While it may be unwise to look past the first round of the playoffs, there is a clear demarcation in both conferences. The top four teams in the east and west have separated themselves from the pack and it would not surprise me to see them all advance past the first round. (Of course, I also picked three one-seeds in the NCAA tournament.) Today and tomorrow, I will concentrate on the future (the semifinals) before coming back to the near present (the first round) when the match ups are set.
We were fortunate on Sunday to have previews of the Eastern semifinals. The Heat beat the Celtics in Miami and the Bulls beat the Magic. Orlando’s Dwight Howard did not play because of a suspension because of too many technical fouls. These games may not have provided a good preview for the Eastern semifinals, but we can look back at the series between the teams to get a read (albeit one of a small sample) to see what will happen in a few weeks. Let’s take a look at each team:
1. Chicago Bulls
I guess an argument can be made for taking Kobe Bryant with the top pick in Fantasy Postseason drafts, but I would go with Derrick Rose. Some may say that the Lakers have the easier path to the finals, but Bryant isn’t the force he used to be. Rose is the end-all, be-all for the Bulls and has played well against the top teams in the East. For those who believe that Rose doesn’t have the playoff experience of players like Bryant, I happen to think that playoff experience is overrated. Rose did pretty well in the NCAA tournament as a freshman when he destroyed future NBA guards such as D.J. Augustin, Darren Collison, and Mario Chalmers. I have to admit that I was wrong about coach Tom Thibodeau. I thought he received too much credit after the Celtic defense improved when they acquired Kevin Garnett, who I used to refer to as a one-man zone. Thibodeau has helped the Bulls get to the next level quickly. The Bulls also have a nice sneaky pick in Luol Deng who is averaging 17.5 points and 6.0 rebounds. He might get drafted behind Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, but may outscore (fantasy-wise) both of his frontcourt mates.
4. Orlando Magic
The Magic shuffled their deck by gathering in two members of the run-and-gun Warriors from nearly a decade ago. Since the trades that brought in Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas, Orlando has gone 34-22. The team was 16-8 at the time of the trades, so Richardson and Arenas have not provided the boost that some people might have hoped. For fantasy fans, both guards have seen their production dwindle since coming to Florida. Arenas shouldn’t be drafted in standard Fantasy Postseason leagues since he is only averaging 8.0 points in 21.8 minutes off the Magic bench. Richardson is providing 14.1 points, but has seen all of his shooting percentages dip since leaving Steve Nash’s side. Howard has played well against the Bulls prior to his suspension. In three games against Chicago, Howard averaged 24.3 points on 67.5% shooting from the field with 12.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocks. The sleeper on the Magic may be Hedo Turkoglu, who was so good for the Magic in their 2009 run to the NBA Finals. Since returning to the Magic, Turkoglu is averaging 11.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, and a career-high 5.2 assists.
2. Miami Heat
While I have detested ESPN’s coverage of the Heat (it seems as the Worldwide Leader has foisted Miami into a section above the rest of the NBA), I have to admit that I have been rooting for the Miami three to do well. What was so wrong with what LeBron James and Chris Bosh did? While “The Decision” program may have been a bad decision, who wouldn’t want to move from Cleveland (and the NBA’s worst team – tied with Minnesota) to Miami? People seemed to question the fact that LeBron didn’t want “to be the man.” No, he just wanted to win and play with his friends. Before blowing out the Celtics on Sunday, the Heat had lost three straight games to the previous Big Three (plus Rondo). Dwyane Wade has not played well against Boston and in the four regular season meetings only averaged 12.8 points on 28.1% from the field. You may want to degrade Wade a bit on your draft chart. James, meanwhile, has provided 28.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 6.5 assists against the Celtics. I would select him third after Rose and Bryant. There really aren’t any sleeper options on the Heat. James, Wade, and Bosh score almost 70% of the team’s points. No one else averages more than 7.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, or 2.6 assists.
3. Boston Celtics
I have been skeptical of the Celtics this season. This is an old team. Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen are all at least 33 years old and Garnett looks quite different from the Minnesota version. The team also seems to be relying on 39-year-old Shaquille O’Neal to provide something more than nothing. All of those numbers greater than 30 add up to trouble, and O’Neal has only played five minutes since Feb. 1. Maybe Boston is just resting him in hopes that he’ll be able to provide a solid 20 minutes against the Heat, but I think those hopes are fleeting. It also goes without saying that this team could probably use Kendrick Perkins, even if they knew they wouldn’t be able to lock him up for the future. Jeff Green has provided 9.2 points off the Celtic bench and could make for a late round flyer in Fantasy Postseason drafts. Don’t undervalue Rajon Rondo because he is scoring just 10.6 points. His 11.2 assists give him decent value. Although Glen Davis has tailed off in April (8.2 points on 34.5% shooting, 3.7 rebounds), his March totals (13.1 points, 7.4 rebounds) are more indicative of his value and he could make a nice draft pick.