NBA Playoff Predictions: Eastern Conference
The Eastern Conference has been full of surprises this year, which makes our 2011 NBA Playoff Predictions all that much harder to make.
So what have been some of the surprises?
For starters, the Chicago Bulls are the best team in the Eastern Conference; nobody saw that being the case after all the events that took place this summer. Then how about the Orland Magic being a middling four-seed? Yes, they won 50 games, but their inclusion as one of the elite teams in the NBA seems to have expired. And then there are the Philadelphia 76ers. This team was left for dead entering the season and even a few weeks into it. Now they have been one of the best teams in the East since the All-Star break and could be well on their way to making some playoff noise.
So what is our prediction for how this year’s NBA Playoffs will play out? Let’s get to it, round by round.
First Round Predictions:
Chicago Bulls vs. Indiana Pacers
These two teams are about as unevenly matched as possible. The Bulls dominate the Pacers at every position except for one, small forward, where Danny Granger has a decided advantage over Luol Deng. And while I’m sure the Bulls can overcome that with Derrick Rose’s advantage over the Pacers point guards, it will be a much easier series if Deng can step up and counter Granger. But even if he doesn’t, Bulls still win. Our prediction is that Bulls close this out in 5, 4-1.
Orlando Magic vs. Atlanta Hawks
Last year, these two teams were the #2 and #3 seeds playing each other a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. This year, they are both middling #4 and #5 seeds that are expected to get thumped in the second round. While many may have the Magic winning this series in easy fashion, the four regular season series games between these two teams suggest otherwise. The Hawks have taken three out of four from the Magic, with a couple of easy wins. And while Dwight Howard is the best player on the court, the Hawks may have the next three or four best players. That said, I’m going to go with the numbers, which show that the Magic have an average point differentia of plus-5.3, while the Hawks have a point differential of minus-0.6. Statistically speaking, this series shouldn’t even be close, so I’ll go against what I’ve seen and let the numbers take hold of my prediction. Orlando wins, 4-1.
Miami Heat vs. Philadelphia 76ers
This match isn’t set in stone as April 11, 2011, however, we don’t think the Heat will lose for the rest of the season, and the New York Knicks have a tiebreaker over Philly. But I digress. The Heat are just better than the 76ers at their own game. Both teams like to run and both teams play great perimeter defense. But at the end of the day, the Heat have Dwyane Wade and LeBron James running, while the 76ers have Andre Igoudala. See what I’m saying? Heat win, 4-1.
Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks
This is a tough one for me since, admittedly, I am a New York Knicks fan. And as I write this, knowing that the Celtics and Knicks play on Wednesday, on the last game of the season, I’m not afraid to say that the Knicks can play with these Celtics. They can’t play with the same Celtics that were in first place going into the All-Star break. But they can play with the Celtics. Especially since over their last 20 games, the Celtics scoring margin is a mere plus-1.55, while over the Knicks last 20 games, their scoring margin is plus-2.45. On top of that, the Celtics lone “big” man is Jermaine O’Neal, and if Shaquille O’Neal isn’t back for the postseason, the Knicks could dominate inside with Amare Stoudemire. Don’t get it twisted though; I’m not going to go pick the underachieving Knicks to win this series. I’m just saying, that if they did play up their abilities, and the Celtics play like that have over the last 20 games, the Knicks could win this series. But they won’t. Celtics win, 4-3.
Second Round Predictions:
Chicago Bulls vs. Orlando Magic
The best thing about this series is that we have a complete clashing of styles. The Bulls like to slow the pace and get to the basket, while the Magic like to run and shoot threes. On top of that, their offensive styles are in complete contrast with their best players. Rose would be better in perimeter game the Magic offer, while Howard is better suited for the motion offense the Bulls like to run. As a result, I have no idea what these games are going to look like, other than the fact that they will look awesome! Because I don’t know what how the demeanor of the NBA Playoffs will affect the style of this game, again I’m going to lean on the numbers that say the Bulls have been much better in their last 20 games than the Magic have. So Bulls win, 4-2.
Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics
Everybody wants to say that losing Kendrick Perkins will costs the Celtics this series. I don’t see it that way, especially since the Celtics didn’t even have Perkins win they were winning the majority of those game. Again, I will point to Shaquille O’Neal, who has the third best adjusted plus/minus on the Celtics team. For me, it’s pretty simple. If Shaq plays, the Big three can do their thing on the perimeter and win this series. If he doesn’t, the Big Three will have a hard time stopping the Heat’s Big Three from getting into the paint and doing their thing. It’s been a long time since a team could rely on Shaquille O’Neal, so I’m going with the Heat in this one. Miami wins, 4-3.
Eastern Conference Finals
Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat
As you all know, the Miami Heat have lost to the Chicago Bulls three times. However, they have lost by a combined total of less than 8 points, and all of the games have come down to the last two are three possessions. Now, it is quite possible that the Heat are bad in close game situations. Yes, I am a firm believer in the fact that winning 5-point games is not a matter of skill, but one of luck. However, if I flip a coin 20 times, and I only get heads three times, I’m going to start to question the validity of that coin. And with the Heat’s close game record being less than optimal, I have to believe that their stagnation at the end of games is causing them to lose the close contests, and I haven’t seen any signs of them fixing that problem. However, I don’t like the Bulls late-game strategy either. As good as Rose has been, he is not the MVP, and he is not that good late in games. In fact, he shoots just 39% down the stretch of close games, and he turns the ball over way more than an MVP point guard should in that situation.
What bodes in Miami’s favor is the fact that we have yet to see them nearly at their best. Currently, the Three Kings average about 35 minutes a piece. However, when the Heat reach the 2011 NBA Playoffs, you can be assured that they will average about 40 minutes per game. That’s a very significant increase, especially when you consider the players they are replacing. Forty minutes a game means guys like Juwan Howard, Joel Anthony, James Jones and Mike Bibby can spend more time on the bench. Bringing in LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade for those games will increase the team’s efficiency tremendously. Thus, I like the Miami Heat to win the Eastern Conference Finals over the Chicago Bulls, 4-2.
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