The On Deck Circle

The unofficial home of Real Talk

NBA Playoff Preview

Posted by Blake Murphy on April 18, 2021

Instead of doing the playoff preview myself, I decided to contract it out to several members of the team. Even though the internet is scattered with predictions right now, ours are just as valuable…actually, probably way more value. I’m not sure if you knew this, but I’m a billionaire from NBA gambling alone (actually, I did make a lot of money gambling on the league’s scoring/assists/rebounding leaders in the pre-season). Regardless, what follows are the predictions and series breakdowns from four of our best and brightest.

Just because, my predictions for the whole playoffs are:
Bos d. Atl in 4
Det d. Phi in 4
Orl d. Tor in 6
Cle d. Was in 6
LA d. Den in 5
NO d. Dal in 6
SA d. Phx in 7
Uta d. Hou in 7

Bos d. Cle in 5
Det d. Orl in 6
Uta d. LA in 7
NO d. SA in 6

Uta d. NO in 7 (Deron v. CP3 are you kidding)
Bos d. Det in 5

Finals: Bos d. Uta in 6 (Yes, I changed it back…10:21am on Saturday, so, we’re OK.
On with the breakdowns…

Eastern Conference
(1) Boston Celtics v. (8) Atlanta Hawks
Season Series: 3-0 Boston
Key Match-Up: Josh Smith v. Kevin Garnett
X-Factor: Mike Bibby
Synopsis: Congratulations to the Celtics for getting a first round bye. Heading into their first playoff “match up,” Boston has won 11 of its last 12 games – during a time where they were resting their starters and gave their bench valuable playing time in preparation for the playoffs.

This season, the Celtics won 66 games – that’s 29 more than the Hawks and 7 more than any other team in the league. Boston effortlessly swept the season series against Atlanta (and against 16 other teams). In these victories, Boston won each game by double digits and the Big Three dominated, combining for over sixty a night with each shooting better than 50 percent from the field.

Breaking down the point guard to centre positions, the Celtics clearly prevail. However, the Hawks have a slight edge the point guard position if Mike Bibby shows up. Although at times Bibby might have trouble keeping up with the younger and more athletic Rondo, Bibby has 51 games of playoff experience. Rondo has none. If Atlanta miraculously wins a game, it is because of Mike Bibby… Also, Joe Johnson holds his own against Pierce and Allen… and Josh Smith against Garnett… damn this is going to be ugly.

Essentially, the only thing the Hawks have going for them is that they have nothing to lose. As Paul Pierce put it, “The crazy thing about (the Hawks) is there is no pressure on them. They’re an eight seed; nobody is expecting them to do anything.” I certainly don’t. In the end, the Celtic’s are the NBA’s elite team and the Hawks are not worthy of playoff status.
Prediction: Celtics in 4
By Adam Conn

(2) Detroit Pistons v. (7) Philadelphia 76ers
Season Series: Tied 2-2
Key Match-Up: Andre Miller v. Chauncey Billups
X-Factor: Rodney Stuckey
Synopsis: I won’t lie, I’m not sure of the last time I watched a Pistons game; I have a hunch that Bison Dele and Korleone Young were teammates though. Regardless, I see very few ways that the Pistons lose this series, especially after last year’s Eastern Conference Finals letdown.

The 76ers are a nice young, athletic team with an average age of 25.6. That number is inflated by 35 year old Kevin Ollie’s 1.8 PPG. I know, I’m surprised he’s still in the league too. Did you know that in Kevin Ollie’s 11 years, he has played for 10 franchises and had 2 stints with the Sixers? Even Chauncey Billups, circa 2002, is impressed. Miller will lob some nice alley oops to Igoudala/Young/Dalambert - you’ll see the highlights on TV.

