Tag:2011 First Round
Posted on: April 15, 2011 12:28 pm
Edited on: April 15, 2011 12:36 pm
 

Grizzlies-Spurs Preview: Quick and brutal

Our first-round series previews continue with this look at Memphis vs. San Antonio. Are the Spurs the grizzled defensive team of old? Can Tony Allen do anything to disrupt Manu? 
Posted by Matt Moore




I. Intro

If the playoffs were one giant game show, Grizzlies-Spurs is the box with the gigantic question mark on it. Are the Spurs as good as their record indicates? Because if they are, this thing's going to be over in about forty-five seconds. Are the Grizzlies able to translate that toughness to the playoffs and is San Antonio in a weak spot with an injured Manu Ginobili and some defensive questions? Because if that's the case, this thing could go the distance. We just don't know. The Spurs have so much experience. The Grizzlies are playing with so much emotion. The Spurs are an elite offensive team. The Grizzlies are a great defensive team. Tim Duncan. Zach Randolph. Manu Ginobili. Tony Allen's abject insanity. Good benches, good coaches. This one has all the makings of a great series. It's a 1 seed vs. the 8 seed. Which means it could be terrible. 

We don't know anything. We're waiting for both of these teams to define themselves. We're pretty sure San Antonio's going to win, because they're better with better players. But Memphis has been on such a roll, has such good chemistry, has size and good wing play and attack the rim. Trying to decipher this series is maddening, but that also means it could be fun, even if it's a sweep. 

II. What Happened: A Look at the Season Series

The Spurs only lost 21 games. Two of them were to Memphis. One was a tank game at the end of the season, though. Memphis averaged 103 points against San Antonio, who only scored 101. Both teams won their home games. The Spurs took the first two meetings, the Grizzlies the last two. Three of the meetings were after the trade deadline acquisition of Battier for Memphis. 

You want a weird one? Both of Memphis' wins over the Spurs came after Rudy Gay was lost for the season. 

Other than that? It's a bizarre amalgam of information from those games. The Spurs won when Tony Parker scored 37. They won when Parker scored 2. Memphis won a slow paced game, lost a slow paced game, won a fast paced game, lost a fast paced game. The Spurs won when they shot over 50 percent, and lost when they shot over 50 percent (the tank game). Memphis won when they controlled the rebounding battle, and lost when they controlled the rebounding battle. There is literally no discernible pattern other than individual matchup advantages that were at times expressed and at times not expressed. 

The consistent theme is that Zach Randolph's going to get his. He plugged in 24, 24, 23, and 21. That's predictable, considering Randolph's consistency in the 20-10 game. But the fact that Randolph's production isn't tied to Memphis winning has to be a concern for the Grizzlies. 

III. The Easy Stuff: Manu vs. the Yin-Yang

Manu Ginobili is one of the toughest covers in the NBA. Tony Allen and Shane Battier are two of the best defenders in the league. Manu has the Euro-step. Battier and Allen are obsessed with tape review to figure out tendencies. This is a huge matchup to watch. Ginobili will need to be in full flop mode. If he can frustrate Allen by drawing fouls via flop, Allen will start to gamble more. Given his penchant for falling for the pump-fake, it may not be too difficult for Ginobili to do that quickly. Against Battier, Manu has more speed advantage, and the Grizzlies' frontcourt help defense is not good. 

For Memphis, the key here needs to be to deny the ball. Ball pressure has to be a key part of their attack on Ginobili. They can't bring help at the elbow, due to the Spurs' plethora of shooters. So they have to focus on keeping the ball out of his hand, which is nearly impossible when they set the offense with Manu as ball-handler in the deep backcourt. The Grizzlies focus on turnovers, and Ginobili's turnover rate is the lowest of his career (that factors how many possessions he uses). If Hollins doesn't figure out a way to attack Ginobili at the elbow on the drive before he slips low (where he is nearly impossible to defend), he's going to hurt Memphis in a big, big way. 


