ESPN.com's John Hollinger offers his round-by-round predictions for the upcoming NBA playoffs, breaking down each series as he sees it playing out. Hollinger sees the Celtics getting past the Heat, but doesn't give them much of a chance against the Cavaliers in the second round. From Hollinger:
(4) Boston vs. (5) Miami
Season series: 3-0 Boston.
Odds say: Celtics 54.2%; Heat 45.8%
We think of the Celtics as contenders and the Heat as pretenders, but they finished only three games apart in the standings. Boston started 23-5 and finished 27-27; Miami was 24-27 at one point but finished 23-8 in its final 31 games. So we have two sides going in opposite directions, and normally that and Dwyane Wade would be enough to get me to side with the Heat.
But this is a bad matchup for Miami. Boston beat the Heat all three times they played, and two of those meetings were in Miami; furthermore, the Celtics were missing Paul Pierce for one of those games and Kevin Garnett for another. The Celtics' defensive approach against the Heat has been interesting, and effective: Wade has run wild on them, but the Heat have yet to produce another 20-point scorer in a game against Boston.
Sum it all up, and I think the Celtics can survive this one ... barely. Much like a year ago in the Chicago-Boston series, it will go down to the wire and probably provide our best first-round series. The 41-0 rule says it would be foolish to pick against the Celtics here, so in the absence of compelling counterarguments, I'll take them by a whisker.
Pick: Celtics in seven
Coupled with a Cavaliers sweep of Chicago, here's how Hollinger projects a Cavaliers-Celtics matchup:
(1) Cleveland vs. (4) Boston
Season series: 2-2 split.
Odds say: Cavs 76.7%; Celtics 23.3%
Boston and Cleveland played to a draw in the regular season, but Cleveland won by 20 and 11, the Celtics by four and six. Additionally, the Celtics have been a mess since midseason and are going to be lucky just to get out of the first round, while the Cavs should be fresh and rested after quickly dispatching Chicago.
That said, I don't expect this to be an easy series for Cleveland. Boston is good at uglying the game up, and Rajon Rondo causes a lot of problems for Cleveland defensively since none of its guards can stay in front of him. Additionally, Cleveland still will be getting in sync with its returning players at the start of the series and could drop a game as a result.
Ultimately, Cleveland will win, because it is a much better team and the Celtics look exhausted, but the real value in this series for the Cavs will be working out the kinks before their final exam against Orlando.
Pick: Cavs in five
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