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April 15, 2011
Prospectus Roundtable
Playoff Preview

Basketball Prospectus

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With the NBA's regular season in the books, Basketball Prospectus' NBA analysts--Bradford Doolittle, Kevin Pelton and Sebastian Pruiti--got together at our virtual headquarters for a roundtable to talk about everything that has transpired over the last six months and what still lies ahead. We've split the conversation into two parts. Yesterday, we looked back on the 82-game schedule. Today, we consider what's in store during the postseason.

Which first-round matchup most excites you?

BD: Oklahoma City-Denver. The teams seem fairly evenly matched and both are playing well heading into the postseason, better than at least one of the teams seeded ahead of them. The winner of this series will give the Spurs fits, though you have to like the Thunder's chances better.
DF: Oklahoma-City-Denver. As I wrote in my series preview yesterday, the way these teams surged to the finish, the level of play will resemble a conference finals more than the first round. I think Oklahoma City has the edge, but both teams are very good.
KP: Oklahoma City-Denver. I picked the Thunder as my favorite team to watch yesterday, and the Nuggets were very much in this discussion. Matching them up in the first round when both are playing as well as anyone in the Western Conference is unbelieveably awesome.
SP: Oklahoma City-Denver. These two teams were tied for second in terms of my favorite teams to watch all season. It is two of the better offenses in the league, but the defenses are solid too. Perkins vs. Nene also might be the best one-on-one matchup we have in any series.

Who do you really want to see play each other later in the playoffs?

BD: Chicago-Lakers. Twenty years later, history is repeated.
DF: Oklahoma City-Lakers. The Lakers are the team of the past, if not also the present, in the West. The Thunder is the team of the future, if not also the present, in the West. The collective strength of these two teams will peak either this year or next. In case it's this season, I don't want them to avoid each other.
KP: Chicago-Miami. Before Boston's slide, I figured the Celtics would be the toughest mental and physical challenge for the Super Heat. Now, Chicago has taken on that mantle.
SP: Los Angeles-San Antonio. These two teams need to play each other. The changes the Lakers made with their pick-and-roll defense in the middle of the season was a direct result of the Spurs and the success they had with the pick-and-roll all year. In my opinion these are the two best teams, and if they are both healthy, they will put on a show.

Which player has the most to prove in this year's playoffs?

BD: Carmelo Anthony. If he wants to change around some of our attitudes about him, having a huge role in a successful series against Boston would go a long way towards doing just that.
DF: LeBron James. Nobody else is even close. Without a title, fairly or unfairly, he'll be deemed a failure.
KP: Derrick Rose. A lot of hype has been built on his phenomenal regular season, but Rose needs to back it up on the big stage. If Chicago goes out early, I could see some Rose backlash. I don't expect him to come up short, let's be clear, but if he does his status as America's darling could go back to Kevin Durant.
SP: The Super Heat. They went from a lock to beating the Bulls' record of 72 wins to the second seed in the East. Everyone will forget about an average regular season if they are able to pull out a win.

Which coach has the most to prove in this year's playoffs?

BD: Rick Carlisle.. The Mavericks always seem to peak early. They also seem stuck on a plateau just behind the league's elite. A surprise run to the Finals would be a tremendous gift to the fans of an aging team. Right now, it's hard to even figure out who Carlisle is going to run out onto the floor from night to night.
DF: Stan Van Gundy. Orlando hasn't fully clicked with its new roster, and Dwight Howard's free agency is rapidly approaching. Neither of those problems is necessarily Van Gundy's fault, but someone will have to take the fall. If Van Gundy doesn't turn the Magic into an overachiever soon, it might be him.
KP: Erik Spoelstra. The Pat Riley talk has cooled ... for now.
SP: Erik Spoelstra. If the Heat don't make it into the finals this season, he will have to deal with a whole offseason of Pat Riley rumors.

The Celtics and Lakers hardly played their best basketball late in the season. Do you think that will matter or be forgotten, a la last season?

