Now that both the East and West contestants of what is the 2013 NBA Playoffs are set, here’s my take on the winners/losers of each matchup starting with the East. Seeds are in parenthesis.
(1) Miami vs. (8) Milwaukee: LeBron (DNP), Wade (DNP), and Bosh (DNP); Miami still wins 4-0. The Heat have 3 of the Olympic starting 5; Bucks have Jennings, Ellis, and a bunch of no names. The Heat should have been granted a first-round bye. That’s how horrible this series will most likely turn out.
(2) New York vs. (7) Boston: The Celtics should not be underestimated because of their age. Doc Rivers knows all to well – as do his players- what playoff basketball is all about. Only the Spurs Popovich is better at getting the most out of his squad. As long as health is not an achilles heel, Boston has more than a puncher’s chance of winning this series. The Knicks have 2 of the league’s premier shooters in Melo and Smith, but need Chandler to balance everything out. Sometimes when the shots are not fallin, the Knicks get caught holding the ball to long and standing around. The lack of ball movement in halfcourt sets will be their undoing and exactly what the doctor ordered for the Celtics. The Knicks should win; I won’t be shocked if they don’t.
(3) Indiana vs. (6) Atlanta: Pacers are to inconsistent; one minute they look as though they could beat anybody, and then turn around and look as though couldn’t compete with the recently crowned state champ Mentor Cardinals. Hibbert’s production is critical to the Pacers advancing to the next round. 8 points and 5 rebound type numbers will not get it done. Horford and Smith can tip the scales in favor of the Hawks if Josh stops poutin’ and start playin’ up to his ability. Al will bring it every night; will Smith help him out? Indiana wins 4-3 by default.
(4) Brooklyn vs. (5) Chicago: Lopez, Johnson, and Williams make up a nice core for the Nets, but Carlesimo and inexperience may count against them in the end. The Bulls are battle tested like no other. Chicago needs to only put points on the board; everything else will take care of itself. Rose’s return (off the bench) would be a huge bonus. Bulls win this series 4-2 on grit alone.
The Chicago Bulls 101-97 victory over the Miami Heat to break the 27-game win streak was no accident, nor was it just a bad night at the office. Players’ have bad games no doubt; however, the Bulls (without Noah) outscored the Heat 22-8 in second chance points. Am I to believe the entire Heat team had a bad night at the same time? No, the Bulls just flat out played an agressive style defense against the Heat that most teams’ are afraid to play, and came away with a victory. Thibodeau learned from an earlier matchup against the Heat where the Bulls lost 86-67, that it doesn’t make sense to double LeBron, Wade, or Bosh and let them pass to wide open shooters who have spotted up in the corners. TT also realized that “sagging off” the 3-Olympians’ allowing them to basically walk right into open shots was an advantage for the Heat and a disadvantage for his Bulls. His strategy in this most recent game was to contest- and it worked.
Was Thibodeau’s strategy a blue print to beat the Heat? No; the Bulls’ didn’t reinvent the wheel, they just decided not to be intimidated. Where’s the rocket science in that? If anything, teams’ now know that they don’t have to be intimidated by the Heat because the folks at ESPN say so.
The key to victory for Chicago was not just on the defensive side of the ball; it also took balanced scoring and timely shots to complete the abrupt dismantaling of the streak. Going into game against Miami, Chicago was dead last in the league in scoring at 92.9 per/gm. With Rose out, that kind of offensive production- or lack thereof- will not only hurt in terms of winning a playoff series, but it will also over stress a defense that currently ranks 3rd in the league allowing 92.4 per/gm.
The one player who is a surprise to Bulls’ fans’ and myself is Jimmy Butler. If Butler can continue to bring to the lineup from a point standpoint what he did against Miami (17), the Bulls’ may have very well found themselves a much needed scoring option heading into this year’s playoffs and making their bench stronger in the process.
Off the bench: With Nate Robinson, Taj Gibson, and Nazr Mohammed, the Bulls’ second unit should be able to at least match the level of play provided by the starting unit. Maintaining or increasing the team’s lead can be crucial to playoff success. In some cases being able to outscore the opposition’s bench can make the difference in winning or losing a series.
