The playoffs are finally here and no team in the NBA is in need of the change of venue more than the Boston Celtics. Unable to change momentum with their play on the court, the switch from the shifting monotony of regular season basketball in April to the intense, focused format of the playoffs may serve anecdote for what is ailing the boys in green. The Celtics certainly have a precedent to lean on, after falling into a similar malaise late last season before turning it around against Miami in the first round and making it to Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The Celtics fans are hoping for a similar response this season.
Boston can make a statement to the rest of the playoff teams with a strong showing in their first round matchup with the New York Knicks. Last season, facing similar skepticism, the Celtics knocked off the Heat in five games, proving to themselves and their doubters that the veteran bunch could still get it done when the bright lights came on. The pure talent on the Knicks far surpasses what the Heat had on their roster last season, but the Celtics expectations should be no different. After the Knicks traded five players from their rotation, six in all, and got two impact players and Shelden Williams in return, their depth disappeared. The Knicks now rely heavily on their two stars, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, both players that require a lot of touches and a lot of shots. The Knicks are quarterbacked by Chauncey Billups, former Celtics nemesis, and the only 'Bocker with any hardware. The former NBA Finals MVP has been a solid contributor in New York, but isn't the same player that used to give Rajon Rondo fits when he was with the Detroit Pistons. Billups has significant miles on his odometer and doesn't seem completely okay with the Knicks apathy for defense, a part of the game that was crucial to his success in both Denver and Detroit.
Matchups to Watch:
Nenad Krstic vs. Any of the Knicks terrible centers: That isn't a typo folks; I believe that Krstic can and will be a key contributor for Boston in its first round series against the Knicks. More so than Jermaine O'Neal and even Shaq at times, Krstic looks to score against New York's weak inside defense. Watch for Nenad to hurt New York on the offensive glass, scoring lay ups in transition, and hitting the elbow jumper when left open. His ultimate impact will depend on his playing time and the number of looks he gets. I believe Nenad will shoot a high percentage and have one double-double in the series.
Rajon Rondo vs. Chauncey Billups: This matchup used to favor Billups on a regular basis, but Rondo has come a long way from his wide-eyed sophomore campaign. Rondo has struggled recently, but with some rest heading into the series, the Celtics point guard should have fresh legs and something to prove. Look for Rondo to come out aggressive in Game 1 and keep the Knicks on their heels all series. As long as Rondo doesn't get too cute with his help defense and leave Billups to knock down open threes, this matchup should favor Boston big time.
Fast vs. Fast: I think conventional wisdom would tell you that the Celtics are going to want to slow the style of play down against the Knicks, but I'm not sure that is what Boston wants to do right now. Boston's half court offense has gone missing the last month and I believe Rondo thrives when the Celtics are running on offense. Look for Ray Allen to get going from long range after getting open three-point shots from Rondo on the break. The percentage the Celtics shoot makes it impossible for teams to hang around if they are giving Boston open shots. I think that the Celtics won't shy away from the up and down pace and will take advantage of the Knicks poor defense.
Nenad Krstic vs. Male-pattern baldness: Krstic has fought a losing battle to MPB for a few years now, whether he chooses to believe it or not. Look for Krstic to push the wispy, dying strands forward in an ill-fated attempt to cover up his eager scalp, and reality. This is one matchup the Celtics have no chance on winning.
The Celtics vs. MSG: When the Celtics head to New York to play in the Mecca, they need to be careful to squash Knicks runs early and not let the crowd get into the game. The Knicks and their fans believe that the Celtics are vulnerable and New York hasn't been in the playoffs in more than a decade. Carmelo Anthony in particular seems to feed off of a crowd and can get hot on the back of that momentum. If the Celtics want to keep this series short, they need to play great on the road.
PREDICTION: I believe the Boston Celtics will sweep the Knicks, who just don't have enough bodies to match the Celtics. The Celtics have the experience, and play better and cleaner in the playoffs.
NBA Previews and Predictions:
The shortest, least credible playoff previews and predictions you will read...
(1) Chicago Bulls vs. (8) Indiana Pacers
There won't be much drama to watch in this series, but the Pacers do have just the right amount of awkward white guys to tune in to see someone get posterized by Derrick Rose. If you do make time to watch, do make sure it isn't in HD. Between Joakim Noah's face and the weird lines on Carlos Boozer's head it will be enough to make you lose your appetite. Derrick Rose may not be able to spell Indiana, but he will be more than enough to beat them and beat them easily. Bulls in 5.
(2) Miami Heat vs. (7) Philadelphia 76ers
Philly just doesn't have the thoroughbreds to compete against the Heat in this series. The 76ers are a nice story and have played hard for Doug Collins, and they will do what every good Doug Collins team does; not win titles. Miami in 4.
(4) Orlando Magic vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks
In the battle to get humiliated by Derrick Rose, I see Orlando winning out. The Magic have the best player, the better coach, and the fancier uniforms. Plus, Joe Johnson goes to sleep on a mountain of cash every night and still can't believe why or how he got it. Orlando in 6.
(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Memphis Grizzlies
This matchup comes down to one thing, can crazy beat calm? Can a bunch of Four Loko-fueled, fist-fighting, Zach Randolph-ing upstarts knock off the classy, cultivated curators of the Old Guard? The Answer: no. Not at all. Spurs will win this one, but the Grizz will grab two games. I also predict that Tony Allen will bite on a Ginobli pump fake so hard that he lands two rows deep. Spurs in 6.
(2) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets
With Kobe Bryant appealing his fine for calling a ref a naughty word, the Lakers head into a playoff series with drama surrounding their best player once again. The last time Bryant was hopping flights back and forth from Colorado amidst a court case and now he is merely appealing a 100,000 fine. Still though, drama! Kobe should just hold a press conference with referee Bennie Adams and buy him an 8-million dollar ring. It worked for him last time. Lakers in 5.
(3) Dallas Mavericks vs. (6) Portland Trailblazers
Dallas will destroy Portland and convince no one that they have any title shot. Then, the Lakers will smoke them in Round 2 and Mark Cuban will ban any writer that doesn't use a quill and squid ink from his locker room for all time. Dallas in 5.
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Denver Nuggets
Kendrick Perkins, as you may have heard or read around Boston, is clearly one of the most dominant big men in the history of basketball. I expect Perk to average a triple-double for the series. OKC will beat the Nuggets in Game 7 on a play where Kendrick Perkins sets a screen for Kendrick Perkins, who drives to the hoop and tosses a last second alley-oop to Kendrick Perkins who slams it home, gives CPR to a choking baby, balances the budget, finishes a soduko, ends the NFL lockout, moves the Thunder back to Seattle, and sweeps up the arena. OKC in 7.