Attention residents of the TNP Nation! Given the forecast for the opening round of the Western Conference has been submitted by meteorologist Keith Madyun, it’s time that the same be done for the Eastern Conference.
My colleague boldly predicted a synergy of inclement weather to once again plague the month of June, in the form of THUNDERstorms raging from Oklahoma City and a HEAT wave tht will originate from Miami. I echo this sentiment, foreseeing these acts of nature colliding to once again determine 2013’s NBA Champions.
Before digging deeper into the Finals’ forecast, there are some things on the horizon that require immediate attention.
How much stronger would the Eastern Conference be if the likes of Danny Granger, Amare’ Stoudemire, Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose, were not blindsided with injuries? While some would debate the legitimacy of the East in comparison to the West under such circumstances, all are in harmony of the notion that teams have to play with the respective circumstances that have been given to them.
One area that is commonplace among the eight teams this side of the playoff bracket is effective paint presence. Whether it’s scoring, rebounding, blocking, or flat-out hustle & energy, the Eastern Conference participants are in some way equipped for battle when it comes to the dirty work. What will separate the first round winners from the teams that’ll start early summer vacations are the elements that accompany the respective front courts.
With that said, here are the blips that are seen on TNP’s Eastern Conference radar:
No. 1 Miami Heat (66-16) vs. No. 8 Milwaukee Bucks (38-44)
The biggest cloud hovering over the defending champions’ heads is their rebounding, or lack thereof. Miami is dead last in the league in rebounding, which should make them prime picking for a Milwaukee team that’s the fifth best unit in that department. As great of a discrepancy as this is, the silver lining in this cloud is Miami’s ability to compensate for poor rebounding as well as an NFL defense whose sweltering front seven makes up for a secondary that can’t cover receivers down field.
How, you ask? For starters, Miami has energy players in Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem and late season addition Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who do the fundamentally sound things in the paint that are not recorded statistically. In addition, their supporting cast is assembled of guys like Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Battier, who can hit critical three pointers, when needed. Finally, there is the big three…is there a need to elaborate on what’s already known?
The Bucks are blessed with a trio of guards in J.J. Reddick, Brandon Jennings and Montae Ellis who can score in double digits on any given night. Unfortunately for the latter, Dwayne Wade will be too imposing of a figure for Ellis to contain. Finally, as great of a force as Larry Sanders is in the paint, he can’t do it alone. It’s fair to say that Samuel Dalembert has been a major disappointment this season. If he were the Dalembert of the 2007-08 season, the Bucks would be a .500 team.
Open the broom closet…the Heat torch the Bucks in four.
No. 2 New York Knicks (58-24) vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics (41-40)
With all the difficulty that has plagued Boston’s season, Doc Rivers’ team has emerged as a playoff contender. Helping to weather the storm of this season’s campaign has been some of Boston’s hidden gems Jordan Crawford (a midseason acquisition via trade) and Jeff Green. These two have aided the ol’ reliables Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in scoring. Garnett has also received help defensively from Brandon Bass. Collectively, the Celtics have been able to form one of the more solid defensive units in the league.
With that said, their defensive prowess will be put to the test against a Knicks team that can score from any given spot on the floor. Pierce will have the daunting task of keeping Carmelo Anthony, who is arguably the NBA’s best pure scorer, in check. Boston’s transition defense will be pushed to the brink as well. They’ll be asked to keep a returning Tyson Chandler from attacking the rim, protect the perimeter from such distance shooters as Jason Kidd, Steve Novak and J.R. Smith, who also likes to penetrate. How will the rotation of Celtic guards fare against Raymond Felton? Last, but not least, there’s the elder statesman of the 2012-13 rookie class, Chris Copeland, who is capable of scoring.
Defensively for the Knicks, both Chandler and the returning Kenyon Martin have been individually formidable defending the rim. It’ll be interesting to see what they can do as a tandem.
Boston will push New York, but the Knicks without Rondo, is asking a bit much.
The Knicks take out the Cs in six
No. 3 Indiana Pacers (49-32) vs. No. 6 Atlanta Hawks (44-38)
With a combined average of 34 points and 18 rebounds per outing, it’s safe to say that Atlanta’s Center/Power Forward tandem of Al Horford and Josh Smith have the edge on Indiana’s Roy Hibbert and David West, who come together for a total average of 29 points and 16 rebounds a contest. While many would expect more out of the latter duo, given they play for the higher seeded team, the reality of it is their numbers are a blessing in disguise. Their contributions are a testament of what, or who, surrounds them. With the absence of Danny Granger, Paul George has become the go-to-guy for Frank Vogel’s team. George Hill has proven to be a point guard that can hold down the fort. Even Lance Stephenson has shown he can step into double-digit scoring territory, when needed.
Atlanta, on the other hand, is a team searching for a reliable third option. It’s a toss-up as to who their third best option is outside of Horford and Smith. Kyle Korver is currently on a 70+ game streak of making at least one three pointer, but is that as far as it goes for him? Jeff Teague can score, but his shooting percentages have been elevator like; and when they’re down, they prove harmful to his team. Then there’s Devin Harris, who has not been the same since his days in New Jersey.
Until Atlanta overcomes its identity crisis, this season’s playoff run will result in an early exit.
The Hawks’ wings will be clipped in five.
No 4. Brooklyn Nets (49-33) vs. No. 5 Chicago Bulls (45-37)
You’d be hard pressed to find a matchup of complete front courts better than this one. Representing Chicago is the trio of Luol Deng, Joahkim Noah (returning from injury) and Carlos Boozer. Dawning the colors of the home team will be Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez and Reggie Evans.
Between being the first professional sports organization to represent Brooklyn since the Dodgers in 1958, and finishing the season on a 35-19 note under P.J. Carlesimo after starting out 14-14, the Nets are without question, one of this season’s feel good stories. Part of this season’s success can be attributed to Carlesimo’s call to start Evans over former starter Kris Humphries at the power forward position. All Evans has done since his promotion is play Dennis Rodman inspired ball, going on rebounding tirades. In addition, Evans’ dirty work has been instrumental in the improvement of Brook Lopez; someone who Shaquielle O’Neal calls the NBA’s best center to date. Given what these front courts offer, their battles will truly epitomize a meeting of the “irresistible force” and the “immovable object”.
If his presence has to be requested, it can’t be expected for him to just turn on the switch, especially against such a defensively stout team as Chicago.
The Bulls will are in it for the long haul, but they’ll finish off the Nets in seven.
The entire 2013 NBA Playoff forecast is now complete. Stay tuned to see how accurate TNP’s prognostications are and check back with us as we project future rounds, moving forward.
By Antoine Hoffman