IV. Secret of the Series: Underground seating

Memphis does not have a good bench. But they may have advantages against the Spurs. Matt Bonner is a terrific 3-point shooter, but who is he going to defend? Zach Randolph will bury him. Darrell Arthur is both faster and stronger. Antonio McDyess is a capable defender, and he could have a huge impact in this series. George Hill has had a great season, but with Battier and Mayo coming off the Bench, there are answers. Darrell Arthur is a big secret for Memphis. He's not only strong and quick, but he has a reliable mid-range from 18. Stretch bigs give the Spurs fits, and if Conley and Arthur start to operate in space, and that jumper falls for Arthur, that's some damage that could be done. 

It'll be interesting to see if the Spurs start McDyess to cover Randolph, giving Duncan the less offensive-focused Marc Gasol. In that situation, DeJuan Blair would come off the bench. Blair's defensive issues are problematic, but he could neutralize the boards advantage for Memphis. Do that and the Grizzlies lose some of their umph. Lineups and rotations will go a long way in deciding this series.

V. The Dinosaur Narrative: "THE SPURS ARE TOUGH, GRITTY, VETERAN DEFENSIVE TEAM."

Anyone, and I mean anyone, who spins this yarn at you, needs to go. I've talked about the Spurs' defensive slide on this site quite a bit, and there's been no dramatic shift in the other direction. The Spurs simply don't have the personnel they used to. Gone are the veteran wing defenders like Michael Finley and Bruce Bowen. Instead George Hill, who has great speed and is a terrific offensive player, is asked to play in a reserve two-guard role often. Richard Jefferson has solid length, but isn't an elite defender. DeJuan Blair doesn't have the length or explosion to defend bigger players in the post, and is still young as to not have the savvy experience necessary to overcome those limitations. He'll get there, but he's not there yet.

Every year prior, if you asked who had a better defensive efficiency, the Spurs or their first-round opponent, you'd automatically answer "San Antonio." But this year? The Grizzlies are 8th in defensive efficiency. The Spurs? 11th. This doesn't mean the Spurs won't win, or that they won't find that extra defensive playoff gear. It just means that going into this series, the Spurs are not that old, veteran tough team they're always known to be. 

VI. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each matchup?

PG: Tony Parker has terrific speed on the perimeter. Mike Conley has made huge strides this season, but he routinely gets blown by faster guards.  Conley will probably get his fair share of points and assists, but Parker's ability to dominate this matchup is unquestionable. Advantage: Parker.

SG: We discussed above, but it should be put this way. Manu Ginobili is a championship caliber wing with savvy, speed and great scoring ability. This is a no-brainer. Advantage: Manu.

SF: The Grizzlies run Sam Young and Tony Allen in tandem at the 2/3 spots. Young has added bulk and been taken under TA's wing this season. But Jefferson has about a million more moves. Young will be more aggressive, but that will also lead to leaving Jefferson open in the corner, where he's become deadly (highest 3-point percentage of his career). Jefferson get the nod here. 

PF: Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward of all time. Zach Randolph is a top five power forward in the league right now. And neither will guard each other much in this series. We're going to give the nod to Duncan, only, and we stress only, for his defensive impact. Randolph is a poor defender, Duncan is still strongest. Advantage: Duncan.

C: Marc Gasol is constantly the most underrated center in the league. McDyess is a solid veteran defender. DeJuan Blair is a nice rebounder and put-back machine. Neither is seven-feet tall with the ability to run the pinch post, nail the open 16-footer consistently, pass well out of the post and attack the offensive glass as easily as Gasol. Plus his beard is mighty. Advantage: Gasol. 

Bench: We just got through telling you the Grizzlies have some matchup advantages on the Spurs on the bench. But the Grizzlies bring off Ish Smith and Hamed Haddadi. Advantage: Spurs. 

Coach: We'd comment more thoroughly on this, but we're afraid Popovich will make fun of us. Advantage: Popovich.

