Race to the Playoffs Part 1 – East Conference

Posted by By at 17 April, at 23 : 33 PM Print

Race to the Playoffs Part 1 – East Conference

The NBA Playoffs are approaching us quickly with most teams having five more games left till the end of the regular season. This year’s condensed season has provided us with amazing story lines, highlights and drama. It has brought new found fame to rising stars, surprising trades and unfortunately a huge amount of injuries.

As our focus slowly turns to the playoffs, with Milwaukee, New York and Philadelphia fighting for the last two spots of East and Denver, Dallas, Phoenix, Houston and Utah fight for the last three spots of the west. Most of the teams are settled in their rankings and I want to give you a run down on the contending teams, their strengths, weaknesses, player to watch and how well I predict they will do in the playoffs.

East Conference

1. Chicago Bulls
They have been the playing hard all season long and hold the top seed in East conference with a 46-15 record despite their season long battles with injuries to their star player, Rose, Deng, Hamilton, Watson the noticeable absences. It has been great performances from bench warmer Lucas, Deng (when fit) and the emphasis on defence from coach Thibodeau that has propelled them to the top when Rose is out.

Strengths: Their teamwork, defence is a trademark of the Bull this season and their huge depth has not hurt them at all, they will be far better when their list is healthy and fighting fit.

Weaknesses: Injuries, even though they have battled them all season, it may expose them during the playoffs when they play strong and healthier teams.

Player to watch: Apart for D-Rose, Luol Deng is the ultimate teammate you want. He is damaging at his best, whether it’s scoring goals, creating space for assists or defending the opposition. Deng needs to be consistent and take the scoring load of Rose if they want to have their best crack at the championship!

Prediction: They will go deep into the East Conference Finals but will lose to Miami then, but don’t write them off as they are the number one seed for a reason!

2. Miami Heat
Heat started off this season looking far better than they were last time, however they looked like the heat of old once again in the past few games losing winnable games, not performing against elite teams and going cold in clutch moments. However they still hold the number two seed with a good 43-17 record. Heat will be looking to bring home the championship rings that they promised after forming the big three

Strengths: The big three, James, Wade and Bosh are the reasons that other teams fear Miami, if they all play well, a win is guaranteed, if two play well, a win is within their reach but if only one performs well in a game, it won’t look good for them.

Weaknesses: Lack of depth, that is the price they pay for bringing in three stars of the game and it has hurt them, especially in the point guard and Center position.

Player to watch: Lebron James is always the player to watch during playoffs as he is capable of strong, Jordan-like performances but is known to go missing in fourth quarters and clutch moments, Miami need him at his best especially when the game is on the line if they are going to deliver the championship to Miami.

Prediction: Miami will go to the East Conference finals and potentially win the Championship but it won’t be easy for them as Bulls and Thunder/Spurs will make it very difficult.

3. Indiana Pacers
They have been the biggest improver this season and many would have been surprised they finished with the 3rd seed as they had some troubling form during the mid season but they seemed to have clicked it all into gear before playoffs with great team performances.

Strengths: Their big men look dangerous with the improved Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough and off-season recruit, David West are a strong factor for their rise in the East Conference. Like Bulls, they have strong depth with players like Granger, George and Hill and Collision, they cannot afford to be sucked in defensively by other teams.

Weaknesses: Roy Hibbert’s foul trouble as he averages the lowest minutes (29mins) per game among the starting Centers in the league. Teams will look to keep him on the bench. Pacers offensive rhythm can be concerning at times as they rank 28th in the league for assists.

Player to watch: Darren Collison as he is the distributor of the ball. Collision is surrounded by great wing players and post up shooters. Collision needs to be attacking and dish off more assists he usually racks up if Pacers are to maximise their chances of winning.

Prediction: Pacers will have a tough challenge to start with if they face Orlando Magic, having lost to them three times in the regular season. If they manage to beat Magic, they will most likely lose the second round. Although never write them off.