The Pistons are better on offense and defense, distribute the ball more and commit fewer turnovers. But the season series was tied! The Sixers are in it! No. In both losses to the Sixers, all 12 Pistons saw more than 4 minutes of time, including significant time for both Theo Ratliff and Juan Dixon.
Can Dan Aykroyd and Daniel Stern kidnap the entire Pistons starting 5? No.
Prediction: Pistons in 4
By Alex Jackson

Orlando Magic (3) vs. Toronto Raptors (6)
Season Series: 2-1 Orlando
Key Matchup: Dwight Howard vs. Chris Bosh, obviously
X-factor: Jose Calderon
Synopsis: This will be an interesting series as both teams have been sub-par down the stretch. The Raptors have really struggled recently but ended up with the most favorable opponent they could’ve imagined because Detroit and Boston are too good and no one wants to play LeBron in the playoffs. That being said, Chris Bosh and the Raptors have no answer to the defense, size, and rebounding ability of Dwight Howard. See 10 offensive boards on Feb. 20. The lack of a bruising big-man has been the Raptors Achilles’ heel forever and will hurt them again this season. Rasho Nesterovic has been great recently and is definitely a big part if the Raps want a chance to win, but a big, white Slovenian guy against one of the best athletes ever? C’mon. When Howard takes Bosh out of the game, the Raps do not have a viable second scorer that can consistently step up and lead them to victory in 4 of 7. Bosh did score 40 against the Magic in the Raps only win and he will have to put up similar numbers and get Howard into foul trouble. Rashard Lewis always kills the Raptors because he is one of the most versatile forwards in the NBA at 6’9, 230lbs., and the always questionable defense will be hurt again by his shooting and driving ability. I look for Jose Calderon to have a good series and be the X-factor, as he is coming in with a 66:1 assist to turnover ratio in April. He must step-up as the second scorer and protect the ball. I wish I could be the homer but the Raptors will make an early exit again this year. I’m still wishing though.
Prediction: Orlando in 5
By Jack Forsayeth

(4) Cleveland Cavaliers v. (5) Washington Wizards
Season Series: 2-2
Key Match-Up: LeBron James v. Deshaun Stevenson
X-Factor: Gilbert Arenas
Synopsis: This has managed to turn into a rivalry over the past few years. This is the third straight season that these squads are meeting up in the first round, and the Cavs have dominated so far, winning 4-2 and 4-0. That hasn’t stopped Washington from trash talking, though, and between Stevenson calling The King overrated (who thought that was a good idea?) and the team playing their asses off to face Cleveland instead of Orlando, one could argue that this series will be their tightest yet. If you’re one for statistical analysis, the teams are a fairly even match with Cleveland having an offensive and defensive efficiency of 103, while both figures for Washington sit at 106, and the teams have similar true shooting percentages. The key statistical difference is that the Cavs are the best rebounding team in the league while the Wiz are average. In the regular season, both teams blew each other out once and won narrowly once, so they appear evenly matched. Add in Gilbert Arenas and the new Cavs players and this seems wide open…on paper. The Wiz are a very likable team but that’s not enough against LeBron in the first round.
Prediction: Cleveland in 6
By Blake Murphy

Western Conference
(1) L.A. Lakers v. (8) Denver Nuggets
Season Series: 3-0 Los Angeles
Key Match-Up: Kobe Bryant vs. Allen Iverson
X-Factor: J.R. Smith
Synopsis: The Nuggets have one of the most potent offenses in the league with Melo and AI ranking third and fourth in NBA scoring this year. With this type of firepower, Denver must have a small chance at taking the series, right? Well, let’s see:

Heading into the playoffs, the Lakers have won 8 of their last 9 games. With Gasol, L.A. has won 85% of their games (22-4). Also, the Lakers have swept the season series against the Nuggets, winning by an average of 16 points (pre-Pau era!). This is not looking good for Denver.

The Lakers have one of the most efficient offenses in the league (ranked 4th in John Hollinger’s ESPN rankings), so if the Nuggets plan taking more than one game, they are going to have buckle down and play some hardnosed defense. Fact: This will not happen.

Without defense, the Nuggets will have to try and outscore the Lakers. Fortunately for Denver, the Lakers have had no answer for Iverson this season, averaging over 30 points per game in the season series. However, outside of the Melo-A.I. duo, they lack a consistent third option. J.R. Smith, their number three scorer, averages only 12 points and is one of the streakiest shooters in the league.
Two quick points:
1. Melo’s recent DUI charge doesn’t help the Nuggets slim chance
2. I haven’t even mentioned Kobe Bryant… good luck Denver.
Prediction: Lakers in 5
By Adam Conn

(2) New Orleans Hornets v. (7) Dallas Mavericks
Season Series: Tied 2-2
Key Match-Up: David West v. Dirk Nowitzki
X-Factor: Bonzi Wells
Synopsis: The Mavs roster, from top to bottom, has playoff experience (except for Brandon Bass), with an average of 29 playoff games per player. This will be Chris Paul’s first playoff experience. If his first 3 seasons are any indication, you shouldn’t expect much of a letdown. While CP3 is a newbie, Peja and Bonzi have multiple playoff appearances, and Mike James even has a championship ring. Don’t get me wrong, this should be a terrific series.

