Disclaimer: This article does not speculate whether Derrick Rose is returning for the playoffs. However, if he were to, it would dramatically shape the way the Eastern Conference plays out.
#1 Miami vs. #8 Milwaukee
Not really much to predict about this matchup. The Bucks are a team set up to sneak in to the playoffs and that’s about it. They have a nice backcourt combo in Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, but the frontcourt is desolate after trading 7-footer Andrew Bogut to Golden State. Meanwhile the Heat have been “hurt” but I see it as just a ploy to ensure a healthy squad for a title defense. Miami takes this series in five and I wouldn’t be surprised if they sweep.
#2 New York vs. #7 Boston
The most intriguing matchup in the Eastern Conference’s first round is between the Knicks and Celtics. Obviously missing Rajon Rondo is a strong reason in and of itself to go with the Knicks but never underestimate the power of emotion, especially in a supposed matchup of David versus Goliath. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will try to ignite a team that limped in to the playoffs, while NBA scoring champ Carmelo Anthony looks to light up the scoreboard and carry the offensive minded Knick to the second round. In this instance I’m picking defense, emotion and tenacity, rolling the dice with Boston in seven games.
#3 Indiana vs. #6 Atlanta
Indiana is lucky the Hawks gave the fifth seed to the Bulls because the Pacers might have had a tough time advancing if their road was through Chicago. As it stands, the Pacers, with their über talented and versatile team, will physically shut down Atlanta and make this a quick series. Josh Smith is not the kind of player that carries a franchise, even though he is asking to get paid like one. The only thing that scares me is that his next contract is on the line, so will that bring out good Josh, or bad Josh? If good Josh shows up, it could go six or seven games, but I’m not banking on that. Indiana wins it in five.
#4 Brooklyn vs. #5 Chicago
Just as the Pacers are lucky not to get matched up against the Bulls, the Nets are equally unlucky. The one thing Brooklyn lacks at this point is tenacity outside of the crazy Reggie Evans. It just seems like most of their starting lineup is moving in slow motion with guys like Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. The Bulls are fast, furious and gritty, the kind of traits that, combined with above average talent, can carry a team a round or two, even without star power. Jimmy Butler’s emergence gives the Bulls just another weapon to trot out along with Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. The Bulls look like they might finally have a healthy squad, sans Rose, so Brooklyn is on major upset alert. I’m going Bulls in six.
#1 Miami vs. #5 Chicago
Ahh… the most exciting matchup regardless of Derrick Rose’s presence. The history between these two teams run deep, and the physicality has only increased in recent meetings. The Bulls were seemingly the only team that could have stopped the Heats’ record streak, and did so, leaving Miami with a bad taste in their mouths. Now, a measure of revenge from King James and company will come to fruition as they take down the Bulls. Miami takes their talents to the Eastern Finals after no more than five games against Chicago.
#3 Indiana vs. #7 Boston
The Celtic are lacking the depth that has been a trademark in recent years, forcing them to doles out heavy minutes to the aging Pierce and Garnett. The question remains, do they have enough in those old legs to make a run? Jason Terry could be a major factor as well, if he can get hot, he’ll give them a chance to face the Heat in the conference finals. The Pacers meanwhile are extremely young and looking to guys like Paul George and Danny Granger to carry the scoring burden. While Indiana at this stage has much greater talent, their streakiness allows Boston some room for error. I’m going with my gut on this one, Boston in seven games.
#1 Miami vs. #7 Boston
The stars of yesterday look to upset the stars of today. A classic matchup that will pit Ray Allen against the only team he’s ever won a ring with. However, Allen is going to get his second chance at a ring because Boston’s magical run through New York and Indiana will come to an end at the hand of the current ‘Big 3’. Miami just has too much firepower and athleticism for the Celtics to compete with, especially after two brutal series. The Heat ride James and Wade into the NBA Finals.
Check back for the Western Conference preview to see who Miami will see for the ring.