VII. Conclusion

When you have a matchup that becomes as complicated and confusing when you get in the details as this one, you have to take a step back and look at the simple picture. The Spurs have had one of their best seasons ever. They have championship players. They have Hall of Famers. They have a Hall of Fame coach. They are an elite offensive team that understands what they have to do defensively to win. They have experience, where the Grizzlies have almost none. The Spurs are the top seed in the West versus the 8th seed. 

It wouldn't surprise many to see Memphis take two games in this series. It also wouldn't surprise many to see a sweep by the Spurs. I'll aim for the middle. A five-game gentleman's sweep, which means Memphis wins a playoff game, and that's a step forward for the franchise. Prediction: Spurs in 5. 
Posted on: April 15, 2011 11:45 am
 

NBA Western Conference Playoffs LiveChat 2 p.m.

Join us for a livechat on the Western Conference playoffs from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m EST today. We'll talk about these types of things (and more):
  • Is Tony Allen going to injure himself/someone else in a dive out of bounds?
  • Can the Lakers sweep the Hornets in three games (you read that right)?
  • Who's going to cover Jose Juan Barea? Because they should watch where they step. 
  • Who has more bulletin board material, Denver or Oklahoma City? 
Chat starts at 2 p.m. EST!


Posted on: April 15, 2011 2:32 am
Edited on: April 15, 2011 2:37 am
 

Hornets-Lakers preview: Champs get their wish

A preview of the first round playoff series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the New Orleans Hornets. Posted by Ben Golliver.

kobe-cp3

I. Intro: No. 7 seed New Orleans Hornets (46-36) vs. No. 2 seed Los Angeles Lakers (57-25)

The difference between the two teams in this series is simple. The Los Angeles Lakers think they have it bad. The New Orleans Hornets actually do have it bad. 

The Lakers enter the postseason just 2-5 in their last seven games, they lost a backup point guard to chicken pox and nearly lost their starting center to yet another knee injury. Only a Kobe Bryant last-second three-pointer on Wednesday night saved the Lakers from slipping to the West’s No. 3 seed and a much tougher series with the Portland Trail Blazers. The Hornets, though, actually do have it bad. After beginning the season 11-1, the Hornets have played exactly .500 ball (35-35) since late-November. They’ve lost their best interior player, David West, to a season-ending knee injury and their franchise point guard, Chris Paul, has dealt with fluid in his surgically repaired knee, closing the season averaging just 7.3 points per game and shooting 31% from the field in the team’s last four games.

One team's problems are clearly much weightier.

II. What Happened: A look at the season series

It’s fair to say that the two-time defending champs dismantled the Hornets during their regular season match-ups, sweeping all four games. The Lakers averaged 101.8 points per game in the victories while holding the Hornets to just 91.0 points per game, making for a colossal 10.8 point average margin of victory. All four wins came since the end of December so they are fairly representative. 

Remarkably, the Lakers have shot poorly from deep – just 29.7% as a team – and yet still managed to shoot 51.0% overall from the field, a testament to how many easy buckets they've generated thanks to the interior advantage LA’s big men possess over the short-handed and undersized Hornets front line. Meanwhile, New Orleans has shot just 43.7% from the floor and really struggled from deep in three of the four meetings. Nothing came easy for the Hornets even though they did a decent job of taking care of the basketball. Add all of those numbers and it just screams "blatant talent disparity."

III. The Easy Stuff: The Laker bigs are overwhelming

First: credit where credit is due. New Orleans’ two best big healthy big men – Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry – have both fared pretty well against the Lakers this season. Okafor slapped up averages of 12.3 points and 10.3 rebounds while Landry added 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds. Combined, that’s pretty solid production for a team that’s lacking a go-to inside scorer now that West is done for the season. 

But LA’s three-headed monster of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom makes those numbers look puny by comparison. Together, the trio has averaged an eye-popping 51.8 points and 25.6 rebounds per game against the Hornets this year. Really, that's enough said. Gasol, in particular, has been a tough cover for the Hornets, as he’s put up 22.3 points and 12.8 rebounds per game by himself and figures to be the most difficult match-up for New Orleans given his length, versatility, mobility and skill. The only thing that could possibly stop Gasol in this series is if his teammates forget to pass him the ball.

