This year I have followed basketball in a much more focused and deliberate way than I have in years past. Always obsessive, the calender has never been so basketball-centered as it has for me these past six months. Since late October, I’ve been finding extra time, energy, and passion, and this project, and I appreciate everyone who has taken the time to read and follow it. I will continue to write throughout the playoffs and then I will take a break over the summer and fall, though I will continue to post links that relate to basketball, and great sports journalism, and there may even be a few interviews with authors in the works. Anyway, thanks for reading and following the site. The playoffs arrive on Saturday. The reality of an 82-game season (81 with an asterisk for Boston and Indiana) has never hit me so fully in the past.
I feel lucky that my beloved Celtics held on to 7th seed in the East, despite the severity of injuries that has befallen them. Amazingly, they have a legitimate opportunity to advance to the second round (at least everyone outside of NYC thinks so). In addition, it’s been really cool to see the Golden State Warriors grow into themselves this year, with Steph Curry staying on the court and leading them to either the sixth or seventh seed in the West. If you haven’t had a chance to watch Curry, don’t miss him and his silky, quick-release, jumper in the playoffs.
Without further ado, the 2013 Eastern Conference Playoff Preview:
After each series summary, there are predictions, next to which you will find a “confidence rating.” This rating is based an a complex algorithm that I have yet to transcribe. It is based on equal parts intuition, fear, analysis, peripheral vision, knowledge of NBA history, insecurity, hopefulness, swagger, and chutzpah. 11% of each of the first eight things, and 12% chutzpah. Basically, take it with a grain of salt.
Round One: #1 Miami Heat (66-16) vs. #8 Milwaukee Bucks (38-44)
The Milwaukee Bucks last won a playoff series in 2001, when George Karl took them to within a game of the NBA Finals, before losing to the Allen Iverson-led 76ers in Game 7 of the East Finals. Since then, the Bucks have made the playoffs four times and been bounced in the first each time. The Larry Sanders Experience gets a chance to dance with Miami. Click here to read an excerpt from Lee Jenkins’ Sports Illustrated interview, out this week, with Sanders. Watch this series just to get a chance to witness Sanders stuffing Wade and LeBron at the rim once or twice. Somehow, Milwaukee will steal a game at home and avoid the sweep.
Players to watch: Larry Sanders, Miami’s supporting cast (Allen, Battier, Chalmers, Anderson)
Darko Index Predicts: Heat in 5. (98% confidence rating)
Round One: #4 Brooklyn Nets (49-33) vs. #5 Chicago Bulls (45-37)
After a fierce battle between Chicago and Atlanta to slip down to the 6th seed, potentially avoiding a second round match-up with Miami, the Bulls lost the losing competition by winning the tie-breaker with Atlanta. Joe Johnson will not get his old mates in a revenge series. Instead, the Nets get Chicago. In reality, Chicago is probably happy to get the Nets. The Pacers and Nets are both physical match-ups, but the Pacers have legitimate defenders and a defensive philosophy that enabled them to lead the league in defensive efficiency (96.5), while the Nets are an offensive-minded bunch,
Deron Williams has some new ankles after his All-Star break cortisone shots and platelet-rich-plasma procedures. P.J. Carlesimo must be thankful. It was rumored that Williams could barely make it up his own stairs after games in December and January. On the court, it was clear early in the season he couldn’t attack the hoop with the same bounce and first step he had in his Utah days. In the last month, however, Williams has been on a tear. Brooklyn’s offense and Chicago’s defense are both stellar, but both teams struggle on the opposite sides of the floor. The Nets will need more than just D-Will and Joe Johnson because of Tom Thibodeau’s schemes and the defensive execution of Noah, Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler, et al.
Is Noah healthy enough to plug up the lane on Brook Lopez? I think so, and that match-up could determine this series. If not, Nazr Mohammed and Taj Gibson will provide help.
On the offensive end, the Bulls desperately need Butler, and two of the streakier shooters in the league (Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli) to find their groove at the right times. We’ll have to wait until November to see how Derrick Rose looks.
Players to watch: Deron Williams off the dribble, Noah-Lopez underneath, Jimmy Butler’s incredible offensive rebounding.
Darko Index Predicts: Bulls in 6. (68% confidence rating)
Round One: #2 New York Knicks (54-28) vs. #7 Boston Celtics (41-40)
Game 1 has been announced: Saturday, 3pm EST on ABC.
This will be the most intense of all the first-round match-ups. Click here for details.
Darko Index Predicts: Celtics in 7 (63% confidence rating).
Round One: #3 Indiana Pacers (50-31) vs. #6 Atlanta Hawks (44-38)
Indiana has the length to deal with Josh Smith and Horford. Atlanta has been treading water for months, watching Smith hoist up more and more threes as the absence of Lou Williams’ and his offensive dynamics becomes clear. While Horford can neutralize the rejuvenated Roy Hibbert and his post-game, who will stop David West on the elbow?
The guess is that Larry Drew uses Josh Smith on Indiana’s most versatile weapon, Paul George, leaving West to have some fun with Atlanta’s undersized reserve forwards. If Horford moves to West, Hibbert will have the opportunity to dominate Zaza Pachulia and Johan Petro.
On the other end, George should be bottling up Deron Williams as much as possible. If the Pacers limit D-Will, the Nets won’t have enough balance to get past one of the top defenses in the league, and the Pacers survive the low-flying Hawks. These playoffs are critical for the Pacers, who are not being taken seriously in the East. George Hill and Lance Stephenson are physical defenders who have been knocking down their 3’s. If those trends continue, the Pacers will demand to be taken seriously beyond the first round.
Players to watch: Paul George does his best Scottie Pippen impression (steals, blocks, clutch 3’s and impressive drives) for the despondent Hawks crowd. Also keep an eye on Horford and Hibbert, two of the better interior defenders in the league. This is the end of the Josh Smith-era in Atlanta. Stephenson, who should receive Most Improved Player votes, was a teenage legend in Brooklyn, who Larry Bird took under his wing in Indiana after the 2010 draft. This spring may be his coming out party. Read Jonathan Abrams’ great Stephenson piece here.
Darko Index Predicts: Pacers in 7. (77% confidence rating)
Jonah Hall writes The Darko Index because he can’t get enough of the NBA Playoffs and the drama of the seven-game series. Contact Jonah at firstname.lastname@example.org
Next up: Western Conference Playoff Preview