The Eastern Conference has been a conference filled with great stories this season: 'The Big 3' in Miami, the 'Old' Guys in Boston trying to make one more run, Derrick Rose and the defence emerging in Chicago, Dwight Howard's pending free agency in 15 months and of course, Melo joining Amare on Broadway with the Knicks. Fun stuff. Now the real business begins. Winning time.
Here are my predictions:
# 1 Chicago vs. # 8 Indiana (Bulls in 5): Gritty and hard-nosed, the Bulls have had an amazing year under Tom Thibodeau and the additions of Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver have allowed great development throughout the roster. The question is they play so hard now already, do they have another gear that the elite NBA teams get to come playoff time; or are they already playing at it? Not sure yet but in spite of Danny Granger being a terrific scorer and Roy Hibbert's interior defence for the Pacers, this will be a quick one.
# 2 Miami vs. # 7. Philadelphia (Heat in 5): 28 road wins and an improving defence are above and beyond what you gotta like to compliment the talents of the 'Big 3'. They must become a consistent 5 on 5 half-court team to have success. Who takes the defining shots (Wade is the best at this, in my opinion) will be an important factor. Doug Collins has done an awesome job getting improvement out of the 76ers. The health of Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala is a significant concern. And how much can the bench led by Thaddeus Young be a factor? The Heat has some question marks but the 76ers have more. Talent wins out in the this one.
#3 Boston vs. # 6 New York (Celtics in 7): The Celtics miss Kendirck Perkins and they're looking slow and old. Not sure how much Jermaine and Shaquille O'Neal will be able to keep up the pace against the up-tempo Knicks and Amare inside. The Celtics' guard play is still stellar with Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and they make the big plays. Kevin Garnett will will his team to play all out in this series. Carmelo Anthony is a tough cover for the Celtics but their team defensive concepts are still sound. The old guys know how to take it up a notch when they need it and I don't like the loose play of the Knicks in a critical Game #5 and/or #7 in Boston. Boston barely on smarts, experience and craftiness.
# 4 Orlando vs. # 5. Atlanta (Magic in 6): Atlanta won the season series, but have you watched the Hawks lately? Something ain't right there. The Magic have limped down the stretch as well with a bunch of injuries. I'm not as impressed as I've been in past years with Stan Van Gundy's Magic but they've got the beast in Dwight Howard to settle things inside and Jameer Nelson is a winner. Atlanta must defend the 3-ball well because the Magic feast on them. Joe Johnson needs to abuse the questionable wing play of the Magic but the Magic are very sound with their team defence. Atlanta needs to get the tempo of this series increased because Orlando is the better half-court team, which is not easy to do in the playoffs. A month ago, I would have told you Hawks in this matchup but my gut tells me the Magic still have some winning left.