Friday, April 17, 2009

East First Round Predictions

Cavs (1) vs. Pistons (8)
Two teams heading in opposite directions: Cleveland is poised to win a title; Detroit's run of six consecutive seasons of at least reaching the conference finals is about to end. All signs, and rightfully so, point to a sweep. Cleveland hit a significant milestone with 66 victories and did it efficiently at both ends of the court (No. 4 in offensive rating, No. 3 in defensive rating). Only remote chance Detroit has is to grind it out, play every game in the 70s and 80s. And with both teams among the most deliberate in the league (Cavs were 25th in pace factor; Pistons were 29th), it's possible, sort of. Cavs in 4

Celtics (2) vs. Bulls (7)
Last season Boston won 66 games, was hungry, and expected to roll to the NBA Finals. Instead, the upstart Hawks pushed all the way to a seventh game before being brushed aside. This time around, the Celtics have a title in their pocket (it's tougher to defend), are banged up, and face a first-round foe (led by rookie point guard Derrick Rose) that very much resembles the young, dynamic Hawks of a year ago. If Boston prevails, it will be because of these defensive numbers (No. 2 in FG percentage, No. 5 in 3-point percentage, No. 2 overall rating), some pride, and the toughness of Paul Pierce. Celtics in 7

Magic (3) vs. 76ers (6)
Orlando isn't at full-strength, but this team has sailed under the Cavs-Lakers radar most of the season. Still, 59 victories is no small feat. And the Magic did it with defense, even though that's not their reputation. No. 1 in FG percentage defense, No. 2 defending the 3, and No. 1 overall rating. Quite impressive. Dwight Howard should reign supreme inside and a couple of 20-20 games could be on the way. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, its two strengths -- offensive rebounding and forcing turnovers -- will be negated by the NBA's No. 2 team on the defensive backboards. Magic in 5

Hawks (4) vs. Heat (5)
One of the most evenly matched first-round series, although the winner is highly unlikely to leave a mark on the Cavs. And while Atlanta arrived a bit last season by pushing the Celtics to seven games, the Hawks lost the four games in Boston by an average of 25 points. That means there is significant pressure on Atlanta to win the first two at home and avoid a must-win in the white-out AmericanAirlines Arena. And yes, Dwyane Wade is capable of winning another series by himself. But the slightest of edges goes to the Hawks because of point guard Mike Bibby and a stronger inside game. Hawks in 7

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