Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

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NBA-Eastern-Conference

A month ago it looked like Miami and Indiana were neck and neck to come out of the East. Unless this is just some big set-up, this is the Heat’s to lose without much trouble. If there is a dark horse, it’s Brooklyn…although the Bulls can never be completely overlooked.

Miami – 10/13 odds to win the East

Not a lot has changed from a year ago; Lebron is still the most complete player in the league, D Wade is rested and relatively healthy, and Bosh is good enough when they need him to be.

The supporting cast is a little different; Battier has been nowhere near as effective, Allen has been streaky, and the Heat never know what they will get from Beasley from game to game. They have added Oden, but have limited his minutes. Haslem & Birdman will bring it every game.

Bottom line: considerable favorites, especially with the chemistry issues in Indiana. Back to the Finals and a shot at a three-peat.

IndianaEven

Cruising along to the best record and threatening Miami’s stranglehold until a disastrous stretch in March. Is this a blip on the radar? George and Hibbert have been everything Coach Vogel has asked for on both ends of the floor. Stephenson is the new (in his prime minus the antics) Artest. Hill and West have been steady veterans, and the bench has been solid with Watson, Mahinmi, and new addition Scola. They brought in Evan Turner at the deadline, but he doesn’t seem to be a great fit; they probably would have been just as well off to have kept Granger. At times, Vogel has this team looking very hard to beat. But they struggle to score (how can a conf leader possibly finish 24th out of 30 teams offensively?), and have recently looked like dog poo.

Bottom line: two years ago they blew a 2-1 series lead v MIA, and last year they lost a gut-wrenching 7-game conf finals to them. Is home court enough to trump the Heat and recent poor play? My guess is NO.

Brooklyn20/1

This club was a dumpster fire the first month of the season; Kidd was getting smashed in the NY press as unprepared and in over his head, the union of grizzled vets (J. Johnson, Pierce, & KG) appeared to be a mistake, and Deron Williams looked uninspired and unhappy. Then they lost Lopez for the season. Somehow they managed to drag themselves out of the abyss to go a conference-best 33-16 since Jan 1st. This is your team nobody wants to play for the 2014 postseason. They have four players that have the ability to take a game by the throat, Livingston has played very well on the perimeter, and Thornton was a solid get at the deadline. If they get by Toronto (and that’s a considerable if), they will be very confident heading to Miami.

Bottom line: outside of the Pacers, this is the only team in the field that concerns the Heat; Miami has not beaten Brooklyn in over 14 months.

Toronto30/1

You cannot say enough about Dwane Casey. He got a career year out of a castaway (Lowry) to run his team; DeRozan has evolved into an All-Star; and suddenly the Raptors have morphed into a defensive team. Valanciunas and Ross are very good role players, and Casey has them playing fundamentally sound – they are prone to throwing the ball into the stands, but take good shots and are the best in the NBA at rebounding at the defensive end. Back in October, this looked like a team set up to fail on purpose after ditching Bargnani and Gay. All they did was win the Atlantic (yes, I know it was a terrible division).

Bottom line: probably too inexperienced to get by the Nets and do any significant damage in the playoffs. Great story though.

Chicago30/1

There are some good coaches in the NBA. Nobody gets more out of his roster than Tom Thibodeau; he is proof that the system is the star and not the players. They may not be a better team without D Rose, but they are certainly more efficient. D.J. Augustin was plugged in at PG, and with the emergence of Jimmy Butler and the continued excellence of Jo Noah (could he possibly be the best C in the league?), the Bulls won 48 games. Taj Gibson was also a vital cog, providing tenacity and intensity off the bench. A Bulls game will never be an attractive watch, unless you value defensive play on a banal level.

Bottom line: not enough firepower to win the East, but don’t be surprised if Thibodeau gets them to the conf finals

Washington75/1

No team in the league is more backcourt driven than the Bullets Wizards. Wall made the wise decision to work on his game over the summer, and it his clear by his newfound ability to run the team and play a more complete PG. Beal has also refined his game – I was not completely sold on him when he entered the league – and is no longer just a scorer/shooter. Gortat has been a surprise in the post, and has been more than adequate protecting the basket. Booker and Gooden have thrived as role players off the bench (is it me or does it seem like Gooden has been in the NBA 20 yrs?), and Ariza has had a career year. Randy Wittman somehow survived a 2-7 start, and is the perfect coach for this team; old school and hard-nosed, he is the guy you want developing today’s player to the concept of team basketball. This is as good a Washington team as there has been in some time – they have not made the playoffs since Gilbert Arenas was storing his glocks in the floorboards.

Bottom line: the Wizards are playing with house money, but a series win is likely something they’re going to have to wait another year for considering they are up against a seasoned Bulls team.

Atlanta150/1

Is there a coach in professional sports more under-the-radar than Mike Budenholzer? Luckily for him, Atlanta plays in the East and a 38-win club gets you into the playoffs and is considered an achievement. The Hawks lost more games than every Western conference team less three. But they made the postseason so we have to talk about them, albeit briefly. Atlanta shoots a lot of 3s, are routinely killed on the glass, and are in the middle of the league in offensive and defensive efficiency. Jeff Teague has improved his scoring every year, and has made himself into a pretty good guard. He is the only player worth talking about (since Horford is hurt).

Bottom line: Plenty of people are pissed that they are even still playing basketball. But less than two weeks ago they beat the Pacers by 19 at Indianapolis, holding them to 23 first half points. The Pacers sweep them and get a little mojo back heading into the semifinals.

Charlotte200/1

OK, nobody knows about Steve Clifford either. This is the 13th team he has been apart of, and the ‘Cats have won 22 more games than last year. The offense runs through talented big man Al Jefferson, and he pairs with Kemba Walker for a solid inside-outside duo. But the biggest improvement has been the defense, and that’s how this club wins games. Clifford plays ten players, and wings Kidd-Gilchrist and Henderson key the defense with ball pressure. Four games or more guarding LeBron will do wonders for MKG’s development. Charlotte also takes care of the ball better than any team in the league, turning it over less than 12 times a game.

Bottom line: LeBron scored 61 on Charlotte, but the ‘Cats went 16-6 since then. A game five back in Miami is probably a 50-50 bet; but considering the Heat get two days off after both games 1 and 2, a sweep is almost a certainty.

Stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com

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