Check out Max’s Western Conference update here.
Chicago 2-0 Indiana
Obvious conventional wisdom: “If the Bulls want to win the title, Rose is going to have to play historically well.”
Chicago didn’t come to this series ready for war, and they’ve found one. Before Darren Collison went down, Indiana matched up with the Bulls better than anyone, including myself, predicted. Frontcourt depth is one of Chicago’s strengths, but it’s neutralized against the defensive-minded Roy Hibbert/Psycho T/Jeff Foster platoon. Luol Deng is great, but Indiana’s got an edge at the swing positions with Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Paul George, and Brandon Rush. That leaves point guard, where Derrick Rose is going to eat Darren Collison’s backups—rookie A.J. Price and T.J. “Mr. Glass” Ford—for lunch.
An announcer said that the Pacers are like the Nuggets of the East, mostly referring to their lack of a superstar. They remind me more of the Fun ’n’ Gun Warriors from 2006 to 08, especially their swarming defense, except without the emotional cornerstones like Baron Davis and Captain Jackson to rally around, and without any of the goofy stuff that made that team so magnetic.
Frank Vogel’s team believes they can play with anyone, and that makes them dangerous. The Pacers young core also makes a pretty good argument for upperclassmen in the NBA. Darren Collison, Tyler Hansbrough, Roy Hibbert, Brandon Rush, and A.J. Price all stayed at least three or more years at major college programs and played deep into the college postseasons. Even Paul George stayed two years. They play hard, they play smart, they play good defense, they take care of the ball, and they can make big shots because they’re not afraid to take them.
However, despite all this praise and despite their pre-series statements of defiance to the general media, the Pacers can’t stop Derrick Rose. That’s why the Bulls are going to take this series, with Indiana snagging a win at home before falling in five.
Miami 2-0 Philadelphia
Even more obvious conventional wisdom: “Charlie Sheen isn’t the only member of a Two and a Half Men team that’s #winning.”
The Heat sweeping the series is a safer bet than the sun rising in the east tomorrow morning. At the end of game four, some Philadelphia players will ask LeBron for autographs—for their kids, they’ll say. He’ll deny them while muttering something about staying focused for the road ahead, and then drive 140 miles-per-hour down it. Chris Bosh will get offended that those same players don’t want his autograph, and then preen to the media about it until Dwyane Wade, popping medicine for migraines caused by Siovaughn flashbacks while icing every joint in his body, yells at him to STFU from across the locker room.
The Heat will look like world-beaters at the end of this series, but that’s because the Sixers are a team that plays to all the Heat’s strengths and none of their weaknesses. They play fast, and the Heat thrive in the open court. They don’t have an interior presence that can abuse Chris Bosh (sorry, Elton Brand) or exploit the Heat’s general lack of depth. And their perimeter players, however prodigious, have to face off against Dwyane Wade and LeBron James every night.
Boston 2-0 New York
East Coast conventional wisdom: “It’s Boston!” “It’s New York!” “It’s Melo!” “It’s Paul Pierce, the Truth!” “Rondo!” “Boston versus New York!” “Madison Square Garden!” “K.G.!” “New York’s back!” “Spike Lee!” “Go, New York, go, New York, go!” “Celtic Pride!” “Mr. Big Shot!” “Kendrick Perkins!” “Jared Jeffries?”
I hope the first playoff game I saw where Jared Jeffries made a game-saving layup just before making a game-losing turnover is also the last one. Maybe it’s because the refs are really letting them play, but the first two games of this series have been the worst tight games I’ve seen since Butler out-failed UConn last month.
Starmelo’s final shot in game one—a deep three, double-teamed, with time on the clock—was atrocious. Even Doc Rivers took a jab at it, saying that the Celtics’ winning play, Paul Pierce to Ray Allan for three, “just wasn’t hero basketball.” And while 42 points, 17 rebounds, six assists, two blocks is an incredible fantasy basketball line, passing to Jeffries—one of the worst offensive players of all time—with the game on the line and Kevin Garnett all over him was idiotic.
The Knicks are going to win at least one game at the Garden. Whether they win more than that depends on the health of Chauncey Billups and Amar’e Stoudemire. Boston looks beatable; they’re playing a diminished, Perkins-less version of the basketball that got them to the finals last year, and it’s barely been good enough to get past a Knicks team that, after Amar’e Stoudemire went down in game two, looked like a homeless man’s version of the ’07 Lakers.
Atlanta 1-1 Orlando
“Huh?” conventional wisdom: “The Hawks are feeling disrespected, and if you didn’t know, Jason Collins is the key to their success.”
There’s a reason this one is on NBA TV. If a playoff series hinges on a journeyman center that averages less than five points and five rebounds a game, it’s not going to be a good playoff series. Sure, we get to watch Dwight Howard go into a beast mode we haven’t seen from him before. Problem is, the team around him is visibly flawed, shooting 30 percent for the series, and is hard to watch.
Jameer Nelson makes an entry pass to Dwight. Dwight gets doubled and kicks it out. One of the Richardsons bricks a three. Dwight gets fouled grabbing an offensive board. Dwight looks genuinely surprised every time one of his free throws goes in. That’s Orlando basketball.
The Hawks—Jason “Dwight-Kryptonite” Collins included—have at least come to play this year. They’re playing like they’ve been disrespected, which given their performance against the Magic in the playoffs last year and the way they finished this season was the truth. To my surprise they’ve made this series interesting, assuming we loosen the belt buckle on the definition of the word “interesting.”
—Photo AP/Charles Cherney