4/21/2005

Hang on in there; The playoff preview (Round 1)

Note: I tend to count small forwards in the "littles" category.

The Eastern Conference
(1) Miami vs. (8) New Jersey
Miami is #2 in offense and #6 in defense. New Jersey is #28 in offense and #8 in defense.

- Open -
Here's a laugher... apparently just to some of us though. A few days back (I wish I had the pic, sigh) there was a poll on the NBA section of ESPN.com that asked, verbatim, "If Richard Jefferson makes it back for the playoffs, what can the Nets do?" with options of "Nothing", "Beat the Heat", "Beat the Pistons" and "Beat both". I think the votes broke down like 57%, 6%, 15%, 22%. Makes you wonder who's voting on these polls if they think the Nets, whose frail frontcourt I break down below, can take out two of the best front courts in the league.

- Bigs -
Seeing as how the Nets' best big man has a PER of 13.65 (that's Krstic) and Miami has three big men who play regularly with PERs larger than that. Shaq, league leader in field goal percentage at 60.1% at a PER of 27.59, Haslem (fifth in the same category at 53.6%) at 15.59 and Ex-Piston Laettner (he shoots 57.6%, but hasn't played enough to qualify for the league leaders) is at 17.06. Not only will the Nets be beaten to a pulp in PER, they'll be beaten to a pulp in FG% as well.

- Littles -
The Nets match up fairly well in the non-big men categories and Jefferson has said he'll be back for a playoff run. He's better than Eddie Jones (even though Rasual Butler's good D may get a lot of time on RJ) and Kidd's far better than Ex-Piston and league three point runner up Damon Jones (225 made at a clip of 43.2%), but Wade is better than Carter. The edge is to the Nets here, but it's slight. However, if Jefferson isn't 100%, it's down to even.

- Close -
While the Nets are just ahead in the backcourt (barring a weak Jefferson body), Miami's front court will squash their opposition this round, regardless of guard play.

Prediction: Heat in four.

(2) Detroit vs. (7) Philadelphia
Detroit is #15 in offense and #3 in defense, Philadelphia is #24 in offense and #10 in defense.

- Open -
Similar to the 1-8 matchup, I suspect the 76ers will be pounded into the ground. Philly matches up against the Pistons better than the Nets do to the Heat, but I still don't think it'll do much, since the still Pistons have the edge all over the court.

- Bigs -
Dalembert, Jackson and Webber make a decent trio, but they can't hold a candle to Wallace, Wallace and McDyess. Expect a lot of interior scoring from the Pistons.

- Littles -
Korver's going to be a liability whether he guards Tayshaun or Prince and Iguodala's either going to be posted up or run into the ground depending on which one he's on. So it's lose-lose for Philly here. On the flip side, Iverson will go off (lead the league at 30.7 PPG and is actually third all time in career PPG behind Jordan and Wilt now, just 0.07 ahead of Elgin Baylor) as usual, but I can't see anyone on Philly doing a lot of damage unless Korver (three point champ at 226 made on a clip of 40.5%)/Iguodala (great defender) go(es) wild for a game or two.

- Close -
Due to the volatility of the littles on Philly, I'm not suggesting the brooms come out here... but they nearly do.

Prediction: Pistons in five.

(3) Boston vs. (6) Indiana
Boston is #7 in offense and #13 in defense, Indiana is #18 in offense and #11 in defense.

- Open -
Welcome to the best evidence on why the three seed shouldn't get home court advantage in the NBA (or any other sport). Expect a lot of triples, as the teams have combined for 34.5 a game during the regular season.

- Bigs -
Both teams are deep here. Boston has Lafrentz, Walker, Jefferson and Blount. Indy has J-O, Foster, Davis and Harrison. While they match up evenly elsewhere and despite that Lafrentz is shooting like a fiend (55.6% from two, 36.3% from three), J-O definitely pushes the advantage to the Pacers.

- Littles -
Here's where the balance comes back to the Celtics. Pierce, Davis, Allen and Payton beat Tinsley, Miller, Jackson and Jones... by about as much as the Pacer big men beat the Celtic big men. So we're back to even.

