Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
While we're slightly behind in the previews thanks to the wonky playoff schedule, I think it is still appropriate to take a look at the semi-finals matchups for each conference. First up, since they've already got two games in the books, the Eastern Conference.
Nobody could have predicted that Derrick Rose would go down and take the top-seeded Chicago Bulls with him in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Otherwise, things played out how they were supposed to: Miami, Indiana and Boston all advanced.
While I think that The 76ers were obviously lucky to make it past the Chicago Bulls, that doesn't mean that there playoffs will end at the hands of the Celtics. The Bulls defense got the lion's share of the credit for the slugfest that was the Bulls-Sixers series, but much of the credit should also go to Philly's stellar D. This will again be a low-scoring affair as Philadelphia (the NBA's third-best defense) takes on Boston (NBA's second-best defense).
Key Player for Philadelphia
Andre Iguodala. There is going to be a lot, perhaps too much, on Iguodala's shoulders in this series. He needs to play stellar defense against Paul Pierce (and sometimes Kevin Garnett) while also handling the ball when the Sixers offense becomes stagnant. And Boston will make Philly's offense stagnant. Iguodala needs to make smart decisions on when to shoot and when to look for open teammates, and he probably needs to get hot from the perimeter because the driving lanes will be closed off.
Key Player for Boston
Kevin Garnett. While Rajon Rondo got a lot of much deserved kudos for his triple double in game 1 of this series, the Celtics are going to rely on Kevin Garnett. The C's go small for the majority of their game and it creates awesome mismatches on their offensive end. But it also requires Garnett to body up and rebound against the likes of Spencer Hawes and Elton Brand. And Philly has the ability to sub out and go small itself with Thaddeus Young at power forward, so it will never really be easy for Garnett.
My heart tells me that Philadelphia has a real chance at shocking everyone and taking this series. But knowing how well the Celtics have played in the second half I just can't bring myself to do it. Boston in 7.
The Pacers are actually the kind of team that can give the Heat trouble -- they don't get rattled, play smart, methodical basketball, shoots the three effectively, and you can't key on any one player to shut them down defensively. And now Chris Bosh might be gone for a while with an abdominal strain. Is an upset brewing? I never like to say never but ...
Key Player for Miami
LeBron James. The recently anointed three-time MVP can pretty much do whatever he wants on the court and no one will be able to stop him. The only thing he has to guard against is his own complacency regarding shot selection. If he falls in love with the jumper and floats along the perimeter then he leaves his team vulnerable. But if he is attacking the basket, creating for others and getting to the line there is no stopping the Heat.
Key Player for Indiana
Everyone. I debated which player to choose or whether to go for some sort of copout answer but really it will take everybody on the team performing to the best of their abilities. With Bosh out David West and Roy Hibbert have to dominate in the paint, getting great position for easy baskets and grabbing every available rebound. And Paul George and Danny Granger are going to have to make a lot of three pointers (the Heat were last in the league in 3-point defense) so as to open up the floor and keep Heat defenders honest. And Leandro Barbosa and George Hill are going to have to know when to push the tempo and when to ease back while hitting any open shots they are given.
I really like this Pacers team, and they still have a lot of room to grow. But they are just no match for the Miami Heat with or without Chris Bosh. Miami in 6.