It's playoff time in the NBA, a time for the team to shine. Regular season success matter little; it's all about matchups now. It's all about how one team matches up against another. It's "five as one" vs. "five as one", a social experiment of sorts; how does one team co-mingle with another?
Here is NBA Wired's preview of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday anchor perhaps the best perimeter defense in the league, a strength which on paper appears perfect for slowing Derrick Rose and the Bulls. Chicago specializes in shutting down superstar-centric offenses, but that doesn't matter against Philly's multi-polar offense. This series is ripe for an upset, right?
Well, it could have been if the Sixers weren't trending downward as the season progressed. Philly blazed through the first part of the season before struggling down the stretch en route to the eighth seed, whereas Chicago adapted to the absence of Rose. Chicago is going to win the possession battle: they take care of the ball better than Philly forces turnovers, and their dominant offensive rebounding corps will provide extra shots against a team without a singularly dominant defensive rebounder.
A major advantage for Chicago is their defensive depth. Philly's Louis Williams and Thaddeus Young anchor a potent scoring bench, but they'll be running into Omer Asik and Taj Gibson, who anchor arguably the best bench defense in the league.
Pick: Chicago Bulls
Miami Heat (2) vs. New York Knicks (7)
This is the most exciting matchup in the conference. The last time these two teams hooked up in the first round of the playoffs after a lockout was 1999, when Allan Houston got his $100 million shot to go down.
These Knicks are a wildly different team than at season's start thanks to Mike Woodson's emphasis on defense. Tyson Chandler is possibly the purest anti-Heat weapon in the league, a center who can take advantage of Miami's small frontcourt with his length and movement. New York's explosive bench can push the pace against Miami's slower bench players. Iman Shumpert's defense against Dwyane Wade and LeBron Jameswill be integral. On the other side, how will Miami defend Carmelo Anthony, who has been surging since the All-Star break and is out to prove himself against his 2003 draftmates?
In the end, Miami is going to have the two biggest matchup advantages on the court for 40 minutes per game. James and Wade are the two best players in the series and are on a mission to avenge last year's NBA Finals loss.
This series will go a minimum of six games.
Pick: Miami Heat
Indian Pacers (3) vs. Orlando Magic (6)
Should have just put Milwaukee in the sixth spot.
The Dwight Howard-less Orlando Magic have no chance against arguably the deepest team in the conference. Danny Granger's play improved throughout the season; post-All-Star Break, he averaged 19.4 points per game on 45 percent shooting, 41.3 percent from 3, and 90.8 percent from the free throw line. Granger and Paul George should be able to bother Orlando's 3-point shooters, who don't have Howard opening the floor for them.
This is going to be a tight series. Boston is the better team, but Atlanta has home-court advantage, a rebounding advantage, and an improved Josh Smith. J-Smoove nearly put up a 20/10/4 season this year and carried Atlanta's frontcourt after Al Horford sustained an injury.
Jeff Teague vs. Rajon Rondo is the premier matchup to watch; if Teague can cause havoc and open up jumpers for Atlanta's shooters, they have a chance. But that's a tough task with Kevin Garnet manning the middle. With KG's move to C and Horford's absence, he'll be free to guard Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson, meaning he can roam and help out on Smith and Teague. Avery Bradley's development as a defensive stopper will prove handy against Joe Johnson.
Atlanta doesn't have the offense to score against the best defense in the league; Boston still has Paul Pierce for isolation scoring when a drought occurs.