Fri Apr 18 05:00pm EDT
Boston vs. Atlanta — Game 1, Sunday (8:30p EDT)
Kelly Dwyer: This shouldn’t be an issue for Boston, it’s hard to beat any pro team four times in a week, but a sweep would not be a surprise.
Boston’s reserves toppled Atlanta’s starters in a game earlier this month, Sam I Am came through with the cojones rumble after nailing an 16-footer on the left side of the court to close the win, and the Hawks just won’t have enough to take a game unless somebody gets really, really hot.
And, now that Shelden Williams is out of Atlanta, nobody’s going to do that. Pity.
What would warm my heart would be a few 28-point wins for the C’s. It’s not that I want to see Atlanta trashed beyond belief, but I would like Boston warm up after a second half of the season that they basically took off. This isn’t to say that I didn’t like them taking it easy, I was pining for fewer minutes for Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, et al back in December, and hopefully the rest did this (what could be a) legendary bunch good.
A few 100-72 wins against the Hawks would lead me to believe that we’re in store for a classic Eastern Conference final against the Pistons. Or, should Detroit falter, a classic Finals pairing against whatever team comes out of the West. The C’s need to perk up, especially if Washington shows up in the second round.
Celtics in two.
J.E. Skeets: I’m going to use a lot less words to run through these series previews because everything that needs to be said has already been said, and chances are you just read it above. So, instead, I'll force a few bad jokes, give you my prediction and we’ll call it a day. It's patio weather in Toronto this afternoon, and my pasty white skin could really use the sun. (My pasty white skin could also go for a beer.)
This series is going to be a massacre if you consider the broom a dangerous weapon in combat. Boston is too focused on the defensive end of the floor to fall asleep and let Joe Johnson or Mike Bibby steal a game late in fourth. It's not going to happen. It can't happen.
Celtics in four. Big yawn.
Detroit vs. Philadelphia — Game 1, Sunday (6:00p EDT)
KD: Philadelphia can win this series, and on the flip side of that, Detroit can win the NBA Finals in five games against any Western team. As it’s always been, the onus is on the Pistons.
Philly makes its hay by getting to the front of the rim, and daring you stop them. Dunk after lay-in after alley-oop after reverse after which the score is 89-74 all of the sudden and you don’t feel like coming back. The trick for Detroit is to care, and that’s been tricky for this bunch for about two years now.
With the Pistons, I’m scared that the team’s formidable bench could lead them to a win, without the starters having to play well. It would essentially be an extension of the regular season, and it would essentially end the team’s season, because you essentially know certain guys on this team who are nicknamed “Roscoe” much prefer waiving a towel and exhorting the youngsters to taking the opposing team’s power forward to the low block.
It’s not that the Pistons are lazy. It’s just that didn’t mind losing and making excuses while throwing the Eastern Conference title away in 2006 and 2007. You could tell in both of those years during first round wins (against Milwaukee and Orlando, respectively) that the Pistons weren’t up to the task, and I’m hoping to see better signs this time around.
Pistons in five.
JE: Everyone keeps telling me that the Sixers are a scary first-round match-up even though they’re a sub-.500 team that messed up the sheets over the final week of the regular season. Everyone also keeps telling me how great I look in skinny jeans. Everyone is lying to me.
Yes, yes, the Sixers beat the Pistons twice this season, including once in the Palace of Auburn Hills. The Sixers won the glass and the Pistons turned the ball over in each game. Well let me tell you something in a very strict voice: Rebounding takes effort, and controlling the ball takes focus. The Pistons’ starters couldn’t care less for those two white board words — effort and focus — late in the regular season. They do, and will, in mid-April.
Pistons in five.
Orlando vs. Toronto — Game 1, Sunday (12:30p EDT)
KD: To hear some pundits refer to the Cavs/Wizards pairing as the only interesting duel in the East’s first round was a bit infuriating, because this bad boy is going to be a battle.
Orlando is a damn good team, but Toronto has historically matched up well against the Magic, and taken them apart over the last few years. It doesn’t mean that the Raptors are any better, but they have the right parts and Orlando’s laughably-bad bench won’t be able to make up for the matchup issues Toronto creates.
The Magic will have their chances. If Rashard Lewis works his way into 20 shots, or if the point guard/Dwight Howard troika doesn’t turn the ball over much, then the Raptors will have a tough series on their hands. But that hasn’t been the case all season, even while the Magic won heaps of games. Lewis has been willing to float, and Chris Bosh might average 30 in this series.
Still, these guys know each other. Since the 2005-06 season, both of these teams have put forth spirited, standout efforts against each other, and it’ll make for a fun watch.
Raptors in six.
JE: A solid match-up in Toronto's favor for two key reasons:
1) Contrary to what Kenny Smith tells you, the Raps' point guard play is much better than the Magic’s duo of Jameer Nelson and Carlos Arroyo. In fact, my ninth sense tells me that T.J. Ford’s clutch scoring will single-handedly win the Raps a game in this series, while Jose Calderon’s steady leadership won’t (specifically) cost them any. (My ninth sense is called obvious.)
2) The Magic don’t have the services of an elite, scoring two-guard. (Sorry, Redick.) As hard as Anthony Parker gets at it on the defensive end, high-volume scorers usually destroy him. It’s painful to watch. And while Keith Bogans has been known to hit the open three in the corner, he’s not going to change a series. This individual match-up will hopefully give AP a little more energy on the offensive side of the ball.
With that said, there is no doubt (even in my homer mind) that Sam Micthell will be out-coached by Stan Van Gundy at some point over a long, seven game series. That mustache is wise.
Magic in seven. (Reverse-jinx!)
Cleveland at Washington — Game 1, Saturday (12:30p EDT)
KD: Cleveland just never got it right this season.
Last year, they took advantage of an easy bracket in the first two rounds, a mopey Piston team, and one stand-out game from LeBron James to make it to the Finals. The hallmarks were defense, LeBron going for 35, and a bit more defense.
This year, LeBron went for 35 quite a bit, but the defense let up. And then the team made a trade, bringing in Wally Szczerbiak, Ben Wallace, Joe Smith, and Delonte West; ostensibly to aid that pitiful offense. Then the offense let up. And the defense hadn’t exactly returned at this point. And the team never settled on a rotation or a starting lineup, while limping toward the end of the season.
Meanwhile, the Wizards have proven themselves all year, without Gilbert Arenas, without Caron Butler … and now they have both back. The only obstacle?
A motivated LeBron. This is pro basketball, cats and kittens, and one man can down an entire team. It won’t be easy, but LeBron can do it if he attacks the defensive boards and starts a one-man break on his own. He has to do his damage before the defense can hone in on him while ignoring the rest of his ignoble teammates. It’s the only way Cleveland can survive.
I don’t know if LeBron, too beholden (for whatever reason) to his play-calling coaching staff at this point, will pull it off.
Wizards in six.
Skeets: I couldn’t agree more with KD.
Wait, yes I could.
Wizards in five.