NBA Playoffs: The Stories to Look For in Round One (Eastern Conference)

Odibe YoungContributor IApril 17, 2009

CLEVELAND - FEBRUARY 22:  Allen Iverson #1 of the Detroit Pistons moves past Mo Williams #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the game on February 22, 2009 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.  The Cavaliers won 99-78.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The road to the NBA Finals appears to be paved with Kobe and LeBron posters.  It seems inevitable that it probably will come to fruition. 

Along the way, however, there are stories that need to be told.  And games that need to be played. 

Here is my breakdown of Round 1 through the eyes of my predicted losers.  I'll get to the other teams as we go along here.  I just feel like the journey is just as important as the final destination.  And the story lines are no less relevant.

Note: Western Conference Recap later today

Eastern Conference 

No. 1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 8 Detroit Pistons

When Joe Dumars made the trade for Allen Iverson in early November, my initial thought had nothing to do with A.I.  Instead, I couldn't stop saying to myself "The Pistons just lost their quarterback." 

Chauncey Billups was the glue of this team throughout their four-year window.  He made the big shots during the championship run and seemed to be the only thing patching things together ever since as the roster aged and eventually got stale.

While Iverson is a hall-of-fame talent on the court, his game does not bring teams together as one.  Put another way, Allen Iverson could never have played for John Wooden—and that is not a good thing. 

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 There are guys who are basketball players with talent and there are guys who are talented athletes who play basketball.  The former group, with exceptions, are winners.  The latter category, while effective and oftentimes exciting, will rarely lead a team to a ring. 

Iverson has never made it all the way into that first group.  Billups has. 

This series will not be about the Cleveland Cavaliers.  I'll get to them later.  The story here will be the pride of the once-crowned Pistons and how much they respect this game that they play.  I can't see much of a resurgence on the horizon.  But I am always intrigued by the old champion on its last leg.  One, in this case, that is without a true leader. 

Prediction: Cavs in five.

No. 4 Atlanta Hawks vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

Last year, the young Hawks made a splash in the first round of the playoffs, winning each of their three home games against the eventual champions from Boston.  Led by veteran point guard Mike Bibby and budding star Joe Johnson, it was assumed that the lessons learned would launch them to new heights in 2008-2009. 

Funny thing, these "expectations" that are placed on us.  While Atlanta finished with 47 wins, it has been a very quiet and somehow disappointing growth spurt. 

Forward Al Horford has endured the dreaded sophomore slump, wing Josh Smith has had his ups and downs, both on the court and in his ongoing dealings with head coach Mike Woodson.  Marvin Williams' progression slowly drags on, however, a bulky back has threatened to make him a non-factor in the playoffs.  

In the NBA, young teams often endure a series of obstacles on the way to becoming great.  There is a defined set of benchmarks that need to be met.  Isiah's Pistons, Michael's Bulls, and Shaquille's Lakers all endured some lumps along the way.  Eventually, they banded together and succeeded. 

I bring this up because it would make sense that this Hawks team would move forward here against Miami and take one giant step.  I just don't see it. 

Perhaps it's the coach and this ongoing feeling that there is some tension in the locker room.  Perhaps it's the leveling off of Horford's performance.  Perhaps its Johnson not quite entering that top 15 level that is waiting for him.  Perhaps it's Williams' back, which takes away their best on-the-ball defender against Dwyane Wade. 

Whatever it is, this Hawks team does not seem equipped to move forward this season, if ever.

Prediction: Heat in six.

No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 7 Chicago Bulls

This will be one of those series that will be discussed when we look back at the career of Derrick Rose.  That "not quite yet" moment for a future hall-of-famer.  Yes, he's that good. 

Point guards don't do this.  They don't walk into dysfunctional teams with new coaches and start 79 games and shoot 48 percent from the field and have assist-to-turnover ratios of 2.5 to 1.0 (this stat is actually meaningful for a guy like Rose who always has the ball in his hands) and lead that same dysfunctional team with a new coach to the playoffs. 

Chris Paul didn't do this.  Deron Williams didn't do this.  Not only is Rose going to be the Rookie of the Year, he is already the third best lead guard in the league and along with Paul and Williams, will carry the point-guard torch for the NBA for the next 15 years. 

But it's not his time.  And Boston will defend it's crown with too much toughness and pride.  

It's tempting to think otherwise.  Chicago is playing it's best basketball of the season right now, and Kevin Garnett is probably going to be observing in an obscenely expensive suit.  The trade for John Salmons and Brad Miller at the deadline left a mandate to succeed.  And they will put up quite a fight.   

But it's just not Derrick Rose's time.  Be patient, though.  It will come. 

Prediction: Celtics in seven.

No. 3 Orlando Magic vs. No. 6 Philadelphia 76ers

When Elton Brand signed with Philadelphia in the off-season, it looked like they had there low-post rock to compliment their unyielding athleticism on the wing.  After struggling with a shoulder injury early on, Brand decided to shut it down just after the new year.  This not only cost his coach, Maurice Cheeks, his job, but left his young team without an identity or a direction, and most importantly, without a security blanket on the block. 

While a January seven-game winning streak temporarily eased some fears, this team has been inconsistent ever since, culminating in a disappointing six-game skid in games 76-81, dropping them below Miami into sixth position.

Philadelphia put a scare into Detroit during the first round of last season's playoffs, showcasing athleticism with forwards Andre Iguadala and Thaddeus Young, guards Louis Williams and Willie Green, and shotblocker Samuel Dalembert.  However, the veteran Pistons stifled the Sixers' upset bid in Games Five and Six by cutting off the driving lanes, taking care of the ball, and turning the one-dimensional Sixers into a jump shooting team. 

Brand's arrival was in direct response to Games Five and SIx.  Now they are back to square one, going up against the eventual Defensive Player of the Year in center Dwight Howard of Orlando.  

Gazzeles rarely defeat giraffes in the game of basketball, especially in the playoffs.  Philly might have a chance if it had its wounded elephant down low, healthy enough to fight.  

But Plan B doesn't usually cut it in April. 

Prediction: Magic in five.

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