The Bulls’ have a puncher’s chance aginst the Heat should the two meet in the Eastern conf. Finals’ if the offensive production on display in ending the streak can somehow be duplicated come playoff time.
You would think by now most teams’ should realize that committing careless turnovers against the Heat not only makes what is a strength for them stronger, but also derails any chance for a victory. Especially if that team is the Indiana Pacers. The one team whose roster is compatible or comparable to the Heat. I know games are not won by who’s on the roster, but it’s not as if Indiana doesn’t have the talent to make a game of this magnitude formidable, they just don’t seem to have the mentality or want, to go toe-to-toe. If your goal as an NBA player is to win a championship, how in the world do you get off to such a slow start against the defending world champs? This was a game Indiana should have had circled on the calender six months ago. Where was the Pacer team that came to play in last season’s Eastern Conference semi’s? The Heat had 27 points off Indiana turnovers in a game that was essentially over in the first quarter.
I don’t know if the Pacers thought because they’ve beaten the Heat twice already this year just “showing up” was going to be good enough, I do know that any chance for beating Miami in the playoffs this go round centers around Roy Hibbert and no one else. Yes, Paul George must have much more of a contribution than the 10 insignificant points he scored in this woeful contest- at least from Indiana’s standpoint- but no contribution is more important than that of Hibbert’s.
Everyone that is anyone in the NBA knows the Heat are susceptible on the inside; why a 7-footer like Hibbert doesn’t demand of himself or from his coach the opportunity to exploit what is a glaring weakness for Miami makes no sense at all. It shows how poor the overall coaching is in the NBA and how undedicated to his craft Hibbert is. If Orlando Magic’s center Nikola Vucevic can pull down 20 rebounds against the Heat’s porous interior, surely a former Hoya-who’s been in the league longer- should be able to do better than 4; 1 offensive and 3 defensive in 32 minutes played!! Far too often Hibbert plays small instead of tall, like the 7-footer he is. To drive home my point even more, first year player Orlando Johnson had just as many (4) in a little over 14 minutes played. What a disgrace- for Hibbert and the Pacers. Free-throw attempts have to increase as well; 2-2 just won’t do. Hibbert would average 20+ pts/g and open the floor up for shooters Granger, Hill, and George if he were to get aggressive around the basket. Until he gets it in his mind to own the paint, we may never get to see how the Pacers’ roster really stacks up against the Heat.
The foul on Kevin Durant in Game 2 of last year’s Finals that should’ve been called, coupled with the fact that Durant- supposedly one of the NBA’s biggest stars- stayed in foul trouble for the entire series, I didn’t think there was much more Stern and the league could do to make me feel like the game I grew to know and love was becoming highly suspect. After watching the Heat lose for the second time this season to the Knicks (both by 20 pts) who were without Carmelo this second go round, I’m now convinced more than ever before that last year’s title was in fact given and not earned.
The sports’ world says the Heat are the best because they have the most talented team in the league; I say they’re the best only in namesake. It’s the zone defenses teams play that allow for luxury spacing not afforded to guys like Jordan, Bird, or Magic when they played. Teams’ like the Spurs’, Knicks, Grizzlies, and Clippers have proven just what kind of squad Miami has because they’re not intimidated. For some strange reason, the Heat are suffering from ” Title-itis” and ” turn it on, turn it off.” Only the Lakers’ were successful at turn it on, turn it off; because Phil was masterful at coaching ego’s.
Growing up, sitting down to watch an NBA game between the Milwaukee Bucks with Terry Cummings, Jack Sikma, Paul Pressey, and Sidney Moncrief vs. the 76ers with Andrew Toney, Charles Barkley, Dr.J, and Mo’ Cheeks was the thing to do. Some might say it was mandatory. Now I watch the NBA cause there’s nothing else to do. It has become a league more concerned with instant gratification and how it looks instead of playing for the purpose of reaching the pinnacle. That’s bad news for the fans’, bad news for the NBA, and bad news for David Stern- all because it was given and not earned.