So last night I was watching the Heat-Knicks game and I couldn’t really decide which team I should root for. Ultimately, I went with the Knicks. Lesser of two evils. But like most NBA fans during the 2nd half of the season, I then started thinking about how this game could potentially affect my team: the Celtics.
Maybe it’s a little early to start projecting playoff matchups, but it’s still a lot of fun. Here’s the thing, though. I have no idea who I want the Celtics to play. In the past few years, it’s been pretty straightforward: first avoid Cleveland, then Orlando (in retrospect, this probably should have been switched).
But this year, things are a bit more confusing. It’s safe to say that the Eastern Conference is a 4-horse race. Boston, Chicago, Miami and Orlando. Technically, Atlanta is only 1 game behind the Magic, but I’m not taking the Hawks seriously until I’m proven otherwise.
Here are the standings:
1. Boston 35-10
2. Chicago 31-14
2. Miami 31-14
4. Orlando 30-16
5. Atlanta 29-17
It really boils down to Chicago, Miami and Orlando. In all likelihood, if the Celtics reach the NBA Finals, they will need to get by 2 of these 3 teams.
So my question is: which team would Celtics’ fans like to avoid?
The only team that can compete with the Celtics’ depth in the frontcourt. Let’s just assume that Joakim Noah comes back healthy and returns to form. Not only is he one of the best rebounders in the NBA, he’s a strong defender, and he absolutely hates Kevin Garnett. Makes me a little nervous. Not to mention that Noah isn’t even their low-post scorer. That would be Carlos Boozer. Personally, I’ve never been a huge Boozer guy. Just seems like he forgets to show up in big moments. But 20 ppg is 20 ppg, right? Plus, they have Taj Gibson coming off the bench, who probably deserves more 6th-man of the Year attention than he’s been getting.
Tom Thibodeau also has the Bulls playing the best defense in the league right now, which we all know is vital to postseason success. And on top of that, Thibs is pretty familiar with the Celtics’ offense. I’m not sure how much that really matters, but it can’t hurt.
Here’s my one issue with the Bulls: they don’t really have a pure/natural scorer. Yes, Derrick Rose is averaging 25 ppg and is probably the MVP right now. But the Bulls don’t have anyone like a Paul Pierce that can create space and consistently hit jump shots at the end of games (sorry Luol Deng). Even if Rose gets to the rim for the first 45 minutes of the game, defenses change in the last 3 minutes. Rose has dramatically improved his shot this season, but in the playoffs I would imagine teams will back off him significantly and force him to make that 18-footer.
I’m excited to see the Celtics play Miami in two weeks because I think it’s going to be a very revealing game. The Heat are not the same team that they were during the first month of the season, when the Celtics beat them twice without too much trouble. Hopefully Chris Bosh will be healthy so we can see the Heat at full strength.
The obvious problem with the Heat is their lack of depth. Aside from their Big Three, nothing has seemed to work out for them this season. Udonis Haslem has been hurt pretty much all season…Erick Spoelstra just took away the starting point guard spot from Carlos Arroyo and gave it Mario Chalmers…Mike Miller has been a complete disaster. Even when you think he’s finally turned the corner, he reminds you that he hasn’t. For example, on Sunday he scored 32 points and pulled down 10 boards. Then yesterday, in a semi-important game at MSG, he scores 0 points in 21 minutes.
However, if you need a reminder as to why you don’t want to play the Heat, just look at the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s a terrible basketball team, but LeBron James still managed to win 1 or 2 games in any given playoff series with absolutely no help. It was simply asking too much of him to do it 4 times against teams like Orlando and Boston. Now, though, he has help. Dwyane Wade can win a playoff game. Bosh could even win one, too. LeBron doesn’t have to do it all. And that’s what makes me nervous.
The new-look Magic aren’t going to have many problems on offense. Gilbert Arenas can go off at any moment. So can Jason Richardson. They both scare me. Hedo Turkoglu has been a Celtics-killer in the past. He scares me, too. Ultimately, Orlando wouldn’t have traded for all these offensive weapons and if they didn’t think Dwight Howard could anchor the defense by himself. I agree with the strategy, but we’ll see how it plays out in reality.
Unless the Magic add another big man to supplement Howard, Orlando is going to have a difficult time trying to cover KG, Perkins, Shaq and Baby. I know it sounds like I’m beating a dead-horse talking about the Celtics’ frontcourt. But it’s a very unique advantage for Boston this season.
My pick: Right now I’m leaning toward Chicago. I really don’t want to play the Bulls. But maybe I’m simply overanalyzing this and the obvious answer is you don’t want to play Miami.