(1) Chicago Bulls vs (8) Philadelphia 76ers
Shoutout to Evan Turner, who stirred the drama pot by claiming he prefers Chicago in the 1st round over Miami. Well, he got ‘em, and it will turn out just about the same. The Sixers have trouble scoring, and the Bulls have no trouble preventing people from scoring. Tom Thibadoogle (sp?) is the best defensive coach in the league, and versatile defenders such as Luol Deng and Joakim Noah execute his, somewhat complicated, schemes to perfection.
The Sixers are themselves a defense-oriented team, but not of the same caliber. They started the year incredibly hot, but the not-so-secret secret about them is that they’ve played poorly the whole second half of the season. Look for a (skippable) series with scores hanging around the low 80′s.
The only source of intrigue here is whether last season’s MVP (even though he didn’t deserve it) Derrick Rose will be able to push past his ongoing health issues and give the Chicago offense the creativity it needs when the Sixer defense heats up. If he’s back, and healthy, this shouldn’t be much of a series. If not…
Prediction: I think he’ll be fine, and they’ve actually played well without him. Bulls in 5
(2) Miami Heat vs (7) New York Knicks
Easily the best series of the 1st round, and it doesn’t hurt that these franchises have some serious history disliking each other, which included possibly the greatest on-court scrum of all time. See if you can spot the subtle hint of Van Gundy in this classic NBA moment:
Truly, faaaaantastic, to borrow an old NBA advertising slogan. Anyway, the three-headed monster of Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh (who’s sort’ve, like, the weird, shriveled head that’s still pretty scary, but not, you know that scary), have alternately laid waste to the league, or played in a strangely disjointed, awkward halting style that really should’ve been ironed out a while ago. The question of the playoffs is really which Heat team is going to show up, and more specifically, which Lebron James will show up. We’ve waited all season to know.
In the other corner is the suddenly (finally) dangerous Knicks team. Amare is back from injury; Tyson Chandler is probably, or ought to be, the Defensive Player of the Year (and happens to be the big man who tortured the Heat into bad shooting percentages and tentative 18 ft jumpshots in last year’s Finals); and Melo is finally, you know, Melo, the guy Knicks fans have been waiting for for about a year. The Knicks have weird depth problems (they actually play Jared Jeffries at backup center, they actually play Mike Bibby at the game of basketball), but they also have some incredibly effective bench players, at least on offense. Watch for Steve “Novakaine” Novak draining 3′s (his actual nickname, as well as a Rockets alumn!), as well as JR Smith taking, and occasionally making, the most ill-advised shots you could imagine. They’re fun to watch. Also, if Jeremy Lin defies the odds and makes it back from surgery this series, the internet will explode.
Prediction: It’s gonna be war… Heat in 7
UPDATE!!! Tyson Chandler apparently as the flu. This does not bode well for New York.
(3) Indiana Pacers vs (6) Orlando Magic
Thanks in large part to Dwight Howard’s recent back surgery, what would have been a competitive series is now going to function more as a second round tune-up for the young, and legitimately exciting, Pacers squad. Howard is a force unto himself, no matter how petulantly he acts, and the entire Orlando attack is predicated on him drawing all the attention on offensive, and making up for everybody else’s mistakes on defense. This is the literal truth: Orlando’s three best players in this series are Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Jameer Nelson, and Ryan Anderson. They’re all fine role players, don’t get me wrong, but Orlando is cooked.
Focus instead on familiarizing yourself with Indiana’s considerable, but largely anonymous young talent. They don’t get on TV much, so now’s a good opportunity to learn about how athletic of a defender Paul George is, and how skilled on offense (and equally disinterested on defense) Roy Hibbert is. Who am I kidding, none of us are watching this.
Prediction: Pacer’s are inexperienced, and will drop a game on accident, but still… Pacers in 5
(4) Boston Celtics vs (5) Atlanta Hawks
At this point Atlanta settling in at around a 55% win-rate, finishing 3rd-5th in the conference, then losing a theoretically winnable series in the 1st or 2nd round feels like a Rite of Spring, as does Boston underperforming for large stretches of the season, then turning it on for the playoffs in time to make a run.
There are some differences in this picture: Avery Bradley has been starting at shooting guard for the Celtics, and his tenacity and athleticism, as well as a preternatural connection with Rajon Rondo for backdoor cuts, has created an overwhelming Boston defense, without losing as much as you’d think on offense while Ray Allen sits. Allen coming off the bench seems like it can only be a good thing, too, since they need bench scoring, and he’s fatigued over the course of the postseason in years past. I’m excited. Look for the C’s to play some junkyard-dog defense, for Rondo to hit some physics defying layups, and for KG to perform 2-3 inappropriate, borderline sociopathic acts this series.
Also, Atlanta is the same old Atlanta, minus Al Horford. They’re in trouble, is what I’m saying. Josh Smith will dunk a few times, block some shots in a really cool way, take a bunch of terrible jumpshots, and we’ll all wonder why we don’t like him more, then shrug it off and fondly anticipate the second round. Poor Atlanta…
Prediction: Celtics in 5