Beasts of The East

easternBy Jazmine August

The time has finally come. From Derrick Rose playing in his first playoff game since 2011 to Lebron James attempting to bring the Larry O’Brien trophy home to Ohio for the first time in NBA history; the 2015 NBA Playoffs kick off this Saturday at noon and this year’s post-season surely won’t disappoint. Before anyone can hoist the trophy they have to make it out the first round, so let’s get into Eastern Conference matchups and predictions.

(1)Atlanta Hawks vs. (8) Brooklyn Nets

Despite popular belief this won’t be an easy matchup for the Atlanta Hawks. We may see the emergence of the old Joe Johnson in front of his former home crown in the Phillips Arena. Despite the Hawks having the second best record in the league and finishing the season with a franchise record 60 wins, they have trended down since the All Star break. With the loss of Thabo Sepholosha (out for the season with a broken leg), there defensive strength has dropped considerably. On the contrary, Brooklyn has finished the season strong with Brook Lopez being named Eastern Conference Player of the week two weeks in a row and Deron Williams appearing to have turned back the hands of time to his Utah days. I believe this matchup will be more exciting than we anticipate but in the end the Hawks will pull it off and advance to the second round.

Prediction: Hawks in 6

(2)Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Boston Celtics

Just when you thought Lebron James made the wrong decision in returning back home, the Cavaliers acquire Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith and go 34-9 to finish the season. By securing the second seed in East, the Cavs will have home-court advantage over the young Boston Celtics. This Celtics team has had an amazing end to their season and after acquiring Isaiah Thomas from the Phoenix Suns has put together a successful playoff push. Unfortunately, for the Celtics they will have to face The King in the first round, who will finish this battle victorious and continue his quest for a third ring.

Prediction: Cavs in 5

(3)Chicago Bulls vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks

For the first time since the start of the season, the Chicago Bulls starting five will all be healthy and eligible to play after a season riddled with injury. With the return of Derrick Rose and swingman Jimmy Butler, the Bulls have made themselves an honorable mention in the race to the Finals but let’s not completely count out Jason Kidd’s Bucks. The Bucks have held the 6th spot pretty much all season and Kidd has done an amazing job with a young and inexperienced team; it is possible for this team to win two games in this series. However, Chicago is too big, too strong and too hungry; they will advance to the second round.

Prediction: Bulls in 6

(4) Toronto Raptors vs. (5) Washington Wizards

Easily the most enticing matchup in the Eastern Conference first round; the Toronto Raptors will face the Washington Wizards. Both teams have not been very impressive down the stretch, with Wizards posting a below .500 record since the All Star Break. However, the Wizards have significant advantage when it comes to size with Gortat, Nene and Gooden all having the ability to get offensive and defensive rebounds. The Raptors have the advantage when it comes to depth, with the potential 6th man of the year Lou Williams coming off the bench. These two teams are pretty evenly matched with great qualities and weakening flaws. The outcome of this series will really come down to the X-Factors, Kyle Lowry for the Raptors and Paul Pierce for the Wizards. This matchup is really a toss-up for me but I’m going to ride with the higher seeded Raptors to pull off the win.

Prediction: Toronto in 7

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Fighting For That 8th Spot

8th spotBy Stefan Anderson

The NBA Playoffs are less than ten games away and teams are still fighting for the remaining spots left for postseason, and it makes everything a little more interesting. Let’s take a look at the race for the eighth and final spot in.

In the Western Conference, Oklahoma City appears to have a grip on the final spot with a current three game lead over New Orleans. The Thunder should be able to hold on with the superior play of Russell Westbrook, who has no plans on slowing down anytime soon, especially with the loss of Kevin Durant for the remainder of the season.

But in the East, on the other hand has a real jigsaw, with a game and a half separating four teams; Brooklyn, Charlotte, Indiana and the current 8-seed Boston. With 8 games remaining these four teams will have no choice but to leave everything on the floor.

The road will not be easier for any of the teams as each one of these teams face 5 playoff teams in their remaining 8 games.

However, Charlotte has the best the opportunity to control their own destiny as they have an head to head with Indiana on April 3rd, and face higher seeds like Toronto and Atlanta who can look to rest their starters to gear up for the postseason.

Indiana, despite last night loss to Brooklyn still has a stretch where they have to face Boston, Charlotte, Miami followed by the Knicks and the Pistons. If the Pacers could find a way to take 3 or more wins could play a big part to conquer the 8th seed.

Brooklyn has the toughest schedule out of the four teams where they have the Knicks but then have a gauntlet of games Toronto, Atlanta twice, Portland, Washington, Milwaukee, Chicago and concluding the season versus Orlando.

