2005 NBA First Round Eastern Conference Playoff PreviewThis article was originally published at Suite101.com on April 21, 2005.
Miami (1) vs. New Jersey (8)
Regular season records: Miami, 59-23; New Jersey, 42-40
Scoring--Miami: Dwayne Wade (24.1 ppg); New Jersey: Vince Carter (27.4 ppg w/Nets in 56 g; 24.3 ppg overall).
Rebounding--Miami: Shaquille O'Neal (10.4 rpg); New Jersey: Jason Kidd (7.4 rpg).
Assists--Miami: Wade (6.8 apg); New Jersey: Kidd (8.3 apg).
Last 10 games: Miami, 5-5; New Jersey, 8-2
Head to Head: Miami, 3-0
Analysis/Prediction: Miami has been the class of the Eastern Conference all season, but did not finish the season on a strong note. Shaquille O'Nea has missed some games due to nagging injuries and if he misses extended time in the postseason then Miami would be in serious trouble. Before the O'Neal-Wade tandem takes it place in the pantheon of great duos, "Superman" and "Flash" need to win at least one title; O'Neal and Kobe Bryant won three championships, the same total claimed by the fabled Bird-McHale-Parish frontline, one more than the 1970s Knicks and two more than the Jabbar-Robertson Bucks. In order to get O'Neal, Miami gave up two young talents (Lamar Odom and Caron Butler) who played key roles in the Heat's 2004 playoff run, so if O'Neal and Wade do not lead the Heat to a championship within the next two or three years that deal is not successful; that does not mean that Miami was wrong to acquire O'Neal, but doing so raised the stakes for the Heat--equaling the 2004 team by reaching the second round or even advancing one round further (to the Conference Finals) does not justify jettisoning Odom and Butler and paying O'Neal's huge salary.
New Jersey has been one of the hottest teams in the league down the stretch and would receive a big boost if Richard Jefferson is able to return for the postseason. Jason Kidd and Vince Carter have played as well as any backcourt in the league, but the Nets are weak up front (point guard Kidd leads the team in rebounding) and fared very poorly against the Heat in the regular season. Unless O'Neal misses extensive playing time, Miami wins in a sweep.
Detroit (2) vs. Philadelphia (7)
Regular season records: Detroit, 54-28; Philadelphia, 43-39
Scoring--Detroit: Rip Hamilton (18.7 ppg); Philadelphia: Allen Iverson (30.7 ppg).
Rebounding--Detroit: Ben Wallace (12.2 rpg); Philadelphia: Chris Webber (7.9 rpg w/Sixers in 21 g/9.1 rpg overall)
Assists--Detroit: Chauncey Billups (5.8 apg); Philadelphia: Iverson (7.9 apg)
Last 10 games: Detroit, 9-1; Philadelphia, 8-2
Head to Head: Detroit, 3-1
Analysis/Prediction: Detroit has dealt with many forms of adversity this year--the challenge of defending a championship, the aftermath of the ugly brawl in November, Coach Larry Brown's health problems--and recovered to play its best basketball down the stretch, finishing the season on a 9-1 tear. Allen Iverson has had a wondrous season--probably his best ever individually, even exceeding his 2000-01 MVP campaign--but there is no reason to think that Philadelphia can knock off the Pistons. Iverson will make sure that it is not a sweep--he did that even against the powerful Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals--but Detroit will win in five.
Boston (3) vs. Indiana (6)
Regular season records: Boston, 45-37; Indiana, 44-38
Scoring--Boston: Paul Pierce (21.6 ppg); Indiana: Jermaine O'Neal (24.3 ppg)
Rebounding--Boston: Antoine Walker (8.3 rpg w/Celtics in 24 g; 9.0 rpg overall); Indiana: Jeff Foster (9.0 rpg)
Assists--Boston: Gary Payton (6.1 apg); Indiana: Jamaal Tinsley (6.4 apg)
Last 10 games: Boston, 6-4; Indiana, 6-4
Head to Head: Indiana, 2-1
Analysis/Prediction: Both teams underwent major transformations during the season--Indiana lost Ron Artest to a season-ending suspension and saw several other key players miss significant time due to suspensions and/or injuries. Boston welcomed back Antoine Walker, who has had a love-hate relationship with the Boston fans and the Boston front office. Walker supporters--including Boston G.M. Danny Ainge, who traded Walker away and seemed for a time to be his biggest critic--say that he provides leadership and is a multi-dimensional player who can shoot, rebound, pass and defend; his critics say that he has poor shot selection and turns the ball over too frequently. His matchup with Jermaine O'Neal, one of the premier power forwards in the game, could very well decide the outcome of this series. Walker did not play in any of the Boston-Indiana games this season. Boston's scoring, rebounding, rebounding differential, turnovers per game, field goal percentage and three point field goal percentage have all improved since adding Walker to the roster; not surprisingly, Boston was 28-29 before Walker arrived and has gone 18-9 since then, including 16-8 in games in which Walker played. Indiana is a fashionable upset pick in this series but Boston has simply looked like the better team down the stretch, winning seven of its first nine games in April to secure the division title before resting Walker and Pierce in the fourth quarters of both of Boston's losses to close out the season. Indiana will not go down easily, but Boston will win in six hard fought games.
Chicago (4) vs. Washington (5)
Regular season records: Chicago, 47-35; Washington, 45-37
Scoring--Chicago: Kirk Hinrich* (15.7 ppg); Washington: Gilbert Arenas (25.5 ppg)
Rebounding--Chicago: Tyson Chandler (9.7 rpg); Washington: Antawn Jamison (7.6 rpg)
Assists--Chicago: Hinrich (6.4 apg); Washington: Arenas (5.1 apg)
*--Eddy Curry averaged 16.1 ppg but will not be able to play due to an irregular heartbeat.
Last 10 games: Chicago, 6-4; Washington, 4-6
Head to Head: Washington, 2-1
Analysis/Prediction: Chicago's tough-minded defense will face a big challenge from Washington's high scoring trio of Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Antawn Jamison. The Bulls will be without leading scorer Eddy Curry and versatile rookie Luol Deng, but still have the services of Ben Gordon, who might win Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year. Gordon's fourth quarter scoring outbursts are reminiscent of the exploits of James "Captain Late" Silas, Vinnie "Microwave" Johnson and Andrew "Boston Strangler" Toney. The Wizards have a negative point differential despite posting a winning record. The youth and playoff inexperience of both teams make this a difficult series to handicap--how will players who have not faced postseason pressure respond under the big lights? Chicago is the better defensive team and has the home court advantage, so the Bulls will win in seven games.
I predict that Detroit will defeat Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals.
posted by David Friedman @ 12:01 AM