The NBA: 2013 Playoffs: East Semis Previews

Will Dwyane Wade play better vs the Bulls?
(Image from: Miami Herald)
(1) Miami Heat vs (5) Chicago Bulls
Season Series:  Tied 2-2

How they got here: The Heat easily swept the Milwaukee Bucks even with Dwyane Wade ailing and missing a game. Wade was a non-factor but the Heat made it look easy with LeBron James putting up big numbers plus Ray Allen and Birdman contributing. The Bulls survived 7 games vs the Nets even without Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich. Joakim Noah's foot injury got better as the series lasted longer. Noah delivered an epic Game 7 on the road with 24 points, 14 rebounds and 6 blocks. 

How the Heat will win: The Heat play with less isolation sets these days and run more screens to go along with lots of away from the ball movement. Miami spaces the floor extremely well which gives LeBron and Wade more chances to attack the paint. The Heat is unselfish and they will find the open man. Miami is the most efficient team in the NBA and they led the league in shooting. They have capable shooters so helping defensively on LBJ or Wade could be very problematic for the Bulls. The Heat loves to attack even in transition which produces a lot of transition threes from Ray Allen, Chalmers and Battier. 

X-Factor for Heat: Chris Andersen has been a great addition to the Heat. Birdman played about 15 minutes vs the Bucks and averaged 8 points and 5 rebounds on 81% shooting. He needs to match Noah's hustle and intensity especially if Birdman plays extended minutes vs Joakim. 

How the Bulls will win: The Bulls won 2 games vs the Heat during the regular season even with key players injured. Chicago thoroughly out-rebounded Miami and had more second chance points over the smaller Heat. Chicago also played with more effort, passion and energy. The Bulls are a better defensive team but injuries to Taj Gibson, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich will definitely hamper their ability to make stops. The Bulls will be very physical and gritty and it's up to Miami to counter that and hold their composure.

X-Factor for BullsNate Robinson played well vs the Nets and he was instrumental in their Game 4 win. Nate averaged 17 points and 4 assists and he needs to duplicate that success vs Miami. Robinson must limit his turnovers and avoid bad shots because the Heat can turn those miscues into points quickly.

What will probably happen: Even if Derrick Rose decides to make his debut vs the Heat, Miami still has the advantage because of LBJ. The Bulls are not at full strength and they are hurting. A hobbled Joakim Noah or an ailing Luol Deng could make this a sweep for the Heat. Miami has the advantage of rest and health while Chicago just finished 7 games with the Nets. The Heat should come in with extra motivation since the Bulls were responsible in ending their 27-game win streak. The Heat bench has the edge with the likes of Norris Cole, Birdman and Ray Allen playing well lately. Overall, this series will be small ball vs traditional post players. If Miami can keep their turnovers manageable and the rebounding tally close, Chicago will have a very hard time winning one game.

Prediction: Heat in 5

Can Paul George shut down Carmelo?
(Image from: ESPN)

(2) New York Knicks vs (3) Indiana Pacers 
Season Series: Tied 2-2

How they got here: The Knicks had a 3-0 lead vs the Celtics but they failed to finish Boston quickly as their series stretched to 6 games. Melo was scoring close to 30 a game but his shooting was horrendous. Raymond Felton was arguably the best player in that series as he abused Avery Bradley and even held his own vs Pierce. The Pacers clamped down on defense during the last 2 games vs the Hawks and they advanced in 6 games. Paul George had an all-around performance vs the Hawks that included a triple-double. George was solid defensively on Josh Smith while Roy Hibbert patrolled the middle effectively.

How the Knicks will win: The Knicks beat the Celtics with their defense. They held the Celtics to below 80 points during wins. It also helped that Pierce and Jason Terry struggled with their shooting. Melo averaged close to 30 but his assists were very low which is a by-product of too many isolation plays. The Knicks need Anthony to start hitting shots especially from downtown (27% vs Boston). JR Smith and Iman Shumpert will get open looks from the perimeter and those shots must not be wasted. 

X-Factor for Knicks: JR Smith shot below 40% vs the Celtics and got himself suspended for 1 game too. That suspension cost the Knicks a possible sweep. Smith needs to be more composed and disciplined vs the Pacers. JR must remained focused and committed to team play. He must limit the bad shots and play defense  if he wants to stay on the floor longer. 

How the Pacers will win: The Pacers have solid post players in David West and Roy Hibbert. Playing that tandem a lot should yield the best results for Indiana. The Knicks might employ a small lineup with 3 guards to play with Melo as PF. That leaves Anthony vulnerable on defense where he has to guard David West. The Pacers must attack him defensively to get Anthony in foul trouble. The Pacers also have Paul George whose athleticism and length can slow down Melo. George had an impressive series vs the Hawks (19, 10 and 5) and if that continues vs the Knicks, the Pacers will move on to the East Finals.

X-Factor for Pacers: Lance Stephenson played 33 minutes vs the Hawks and scored 8 ppg while shooting 31% from three. Lance needs to make his shots when defenders leave him open to double George or help defend the paint. He cant allow Shumpert or Smith to thoroughly outplay him.

What will probably happen: The Knicks have the best player in this series. Anthony can get hot in a second and that can turn the tide for the Knicks. Shumpert has played better lately while Felton has been very good consistently. New York has Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler to defend Hibbert and West which puts the onus on George to make things happen offensively. Their second unit of Kidd and Smith also puts pressure on the Pacers to play their starters more minutes since their bench has not been very good so far in the playoffs. This series will be very close and competitive. It could boil down to the last shot in Madison Square Garden during Game 7. The Knicks have 2 players who can create (and make) tough shots on their own while the Pacers have 1 guy. It can go either way but I will take the home team. 

Prediction: Knicks in 7

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