losses to Atlanta, Dwight Howard has been held to 16.7 PPG on 39% shooting, with 4.7 turnovers per game.
Magic - The Magic are 6th in the NBA in rebounding. The Hawks are 27th.
Hawks - The Magic have been held to 30% or worse from 3-point range against the Hawks in each of their games. When the Magic shoot less than 30% from 3, they are 7-14 this year.
While the Hawks seem to have had the Magic's number this year, the two teams' recent history in the playoffs seems to speak to a different probable outcome. Last year, Orlando absolutely decimated the Hawks in the second round. In a 7 game series, the Hawks seem to lack the depth up front to keep Dwight Howard from having a monster series. Meanwhile, Jameer Nelson is playing his best basketball of the season in his last eight games, averaging 18 PPG, 7 APG, and 2.3 SPG.
Despite receiving inconsistent play from Joe Johnson, I believe the Hawks will play better against the Magic this year. Still, I can't see Atlanta beating any of the top 4 teams in the East in a 7 game series. I think the Magic will win in 6 games.
So how unexciting was that? No upsets. No seven game series. No excitement. No intrigue. However, I think the second round is where we see the clashes of the titans, with absolutely monumental match ups.
As we move forward in the playoffs, I will continue to breakdown the match ups, offer a couple opinions, and prognosticate like a fool.
At the very least, I hope I was able to glean some information and a little bit of statistical depth into what's sure to be a historic playoffs.