Boston Celtics at New York Knicks
The Knicks have moved full-throttle into the 3-point age of the NBA. They hoist: First in the league in both attempts and makes from 3, despite their slow pace. They limit turnovers and control the defensive glass, which helps mitigate their suspect defense. Carmelo Anthony led the league in scoring, and helps balance things out by getting to the line eight times a game. The Knicks started great, had a slump mid-season (roughly coinciding with Raymond Felton missing time--tell that to Blazers fans), and ended the year winning 16 of their last 18.
The Celtics still rely on Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, especially with Rajon Rondo out for the season with injury. Clearly in decline, the Celtics only managed the 7th seed in the East despite having the 7th best defensive rating in the NBA. They are terrible on the glass, and were forced to rely on players that a good team should never play. (see Jordan Crawford). They are aging and not healthy, but Garnett is still capable of quarterbacking a fearsome defense. Just not for 40 minutes a night.
Knicks should be favored, but with the Celtics experience and defense, and the unpredictable nature of the 3 point shot that the Knicks are so reliant on, I actually think this will be one of the better first round series. Can easily see it going six or seven games.
Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets
Fun! With any luck we get some ABA style action in this matchup. The Nuggets were 2nd in pace this season, the Warriors 4th, which means a lot of possessions. The Nuggets are nearly unbeatable at home, and rely on wearing teams down. Their pace combined with their league leading offensive rebounding percentage means they took the 2nd most FGAs in the league and the 3rd most FTAs. The Warriors counter by being the best 3 point shooting team (by percentage), led by the record setting Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who together made 73% of the Warriors 3 pointers this year. They are also the best defensive rebounding team in the league, so who can win the glass matchup will really matter in this one.
Ultimately, Denver is a better, deeper team with homecourt advantage; I expect them to move on in 4 or 5 games, but there should be a lot excitement packed in.
Chicago Bulls at Brooklyn Nets
The antithesis of the previous series, this one features two of the slowest paced teams in the league. Brooklyn got off to a slow start this year in their new digs with a revamped (and insanely expensive) veteran roster, but were one of the better teams in the NBA after jettisoning Avery Johnson and handing the reins over to interim coach P.J. Carlesimo. Deron Williams finally started playing more like the Williams we remember in the 2nd half of the year, and Brooklyn relies on their strong rebounding (3rd in OREB%) and free throw differential (7th in the league in FTAs, first in fewest FTAs against).
The Bulls are known for their defense under Tom Thibodeau, and that remained true this year. They force teams to take a lot of bad shots. Without Derrick Rose, however, they have their own problems on offense (29th in efg%). As a result, their games tend to be low scoring affairs. Though Brooklyn has the home court advantage, in a long series where the Bulls can really hone in defensively, this could be a drawn out, exhausting experience for both teams.
Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers
The Grizzlies, along with the Bulls above, are one of the few successful teams that eschew the 3 pointer. They were last in the league in 3PA by a fairly wide margin. They are a tremendous defensive team, led by Tony Allen on the perimeter and Marc Gasol in the paint; they give opponents nothing. They limit looks, force turnovers, and handle the defensive glass, which is good because they themselves cannot shoot the ball (28th in efg%).
The Clippers are a terrific offensive club led by the incomparable Chris Paul. I'm hoping for regular Paul vs. Allen matchups when the Clips have the ball; that will be excellent stuff. Defensively, the Clippers make up for allowing a good number of easy ones by leading the league in turnovers forced (as well as steals, where Paul is the best in the business). Actually, with Paul and Mike Conley, this series features 2 of the best in the league at taking the ball away from opponents.
This is a repeat matchup from last season. I would have bet on the Grizzlies last year, but they let it get away, blowing a huge lead in game 1, then losing game 7 at home. This year, the Clippers have home court, but I still like the Grizzlies' toughness and defense
What are you looking forward to this playoff season?