Knicks-Celtics and not much else in East
by Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY Sports
Compelling first-round playoff matchups abound in the NBA’s Western Conference. The Eastern Conference, not so much.
No offense to the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks, but their No. 1 vs. No. 8 matchup doesn’t seem like much to get excited about. Sorry Atlanta, but a Hawks series against anyone does not inspire.
“The East is not quite as sexy as the West,” ESPN analyst Jon Barry said not long after calling Wednesday’s Brooklyn Nets-Boston Celtics game.
The two interesting first-round matchups in the East are looking like the No. 2-seeded New York Knicks vs. the No. 7 Celtics and whoever plays the Chicago Bulls — either the Indiana Pacers in a 3-6 series or the Nets in a 4-5 series.
It just depends on whether the Bulls finish in fifth place or sixth. Before Thursday’s game against the smoking-hot Knicks, the Bulls held a narrow edge on the Hawks for the No. 5 seed.
Whoever the Bulls play, expect a competitive series. Just don’t count on aesthetically pleasing basketball, not with Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s punishing defensive team. The Bulls are 3-1 against Brooklyn and 1-3 against Indiana this season, and if they are relatively healthy (as in, no Derrick Rose but able to count on Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Marco Belinelli and Richard Hamilton), they are a dangerous opponent.
“If they’re healthy inside, it’s a bruising team,” Barry said. “It’s a team that beats you up. They play tremendous defense, but they have trouble scoring at times. They have lulls, but you know they’ll be there defensively.”
Even though the Bulls have had the Nets’ number this season, Barry said, “The more I see Brooklyn, the more I like them. Deron Williams is back to being the guy we know. Brook Lopez is underrated and one of the top three centers in the league.”
But it’s the New York-Boston series that provides the East’s premier matchups, pitting tradition-rich, star-laden teams that have passed each other, headed in opposite directions, in the standings.
For the first time since 2007-08, a team other than Boston — New York — won the Atlantic Division. It’s the first time since 2006-07 … [For more on Knicks-Celtics and not much else for East matchups, click here.]