2011 NBA Play-Off Previews: 2011 Eastern Conference NBA Play-Off Contenders
The road to the NBA Finals has always been a matter of health and this year is no exception. Well, health and technical fouls, if you’re a Magic fan. As such, I think it’s a little silly to predict the whole of the finals tournament before those injuries happen. Instead, let’s take a look at who the real contenders are and where their liabilities are.
Part 1 is the Eastern Conference. Click here for the Western Conference
The Bulls surely looked head and shoulders above everyone else in the East for the last third of the season or so. My, but having a real coach makes a difference. Yes, Derrick Rose having more experience under his belt helps. Yes, having a real low post threat in Carlos Boozer helps. Yes, having Kurt Thomas there to plug injury holes helps more than anyone is likely to admit. Even with all that, not even the most glassy-eyed Bulls Superfan would have dared dream they’d have the best record in the league.
Bulls fans should be very glad el cheapo owner Jerry Reinsdorf could find a first year coach (i.e. first year coaching salary demands) like Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau almost doesn’t count as being a rookie. He also knows how to utilize Luol Deng, who’s been unjustly disparaged after suffering through a rash of injuries and a rookie coach (Vinny Del Negro) who didn’t seem to have a clue how to use him.
The Bulls have two weaknesses: play-off inexperience and the shooting guard position. The bulk of this team hasn’t been very far in the play-offs, particularly, the Rose/Noah/Deng core. Thibodeau is used to it, though. We’ll see if they get rattled or freaked out as the play-offs wear on.
As for shooting guard, it’s a patchwork quilt of a journeyman who’s well-rounded but not a standout in any facet (Keith Bogans), an athletic defender whose range is hard pressed to extend past the post area (Ronnie Brewer), a great shooter whose defense would be considered iffy at an All-Star Game (Kyle Korver) and Rasual Butler who hasn’t really been there long enough for anybody to know how or if he fits.
If Kirk Hinrch hadn’t been traded, he’d be playing shooting guard and this group would be all the more frightening. Considering nobody was signed with the cap room from Hinrich’s trade, that was a real waste and you can only hope it wasn’t a trade to save some money.
If Kendrick Perkins were still a Celtic, Boston would probably be the favorite. At this point, the Big 3 of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen is really the Big 4 and you need to throw in Rajon Rondo. He may be a bit of a punk, but Rondo is a very talented punk. Experience and excellent defense are the keys with the Celtics, but that bizarre trade that essentially boiled down to Perkins for Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green has cast a pall over the Celtics.
If you give Celtic GM Danny Ainge credit for having a good reason to trade Perkins (and I’m not sure I would do such a thing), you have to figure one of three things was going through his head:
- Perkins isn’t going to be healthy enough to make it through the playoffs/I need to trade him before his career is over
- Either Paul Pierce or Ray Allen is not is as good a shape as we’ve been led to believe and he needs insurance if they go down, and Jeff Green is that insurance.
- He thinks that Shaq/Krstic is adequate in comparison to Perkins/Shaq and Green’s bench scoring makes it a win.
If he’s thinking anything else, he’s not thinking about winning a title while the Big 3 are still playing. Well, I suppose he could have thought he was done and sent Perkins to the Thunder in an attempt to screw the Lakers. That would make as much sense as anything else.
That said, the Celtics issues are health and the center position. They need at least 20 minutes per game out of a healthy Shaq. 30 would be better, but that isn’t realistic. Kristic is better than advertised, but he’s not Perkins and doesn’t have the same presence in the lane. If Garnett gets injured or slows down, it all falls apart. Maybe they can take an injury from Pierce or Allen with Green in reserve. Maybe.
There’s also the matter of the team’s mood. The Perkins trade shook the Celtics badly and they went on a skid. You’d think a veteran team like the Celtics would come out swinging, but they sure have been sulking. To compound matters, the Celtics have drawn the Knicks in the first round. Granted, the Celtics swept the Knicks in the regular season (although, the last game was mostly bench players and shouldn’t be taken seriously), but the Knicks looked like they might have all gotten on the same page after trading for Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, so they look primed to pull an Atlanta Hawks and try to run the Celtics out of the gym… and running on Shaq isn’t the worst strategy in the world, particularly if he’s dinged up.
We’ll find out how composed the Celtics are, pretty fast.
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