PLAYOFF SERIES MOST LIKELY TO GO 7 GAMES
Time to see if the league’s second-best defense in terms of defensive efficiency (Chicago) can corral the East’s top young backcourt (Washington). How well John Wall and Brad Beal – ages 23 and 20, respectively – handle the task of not only cracking the Joakim Noah-anchored Bulls’ defensive fortress is one thing, but what about the burden of playing in the franchise’s first playoff series 2008? That spring, the ill-fated trio of Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas was bounced in the first round by the Cleveland LeBrons. Quite sneakily, Washington boasted the NBA’s ninth-best defensive team this year, which means buckets for the Derrick Rose and Luol Deng-less Bulls will be hard to come by.
Points, points, points. Houston and Portland were No. 4 and No. 5 in offensive efficiency. The teams played four games in the regular season – with the Rockets winning three – and the victor scored 116, 111, 126 and 118 points. This series is about Houston’s James Harden and Portland’s Damian Lillard, two young guards with dynamic offensive games but who also are serious defensive lames. It’s about posts Robin Lopez and Dwight Howard, two superb offensive rebounders, trying to keep each other off the glass as their 3-happy teammates – the Blazers and Rockets were No. 1 and No. 3 in attempted 3-pointers – fire away from deep. And it’s about expectations, as hopes were raised in Rip City after the Blazers’ 22-4 start in the same way optimism soared in H-Town the second Howard signed on over the summer.
SERIES MOST LIKELY TO BE A SWEEP
East: Heat over Bobcats
Miami was 4-0 against Charlotte this season and is 15-0 against the Michael Jordan-run franchise since the inception of the Big 3 era in 2010. The last time the two teams played on March 3, LeBron James scored a career-best 61 points. Dwyane Wade and Greg Oden played in the Heat’s season-finale Wednesday, indicating that Miami should be at full strength for Sunday’s Game 1. Even if Al Jefferson averages 30 points and 15 rebounds, the Bobcats stand zero chance. I expect Charlotte to steal Game 3 or 4 at home – remember, this is a ‘most likely’ category – but otherwise the Heat should cruise.