IV. Secret of the Series: The Lakers need to show up

Los Angeles has every motivation to make quick work of the Hornets as a second round series against either the Dallas Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers is looming. It’s quite possible that LA could get a significant amount of rest given that Dallas/Portland will likely go six or seven games. Late-season motivation has been a problem recently, as coach Phil Jackson has called out his team’s professionalism and the Lakers nearly blew a 20+ point lead against the Kings on the final night of the season, despite playoff implications being on the line. 

Ultimately, the responsibility for showing up falls to Jackson and Kobe Bryant. Not only is that pair familiar with winning, they’re familiar with the boredom that comes from winning often. They also know where the light switch is located. Expect them to flip it sooner rather than later.

V. The Dinosaur Narrative: "Andrew Bynum’s knee injury could be a game-changer"

That particular line of thinking is old and familiar, due to Bynum’s lengthy injury history, but it’s also a bit too early. Against the Hornets, the Lakers could likely win without him, shifting to a smaller lineup that would still possess a talent advantage at virtually every position. At the top of the list of reasons that New Orleans is an ideal match-up for Los Angeles is that Jackson should be able to manage Bynum’s minutes with ease, ensuring he’s fully ready for potential later round match-ups with guys like Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby or Tim Duncan

Bynum is only said to have a bone bruise, anyway, but it's worth monitoring his progress and playing time in this New Orleans series.

VI. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?

PG: The Hornets have one match-up advantage, and it’s a massive one. Even though he’s not playing at the top of his game, Chris Paul is a nightmare cover for any team, especially one who will rely on Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown to play more minutes than usual in Steve Blake’s indefinite absence due to chicken pox. Advantage Hornets.

SG: Kobe Bryant is the best shooting guard in the game and Marco Belinelli is not. No further discussion necessary. Advantage Lakers.

SF: LA’s small forward of the past, Trevor Ariza, faces off against LA’s small forward of the present, Ron Artest. Ariza has better numbers on the season but Artest and all of his antics and physicality will surely make his life miserable. Call this one a push.

PF: As documented above, Pau Gasol against Carl Landry is likely to get ugly in a hurry. Big advantage Lakers.  

C: Okafor’s individual numbers against the Lakers are better than Bynum’s individual numbers against the Hornets, but Gasol will spend time at the five to clear minutes for Lamar Odom off the bench. Even a Herculean performance from Okafor won’t help the Hornets keep pace here. Advantage Lakers.

Bench: Odom, a sixth man of the year candidate, plus Brown, an athletic tempo-changer are better than New Orleans’ bench, which is essentially a scrap heap up front with Wilie Green and Jarrett Jack capable of making some noise in the backcourt. Advantage Lakers.

Coach: Phil Jackson has won 11 titles as a head coach and has won 225 playoff games. Monty Williams, as talented and respected a rookie head coach as you’ll find in the NBA, has won zero playoff games as a head coach. Williams deserves some love for Coach of the Year and could become a mainstay on the sidelines for decades, but the two men don’t belong in the same sentence right now. Advantage Lakers.

VII. Conclusion

Los Angeles got its dream match-up – finally – when it put away the Kings away in overtime on the last day of the regular season. The Hornets enter the series without their All-Star forward, David West, and with question marks surrounding Chris Paul, who recently had his knee drained of fluid and was held scoreless for the first time in his career. The Hornets don’t have much of a bench and certainly can’t compete with LA’s monstrous, versatile frontline trio of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Forget about it. Prediction: Lakers in 4.

VIII. CBSSports.com Video Preview

Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers will look to defend their title as they take on Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets in this round 1 playoff matchup. Ian Eagle and Ken Berger preview this upcoming matchup.

