The NBA Playoffs: East Semis Preview

(4) Boston Celtics vs (8) Philadelphia 76ers
Season Series: Sixers 2-1 

How they got here: Evan Turner and the Sixers said that they were getting the easier team during the 1st round of the playoffs. They did not foresee the injury to Rose and Noah but they figured that they could compete with the Bulls. The Sixers managed to defeat the Bulls in 6 games but they face a much tougher team against the Celtics in the 2nd round. The Celtics' Big Three of Garnett, Pierce and Rondo were amazing against the Hawks. KG and Pierce had games were they showcased their abilities that was a reminder of what they once were. Ray Allen was hobbled and he did not contribute a lot but his services were not needed. The Celtics caught a break by getting home court advantage since the Sixers upset the top seeded Bulls.

How the Celtics will win: Both teams play great defense (ranked 2 and 3 in points allowed) so low-scoring games are a given. On offense, the Celtics have a certified closer in Pierce and a master playmaker in Rondo which give them the edge in close and clutch situations. The Celtics used more pick and pops/fades with Garnett (19 ppg, 11 rpg in the playoffs) and he was making them with ease in the 1st round against the Hawks. KG can get any jumper he wants against the frontline of the Sixers who do not boast of a decent defender in the post other than Elton Brand who is undersized versus KG. The Celtics need to take care of the basketball to prevent the Sixers from running in transition which is part of their game plan.

X-Factor for Celtics: Ray Allen has only played 4 of the 6 games in the 1st round due to injury. He had a quiet series (12 ppg) vs the Hawks. If he heats up from the perimeter, this opens up the lane more for Rondo to penetrate and make plays near the rim.

How the Sixers will win: The Sixers have the advantage with their bench players (Young, Williams) so they need to run and force the action consistently. They are a better rebounding team than the Celtics so each defensive rebound must be treated as a precursor to an outlet pass to ignite the fastbreak. The Sixers need easy points from transition buckets due to their lack of a go-to-guy. They have faster and more athletic players that can finish at the rim and draw fouls from the Celtics. Lou Williams needs to score often and a lot coming from the bench to put pressure on Rondo (or his sub) to play defense or get him in foul trouble.

What will probably happen: The Sixers might be satisfied that they advanced to the next round while the Celtics are hungry for one final run. Rajon Rondo is looking forward to meet the Heat again in the next round so look for Rondo to elevate his game as the best player on the Celtics. If the Sixers decide to put Iguodala on Rondo, that leaves Pierce with Turner where PP has the match-up advantage. Experience counts in the playoffs and majority of the Sixers have never gone this deep in the playoffs while the Celtics are battle-tested. If the Celtics limit their turnovers, the Sixers will have trouble scoring in their half court sets.

X-Factor for Sixers:Spencer Hawes had a breakout series vs the Bulls averaging 12 points, 8 rebounds and 1 block. If he plays Garnett to a standstill, the Sixers could pull off another upset.

Prediction: Celtics in 6

(2) Miami Heat vs (3) Indiana Pacers 
Season Series: Heat 3-1

How they got here: Both teams dominated (winning margin over 10 pts) their short-handed opponents in 5 easy games. This round will present tougher competition. The Heat manhandled a Knicks team ravaged by injuries and poor chemistry while the Pacers trampled the Howard-less Magic. The Pacers have started the verbal jousting, calling the Heat the "best floppers" in the NBA. This series presents individual match-ups that are intriguing: West vs Bosh, Granger vs James and George vs Wade.

How the Heat will win: The Heat were launching and making their threes against the Knicks headed by Chalmers, Miller and Battier. Look for the Heat to continue this strategy against the Pacers who collapse to the paint led by Roy Hibbert. The Heat pounded the Knicks with transition baskets coming from turnovers or rebounds so the Pacers need to limit their turnovers and run back on defense. James and Wade will continue to attack the paint so it is important for Hibbert and the bigs to avoid getting in early foul trouble. The Heat should initiate pick and rolls often with whoever Hibbert or West is guarding because these guys are slow laterally and unable to recover when the ballhandler splits the double team. 

X-Factor for Heat: Udonis Haslem needs to provide more offensively (4 ppg, 6 rpg) coming from the bench or as a starter. UD has to make his open mid-range jumpers to get the Pacers to guard him which opens up space for Wade and James. Haslem also needs to play excellent defense on West/Hibbert.  

How the Pacers will win: The Pacers are a balanced team with post and perimeter players. They can pound the ball in the paint with West, Hansbrough and Hibbert while Granger, Barbosa, Hill and George can shoot from long distance. They can match the Heat in transition but they lack the finishing moves around the rim. The Pacers are a strong rebounding team and if they attack the boards and get second chance points, the Heat will have lesser opportunities to go in transition. A slower pace should help the Pacers limit their turnovers while a variety of ball screens and weak side cuts should be done when the Heat provide double teams in the post.   

What will probably happen: As in most match-ups, the Heat have the two best players on the court. MVP winner LeBron James can guard any position while the Pacers have no one to guard him. Dwyane Wade has torched the Pacers during the last two seasons and look for that to continue in the playoffs. If Granger or George gets into early foul trouble, the Pacers lose an integral part of their offense and fastbreak attack. Splitting double teams and traps are specialties of D-Wade so the Pacers need to rotate on defense perfectly to prevent easy baskets in the paint. The Heat have multiple defenders (Battier and Miller) who they can use to harass Granger and if Danny settles for long jumpers, the Pacers wont last against the Heat. The Heat and LeBron are on a mission and they seem to be on a collision course with the Celtics for the East Finals.

X-Factor for Pacers: Roy Hibbert is the best center left in the East bracket. The Heat have trouble defending against size and rebounding. If Hibbert averages his 11 and 11 plus gets post position, the Heat will send a second defender to help. That leaves the Pacers an open shooter who can shoot from downtown.   

Prediction: Heat in 5

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