Boston has the driver seat currently and has to find a way to win games against similar opponents as they see the same teams Cleveland, Toronto and Milwaukee for 6 of their final 8 and not to mention the head to head with Indiana.

It won’t be easy feat for easy for any of the teams as they fight their way to have the luxury of facing the overwhelming, steady attacking Atlanta Hawks, but that’s what the NBA is no nights off.

We’re Just Getting Started

By Stefan Anderson

After the NBA’s scandal, lifetime bans, Floyd Mayweather winning again (Is He Ever Going to Lose?), the NBA playoffs continued. Returning to a first round, that has been more competitive than any in the years past. This year’s opening round of the playoffs is a great introduction to what could be a legendary postseason, which could be discussed centuries from now.

Aside from the Miami Heat and the Washington Wizards, every team had a very competive series leading to a record 5 game 7’s. One of the most intriguing series that didn’t lead to a game 7 was the Rockets vs. Blazers series, which nearly went to a deciding but was ended after a cold blooded dagger by Damian Lillard. These playoffs have had fans on the edge of their seats and reaching near heart attack but a joy to watch.

Throughout these game 7’s two things remained supreme, Star Power and Experience.

• In the Eastern Conference:
The #1 seed Indiana Pacers where on the ropes and were almost knocked by young, hungry Atlanta Hawks team. Down 3-2 in their series Indiana went on the road to fight for championship aspirations. After a lineup change that helped the Pacers downsize they were able to compete with the undersized Hawks teams that continued to spread their defense out and knock down 3’s. Including two tremendous games by their star Paul George and their leader David West.

The Toronto Raptors already had defied the odds this season they went on to win the Atlantic Division and earn 3 seed this season. The task of knocking off the veteran Brooklyn Nets seemed like a tough task but they were close to making it look easy. Putting the Nets in an uncomfortable position after 3-2 defeat, they looked to close out the series in game 6. But Brooklyn responded quickly by returning the favor in a 97-83 blowout to send the series into a game 7. In a game 7 where Brooklyn looked like the team everyone predicted them to be, the young Raptors made a final run to save their playoff hopes and show what they made of. Down 1 with a few seconds left, the Raptors lacked a prime go-to scorer or big shot maker and left the game in Kyle Lowry’s hands where he seen his last second floater get returned by the Veteran Paul Pierce. Aint that The Truth.

• In The Western Conference
The Spurs have had so many tough battles between them and the Dallas Mavericks, that you knew this year’s matchup would give you the same. The Mavericks different from those teams that once featured Dirk, Nash, Finley, etc. now have a new cast but still possess the same great talent with Monta Ellis, Vince Carter, Devin Harris, and of Dirk . But the Spurs have never lost core of stars and show that chemistry does mean something in this league. After watching Vince Carter hit the time machine and hit game winning shots, Manu Ginobli turn back the clock and show vintage Manu, this series reminded me of the early 2000’s. After former Spur now Mavericks Dejuan Blair come out and make clutch plays against his former team in 6, the series would be decided in Game 7. The Spurs proved once again why they had the best record this season and trampled the Mavs 119-69, led by Tony Parker’s 32 point performance.

Oklahoma City has had a great amount of trouble dealing with Memphis and their grind out style play in the past few years, especially in the playoffs. This postseason was no different. After 4 straight overtime games between the two, Memphis put OKC in a tough position once again. Down 3-2 facing elimination, who could the Thunder rely on to help guide to the promise land, Kevin Durant. The MVP Candidate went off for 36 and 10 to help force a game 7. After losing their star Zach Randolph due to an altercation, Memphis lacked their star power to compete for a final game where Kevin Durant chipped in 33 points and Russell Westbrook put in a triple double himself.

The Warriors and Clippers series went as planned as both teams were poised for a heavyweight bout in the first round. After facing so much attention of the court and it affecting the play on the court, The Clippers looked to be down and out for this series. But after their big man duo of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan put their team on their back the Clips stayed alive to continue championship dreams. Not that Warriors, do not hold star power in this time, they just need some extra help from a big man which they lost in the unhealthy Andrew Bogut.

For this to be the first round of the playoffs, shows exactly why the NBA playoffs are what they are for a reason. The Win or Go Home attitude gives the players that extra enthusiasm need and gives up fans the great show that we love to see. I cannot wait to see what happens in the second round.

