Welcome to a very special edition of 'McCready Malarkey', a RealGM exclusive. In this issue I'll be taking a look at each of the Eastern Conference playoff match-ups, and I'll also be debuting part one of a 99 part series!
Boston v/s Atlanta
The Celtics have nearly every advantage here, except for athleticism.
At the point position, the Rajon Rondo/Mike Bibby match-up should be interesting. Bibby is the superior player, but he's getting up there in years and staying in front of Rondo defensively is a challenge even to the most fleet-of-foot. Bibs made his reputation years ago in the playoffs with Sacramento, but he'll have to turn back the clock and play even BETTER than he did then for this team to have a chance against the Celtics.
Josh Smith; I'm sure he'll bring as much effort as he can, but I expect him to be overwhelmed by the pressure at certain points too. I expect some spectacular defensive plays but also for him to rush his offense and struggle, especially against Paul Pierce. Pierce has been a defensive stopper in the past and can be a defensive factor when motivated. There's no better motivator than playoff basketball.
One area where Atlanta might give the Celtics trouble is the shooting guard position. Joe Johnson is one of the few Hawks with playoff experience, and he'll be expected to lead this Hawks' club. Ray Allen is still Shuttlesworth the money, but he's giving up a few years and might have trouble dealing with the talented Johnson.
Washington's dominance of the Celtics this year proved that the team can be troubled by stellar athleticism, which the Hawks have in spades. However, I really doubt that Kevin Garnett will allow his team to play with anything except the utmost intensity. Rookie Al Horford couldn't have asked for a bigger challenge in his post-season debut.
Celtics in five
The Detroit Pistons vs The Philadelphia 76ers
Another example of youthful exuberance against veteran experience.
The sole veteran presence on the 76ers is Andre Miller. He and Chauncey Billups should be an interesting match-up. They're probably the two most physically dominant lead guards in the East. Both love to post-up smaller guards but will be unable to do so in this match-up. Billups is more of a scorer, and Miller is more of a playmaker. Miller will have to win this one for the 76ers to stay alive.
One position where the 76ers might have a clear advantage is the small forward position. Andre Igoudala turned down a handsome contract this offseason in an attempt to prove he is worth the full mid-level exception. This is his chance to do so. He's been turnover prone this season against Detroit's stellar defense and with the intensity that only comes with the playoffs, it wouldn't surprise me to see that trend continue. Defensively, I wouldn't be surprised if they stick him on Richard Hamilton as Tayshawn Prince isn't as much of a scoring threat.
If it wasn't for the emergence of Rodney Stuckey and the continued improvement of Jason Maxiell, I'd give the 76ers more of a shot. As is, their physical advantage is diminished by Detroit's vastly superior bench.
Detroit in 5
The Orlando Magic vs The Toronto Raptors
Two young teams each led by one of the two best young big men in the league collide in a match-up that could go either way.
Beginning when Chris Bosh went down with an injury, Rasho Nesterovic, of all people, has become maybe the second best player on this Raptors' team. He's showcased sublime talents with the Slovenian national team for years, and in the last few weeks those talents have finally been on display in the NBA. There have been occasions where he has looked good guarding Dwight Howard but don't be surprised if Superman treats him like a poor man's Lois Lane all series.
Regardless, this doesn't look like a good series for the Magic. Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard almost negate one another, so I'll look at the rest of the rest of the lineup. The Raptors tend to have success against teams with questionable point guard play, and there are few teams in this year's playoffs with a shakier point situation than Orlando. TJ Ford and Jose Calderon are definite upgrades over Jameer Nelson and Carlos Arroyo. While Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis can really shoot the basketball, the Raptors are among the best shooting teams in the league. Meanwhile, the Raptors tend to struggle against physical teams, and outside of Howard, I wouldn't call anyone on this team too physical.
I've bashed them a lot lately, but I like this matchup.
Raptors in 6
The Cleveland Cavaliers vs the Washington Wizards
This is the hardest match-up to call as this series could go either way. Cleveland is a team that wins on size and that LeBron James fellow, despite its flawed backcourt. Washington is a team that wins on athleticism and those Big Three despite a flawed frontcourt.
An amendment to that, though. Washington's Big Three this year has been more of a "Big One and a Half" most of the season (catchy, eh?). Injuries have hit the three of them hard. Caron Butler didn't play sixty games this season, and Gilbert Arenas couldn't even play fifteen.
The third wheel of that tricycle Antawn Jamison has typically been a durable player throughout and is the leader of this team despite what any Adidas ad might tell you. He played out of his mind last year against the Cavs in the playoffs, but he'll have to contend with being guarded by Ben Wallace this time around.
THE player this series is riding on is obviously LeBron James. It doesn't seem to matter how seemingly over-hyped he gets, he always manages to surpass it. Playing with only one other decent offensive option in Zydrunas Ilgauskas, every team in the league makes it their primary objective to stop James, and what does he do? Averages over thirty points per game while shooting nearly fifty percent from the field. Caron Butler's health becomes even more crucial for the Wizards as his defensive excellence is the only thing that might slow down James. No one else on their roster can come close to stopping him.
This is the third year in a row that these two teams are meeting up in the playoffs, and they're starting to develop an interesting rivalry.
Cavs in 7
And as a bonus... part ONE of a 99 Part Series...
Reason Number 1... LeBron James doesn't have a Barbie
Any Questions, Comments, Reasons why LeBron is better than Gretzky, or A Friendly Hello? Email Matt McCready at firstname.lastname@example.org