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Eastern Conference First-Round Playoffs Preview

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by user Wtt02005

The winner of the Eastern Conference has always been predetermined due to the lack of competition. This season has been no different as the 5th-8th seeds are separated by half a game to one game. Even though the Cavaliers, the Nets, the Heat, and the Pistons are the only teams capable of advancing to the finals, here’s your first round preview:

(1) Detroit Pistons vs. (8) Milwaukee Bucks

The word “successful” does not do justice to the Pistons’ season. Though the team did not break the 72-10 record set by the Chicago Bulls, they clearly set themselves apart from the entire NBA. Many would think a major defensive effort led to their success but quite the opposite as Flip Saunders opened Paradox’s Box which contained the Piston’s latent offense. Though the coaching change made Detroit a worse defensive team compared to last season, their offensive production made them better overall. The only crack in the armor is the Pistons depth. They solely rely on Lindsey Hunter and Antonio McDyess to carry them off the bench. I do not think it is much of a problem when you have the best starting five in the NBA, but a good bench is nice to have.

The Milwaukee Bucks have found a way to make the playoffs after a one year absence. I consider the resurgence of the guards to be the main reason for this. T.J. Ford has somehow avoided injury and played the majority of the season. Michael Redd’s stroke stayed consistent as ever; he truly earned his max contract this season. Finally, Maurice Williams played superbly as a backup point guard; he was a possible candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, but he was plagued with injuries in the last few months.

This matchup, like many others, has already been decided. The Bucks will get beaten. No question.

Final: Pistons 4-0. The Bucks will win games if the Pistons just get lazy.

(2) Miami Heat vs (7) Chicago Bulls

The Heat got off to a rocky start with a record just barely over .500. The main reason, of course, was the injury Shaq suffered at the hands (or perhaps the feet) of Ron Artest. Though Mourning did a superb job of filling in for the Big Aristotle, the team surely missed the amount of attention Shaq drew and the inside-out game he provided. When Shaq returned, all was better, and the team cruised to a 50 win season and second seed in the East. On a sidenote, this is the main reason I cannot give the MVP award to Dwayne Wade.

How did this happen? Like the Heat, the Bulls had a rough start, feeling the after effects of losing Eddy Curry’s inside game and post presence. The Bulls became very perimeter-oriented and were unable to close out games with the easy points in the paint. Big men like Harrington and injury-plagued Chandler were unable to fill-in the void left by Curry. The team would continue to be under .500 throughout the season, unable to find any momentum with any of the new rotations Skiles implemented. However, the Bulls profited from playing in the worst division in all of basketball and were just within striking distance of the Philadelphia 76ers. The latter team began to lose numerous games because Iverson and Webber went down with injuries. Inspired by a possible return to the playoffs, the Bulls won critical games and with the help of (guess who) the Miami Heat, the Bulls ousted the 76ers from the playoff picture. The Heat, who had the second seed well intact, rested Shaq and Wade for half the game, leading to a Bulls blowout.

The Bulls can thank the Heat but only after they get beaten. Not much to discuss here either. Gordon will probably go cold, Hinrich will be inconsistent, and nobody will be able to guard Shaq (not like anyone has been able to).

Final: Heat 4-0. The Heat know who the real challenge is. Let’s just get this over with.

(3) New Jersey Nets vs (6) Indiana Pacers

There were high hopes for the New Jersey Nets this year. The big three of Carter, Kidd, and Jefferson were starting their second year with one another. Initially, they were just hopes as the Nets were barely over .500 and had the 76ers breathing down their necks. However, come the second half of the season, the Nets went on a ferocious run that reached its peak in a 14 game win streak. They would continue to run for an uncontested Atlantic Division Title.

The Pacers had a tumultuous off-court issues season once again. The off-court issues were perhaps for the better as the team completely rid itself of the Artest influence and acquired a quality player in Peja Stojakovic. Unfortunately, due to injuries from O’Neal and of course, Jamaal Tinsley, the Pacers had a roller-coaster season and were quickly slipping out of the playoffs. Fortunately, a few more wins kept them in at 6th seed.

This is an interesting matchup. Though the records clearly show that the Nets are the better team, the Nets do not have a post-presence. O’Neal practically has full reign in this series which could be a problem. The Nets’ advantage lies in the fact that they actually have a point guard, and I believe Kidd will be the difference maker. Give Kidd two very good options in Carter and Jefferson and enjoy the show.

Final: Nets 4-2 or 4-3. If the Pacers steal the first game, then expect this to go to seven games.

(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs (5) Washington Wizards

Lebron James has made it to the postseason. The team missed it the last two years by two games or so combined. This season, James has shattered all expectations and has single-handedly led his team to 50 wins. Hughes and Ilgauskas have either been injured and just not have played well. James has made it to the big stage, so let’s see what he can do.

The Wizards’ success depended on finding a replacement for Hughes. They found one in Caron Butler who is a ferocious scorer. Unfortunately, the trio of Arenas, Jamison, and Butler did not produce the results people expected as the Wizards stayed around .500 for most of the season. However, near the all-star break, Arenas picked up his game, disappointed with not being named to the all-star game. He did make the roster but only because of Jermaine O’Neal’s injury. The Wizards were back on the winning track; they almost lost it in the end, but two wins practically boosted them from 8th seed to 5th seed. Good job, guys. No Pistons.

Part of me thinks this is staged as Larry Hughes will be meeting his former team in the first round. Well, I am glad that they are meeting because I expect Hughes to play out of his mind regardless of his finger. Despite the record, I do not believe Cleveland is that good of a team, and the Wizards will be a challenge for them. They will go to seven games because the trio of Arenas, Butler, and Jamison is much more athletic than James, Hughes, and Ilgasukas.

Final: Cavaliers 4-3. Lebron James will win it for his team in Game 7.

Like the West, I am not predicting any upsets, but the lower half of the bracket will be very competitive. I hope everyone enjoys Saturday, especially if you are like me and watch the entire four games.


Date

Fri 04/21/06, 7:16 pm EST



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