- Close -
I suspect these games will be pretty random (as in, we'll probably see 105-100 games followed by 85-80 games) and thus, pretty entertaining.

Prediction: Pacers in seven.

(4) Washington vs. (5) Chicago
Washington is #11 in offense and #17 in defense, Chicago is #26 in offense and #2 in defense.

- Open -
This one will be a strange contrast in styles. Like the 3-6, it could be rather random in what the games' point totals are.

- Bigs -
Bulls are minus Curry, so they have a sizable loss, but they have the depth to overcome it. So the matchup is Chandler, Harrington and Davis versus the young (sans Ruffin) army of Haywood, Thomas, Brown, Jeffries and Ruffin... Washington's better. If Curry was around, it would be even.

- Littles -
With Deng out and Gordon as the sixth man, the Bulls will be starting Duhon, Hinrich and Nocioni... who have an average PER of 12.03 between them. On the flip side, you have the Wizards, starting Arenas, Hughes and Jamison... who have an average PER of 20.39. Even if you were to add Gordon and subtract the lowest PER (Duhon's 10.19), you get an average of 13.75. Chicago may play better D (the best at the two spot, as recently mention on Bulls Blog), but the advantage on offense is far too glaring.

- Close -
If the Bulls were full strength, I'd call it pretty even... but they're sans Deng and Curry. With them out, the Bulls are in trouble, even with the home court advantage.

Prediction: Wizards in six.

The Western Conference
(1) Phoenix vs. (8) Memphis
Phoenix is #1 in offense and #15 in defense, Memphis is #19 in offense and #5 in defense.

- Open -
I said a while back that if Memphis didn't face Phoenix or San Antonio, they had a good shot at an upset. Problem was, they stunk when Gasol got back and wound up falling down to 8th... so they have to play the Suns. Memphis has the depth to run with them, but as can be seen here, Memphis is brutal against teams that are rated "good" in the "points for" category.

- Bigs -
Amare, Marion and Hunter average a PER of 21.41. Gasol, Wright and Swift average a PER of 18.14. Against most teams, Memphis would have a nice advantage. However, not here. As good as Gasol is, Amare provides a similar function with even more efficiency. Thus, the plus is to Phoenix.

- Littles -
JJ, Q and JJ might not have the best PERs (average of 13.49), but unlike most other 2-3 groups, they have a job that they do very well (that's drain triples, where they combine to go 6.7 for 16.2 per game, 41.3%) so they're still quite affective. Plus, Phoenix has that guy named Steve Nash, who has a Pure Point Rating of 41.6 (for those unaware, the "best" is supposed to be a mark of 40). While the Grizz army of J-Will, Miller, Battier, Watson, Wells and Posey are great in a group, I just don't see them competing very well with Phoenix's gunners.

- Close -
I think Memphis might give Phoenix a little trouble, if the jumpers stop falling for a game or so, but I doubt they can take much from the Suns.

Prediction: Suns in five.

(2) San Antonio vs. (7) Denver
San Antonio is #6 in offense and #1 in defense, Denver is #12 in offense and #7 in defense.

- Open -
Duncan's back but might not be in good enough health to be his usual superb self... I'm really torn here. The Spurs have been a great team for years, but Denver's been on fire. Both are near the top on D, both are in the second tier on offense... hard to say.

- Bigs -
Najera might be out... currently questionable. TD, Nazr and Rasho, three talented centres, take on three talented power forwards in Camby, K-Mart and Nene. Denver's got the speed, San Antonio's got the talent. Slight advantage SA, if Duncan's not hurt. If he is, big advantage Denver.

- Littles -
Denver's three main littles, Carmelo, Miller and Boykins, average a PER of 17.12. Denver is nicely balanced team, props go out to Kiki for that one. However, the Spurs three main littles, Bowen, Manu and Parker average a PER of 17.14... and that's only dragged down due to non-steal and non-block defense not counting toward's Bowen's total. Even after that, they have a backup group of Brown, Barry and Udrih that average a PER of 14.66... which Denver counters with Johnson, Buckner and Russell, who average a PER of 13.55 but do play good D individually. Still close, but still an edge for the Spurs. The variable here is that Lenard is back after missing so much of the year. His addition balances out the scale a bit, but the Spurs still have the advantage in this spot.