 

Posted on: April 14, 2011 1:56 pm
Edited on: April 14, 2011 5:01 pm
 

Pacers-Bulls Preview: Very good, very average

Posted by Royce Young



I. Intro

I don't know why Danny Granger decided to open his mouth. For some reason, he decided to blurt out that he thinks the Bulls would be easier to beat in a seven-game series than the Celtics. I have no idea either.

Because maybe the best shot this young Indiana team had coming in against Chicago was the surprise attack. Maybe the Pacers sneak up on the Bulls, steal Game 1 and then at least make things interesting. Now there's none of that. The Bulls heard you Danny, and they'll be ready.

I don't think this series will be all that glamorous. It's a 62-win team versus a 37-win one. That's a large, large difference. This is a great team versus an average one. It is the postseason and sometimes fun things happen, but this is kind of a what-you-see-is-what-you-get situation. It's hard to picture any scenario other than the inevitable unless Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng get kidnapped by Larry Bird.

II. What Happened: A look at the season series

The Bulls took the season series 3-1, by an average margin of 11.5 points per game. Indiana's three losses through were under the Jim O'Brien regime. The one win was behind interim Frank Vogel, which came in overtime. Other than that Indiana win, the season series was entirely lopsided. Chicago won by 19, 13 and 21 with those three games never even really being as close as even that number indicates.

Here's the bad news for Indiana: In those four games, they shot just 38 percent from the floor. The Pacers struggled scoring the ball from everywhere. The paint was sealed, the 3-point line was covered and Indiana's go-to guys never got clean looks. In their win, it was all about a surprising big night from Tyler Hansbrough. Not encouaging.

III. The Easy Stuff: Derrick Rose is good

Do I really need to sit here and tell you that Derrick Rose is good, that he's the best and most important player in this series and that if he plays even close to what he's capable of, the Bulls will cruise? Yeah, I probably do.

Derrick Rose is good, he's the best and most important player in this series and if he plays even close to what he's capable of, the Bulls will cruise.

It's easy to label Rose something like an "X-factor" but that's almost disrespectful. He is The Factor. He changes everything. Indiana has absolutely no one qualified to guard him and can't match him in crunch time. If these games stay close, the Bulls have a clear go-to scorer. Indiana has some decent players, but nothing the caliber of Rose.

IV. Secret of the Series: Can Indiana score?

Under Vogel, the Pacers have tried to become more of an up-tempo, high volume shooting team. They want to get up around 90 attempts a game. Under O'Brien, they tried to grind it out defensively and while they had some early success, couldn't sustain. Now, they want to run you.

That's of course interesting because they're going up against the premier defensive team in the NBA. The Bulls rank first in basically every defensive category, most important of which is defensive efficiency where they allow just 100.3 points per 100 possessions. (That's awesome. )

The Pacers are technically a better defensive team than offensive one (rank 12th in defensive efficiency, 23rd in offensive), but that's not the point. They want to try to score more than 100. Under Vogel, they consistently topped the century mark. In games they did that, the Pacers won a lot more. In wins, Indiana averaged 107.8 points per game. In losses, 93.2. That's a major difference.

Indiana is looking to outscore the Bulls, which of course isn't the best strategy, but it's probably the only one. I mean, what else are you going to do, beat the Bulls at their own game?

V. The Dinosaur Narrative : “Chicago can't win now because they haven't won before”

I keep hearing people ask this question. The Rose led Bulls haven't ever won a playoff series; how can they win the whole thing? I kind of think that's a dumb question. Mainly because, Chicago will get their series win pretty easily over Indiana. So that'll be out of the way and the Bulls can get their hand stamped and move on.

But this inexperience card is one people love to play. Obviously the Pacers are far more untested in terms of playoff basketball, but the issue is whether or not these young Bulls will feel the pressure of being top dog coming in. I don't think so. Rose has already proven he elevates his game in the postseason, Tom Thibodeau has a championship ring and there are a number of quality veterans on the Bulls roster.

It's stressful having expectations on you, no doubt. The Bulls haven't gone deep into the postseason yet. But they're going to get part of it out of the way to start with and the Pacers are just going to be a small bump in the road.

VI. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?

