Chisholm: Eastern Conference predictions for Round 1

Tim Chisholm

4/15/2011 4:24:43 PM

Chicago Bulls vs. Indiana Pacers

This is a no-contest matchup. Chicago has suffocated Indiana in four games this season (three wins and one overtime loss), holding them to 38% shooting and 90.8 points per game. They've used the defensive force of Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik to invalidate Roy Hibbert (6.3 ppg, 31% shooting) and they've tag-teamed Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer on Danny Granger, forcing him into taking contested jumpers and to shoot just 36.7% against them. And then there is Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer, both of whom will likely feast on Indiana's overmatched roster by abusing them inside. Indy may have some pieces to build around for the future, but Chicago is built to win now and they look poised to steamroll the Pacers in this series.  Pick: Bulls in four

Miami Heat vs. Philadelphia 76ers

The Playoffs are what Miami was built for. They can shorten their rotation, play their heavy-hitters more minutes and look to exploit the inherent difficulty in corralling both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade for seven games. There are two questions that must be answered in this series, though: one, will Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young be able to apply enough pressure to James and Wade that they'll be forced to defer to Chris Bosh in this series (Bosh being an underwhelming Playoff performer)? And two, will Miami be able to run on Philadelphia? Miami thrives in transition but only likes to run on turnovers, and Philly is second-best in the league in turnover percentage; they take care of the ball. None of this is meant to question Miami's ability to handle Philly, it's just a matter of assessing with what ease they'll be able to do it. Philly may have had a nice turnaround this season, but Miami's was far better and in the end the two teams are just in different stratospheres with regards to NBA talent.  Pick: Heat in five

Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks

This is one of those matchups that is getting nice and hyped because New York is back in the Playoffs, but it really isn't going to be all that competitive. New York is in the bottom-third of the league with regards to defensive efficiency, and their stopping power only decreased after they brought in Carmelo Anthony. They are small, they can't rebound and their top-five offensive efficiency won't be enough to overcome Boston's decided edge in talent, experience and intensity. While the Celtics have been struggling of late, lost their defensive ace Kendrick Perkins and dropped two very prominent games last week to Chicago and Miami, they've beaten the post-trade Knicks twice already and they've got great defensive answers for Amar'e (Garnett), Melo (Pierce) and Billups (Rondo). While New York has the firepower to win close games in the last five minutes, they have to be able to keep Boston in check long enough to keep those games close down to the wire, and it's unlikely that they are able to do that often enough to steal a seven-game series against the reigning Eastern Conference Champions.  Pick: Celtics in six

Orlando Magic vs. Atlanta Hawks

On paper, the 4-5 matchup is supposed to be the closest in the first round, but it won't be this year. While Atlanta actually took the season series from Orlando 3-1, they've sputtered into the Playoffs, going 10-17 since the All-Star break and losing their last six games in a row. To compound matters, All-Star Joe Johnson is an unreliable Playoff force, with his averages routinely falling below his regular season marks, and the entire team looks like they've already tuned-out first-year head coach, Larry Drew. On the flip side of this matchup is Orlando, a team that looks severely weakened from their Eastern Conference title two years ago but is nonetheless far better equipped to handle the rigours of postseason play than the Hawks are. Dwight Howard has been as good as he's ever been since coming into the NBA this year, and he's ready to feast on whoever tries to stand in his way. His improved footwork in the post and little ten-foot bank shot have made him harder to guard and his defence is as good as it's ever been, which will basically shut down the paint for the Hawks. Jason Richardson proved last year with the Suns that he too can be a series-changer with his offence (19.8 ppg on 50% shooting and 48% from three). If Hedo Turkoglu can regain even a modicum of his abilities as a matchup problem by playing as a big three-point shooting point-forward than Atlanta may just get swept out of the Playoffs like they have been the last two years. Neither team is as strong as they thought they'd be when the season began, but one is certainly a lot stronger than the other in this matchup.  Pick: Magic in five