Tag: Eastern Conference Playoffs

Atlanta Hawks v Orlando Magic - Game Two

NBA Playoffs: Magic defense edges out Hawks in Game 2

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The Orlando Magic still haven’t figured out how to get consistent offensive production out of their perimeter players, but they made one drastic improvement from Game 1 to Game 2: the Magic defense is now in full effect. Atlanta played a competitive game by putting up a strong defensive front of their own and hitting some tough shots along the way, but top-notch production from Dwight Howard and the return of Orlando’s elite defense were enough to seal the win, 88-82.

The structure of the Hawks’ offense isn’t the soundest — any team that relies too heavily on contested jumpers is destined for some hiccups — but the onus was still on the Magic to impact to enforce their will on that end of the court. The common rhetoric states that Orlando’s defense “starts with Dwight Howard,” but that particular phrasing couldn’t be further from the truth. Howard is the finisher. He contests almost every shot in the paint, and collects defensive rebounds at an amazing rate. The Magic defense starts with the efficacy of perimeter defenders; when Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, J.J. Redick, and Hedo Turkoglu are scrambling to rotate and cover the open man, Dwight Howard is better positioned to defend the rim and alter shots. Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson deserve credit as well for their work in rotation, as Orlando unleashed a team-wide defensive effort to limit Atlanta to 93.2 points per 100 possessions.

This is closer to the potent D the Magic boasted during the regular season, and could be the key to besting opponents who employ a strategy of defending Dwight Howard one-on-one — as the Hawks have done in this series thus far. Howard again piled up the turnovers, but his seven giveaways were eclipsed by hyper-efficient shooting (9-of-12 from the field, and a fantastic 15-of-19 from the line) and incredible production (33 points, 19 rebounds, eight offensive boards). Jason Collins and Zaza Pachulia deserve credit for their defensive effort against Howard, but clearly their efforts weren’t enough to seriously curtail Howard’s output.

Howard aside, the Magic shot just 27.3 percent from the field. That’s horrific, and Atlanta’s team defense deserves a lot of the credit. Yet Orlando still managed to take their first win of the series, in no small part due to the Magic’s terrific offensive rebounding, a failure of a different kind for Atlanta’s team D. In addition to Howard’s eight rebounds on the offensive end, Bass and Anderson combined to grab eight of their own, pushing Orlando’s offensive rebounding rate up to a game-saving 43.5 percent.

The Hawks provide a very different story; Atlanta shot a superior (relative to Orlando’s miserable marks) but still subpar 39.5 percent overall, but even a nice defensive performance couldn’t secure a win in Game 2. Even with a fine showing the Hawks’ defense isn’t quite potent enough to win in spite of their offense in this context, just as their offense would so rarely win in spite of their defense; Atlanta has to be on their game on both sides of the ball to be more than merely competitive against Orlando, and that just wasn’t the case tonight. Jamal Crawford (25 points, 8-17 FG) had it going and Josh Smith (17 points, 8-14 FG, six rebounds) provided some nice supplementary scoring, but otherwise the Hawks’ offense just couldn’t get much of a spark. They did a great job of weathering runs with periodic bursts, but Joe Johnson was too inefficient and Al Horford too unproductive. I’m not sure either of those problems are easily remedied, either; most of Johnson’s problems were issues of shot selection that have plagued him for years, and Horford’s opportunities were limited by Orlando’s scrambling. Larry Drew will have his work cut out for him in jump-starting the Hawks’ offense to acceptable levels, but he’s been faced with the same inefficiency all season and has made little progress on that front. Atlanta ranked 20th in offensive efficiency in the regular season, and one shouldn’t expect that standing to change overnight just because the postseason is in swing.

The Hawks are right there. They were perhaps within a handful of offensive rebounds of taking a 2-0 series lead in spite of all of their weaknesses, and they’re competitive enough that the Magic can take nothing for granted. Defensive might must be proven and maintained on a game-by-game basis. Howard must continue to be aggressive, and do his best to slash those turnovers. Orlando’s shooters have to keep working to get open, even as their quality attempts become fewer and fewer. Otherwise, Atlanta has the potential to make this series far too long and far too interesting for Stan Van Gundy’s liking, exponentially increasing their likelihood of taking the series with each win along the way.