PG: Darren Collison has become a pretty solid point guard in the mold of Chris Paul. He creates, slashes and scores on his own. The Bulls have Derrick Rose. This isn't even close.

SG: The ugliest, least important matchup is definitely found in the 2-guard hold. Keith Bogans, a defensive specialist, versus Paul George, an athletic but extremely raw rookie. Not exactly marquee, this one.

SF: I think Danny Granger versus Luol Deng is one of the more underrated head-to-heads in the entire opening round. Obviously Indiana's success hinges largely on Granger and Deng is a terrific defender. Plus, Deng can score the ball. In the previous four meetings, Deng has gotten the best of Granger so I see no reason why not to go with him here.

PF: Tyler Hansbrough has been pretty good the last two months. He's high energy, high effort and has a decent little mid-range game. Clearly Carlos Boozer is better, but I think this matchup is a bit closer than it appears.

C: If the good Roy Hibbert shows up, he's a tough matchup for Joakim Noah. The good Hibbert can score, rebound, block shots and control a game from the post. But if it's the bad Hibbert, Noah will eat him alive. That's what Noah tends to do with people. He's a terrific post defender. But Hibbert has a lot of size on him and Indiana needs one edge in these matchups, so I'll give it to Hibbert.

Bench: Neither is overwhelmingly good, but I like Chicago's because of players like Kurt Thomas, Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson, Ronnie Brewer and Omer Asik. All make nightly impacts for Chicago. Indiana has some guys that can Heat up off the pine like Brandon Rush, Mike Dunleavy and James Posey, plus Josh McRoberts who has been a surprise, but the Bulls have depth in their depth.

Coach: Both are rookies, but one is more of a rookie than the other. Thibodeau will likely be this season's Coach of the Year and has transformed the Bulls into one of the elite defensive teams in the league. Vogel has done an admirable job with the Pacers, but not even his organization sees him as head coaching material moving forward. A clear edge for Chicago.

VII. Conclusion

The Pacers are a pretty good "We're just happy to be here!" team. With only 37 wins, they shouldn't even be in the final 16, but here they are. They know they're up against a favorite and know deep down the goal would be to win two games. This postseason would be an overwhelming success if they were able to pull that off.

But I have a hard time seeing it. Almost every matchup favors the Bulls as well as style of play. Indiana will play them hard and probably play them pretty close, but this has sweep written all over it. The Pacers won't do any sneaking up because of Granger's bulletin board material, so their best shot at stealing a game is gone. However, I'd like to think the Pacers will be excited enough to pull one off at home, just to treat the Indy fans. Prediction: Bulls in five.

VIII. CBSSports.com Video Preview

The Chicago Bulls will take on the Indiana Pacers in this Central Division playoff matchup. Will Derrick Rose help lead the Bulls to a championship? Ian Eagle and Ken Berger preview this playoff matchup. 

Posted on: April 14, 2011 9:44 am
Edited on: April 15, 2011 2:13 pm
 

Knicks-Celtics preview: tomorrow meets today

A preview of the first round playoff series between the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics. Posted by Ben Golliver.

knicks-celtics

I. Intro: No. 6 seed New York Knicks (42-40) vs. No. 3 seed Boston Celtics (56-26)

This series is the undisputed darling of TV executives everywhere, featuring two storied franchises from major East Coast markets who will face each other when the favorite – Boston – appears to be at the peak of its vulnerability. There’s a past/present vs. future tension at play too, as the Celtics’ Big 3 looks to be approaching its final stand while the Knicks story is clearly still unfolding: Who will be the third star to team up with All-Star forwards Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony?

This one boils down to: "Digging deep for one last push" versus "We did it! we're in the playoffs!" That puts the pressure and expectations squarely on Boston's shoulders. 

II. What Happened: A look at the season series

The Celtics swept the season series, 4-0, averaging 107.8 points per game while allowing the Knicks just 101.3, making for a dominant 6.5 point average margin of victory. However, two of the games came before the trade deadline and one came on Wednesday night, in a meaningless game in which both team sat many key players.