BD: Yes and no. The Celtics aren't as good since the Perkins trade. I don't care what they say. The identity of that team has been irretrievably altered and not for the better. The Lakers might have to win six or seven games to get through their early series, but I have little doubt that they'll do it. In the later rounds, they can still win, but the margin for error is diminished.
DF: It will matter for the Celtics, who stopped playing as well after the Kendrick Perkins-Jeff Green deal because they realized their title chances were significantly lowered. They don't look like they can overcome the bugaboo of knowing their management doesn't believe in this year's team. The Lakers, on the other hand, have been gearing for the postseason from the top down since they won last year's title. I'm not worried about them.
KP: I think it will mostly be forgotten in the Lakers' case, since their losing streak came so late and followed a 16-1 stretch, but with the Celtics I'm not sure it's a matter of turning on the switch. Their late-season issues (Rajon Rondo's shooting, Shaquille O'Neal's absence) weren't matters of effort and focus.
SP: Yes. I don't believe either team will make it to the Finals, but I think that it is because there are teams out there that are better than them, meaning their issues late in the season (poor offensive playcalling for LA/bad D from Boston) isn't going to be what hurts them. They just aren't good enough.

Which team with home-court advantage got the best draw in the first round?

BD: Chicago Bulls. The Pacers are overmatched and beyond that, Chicago avoids having to play both Boston and Miami.
DF: Chicago Bulls. Is that too obvious? Chicago had the NBA's best record, and Indiana had the worst record of playoff teams. Plus, Derrick Rose matches up extremely well with the Pacers.
KP: Los Angeles Lakers. The Hornets were arguably the best matchup for them of the bottom three teams in the West even before David West tore his ACL.
SP: Miami Heat. Miami could have gotten drawn with New York, a team that has given the Heat problems all season. Instead, Miami gets the Sixers, who the Heat has beaten up on pretty good this season, and will probably get the sweep with the advantages in terms of matchups.

Which team with home-court advantage got the toughest draw in the first round?

BD: Oklahoma City Thunder. Fifty-five wins doesn't get you what it once did. Not only do the Thunder have to play a 50-win team, they are playing one with a new roster that has been playing more like a 55-win team since the trade deadline.
DF: Oklahoma City Thunder. This is the Thunder's reward for growing up quickly and winning 55 games in a stacked Western Conference? The Nuggets have been playing extremely well lately and would have been a tough out for anybody.
KP: Dallas Mavericks. The Blazers are all wrong as a first-round matchup. Playing well since the deadline and a team seemingly built to take on Dallas.
SP: Dallas Mavericks. Dallas is a good team, but Portland has the length at every single position to make the Mavericks uncomfortable on the offensive end.

Who wins the East?

BD: Chicago Bulls. The Bulls-Heat Eastern Conference final will be epic, but Chicago will be able to expose the warts on Miami's roster.
DF: Miami Heat. I'm very torn between the Heat and the Bulls. Believe it or not, I'm a big fan of this Bulls team. But Miami is the only team with a top-five offense and a top-five defense. I think the Heat will sneak past the Bulls, but I wouldn't be surprised if that series goes the other way.
KP: Chicago Bulls. I don't think the Heat can beat two Tom Thibodeau defenses, and the Celtics are struggling too badly right now to be a team totally locked in.
SP: Chicago Bulls. I think Chicago is playing too good and they have so much confidence going into the playoffs.

Who wins the West?

BD: Los Angeles Lakers. You just can't pick against them.
DF: Los Angeles Lakers. Unless Andrew Bynum's injury is worse than it appears, I have no reason to pick anyone else. They slept through the regular season and still won 57 games. With some teams, I'd have more doubt about whether they can flip the switch. But because the Lakers did the same thing last year on the way to a title, that concern is mostly alleviated.
KP: Los Angeles Lakers. I think the conference is wide open compared to years past, but the Lakers are still unquestionably the favorites.
SP: San Antonio Spurs. They are experienced and have a fantastic offense. Their defense was down this season, but I have a feeling that Popovich and company understand they need to step it up, and they will.

Who takes the Finals?

BD: Chicago Bulls. The baton will be passed.
DF: Los Angeles Lakers. Again, as long as Bynum appears to be relatively healthy, I can't pick against them. Too talented, too deep, too experienced.
KP: Chicago Bulls. As John Hollinger pointed out yesterday, it's nearly impossible to win back-to-back series without home-court advantage. I don't think the Lakers, with their lack of depth, can pull it off.
SP: San Antonio Spurs. Despite Chicago having home-court advantage, the Bulls don't have enough experience and San Antonio will take the series in 6.

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