As the fun and madness of the NCAA tournament comes to an end, we look now to the final two weeks of the NBA regular season and the playoffs. And while the Bulls continue to struggle to glue-stick themselves together a healthy rotation of players, the Playoffs loom with a suddenly much more competitive Eastern Conference. So, here is our first NBA Playoff Preview of the Eastern Conference, if the season ended today.
(1) Miami vs (8) Milwaukee
Seems like the Heat can continue to rest their “injured” superstars and still make it out of this series in 4-5 games. The Bucks (who play Miami tonight) have barely been able to keep there record at .500 over the last month. No contest here. Heat in 4.
(4) Brooklyn vs (5) Chicago
While this is a Chicago sports blog, it is tough to be a homer at this point. If the season ended today, the Bulls would be throwing out a lineup without Derrick Rose, Rip Hamilton, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson. But given the Bulls competitiveness and defensive intensity, they could compete with the Nets in a few games. But the Bulls just don’t have enough. Nets in 5.
(2) New York vs (7) Boston
Perhaps the most competitive first-round matchup. New York has been red hot of late, and Carmelo Anthony is playing like an MVP. But Boston’s young core, along with aging stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, will always be a threat come playoff time. Doc Rivers will have his group ready, and the Knicks have shown tendencies toward inconsistency on both ends of the floor. But ultimately I think the Knicks will be too much and the Celtics will run out of steam by the end. Knicks in 6.
(3) Indiana vs (6) Atlanta
Atlanta, if healthy, can surprise some people and make this a really close series. Indiana has the depth, even without Danny Granger, but Atlanta is extremely athletic and both teams can run. I think Paul George and the Pacers will be too much for the Hawks in the end, but another close series where both teams will struggle to close it out. Indiana in 7.
Miami vs. Brooklyn
Brooklyn spent the summer trying to build a team to compete with Miami in the East. And the Nets’ bigs will pose matchup problems for the Heat, who don’t really have anyone who can stop Brooke Lopez down low. It also seems a favorable matchup for Deron Williams – that is, until the Heat switch LeBron onto him on defense. The Heat have too many weapons and the Nets will struggle on the defensive end, even if they can put up a lot of points. Heat in 5.
New York vs Indiana
It’s like the mid-90’s all over again! Flashbacks to Reggie Miller and Spike Lee will make this a hugely anticipated and highly competitive series. While the Knicks seem to have more weapons, the Pacers are much better coached, and their team defense is outstanding. If they can force the Knicks out of their offense, and if Paul George can contain ‘Melo, I see the Pacers pulling off the slight upset. Pacers in 7.
I’ve thought all year that the Pacers had the best chance of challenging the Heat in the East. The Heat rarely struggle, but when they do, its against a hard-nosed, defensive-minded team like the Bulls, the Spurs, and yes, the Pacers. And while I think this series will be Miami’s greatest test to this point, and while as a Bulls fan it seems against my better nature to pick Miami, I just don’t think they can be stopped en route to the NBA Finals. Heat in 6.
Stay tuned for the Western Conference preview, Coming Soon!