The time is first semester of this school year. One of my housemates and I gather in our living room on a Monday night. He opens up his laptop, and I grab one of the three felt-tipped markers we have lining the base of our giant whiteboard. This whiteboard will go on to host a giant Final Four bracket and my sister’s original Spongebob Squarepants art, but at this particular moment, it has a much greater purpose.
As I write “Week 10″ and number the space underneath one through 32, my housemate starts throwing names at me. We agree the Green Bay Packers are number one and begin to argue about the second. We could go with the Baltimore Ravens, the New Orleans Saints or any number of other teams. We had just dropped the New England Patriots several spots the week after their loss to the New York Giants, but we had to decide if a win over the floundering New York Jets was worth bringing them back near the top.
Yes, we were trying to figure out the best teams in football – who was going to make it that didn’t deserve it and who wasn’t going to be at the big dance but deserved a ticket. The thing about football playoffs is that just north of one-third of the teams actually make it. Therefore, you’ve got to be a good team – or exceptionally lucky – to make the playoffs.
Then you have the NBA playoffs. In basketball, more than half the teams make it to the playoffs, and almost every year a team with a losing record somehow makes it in. The thing about basketball – much like football or any other sport – is that no matter how great the talent discrepancy may be, a playoff series will always come down to matchups. It’s for that reason that the NBA playoffs always manage to be entertaining regardless of the supposed difference in ability. I ran through some scenarios and, if you are a fan of game sevens, these are the match ups that you should be hoping for come the first round of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
No. 1 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 8 New York Knicks
With a thunderous victory over my own Boston Celtics two nights ago, there’s not a great chance that the Knicks slip as low as eight unless they really blow their last few games. That’s a shame, because this is a Knicks team that would match up better with the Bulls than anyone in the league. The primary strengths of both of these teams is their benches. Both teams flourish when the bench comes on the floor, whether it’s Omer Asik and Taj Gibson for the Bulls, or Steve Novak, Jared Jeffries and J.R. Smith for the Knicks. Carmelo Anthony can go basket-for-basket with Derrick Rose, and these benches could play each other to a draw, leading to some truly interesting basketball.
No. 2 Miami Heat vs No. 7 Boston Celtics
Again, a very unlikely matchup, as the Celtics would have to really fall apart and the Philadelphia 76ers would have to catch fire. In fact, this might be impossible by the time this is published. But I honestly believe that no team in the NBA stacks up as well as the Celtics do against the Heat. Emerging elite perimeter defender Avery Bradley has proven that he can keep Dwyane Wade in check. Rajon Rondo has proven that he can be a triple-double threat against the Heat. Kevin Garnett has proven that he can outplay Chris Bosh when it matters. Even though LeBron James has had some monster games against the Celtics, they’ve still won every matchup since Garnett’s switch to center. In the likely event that this series doesn’t happen in the first round, keep an eye out for it in the second round.
No. 3 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 6 Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers have been a mess to close out the year, but let’s not forget this was the same team that some analysts had ranked as high as second in the league earlier this year. These Sixers are a strange team, with no truly elite scoring threat, but they play some of the best defense in the league, which always gives the team a puncher’s chance. The Pacers this year are considered the best team that doesn’t have a realistic chance to win the NBA title. Though the emergence of Paul George and scoring ability of Danny Granger have been a boon to this team, they would struggle against a similarly deep and blue-collar Sixers team that is really their mirror image. This scrappy series would almost definitely go to seven.
No. 4 Atlanta Hawks vs. No. 5 Orlando Magic
Deja vu! The Hawks upset the Magic in a similar series last year. The difference this year is enormous, as the Magic will likely be without Dwight Howard. But the Magic are 3-1 (before Wednesday’s game against the Celtics) since Dwight hurt himself, and I like the scrappy “we’ll show them all!” attitude this team is sporting. They’ve been so torn apart by Howard’s free agency drama all year – they’re playing almost in spite of him at this point. The Hawks are a solid team by all means, but if they underestimate this short-handed Magic team that is always a threat to get hot from the three-point line, we may be in for quite the series. Not to mention the bad blood. Also, Zaza Pachulia will probably punch someone. That’ll be cool, too.
Check back in for the West preview next week.
Sam Sheehan ’12 thought Zaza Pachulia was out for the year after James Bond dropped him out of an airplane. Wait, that was Jaws. Talk sports with him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @SamSheehan.