Despite the 2-against-7 matchup, only 5 games separated them in the standings. Both teams scored just under 100 PPG and dished out around 21 assists per contest. In terms of points allowed, again, almost identical; and although Dallas, as a team, pulls down 1 rebound more per contest, New Orleans’ has the edge among starting front courts, 24.9-23.1. New Orleans has the advantage in steals, while it’s Dallas’ in blocks. New Orleans has a slight advantage in FG% and 3P%, but Dallas’ opponents’ shooting, in both FG% and 3P%, is lower.

What does this all mean? All season long, people have been waiting for this Hornets team to fall off. I just don’t see it happening in the first round.
Prediction: Hornets in 7.
By Alex Jackson

San Antonio Spurs (3) vs. Phoenix Suns (6)
Season Series: 3-1 Phoenix
Key Matchup: Tim Duncan vs. Shaquille O’Neal
X-factor: Shaq
Synopsis: These teams could not be better matched. If you average the points allowed per game and points scored per game the score would be 100.3 to 100.2 for the Suns. These teams play very different styles of basketball, with Phoenix as the fast-and-fundawatch and San Antonio as the slow-and-fundamental. They both come in winning 7 of their last ten and on a two-game winning streak. The seeds in the West are, for the most part, irrelevant, so don’t base your predictions on that. Based on the season series and the fact that they are 2-0 with Shaq against the spurs I’m taking the Suns to win and save Steve Kerr. Shaq defines an X-factor because the Suns would have no chance without him and they need him to slow down the greatest power forward ever in Tim Duncan and keep him off the boards. No one wants to get over the hump more than the Suns and no one wants to prove themselves more than Shaq. Ginobli and Parker should have good series with the poor defense of the Suns but the Spurs, for once, have no answer in the paint for both Shaq and Amare. Oberto and Kurt Thomas cannot cut it against a bigger Shaq or more athletic Stoudemire. Nash and Co. are just too good with the Big Aristotle.
Prediction: Phoenix in 6
By Jack Forsayeth

(4) Utah Jazz v. (5) Houston Rockets
Season Series: 2-1 Utah
Key Match-Up: Kyle Korver v. Shane Battier
X-Factor: Carl Landry
Synopsis: Will T-Mac flame out in the first round of the playoffs again? Of course he will, but to no fault of his own. Yao Ming remains out and their point guards are atrocious individual defenders (enter Deron). The Jazz struggled outside of Utah, having gone 17-24 on the road to 37-4 at home. They’ll have to win one road game, because despite being the 4th seed, Houston has home court advantage with a better winning percentage. The Rockets are tough at home and are a top defensive team (2nd in defensive efficiency), but the Jazz are much deeper and are an offensive juggernaut (2nd in offensive efficiency). With respect to the key match-up, who is going to guard Korver? Putting T-Mac on him frees up Brewer and Williams to score at will, and Battier may be their best choice. The bad news for casual fans is that this has the potential to be a slower, grind-em-out series, but for real fans it will be an epic rematch of their first round match-up from last year…with the same result.
Prediction: Utah in 7
By Blake Murphy

13 Responses to “NBA Playoff Preview”

  1. Erik Says:

    Magic in 5? I gotta believe that raps can at least make a series of it.

  2. Blake Murphy Says:

    Erik, that’s legitimate if they play like they did for the first 2/3 of the season. If they play anything like they did since the All Star break, they don’t have a chance. Ford has to play within himself, Rasho has to do a job on Thunder, and the shooters have to get hot. And that’s just to win two or three games, let alone four. They absolutely have a shot because they’re a team that can turn it on at any time, but the smart money is on Orlando.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    The idea that Howard is just going to take Bosh out of the game is laughable. Bosh has had massive offensive nights against Howard and Orlando pretty much all seven games in the last two seasons. I also wouldn’t say that Orlando is struggling down the stretch. They’ve been pretty strong since the all-star break.