This season, the Celtics have had their way on both ends of the court, averaging nearly 51% from the field in four meetings with the Knicks while out-rebounding New York, on average, 45-37. In general, the numbers from the season series aren't going to be comforting to Knicks fans, although Stoudemire did average 24 points and eight rebounds against the Celtics.

III. The Easy Stuff: Rajon Rondo is the X-Factor

What is going on with Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo? Not since the Where’s Waldo? books have so many people spent so much time wondering about one man whose name ends in a vowel. 

It’s always been easier to talk about Rondo as a talented enigma, a brilliant loner who dances to his own beat. Lately, his numbers are off, Boston’s scoring is way down since the trade deadline and steady veterans like Ray Allen are left wondering why their touches have evaporated.  That combination has left Celtics fans queasy and concerned. No one ever really understood him and suddenly that feels like a huge problem.

In three appearances against New York this season, Rondo has been big: averaging 11.0 points, dishing 16.7 assists and grabbing 6.0 boards per game, while shooting 40.5% from the field.  If he manages 80% of that output, the Celtics should cruise.

IV. Secret of the Series: Will elite defense trump elite offense in the playoffs?

Clearly, this series is a match-up of opposing strengths and styles. Boston enters the series with the No. 2 defense in the league from an efficiency perspective, barely trailing the league-leading Chicago Bulls. The Knicks bring the No. 5 offense in the league to the table, and boast the second most efficient offense in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the Miami Heat. The contrast in styles continues as Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni also has his team playing the fastest pace of any playoff team while the Celtics are the fourth slowest of the 16 teams to make the postseason.

One of the NBA’s long-held commandments – correct or not – is that defense almost always trumps offense in these situations. The problem for New York, a point that’s been pounded home relentlessly over the last few months, is that Knicks are extremely imbalanced because of their struggles on the defensive end of the court. The Knicks are the least efficient defensive team to make the playoffs and will struggle mightily to stop the Celtics, even though Boston has been a slightly below average offensive team on the season.

Sure, it’s possible that top-flight offense overcomes solid defense, but rarely does a team as indifferent to stops as New York make any noise in April or May.

V. The Dinosaur Narrative: “Trading Kendrick Perkins was a death sentence for Boston’s title hopes”

At least for one series, we should get a respite from all the hand-wringing over Boston president Danny Ainge’s decision to ship his long-time center to Oklahoma City for reserve forward Jeff Green. Against the Knicks, Perkins would be helpful as an off-ball defender and rebounder but the Celtics should be able to match-up and clean the boards just fine if they go to a smaller ball lineup given New York’s general indifference to rebounding (the Knicks have the lowest rebound rate of any playoff team).

As has been often pointed out, the post-trade problem for the Celtics has been their offense, anyway, and not their defense or rebounding. Who better to get back on track against than the Knicks, who allow 105.7 points per game (third most in the league) and openly admitted as recently as March that they aren’t all on the same page schematically since trading for Anthony?

The Perkins trade – and what Green does or doesn’t give you – will be a huge factor down the road in potential later-round match-ups against the Miami Heat and/or Chicago Bulls. Against the Knicks, though, it really should be an afterthought.

VI. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?

PG: Struggling or not, zombie Rondo does far more, on both ends, than an aging Chauncey Billups.

SG: The overachieving, do-the-little-things-rookie making his first postseason appearance versus the NBA’s all-time leading three-point shooter and a tested, tough veteran with more than 100 career playoff appearances? Ray Allen all day over Landry Fields.

SF: To see just how close Carmelo Anthony vs. Paul Pierce is, check their career playoff numbers. Anthony: 24.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists. Pierce: 21.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists. Anthony gets the nod, but barely.

PF: Stoudemire – brash, confident, offensively overwhelmingly -- vs. Garnett – brash, confident, defensively overwhelming – might be the best individual match-up in any first round playoff series. In these situations, it’s best to expect a push.  

