The NBA’s Eastern Conference first round held seed through the first three matchups, and the 4-5 game came down to a dramatic Game 7 in which the Brooklyn Nets’ Joe Johnson decided to miss every shot taken Saturday night.
So, compared to the West, the East was pretty damn boring.
But don’t worry, that won’t stay forever. We’re down to four teams in the East. One has the MVP, one has a shooting machine, one has a superstar on the bench, and apparently the Indiana Pacers are actually a basketball team.
Let’s get going!
1 Miami Heat vs. 5 Chicago Bulls
Adam Hermann: We all remember what happened when the Bulls and the Heat met in late March. The Heat, riding the wave of hype that was their 27-game win streak, met a Bulls team full of self-importance, backed by the whistles of their Chicago referees. The Bulls ended the streak, silly white people celebrated, and… nothing changed.
The Heat remained the best team in the NBA by a country mile, LeBron remained the best player in the NBA by two, and they beat Chicago by 12 on April 14.
Which is exactly how this series will go. LeBron James, who missed just 22 shots all first round and averaged 24.5 points per game on 61.6 percent scoring efficiency, is out of this world right now. He added 7.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game to round out that MVP-worthy performance quite nicely.
And, of course, that’s just one player.
The Bulls, on the other hand, had a hard time putting the Brooklyn Nets away, a team defined by inconsistency and questionable effort levels. Nate Robinson was sure exciting to watch and Joakim Noah had a truckload of heart in Game 7, but they don’t have a bonafide All-Star like LeBron James.
The Heat have three.
So, sure, it’ll be a series. The Bulls will win Game 4 at home with Joakim Noah’s half-full truckload of heart, a typical Chicago win, and people will start talking about the series turning around.
But then this will happen.
Miami in 5
Expect LeBron and the Heat to be out for blood.
Their loss to Chicago in March to the Bulls to end their historic 27-game win streak was undoubtedly painful, and a stain on their otherwise impeccable record. They will feed off of the doubts that stemmed from that game (which were widespread even though it was their first loss in two months) and take it out on the Bulls, who find themselves in a 300-esque battle with a juggernaut that they can only hope to trip up on its conquest of both opponents and history.
So far, not one single aspect of the Heat’s regular season finish and first-round performance has suggested that anyone poses a threat to them in a seven game series.
The Bulls did end the Heat’s streak, it’s true, but that was one game. They may steal a game in this series, maybe even two if Nate Robinson plays out of his mind again, but consider this: the Heat lost four games total in their last 42 regular season games. That’s right. They’ve lost four times since January.
What more can I say?
Miami in 5
2 New York Knicks vs. 3 Indiana Pacers
AH: These two teams were 2-2 during the regular season, which is quite telling of what kind of series we should expect.
The Pacers are a team built on grit and solid defense — keeping Atlanta under 90 points per game in the first round — while the Knicks are a team built on stupid shots from Carmelo Anthony and from behind the three-point line.
And yet I’m going to pick the Knicks.
Why? Because, while Carmelo Anthony is quite idiotic from the floor, he also happens to get buckets night in and night out unless New York is playing Miami. He’s a phenomenal scorer, albeit inefficient, and Paul George’s defense, while staunch, won’t be able to keep up with a scorer of Carmelo’s caliber.
Except the focal point of this series isn’t actually going to be the scoreboard. No, it’ll be the coaching.
Frank Vogel vs. Mike Woodson in a showdown to decide who gets the honor of losing to Miami in five games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Because, top-three scorer in the league aside, Indiana and New York are frighteningly similar.
Both teams have top-ten defenses. Both teams have bottom-five offensive pace. Both finished within one win of each other. And both won their first round series in six games after surviving scares from teams that probably should have gone away with less of a struggle.
So either Vogel or Woodson will have to make key coaching decisions on the fly throughout the series, reacting and redacting, blinking and thinking. While I respect the hell out of Frank Vogel’s basketball IQ, it’s easier to make adjustments when your personnel is Carmelo- and Tyson Chandler-filled.
And Mike Woodson’s got a great beard.
New York in 6
NH: The Pacers were surprisingly inefficient in their round one defeat of the Hawks: they lead Atlanta in eFG% just once, in a game that doubled as the only time they cracked .500 eFG.
Although it took the same number of games, The Knicks’ defeat of the Celtics seemed much more convincing; the three games that it took for New York to seal the deal strike me as more of a testament to the resiliency of the aged Celtics making their final stand than an illustration of the Knicks’ flaws. The Knicks met the best possible version of the Celtics (Pierce and Garnett playing for likely the last time, a city recovering from the terror of last month’s bombings, the second-best coach in Celtics’ history coming out with everything he has, etc.) and still won in six.
They are without a doubt the second-best team in the East, and they have established an identity that maximizes every asset they have and revolves around Carmelo Anthony (a stellar 29.2 ppg in round one). Expect them to outplay the Pacers in every way and win the way they have been winning all year: nailing transition threes, getting open shots with the slash and kick, and exploiting one-on-one matchups with Melo and J.R. Smith.
New York in 6.