Buckle up — there’s still a lot of basketball to be played.

Chris Bosh sees Boston as tougher test than Chicago

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat

Chris Bosh is not alone on this.

As we started talking to people around the league in preparation for playoff previews, there are a lot of doubters about the Bulls. Oh, they’re good and everyone knows it. But a lot of people think the Bulls have some things to learn about playoff basketball. Things the Celtics have already learned.

Bosh echoed this line of thinking when he went on WQAM in Miami (via Sports Radio Interviews):

“I’m going to go with the Celtics right now because of their experience and where they’ve been. The Bulls, they’re very talented obviously. They earned, and rightfully so, the No. 1 spot in the East. But you know, the Celtics you really never know with them. Last year everybody wrote them off, they were the No. 4 seed and they came within a few minutes of winning an NBA title. So they have guys that have been there many, many times before and they bring a lot of experience.”

What Chicago has done more consistently this season than any team is execute. On offense somewhat, on defense especially. The thinking among the doubters is they cannot do that much better, where Boston (and to a lesser degree the Heat) can improve their execution dramatically.

Can and will are different things. This is going to be one fun playoffs.

Dates, times set for Eastern Conference playoffs first games

Orlando Magic v Boston Celtics, Game 6

While the West is still trying to figure out who plays whom, the Eastern Conference has moved on to when.

At least for the first games. The league has released the dates and times for the first games of those four series.

Chicago and Indiana will tip off at noon Saturday (11 a.m. in Chicago) for the first game of that sweep series. The game can be seen on ESPN.

That will be followed by Philadelphia at Miami, starting at 3:30 Eastern Saturday on ABC. Interesting that the Heat got the prime Saturday slot over the next game on this list, says something about that team’s drawing power.

New York and Boston will tip off Sunday at 7p.m. Eastern Sunday on TNT, with that game played in Boston.

Also Sunday at 7 p.m., but on ESPN, Atlanta will play at Orlando.

The dates for the rest of the games in those series will likely not be released until Thursday.

One thing we can infer from this — the Lakers will get the prime 3:30 Eastern slot on Sunday, regardless of who they face. The Lakers have traditionally gotten that slot in recent years but there was some thought that a Knicks/Celtics series could bump it. Apparently not.

Playoff seedings: The West is still a mess

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat

In these uncertain times, we know a couple things for sure.

We know Chicago will win the Eastern Conference and take on the Indiana Pacers in the first round. We know Orlando will host Atlanta in another first-round matchup. We know the Spurs are the top team in the West.

After that, we’ve got no idea. Well, we kind of know some things in the East, the West is still as confused as Lindsay Lohan. So we’ll start our breakdown out East.

Eastern Conference

We told you already it’s Chicago vs. Indiana and Orlando vs. Atlanta for sure. The other two matchups are almost set in the East, but with the way teams in this conference go on losing streaks nothing is certain.

Miami’s win over Boston on Sunday means the Heat control their own destiny — win out on the road at Atlanta and Toronto and they are the No. 2 seed. At 56-24, they are one game up on the 55-25 Celtics. However, Boston owns the tiebreaker, so if the Heat slip and the Celtics sweep the Wizards and the Knicks, then Boston slides into the No. 2 seed.

Who might they face? The Knicks are one game up on the 76ers for the No. 6 seed, a lead they kept with their dramatic win Sunday night. New York also owns the tiebreaker. So, the only way the Sixers pass the Knicks is for New York to lose out — possible against Chicago and Boston — and Philly to win out (Orlando and Detroit).

Basically, expect Boston vs. New York and Miami vs. Philadelphia to be the other two Eastern Conference series, but it’s not set in stone yet.

Western Conference

We know the Spurs are the top seed. We know little else.