C: Boston expects to get perpetually injured senior citizen Shaquille O’Neal back in time for the start of the first round and will pair him with Jermaine O’Neal and Nenad Krstic; the undersized Knicks turn to Jared Jeffries and Ronny Turiaf. It’s impossible to call anyone in this group on either side a winner.

Bench: Glen Davis, Glen Davis’ hijinks and Jeff Green should have the advantage over the make-do scraps on New York’s bench that survived the trade for Anthony that sent half the roster to Denver.

Coach: Players like to play for (read: score for) Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni while the Celtics have shown over the year a devotion to and respect for Doc Rivers rarely seen in the NBA. That, plus the ring, gives Doc the edge.

VII. Conclusion

Given how much the midseason trade for Anthony compromised New York’s depth, there’s a sense that the not yet fully formed Knicks are just happy to be in the postseason for the first time since 2003-2004. The Celtics, meanwhile, aren’t playing their best basketball but they do enter the postseason with a greater urgency, given the age and mentality of their core players. The Garnett/ Pierce/ Allen/ Rondo core has defeated far better all-around teams than this year’s Knicks, and a B- or better performance from Boston should be enough to see the Celtics through to the second round and a likely dream match-up with the Miami Heat. Prediction: Celtics in 5.

VIII. CBSSports.com Video Preview

Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics are prepared to square off against Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs. Who will come out on top? Ian Eagle and Ken Berger preview this matchup.

Posted on: April 14, 2011 9:20 am
Edited on: April 14, 2011 9:27 am
 

Eastern Playoffs LiveChat today at 2 p.m. EST

We'll be chatting Eastern Conference Playoffs this afternoon at 2 p.m. EST. We'll break down each matchup and take your questions and comments. You should swing by and argue for why your team will win its series. I'm sure no one will disagree with you. Especially if you live in the Northeast. 2 p.m. EST here on EOB. 


Posted on: April 13, 2011 11:48 pm
Edited on: April 14, 2011 2:28 am
 

2011 NBA Playoff Matchups Set Wednesday

Final playoff positioning following Wednesday night's games. 
Posted by Matt Moore




All playoff matchups are set following Wednesday night's games. We've got our 16 teams seeded.
Eastern Conference:

The East is locked. For more analysis on the East, check out our discussion from Tuesday

1 Chicago vs. 8 Indiana
2 Miami vs. 7 Philadelphia
3 Boston vs. 6 New York
4 Orlando vs. 5 Atlanta


Western Conference

1 San Antonio vs. 8 Memphis
2 Los Angeles Lakers vs. 7 New Orleans
3 Dallas vs. 6 Portland
4 Oklahoma City vs. 5 Denver

The Mavericks' win over the Hornets locked Oklahoma City into the 4 seed, they'll face Denver. A Lakers win over Sacramento gets them the 2. The Hornets loss doesn't really matter, since it all came down to Memphis. Memphis t anked against the Clippers to get to the 8 spot. Memphis to the 8. The Hornets wind up 7th. 

Meanwhile, the Spurs' tank squad lost to Phoenix . Chicago finishes with the best overall record and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, including the Finals should they advance that far. Again, something that could come back to bite a tanking team. 

Some quick thoughts, as our series previews start tomorrow: 

Grizzlies-Spurs: Memphis may have made a brilliant manuever or doomed themselves. Manu Ginobili was injured Wednesday night, and if he's out, the Grizzlies might push the Spurs a bit. But they also ended the season in pathetic fashion, even for a tanking team. If that carries over, this could be over quickly. 

Hornets-Lakers: This is going to be short, violent, and brutal. I'll let you figure out how. Worst matchup for the underdog. 

Blazers-Mavericks: Portland fans wanted this matchup. We'll see if it works out for them. There are some good things here for Portland. If Dallas doesn't hit another gear, they could get rolled in the first round. Again. 

Nuggets-Thunder: This does not look like a great matchup on the surface for Denver. They'll have to get together and play the series of their lives, but against an inexperienced Thunder team, there's some possibility here. 

 
 
 
 
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