Thursday, April 17, 2008

East First Round Predictions

Celtics (1) vs. Hawks (8)
This is a monumental mismatch: Boston is title worthy; Atlanta, well, most years they wouldn’t even be here. The Celts swept the season series, winning by an average of better than 14 points. Should be more of the same. The big three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce have combined to play in 121 career postseason games, none of which have come in the Finals. All three are older than 30, and Garnett (No. 2) and Allen (No. 10) rank in the top-10 among active players in career minutes played. Conserving energy (i.e., a sweep) would be a good thing. Worth noting, however, that since the NBA went to the best-of-7 first-round format in 2003 no eventual champion has swept its first-round series. Celtics in 4

Pistons (2) vs. 76ers (7)
Philadelphia was 18-30 on Feb. 4, before running off 22 wins in its next 30 games to secure a postseason spot. The 76ers, who then lost four in a row to close the season, shouldn’t pose much of a threat here. They don’t do anything dynamic enough to impress their will on the Pistons, who have their eyes set on the big prize. Detroit, No. 3 in field-goal defense, No. 2 in 3-point defense, and No. 1 in fewest turnovers, will put its foe into the meat-grinder. When the Pistons lose in the playoffs, except for 2005, it’s usually because they inexplicably stop playing the way they played all year. Then they blame Flip Saunders. Pistons in 5

Magic (3) vs. Raptors (6)
Consensus is that Orlando is a year or two of experience and a role player or two away from challenging Boston or Detroit. Still, this is the clear-cut No. 3 team in the conference, one that should be able to dispatch of an inferior foe. Dwight Howard’s only 22, but it’s time for him to go all-out for 48 minutes every night, shed the Superman dunk label, and become a consistent dominant force inside. He should own this series. Toronto’s best hope is for Chris Bosh to outplay Howard and for Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu — Orlando’s shaky perimeter scorers — to cave. Not impossible, but a lot to ask. Magic in 5

Cavaliers (4) vs. Wizards (5)
LeBron James is the only player in the league capable of winning a playoff series by himself, and that’s exactly what he’ll have to do. Cleveland’s un-supporting cast is in disarray. Last year the Cavs paired James with one of the league’s best defensive units, role players who did their parts and stepped up when called upon. The roster overhaul at the trade deadline looked OK on paper, but is simply a bunch of squeaky parts that don’t quite fit. Along with an improved Washington squad, all of this adds up to a Wizards’ victory, except for one huge problem … King James is too good and too willful in crunch time. Cavs in 7

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