    The match up is a good one for the Raps, Bosh and Howard will get theirs, the Raps guards are competitive with Orlando’s, and the Magic don’t have the athletic outside star that always kills the Raps (I’m certainly not counting Rashard Lewis, the most overpaid guy in the league, that contract is gonna kill Orlando’s chances of making the next step) However, the Raps have played like crap basically for the last 1/3 of the season and it doesn’t look like their gonna find their mojo in time. I’d say Magic in 7

  4. Blake Murphy Says:

    I agree that the Magic, most of the time, look like a great match for the Jays (Jack disagrees) — Bosh and Howard will post the same offensive numbers, the Raps guards are far superior, and Orlando is a poor perimeter defending team. That said, it says a lot that even those who are arguing in favor of the Raps are choosing the Magic, just in a prolonged series. The 2007 calendar year Raps would take Orlando…the 2008 installment, it seems unlikely.

    Of course, if the Raps win one of the first two games I’ll flip opinions and claim they’ll win it all.

  5. Erik Says:

    Toronto Raptors +285 for the series. As the guys from Game On would say “sprinkle sprinkle for a little value.”

  6. khandor Says:

    My full slate of 1st round selections are now available. Drop by for a visit and provide your feedback.

  7. khandor Says:

    and, BTW … if you do, thanks, in advance. :-)

  8. This Dave Power Says:

    Anthony Parker, I’m calling him out, if Parker averages 3 3’s per game for this series and close to 15 pts, raps win.

  9. khandor Says:

    The NBA game doesn’t work like that … where if 1 player ‘averages’ 3 three’s and 15 pts per game that means his team is going to win the game.

    There are anywhere from 150-240 points scored in an NBA game and what those numbers you’ve mentioned represent are 10% or less of the pts which will probably be scored in each game of this series … and you think that WILL make THE difference in terms of who wins and losses of these games?

    If you said something like,

    if CB4 goes for 40+ in each of 4 different games THEN the Raptors WILL win the series, or

    if Forderon goes for 40+ pts AND 15+ assists with < 5 TO’s in each of 4 different games THEN the Raptors WILL win the series,

    that would make a lot more sense … but to say what you said about AP … is irrelevant.

    If you wanted to indicate just how important AP is to the Raptors’ chances for winning this series vs Orlando and how vital his timing 3pt shooting is going to be then perhaps you could have said something like this, instead …

    If AP takes & makes 2 important 3pt shots during the last 3 minutes of each game Toronto plays in this series AND goes for at least 15 pts/game overall THEN the Raptors are going to come out on top … as long as D12 doesn’t go beserk in the paint (on the boards & in points scored) AND Hedu & Rashard & the Bogeyman & Dools & Garrity & JJ, etc., don’t go off from behind the Arc … and SVG doesn’t coach the pants off his Toronto counterpart … etc., etc., etc., … THEN the Raptors are going to advance to the 2nd round of the playoffs.

    Orlando in 7.

  10. Blake Murphy Says:

    Khandor, dude…take it easy man. It’s not like he went into a detailed analysis about it…he basically said Parker’s his pick for the X-factor, shiiiit.

  11. khandor Says:

    Blake,

    No problem.

    X Factors?

    Look no further than Turk & Rashard.

    When they play well, in general, for Orlando - like they did in today’s game vs whoever Toronto has beside Bosh - they are going to beat the Raptors.

  12. Blake Murphy Says:

    Ya, that was ugly. To think I rushed home from Montreal to catch the 2nd half of that on a really bad stream…it looked good for maybe 10 minutes. 25 and 22? Are you kidding? A lot wrong with what I saw of that one, but hopefully they can make some adjustments and learn for Game 2.

    Jose—8 dimes, 0 TO…that’s 74:1 in April.

  13. khandor Says:

    The Magic are going to win this series … whether it’s in 7, 6, 5 or 4 games is irrelevant.

    While there ARE ways for the Raptors to actually win the series … that is not what is going to happen, in this instance.

    Did the Raptors take the Magic’s ‘best shot’ today? (as was just suggested on the ‘Raptors Post Game Show’ on RaptorsTV)

    Not by a long shot.

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