- Close -
The Spurs have more depth, better perimeter shooting and the two (maybe three) best players on the court. But Denver's... really really hot. Plus they have a guy that's "fugazy" (remember last year's playoffs?) according to Tim Thomas. This one's going to be down to the wire... it all comes down to TD.

Prediction: Spurs in seven (changes to Nuggets in seven if Duncan is less than 90%)

(3) Seattle vs. (6) Sacramento
Seattle is #3 in offense and #25 in defense, Sacramento is #4 in offense and #23 in defense.

- Open -
This is kind of funny... the one team that looked easiest to upset is playing what I believe to be the weakest (or second weakest, if Memphis were to play worse again) playoff team in the West. Seattle's defense is absolutely horrible as they enter the second season (see a recent post for details). Of course, the same could be said about the team that used to be in Rochester. Thus, this ought to be a high scoring affair.

- Bigs -
Vlad-Rad is out for the year. Aside from him, we know that Seattle's main bigs (Evans and Fortson) are there to collect boards (rebound rates of 24.1 and 20.4 where the "best" mark is 20, respectively), so they won't provide much inside scoring (outside of Fortson's disgusting 2.05 PPS on 3.6 shots a game, anyway). Past them, Collison and James can score a bit but are two of the worst defenders on the squad... so their effect is somewhat negative. For the Kings, Brad Miller is obviously the focus for the bigs, with his 21.16 PER and ability to score anywhere from 20 feet and in. Outside of him, they get mediocre. Kenny Thomas, Ex-Piston Corliss and Brian Skinner average a PER of 14.8... which is good enough to combat Seattle's other bigs. Rebounding-wise, Seattle will dominate. Scoring-wise, Sacto will dominate. Overall? Seattle, but not by much.

- Littles -
Bibby's at 19.70 PER, Peja's at 17.71, Mobley's at 15.20 and Evans is at 12.35. Put them together and you get 16.24. Good, but not great. Allen's at 21.44, Lewis is at 19.69 Daniels is at 18.45 and Ridnour is at 14.78. Put them together and you get 18.59. Great! Advantage Seattle.

- Close -
Seattle wins both categories and normally this would be justification for the series. However, as said above, this could get wacky... and thus, any attempt at prognostication could be completely wrong.

Prediction: Sonics in six.

(4) Dallas vs. (5) Houston
Dallas is #5 in offense and #9 in defense, Houston is #16 in offense and #4 in defense.

- Open -
Ah, the battle for the second best squad in Texas. I'm sure the colours will be out in full force here... I just hope the colours used in Dallas don't match those ugly green uni's.

- Bigs -
Juwan Howard's out. At the five spot, Yao and Dikembe (20.39 PER between them) will crush Dampier and Bradley (13.11). At the four spot, Dirk and KVH (21.41) will crush Padgett and the Spoon (10.93). Basically, pick your demolition. Since I believe he's the MVP, my demolition of choice will be the one lead by Nowitzki.

- Littles -
There will be less domination here. Fun point guard matchup of Terry and Harris against Ex-Piston Sura and Ex-Piston James. Dallas wins the shooting guard matchup of Finley (he plays more time there than he does at SF) and Daniels against Wesley and Barry, partially on size, partially on the talent difference. Lastly, great defender Josh Howard (15.78 PER, like Bowen it would be higher if more defense counted) takes on T-Mac (23.45 PER) at the small forward spot. While this is a victory for Houston, it's not going to be a massive one. Thus, after two slight edges for Dallas and a decent sized edge for Houston, this part is even.

- Close -
Since the slight difference between Boston and Indy is due to a lack of Artest and the slight difference between San Antonio and Denver is due to a possibility of TD not being in good health, this matchup may be the closest one that isn't hinged on a star player being out for a random reason. This is probably too tight to call, so I'm going with the demolition I liked better, the home court advantage team.

Prediction: Mavericks in seven.

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