After dropping five straight, the Lakers have fallen into a tie with Mavericks for the No. 2 seed at 55-25, but the Lakers hold the tiebreaker. Oklahoma City, after beating L.A. on Sunday, is just one game back (54-26). The Lakers still own the tiebreaker over the Thunder, but the Thunder own the tiebreaker over the Mavericks. So, any of these teams can finish two-to-four.

The Lakers finish with the Spurs, then Kings; Dallas finishes with Houston, then New Orleans; the Thunder finish with the Kings, then Bucks.

The bottom half of the West is just as messy. The issue here is most teams are doing everything they can to avoid the Lakers, and if they can swing a date with Dallas they’ll take it.

Denver should be the No. 5 seed, they are two games clear of everyone, so just one more win (over Golden State or Utah) and they are locked in at the five.

Portland (47-33) is currently sixth and one-game ahead of Memphis and New Orleans, who are tied for seventh at 46-34. The real test here is the Tuesday night game between Memphis and Portland, a game that will go a long way toward deciding who finishes where. The tiebreak options between the three teams are too numerous to explain, but if the standings finish like this the Hornets would have the tiebreaker on Memphis. New Orleans has the tiebreaker if all three teams finished tied as well.

So there you go. By the end of Monday we may have a few more clear matchups set. Maybe.

“Just wait until Shaq gets back” is legitimate argument for Boston

Boston Celtics v Phoenix Suns

The Chicago Bulls made their statement Thursday. Right now, the Bulls are the better team. If Thursday had been Game 1 of a seven-game series the Celtics would be in trouble.

After the game, Kevin Garnett talked about Boston having another gear for the playoffs. Their fans are counting on that. That those days off between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs — plus the end of back-to-backs — will mean the veteran team will have fresher legs. That their savvy and understanding of what it takes in the playoffs will lift them to another level that a team like Chicago does not yet grasp.

They also have a trump card — Shaquille O’Neal.

That card is a legitimate play, but we will not see it for at least a couple more games. CSN New England is reporting that Shaq will be out Sunday against Miami and Monday against Washington. Wednesday against New York is still a question mark. Shaq is expected back for the playoffs.

When healthy he changes the game for the Celtics — the team defense remains good but the offense takes a big step forward. John Schuhmann at NBA.com did the heavy lifting on the numbers.

O’Neal has played with the other four Celtics starters in just 18 games. But they were 15-3 in those games and 9-1 against playoff teams. With that lineup intact, they beat the Heat twice, and they beat the Knicks, Bulls, Magic and Lakers.

Of lineups that have logged at least 200 minutes together, the Celtics’ lineup of Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Garnett and O’Neal has been the second-most dominant…

First, let’s be clear, those Boston wins were in the first half of the season. They would face very different Heat, Bulls and Lakers teams now. (Knicks too, not sure it would matter there, though.) But Schuhmann’s point is valid still — Boston’s starting five with Shaq in the lineup outscored opponents by 19.1 points per 100 possessions. Swap in the also injured at times Glen Davis in that with the Celtics big four and they are up 17 points per 100 possessions. (The most dominant lineup, by the way, was the Mavericks lineup with Caron Butler.)

What Shaq brings is an inside scoring presence that Boston lacks right now, allowing teams to stick tighter with players on the perimeter.

And on the offensive end of the floor, where the Celtics have been struggling most over the last month, is where Shaq can help the Celtics most. The lineup of Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett and O’Neal has shot a ridiculous 58 percent from the field (easily the highest among five-man units that have played 200 minutes together). And with O’Neal on the floor, Allen (38-for-69) and Pierce (30-for-59) have combined to shoot an incredible 53 percent from 3-point range.

There are legitimate questions about how much Shaq can give or if he can stay healthy. There are legitimate questions about if this year the dip is about father time catching up with Boston in a way it did not in previous years. Those questions can only be answered once the playoffs start.

But Boston does have another gear in them once Shaq returns to the lineup. And that gear may be one the other teams in the East cannot match.