MANILA, Philippines — The NBA playoffs begin today, with defending world champion Miami Heat setting into motion a playoff run that they hope would duplicate their 2012 success. Rappler previews the Eastern conference matchups here.
Miami Heat (66-16) vs Milwaukee Bucks (38-44)
Sizzling Heat: Miami is full of confidence coming into the playoffs fresh off a championship last year and the 2nd longest win streak in NBA history. Lebron James looks set to wrap up another MVP campaign for the 4th time, potentially joining Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell for the distinction.
The Heat are dangerous in transition fueled by their defense. They are number 3 in the league in total steals for the season. The addition of Ray Allen has added spacing for the offense and the team as a whole is shooting 39.6% from 3 points and 49.6% from the field in general. Dwyane Wade has shaken off some niggling injuries and the big 3 looked dialed in and ready for the playoffs.
Bucks in full speed: The Bucks rely on Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings utilize a lot of dribble hand offs at full speed in order to take advantage of their quickness. The quick guards make up most of the scoring but they do get some added help from the stretch forward Ersan Ilyasova. Ilyasova struggled under Coach Scott Skiles but after his firing, he has played with a lot more confidence.
The Bucks struggle to get fouled and they are only 23rd in the league in getting to the free throw line. While they have a hard time scoring, the defense is top 5 in rebounding and top 2 in blocks courtesy of Larry Sanders. The 3rd year center is a bit foul prone due to his desire to swat everything away but he gives the guards confidence to gamble and get steals. Both Jennings and Ellis get over 1.6 of them a game.
New York Knicks (54-28) vs Boston Celtics (41-40)
Scoring champ carrying Knicks: Scoring champion Carmelo Anthony is dragging along a hurt Knicks team to the playoffs. Rasheed Wallace has retired, Tyson Chandler has been held out of games with multiple issues, Amare Stoudemire had knee surgery in march, Kenyon Martin just signed recently but has a sore knee and sprained ankle and Marcus Camby has played 24 games total this season.
Leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate JR Smith will continue to light it up from downtown. The Knicks as a team have made more three pointers this season than any team in NBA history. The question is whether or not their frontcourt can play defense.
Celtics depend on health: Depending on the health of Kevin Garnett, the Celtics come into the playoffs undersized. Brandon Bass and Jeff Green have played heavy minutes at the forward and center position to the detriment of the team.
After the All Star break, Jeff Green increased his scoring to 16.8 a game helping a pretty anemic Boston offense along the way. The Celtics rank 24th out of 30 in offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) for the season. With Rajon Rondo lost to a torn ACL, Paul Pierce is the only off the dribble creator for the team.
Indiana Pacers (49-32) vs Atlanta Hawks (44-38)
Pacers flash league-best defense: Ever since losing Danny Granger for most of the season to knee problems, Paul George has picked up the scoring to provide the Pacers with some semblance of an offense. Roy Hibbert has struggled scoring in the paint (44% for the year) but has played amazingly on defense.
Frank Vogel’s Pacers are the best defensive team in the league with teams scoring only 90.5 points per game. In a league that has become enamored by small ball lineups, the Pacers refuse to change their game and continue to use David West and Roy Hibbert to control the low post on both ends of the floor. West has had his best year since playing with Chris Paul and is an important mid range shooter who opens up the floor for other players.
Hawks soaring beyond expectations: No one expected the Hawks to be any good after trading away Joe Johnson for journeymen and draft picks but they ended up with 4 more wins than last year. They’ve also had to deal with the loss of Lou Williams; before his knee surgery he was averaging 14 points per game and got to the free throw line more than anyone else other than Josh Smith.
The frontcourt of Al Horford and Josh Smith have great chemistry and regularly run a 4-5 pick and roll that baffles opposing defenses. The Hawks lack a dynamic guard outside of Jeff Teague that can provide scoring for a team that is around league average but they play hard defensively and compete every night.
Brooklyn Nets (49-33) vs Chicago Bulls (45-37)
Eccentric frontcourt fueling Nets: Brook Lopez and Reggie Evans have formed an intriguing front court for the Nets. Lopez has regressed in rebounding almost every year and is only grabbing 6.9 a game. Evans on the other hand is a career journey man who is averaging 11.1 boards per game while only playing 24 minutes on average.
The backcourt of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams provide good size and shooting for a team that has made 9th most three pointers in the league this year. The Nets like to slow the game down as seen by their 88.8 possessions per game good for 28th in the league.
Rose cleared, but will he play? Derrick Rose has been medically cleared to play by the team but he has not set foot on the court this season. It looks doubtful that he will be able to make it for the playoffs but this team continues to play frenetic defense and score just enough to eke out wins.
Point guards Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson have tried to fill the big shoes of Rose offensively but the offense mainly runs through Joakim Noah now. He is coming back from plantar fasciitis and his health will determine whether or not the team can progress far this post season. – Rappler.com
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