4. Boston Celtics
They are the team that turn it on during the playoffs, with the big three and Rondo still intact they have managed to reach the fourth seed, surprising many as they had a troubling start and issues among the team. This could very much be Celtics last good crack at the championship before they need to rebuild their team.

Strengths: Their playoffs experience is not to go unnoticed. They have proved year after year to be contenders for the Finals and are not to be underestimated. They have strong players in Pierce, Rondo, Garnett and Allen that will be crucial to their success.

Weaknesses: Since they have shaken up their roster after Perkins was traded and players left, they have a weak bench, especially with Green out for season. They will need their starting 5 to string together strong performances if their bench are gonna come in with confidence. Their lack of Big Man is concerning too with O’Neal being unreliable due to injuries and KG having to pick up the huge load.

Player to watch: Paul Pierce is the reliable, consistent player that is so valuable to Celtics. They will need him to have a strong offensive presence but more importantly, curb the influence of the opposition’s SF including LeBron James, Josh Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala.

Prediction: The Celtics are known to perform, however with a sense of Deja Vu, I feel they will lose to Miami or Bulls in Second/Third Round.

5. Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta fans would not feel confident going into the playoffs as they are consistently being disappointed after dropping out of the playoffs in first or second round. Hawks would love to have Horford back but won’t and they will be relying on strong performances from Joe Johnson and Josh Smith who has been a huge improver racking up big stat lines.

Strengths: Their forwards, Johnson (SF) and Smith (PF) are their key players. They need to be at their best Hawks are to go deep in the playoffs. They are capable of dominating games and will need to bring that attitude into the playoffs

Weaknesses: Their lack of talent in other positions and the bench. Aside from Johnson and Smith, Atlanta lack the depth that a playoff contending team needs. Losing Horford was a cruel blow to Hawks after starting well. The other players will be the deciding factor and need to continue playing well defensively and turn it on offensively.

Player to watch: Joe Johnson, we know Josh Smith will perform well and bring in huge stats for Hawks but Johnson needs to prove that he is worth his salary and bring in strong performances that will propel them to victory, since they won’t have the feisty Jamal Crawford by his side.

Prediction: As much as I hate to say it to Atlanta fans, they are looking at another first or second round, especially as they didn’t gain the home court advantage.

6. Orlando Magic
Magic have been the most talked about team, due to trade talk surrounding Dwight, injuries hitting key players, and a roller coaster ride of winning and losing streaks. Good news is they have kept Dwight Howard and the bad news is starters Howard and Turk are out until playoffs most likely.

Strengths: Big men, Dwight Howard, Ryan Anderson and Glen Davies are a strong combination with Howard being the best defensive center, Anderson a three point threat along with being an offensive rebound expert and Davis a strong presence with his hustle plays and improved post play. These big men will need to put in strong defensive performances as Magic lack the stops on Defence if they are to go far.

Weaknesses: Three point dependence and Defence. When Orlando are on fire from long distance, they dominate, however when they are bad, they are really bad. Last year’s playoffs, they faced an early exit due to bad three point shooting and that could be the case this season. Defence has been a huge concern and the team knows it, apart from Dwight, Orlando really have no reliable defenders and defence wins championships.

Player to watch: Jameer Nelson is the barometer of Orlando, if he’s attacking, scoring and giving off assists, Orlando as a team are damaging. If he’s turning over the ball and not scoring, Orlando look like a bottom seeded team. The chemistry and performances between Nelson and Howard could be the deciding factor.

Prediction: They could potentially beat Indiana as they have done so in the regular season but due to troubles with turnovers, consistency and injuries, they most likely will fall out during second round. However they are the biggest smokie in the East Conference.

7. New York Knicks
New York have been a prolific team to talk about with the rise of Jeremy Lin, Injuries, chemistry issues with Anthony, the changeover of coaches and their huge climbs up and down the rankings.

