Playoff Preview: Part 4

Eastern Conference: No. 4 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

The No. 4-No. 5 series of the first round of the playoffs is theoretically supposed to be the closest series of them all. This year, I think that matchup will meet expectations in both conferences.

Of late, Boston has played mediocre basketball at best. It’s completely clear that Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett have out-aged the skills that won them a championship two years ago. Moreover, the addition of Rasheed Wallace has been a complete and utter failure for the Celtics. The bright spot? That’s Rajon Rondo, who is one year removed from nearly averaging a triple-double in the 2009 postseason, and he’s only getting better.

They’ll be playing the Miami Heat, a team that doesn’t seem at first glance able to match up with the star-studded Celtics. That said, Miami has a star of its own in Dwyane Wade, and everyone knows what he can do in the playoffs (see 2006 NBA Finals). They also have Jermaine O’Neal, Udonis Haslem, and youngster Michael Beasley up front, which isn’t too shabby.

Aside from the roster comparison, though, Miami has the intangibles on its side. Boston has no team unity anymore — something that Garnett fiercely encouraged in the past — and they don’t have the heart to win. Heck, even Doc Rivers doesn’t want to be there. Miami is a younger team with players who are hungry for a title. Wade’s trying to give his best showing to lure one of his talented friends to South Beach next season.

In the last two years, the Celtics have nearly gone down to underdogs in the Hawks (2008) and the Bulls (2009). And those Boston teams were GREAT. This is the year the underdog finally knocks off the Celtics early. Still,

Miami wins the series in seven games, 4-3.

Western Conference: No. 4 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz

The Utah Jazz have played well in the second half thanks to solid performances from point guard Deron Williams and power forward Carlos Boozer. The Denver Nuggets have struggled, owing to an injury to Kenyon Martin and the absence of coach George Karl for cancer treatment. They were in contention for the No. 2 seed up until the final days of the regular season.

But Utah has injuries of its own to deal with coming into the postseason. Boozer will be a game-time decision for Game 1, and Andrei Kirilenko will miss the entire series for health reasons.

Kirilenko’s absence — and he’s a great defender — opens up a hole at his position on the Nuggets filled by a guy named Carmelo Anthony. Accordingly, Melo should dominate this entire series. Hopefully Utah can come up with some makeshift plan to stop him.

The best matchup will be at the 1-guard, with Williams and Mr. Big Shot Chauncey Billups. They’ll be going at each other throughout the games, and it should be exciting to see.

In the end, I give Denver the edge with its immense, relentless toughness, thanks to Martin, Nene, J.R. Smith, and Chris Andersen off the bench. But it will be close, as Utah has the offensive fundamentals that Denver lacks.

Denver wins the series in seven games, 4-3.

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