Playoff Previews and Gameday Open Thread

The playoffs are here, and the Pistons have approximately the same chance of winning a playoff series as they did last year.  Here's a rundown and predictions for each of the series that kicks off today. 

1. Cavaliers (61-21) vs. 8. Bulls (41-41)

Game 1 Tips: 3:00 EST on ABC

On paper, this one's a sweep.  With a point differential of -1.6, the Bulls are actually worse than their record suggests, and the Cavaliers were resting LeBron for the last several games.  This is one of the most lopsided series in recent memory. 

There are a few factors, though, that should allow the Bulls to pick off a game.  First and foremost, the Cavs have two playoff series with which to get Shaq back into the swing of things.  The Bulls are a relatively solid road team, meaning they could be competitive in any of these games.  Lastly, they have been inconsistent, which isn't the way you win playoff series, but it is the way to avoid getting swept. 

Player to watch: Joakim Noah.  He has responded well to huge minutes.  If he can give them 40 mpg (and Derrick Rose can do likewise), the Bulls could give the Cavs more trouble than they have any right to. 

Prediction: Cavs in 5.  Intangibles aside, there is only one playoff team in this series.

3. Hawks (53-29) vs. 6. Bucks (46-36)

Game 1 Tips: 5:30 EST on ESPN

If Andrew Bogut weren't injured, this series would be a good candidate to go to seven, and I'd give the Bucks a real shot.  As it stands, the Bucks should have the edge on their home floor.  The Hawks are still a lousy road team, and the Bucks can throw out some lineups that should befuddle a team that still seems to be young an immature. 

Which, at what point do we simply conclude that the Hawks are immature? The Bucks have plenty of young players, including a rookie point guard, and nobody seriously thinks they are going to lose their cool. 

Player to watch: Brandon Jennings.  He never could recapture his early season magic, and he has a very reliable backup in Luke Ridnour.  If he begins to falter, Scott Skiles will pull the plug, and this series could be over in a hurry. 

Prediction: Hawks in 6.  Even with Bogut, the Bucks were the inferior team.  Hard to see them pulling this off.

4. Celtics (50-32) vs. 5. Heat (47-35)

Game 1 Tips: 8:00 EST on ESPN

The Celtics have home court advantage.  The Heat have Dwyane Wade.  The Celtics looked positively gassed in the latter half of the season, while the Heat finished winning 12 of their last 13. 

Of course, you can make the case that the Celtics have an on-switch, and that Coach Doc Rivers was taking the Spurs' approach with his old fogies.  But the Spurs always show signs of dominance toward the end of the season.  The Celtics have continued their practice of collapsing in the 4th quarter. 

The Celtics will devote all of their defensive resources to stopping Wade, but it's not like other teams haven't tried.  They'll make life difficult for him, but he'll compensate by getting to the line.  Speaking of which...

Player to watch: The officials.  LeBron-Wade is the match up Stern wants.  What are the odds the refs get a memo reminding them to crack down on hand checks and pay close attention to moving screens.

Prediction: Heat in 7.  I'm predicting a long series.  Neither of these teams has a large home/road differential, and it will be tough for either team to get momentum.  A long series benefits Miami, who are the better team right now, anyway.

4. Nuggets (53-29) vs. 5. Jazz (53-29)

Game 1 Tips: 10:30 EST on ESPN

This has the potential to be one of the tightest first round series ever, and the winner has an excellent shot at making it to the conference finals.  These are two quality teams, with multiple star players playing for high stakes.

Much has been said about Kenyon Martin and the drama surrounding this Nuggets team.  I'm not convinced that this will be enough to overcome home court advantage.  Both of these teams are mediocre on the road and outstanding at home.

Denver's recent struggles center around Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith, whose shots simply haven't been falling.  If that trend continues, the Nuggets will be in trouble.  But the Jazz aren't particularly good at guarding the three, and they foul a lot, which plays into Denver's game plan.

Player to Watch: J.R. Smith.  If he catches fire, this series won't be close.  If he doesn't, but shoots as though he has, Denver will have big problems. 

Prediction: Nuggets in 7.  I see home court holding for this one, and the Nuggets beat the Jazz three out of four times in the regular season.

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