The Playoffs Are Upon Us: The Eastern Conference

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By Jazmine August

     On the Eve of the kickoff to the 2014 NBA Playoffs, the media outlets are buzzing with match-up predictions, potential upsets and possible title contenders. It is that special time of the year again and it sure feels like we are in for a special couple weeks. With the two-time defending champion Miami Heat on a quest for a three-peat, the aging but stacked San Antonio Spurs team seeking revenge after a devastating Game 6 loss and the runaway leader for the 2013-2014 NBA MVP award  Kevin Durant in search of his first title the excitement for this year’s tip-off is unparallel.

    So let’s take a brief look at our first round match-ups in. The number one seeded Indiana Pacers will face the eighth seeded Atlanta Hawks which has the potential to destroy some brackets. Since March 1, the Indiana Pacers have only won 12 of their last 25 games and in the month of April their All Star center Roy Hibbert has struggled; averaging 6 points 3 rebounds and 1 assist. It has been the total opposite with the Atlanta Hawks who turned it on late in the season to crush the playoffs hopes of the dismal New York Knicks. But I believe even with the Pacers limping into the playoffs mentally they will still come out the first round victorious but not without a good fight put up by the Hawks. Pacers in 6.

      The two/seven match-up between the Miami Heat and the Charlotte Bobcats will not end in any surprise. Although Al Jefferson has had an All Star caliber season, the suffocating defense of The Miami Heat paired with the strength and greatness of the reigning league MVP Lebron James will prove to be too much for the young Bobcats team and they will fall at the champion’s feet. Heat in 4.

The young and slightly underrated Toronto Raptors may just shock the veteran Brooklyn Nets in the first round. Experts may be under estimating the squad led by first time All Star Demar DeRozan; ability to get up and down the floor which can tire out the older Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The Raptors will pull off the upset of the East. Raptors in 7.

The mighty Bulls, led by the man with a heart of lion, Joakim Noah will face one of the best backcourts in the East with the Wizards John Wall and Bradley Beal. This match-up may be the most intriguing of the first round in the East. The Bulls at times struggle offensively and on conversely the Wizards excel in this area; this will prove to be a true war between offense and defense. Not to be cheesy and quote one of the best movies of all time, Love & Basketball; “offense sells tickets, defense wins games”. Nonetheless Bulls in 6.

It’s Marathon Not a Sprint

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By Stefan Anderson

As most runner that run long distance would tell, it’s all about pacing yourself. Ironically the Indiana Pacers have failed to do so. After being defeated by the Miami Heat in the 2012 playoffs in 6 games, they bounced back and stretched the series out one more game in Eastern Conference Finals, but failed to finish the Heat and watched the Heat win their second consecutive title. Following last year’s defeat in the playoffs, the Pacers believed that if they hosted the game 7 of series it would have been a different outcome, making it a priority to earn this year’s top seed in the East.

Starting from the offseason the plan was in full implantation for the upcoming season.

After acquiring Luis Scola, C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland, the Pacers stacked up their bench and went forth with executing their plan. The Pacers came out the gates hot this season, holding on the top seed and holding the best record in NBA for a good amount of time. Indiana was on course to complete the task, the emergence of Paul George blossoming into a superstar and force to compete with the league’s biggest star Lebron James.

But the trade deadline came about.

After reaching higher heights without their once franchise player Danny Granger, they decided to trade Granger for a younger, athletic swingman in Evan Turner, to give their team more weapons to put an end to Miami’s dreams of a three peat.  Also signing the inconsistent but valuable when healthy Andrew Bynum, they were poised to continue their reign and win the Eastern Conference as planned.

Then the plan backfired.

Since trading away Danny Granger, the Pacers have been 10-13 including losing 7 of their last 10 games.  The Pacers find themselves in a familiar but uncomfortable position chasing the Miami Heat for first place in the Eastern Conference.

Was Granger that much of a factor for Indiana? Maybe but I believe that Indiana’s has more than chemistry issues. Granger, has been good asset for Indiana since being drafted but has seen a decline in the past few years and has lost role due to injuries.

Therefore, I do not believe that he is the main reason for their recent loses and that it comes from continuity. The Pacers with their new additions and more depth on the bench, puts Coach Frank Vogel in a tough spot to adjust to his new players along bringing them into the rotation. Now after having a set amount minutes for each player, while keeping starters at the same minute total, a very complex situation to say the least.

The Pacers are not totally out of their place, because of their consistent defense and physical style of play that holds teams just over 90 points a game. They have fared great amongst the good teams in the NBA and the East as well, splitting with the Bulls and could win the season series with the Heat if they win on Friday. The Pacers are still in a great position, but have to play with a chip on their shoulder and should be very interesting to watch in the playoffs as the season comes to a close.