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2011 NBA Play-Off Previews: 2011 Eastern Conference NBA Play-Off Contenders

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Miami Heat
Pre-season, this was supposed to be your championship team for the next 5 years.  Instead, the Heat are possibly the most enigmatic 58 win team of all time.  This is the LeBron James and Dwayne Wade show.  Chris Bosh is slightly under-performing, with only 8.3 rebounds per game in the regular season.  I would have thought Bosh would have enough open looks to average over 20 point per game and shoot over .500, but he was at 18.7 and .496.  Much like the Heat’s record, it’s slightly under expectations.

Essentially, once you get past the three stars, the Heat’s supporting cast is an injury-riddled mess.  After Wade/James/Bosh, the most games anyone has started is 51, and the next highest is 42.  That’s a mess.  Your center rotation is Zydrunas  Ilgauskas (veteran, but slowing down), Joel Anthony (good defender, can’t spell the word offense) and Erick Dampier (currently resting his knees for the playoffs, after demoted from starting).  So outside scoring with Ilgauskas or limited post offense.  Point guard has been taken over by an aging Mike Bibby.  Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller and James Jones are your key reserves.

The Heat are a case of core talent over chemistry and supporting cast.  They have a particularly weak center rotation, with a bit of defense being its saving grace.  2 of their guys get hot, they’re a real handful.  Somebody has a bad night, they’re human.  A lot of western teams would hand them their head in a series, but they’re capable of getting to the finals if they can run on their opponents.

Orlando Magic
Dwight Howard is the key in Orlando.  (Duh.)  GM Otis Smith did some gambling with a trade, upgrading Howard’s supporting cast, but leaving them without a backup center.  On the whole, I think it worked.  Perhaps not as well as they needed, but an upgrade.

Orlando has very even scoring averages once you get past Howard, which reflects a lot of competent scoring ability and a willingness to go to a hot hand.  The key for Orlando is finding one or two hand hands, past Howard and keeping Howard in the game.  Literally, there’s nothing behind Howard and the Magic are screwed if he’s off the floor for extended minutes.  Fortunately, the technical foul total resets for the play-offs.  Still, expect the opposing team to agitate Howard for all they’re worth.  Get him to drop a few technicals and the Magic aren’t a play-off team and have to revamp their approach to the game.

The biggest problem the Magic have heading into the playoffs is drawing the Atlanta Hawks, who gave them fits during the regular season.  The Hawks were in a complete nosedive to end the season and it will be interesting to see if they have the willpower left to knock out the Magic.  This is one of those situational problems you occasionally see, even if there’s scant hope for Hawks fans that they could survive the second round.

New York Knicks
This is the dark horse team you don’t want to play in the East.  Before losing a “real” game to the Bulls and a “rest the starters” fake game to the Boston Celtics, the Knicks ran off seven in a row… Orlando was a quality win, but assign the worth of wins over lower play-off seeds like Philly and Indiana as you will.  Many were wondering if the post-trade core of Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups had finally gotten it together?

Here’s how it breaks down with the Knicks: your minus is poor defense, particularly an utter lack of post defense unless Turiaf is in the game, and that’s under 20 minutes/game, possibly under 15 minutes/game in the playoffs.  On the other hand you have some real scorers on the Knicks.  Anthony and Stoudemire can easily erupt for 30+ points and take over a game.  Billups is a champion who feels opportunity, not pressure when a big shot presents itself, and he can drop 20 at any given time.  For that matter, unheralded Toney Douglas has scored 20+ points on 9 occassions, 5 of them since February.

There are definite weaknesses in the Knicks game, and you hate to rely too much on someone catching fire (and if someone gets hurt, game over), but the Knicks have the players to go on a run.  The Knicks have pulled the Celtics, which has been a nightmare match-up for them.  We’ll have to see how the post-trade chemistries of each team affect this one, but if the Knicks can get hot against the Celtics, their path looks a lot rosier.  The East semi-finals is the winner of Heat/76ers, and the Knicks were 2-2 against each.  Should they get to the Eastern finals, the Knicks were 3-1 against the Bulls, though 1-3 against the Magic.

Knicks fans should hope the Celtics come out pouting, because the numbers say the Knicks are a serious dark horse if they can get out of the first round.

 

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