Strengths: Carmelo Anthony, with injuries to Lin and Stoudemire, Anthony can receive the huge amount of possessions that he is satisfied with. He is a strong player offensively and will cause headaches for the opposition. Defense has also been a defining factor especially after acquiring Tyson Chandler as their defensive anchor and the defensive improvement from Anthony.

Weaknesses: With injuries, Knicks have a lack of depth, Davies can’t play huge minutes at PG and they have a weak spot in the PF position. Strong and consistent performances from Fields, Novak, Shumpert and Smith will be crucial to Knick’s success in the playoffs.

Player to watch: Carmelo Anthony will be the player carrying the hopes of the Knicks in the playoffs. His performances will have the biggest impact on whether Knicks win or lose. Luckily for Knicks, Anthony has a strong record against Lebron James and they most likely will play Miami first round.

Prediction: Due to inconsistency and injuries, they should fall in first round but teams cannot underestimate them as they are a huge threat and can win big games.

8. Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia looked to be a huge improver and a contender but have declined in their performances as the season progressed. They were in the battle for third seed but have since, dropped to the last seed and are battling for a playoff spot. However they could potentially be the Memphis Grizzles of this season’s playoffs and upset the number one seed.

Strengths: Defence has been the defining point of the season for 76ers. They have the second-lowest opponent effective field-goal percentage, the second-best defensive rebound percentage and give up only 13.5 points per game in the paint which is second best in the NBA. The Sixers are a great defensive team who use their team speed and athleticism to keep teams from getting into the paint. Their defence will be crucial but how they respond offensively will be their deciding factor.

Weaknesses: No star player or go-to-guy. Lakers have Bryant, Miami have Wade/James, Bulls have Rose, Thunder have Durant. These are the players that win the close games by performing in clutch moments. It is clear that 76ers struggle winning close games, the Sixers are 0-4 in games settled by three points or less, and 0-2 in overtime. In the playoffs, the winners are often defined in those close games. Philly will have to change that around if they are to bring the odds into their favour but it looks unlikely

Player to watch: Evan Turner, I’m not putting any pressure on him, last season, after having an ordinary season, put in strong performances in the playoffs with 19.8 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2 assists per 48 minutes. If Turner can improve those ’11 Playoff stats, he can help Philadelphia be a threat.

Prediction: With the poor performances in the recent weeks, it’s hard to think that Philadelphia will stop the slide and turn it around come playoffs time. Expect them to put up a fight but lose first round.

9. Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks are putting up a huge fight for the last seed in the East conference despite trading out Bogut and Jackson.

Strengths: Guards have been the strong positions for the Bucks with Jennings improving his points scoring and assists, electrifying new recruit Ellis and backup guard Livingston. Most of the Bucks scoring output has come from those three players which will be the most important factor in the playoffs if they are to make it.

 

Weaknesses: Iinexperienced big men are the biggest concern despite the improvement of Gooden, Delfino, Sanders and Udoh who was traded in for Bogut. They are prone to confusion and mistakes on the pick and roll game plan since they don’t have Bogut at the helm and teams will look to exploit that often.

 

Player to watch: Monta Ellis, he was traded in to boost the offensive output for Bucks and has already done so in the short term as not only does he lead the team in scoring with 20.5 points per game, but he also leads them with 5.9 assists. He’s also third on the team with 1.46 steals and fourth in Player Efficiency Rating. He has increased the assists and scoring output of the Bucks since he arrived. He will need to carry that impact into the playoffs if they are to perform well.

Prediction: Bucks are a good chance to make the playoffs with a handy run home and current bad performances from 76ers however, expect them to fall short in the first round.

 

The East Conference playoffs are shaping up to be an exciting one with a few rising teams, the two dominant forces, the unpredictable teams and teams that can cause headaches or even upsets! Tune in and be entertained!

 Follow me on Twitter @jamesmoody12

 

 

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