2011 Playoff Prediction: Eastern Conference

The playoffs are finally here with the team no one saw coming the Bulls, the contenders the LA Lakers, the evil Miami Heat, the team with the great regular season performance but no respect in the Spurs and the Celtics, the old guys giving it another try. Many players have a lot to play for — Lebron and Wade (and Bosh), Rose validating the media love, Howard refuting the media’s courting of Rose, and the Knick combo of Melo and Amare needing to prove they can play well together. Without further meaningless words, here are my predictions:

Round 1:

(1) Bulls and (8) Pacers

The Pacers are a fun team, and as I’m watching them they’re maintaining a small lead over Chicago, but they obviously have no chance in the big picture. The question is whether or not they can steal a game. But how likely is it for a team to be swept even when it’s a 1 seed versus an 9 seed? I summarized the results of those series since they switched the first round to a seven game format in 2003:

Series won by the 1 seed:
4 – 0: 6
4 – 1: 4
4 – 2: 3
4 – 3: 2

Series won by the 8 seed:
4 – 2: 1

I’m not relying on this data to predict the series; I’m merely illustrating a point. Out of 16 playoff series with a 1 seed versus an 8 seed, only 6 were sweeps. However, it has still been the most prevalent outcome (albeit in a small sample size.) So what’s that mean for the Pacers? Well, it wouldn’t be unreasonable if they stole a game, and Indiana matches up well in some respects with Collison’s speed and shooting, but the talent differential is so large that I think it’s more likely the series is a sweep. (Yes, the Pacers have a lead going into the fourth quarter and I’m predicting they won’t even win one.)

4 – 0 Chicago

(2) Miami and (7) Philadelphia

The 76ers are lucky in having Iguodala to check James, but who will guard Wade? Meeks? Holiday? What about Bosh? Brand brought his game back from the dead, but in no way can he check an active Bosh. The 76ers are an athletic team who can play decent defense and steal a game at home. It’s an easy series to pick, but at any point in the series when the Heat run into a slight amount of adversity the media will proclaim the Heat experiment a massive failure on par with Chernobyl or the Hindenburg.

4 – 1 Miami

(3) Boston and (6) New York

A tale of two terrible trades. Boston has struggled since trading their starting center for a back-up forward, and New York hasn’t blossomed into a contender that the media have wanted from adding a high-usage, low efficiency player to a team whose strength already was offense. Boston wasn’t doing well before the trade, and they weren’t even playing Perkins much anyway, but at any rate they’re been lousy. New York, however, barely outscores the other team and plays laughable defense. Since giving up half their team for Carmelo, they’ve trended worst in most areas. While the Celtics have problems like a top-5 potential offense derailed by turnovers, New York should offer little resistance. Look for a declaration of victory when the Knicks win one at Madison Square Garden, similar to extending Isiah Thomas’ contract or all the excitement this year when the Knicks were winning slightly more than losing.

4 – 1 Boston

(4) Orlando and (5) Atlanta

Orlando has been getting absolutely no respect from the media, while Dallas has been in the same position in the west. The Magic get to play Howard even more minutes, and only have to go up against the Hawks. The most important match-up in this series might be Howard-Collins, where Atlanta has started the offensively anemic twin to slow down the Magic. This may actually work to some extent. It says something to the value of Howard — without him, what kind of team are they? Who’s their second best player? Nelson? Turkoglu? Ryan Anderson?

Nonetheless, this is a strangely lopsided 4 – 5 series. The Hawks actually have a negative point differential, meaning on average they’ve been getting outscored by the opponent, and over the last quarter of the season they’ve been losing by about 6 a game. I think they can steal a game, but the only way Atlanta has a chance at taking down Orlando is by Jason Collins committing a flagrant 5 against Howard — homicide. Maybe the media would finally pay attention the Hawks.

4 – 1 Atlanta

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