One Big Storyline For Each Team – Eastern Conference Edition

After a couple of days without any basketball on TV (I watched hockey yesterday.  HOCKEY!!!) the sweet sound of sneakers on hardwood returns tomorrow as the playoffs begin.  

Here now is a quick look at one big storyline facing each team this postseason. Today we’ll start with the Eastern Conference.  We’ll look at the Western Conference tomorrow.

bulls_logo1: Chicago – Is this team for real?

Chicago is a victim of expectations.  No one expected them to be this good, this quickly.  And since we judge teams based on our own expectations, we still want proof that what we just saw was legit.  Can the Bulls defense continue to stifle its opponents?  Can Derrick Rose continue to cross fools over and knife his way to the hoop in more intense playoff conditions?  Will Luol Deng continue to provide an adequate scoring punch to get past the best of the best?

heat_logo2: Miami – Have they figured it out?

Non-Heat fans salivated over Miami’s early struggles… and then again as they hit another losing streak later in the season.  A 58 win season is pretty good… except when you were expected (there’s that word again) to challenge 70.  Sure, DWade and LeBron put up monster statistical seasons. And yes, Bosh is capable of having a big game or two.  But what about the rest of the guys?  Can they pick things up if a team happens to stifle the other 3?  And can Erik Spoelstra keep the team together if it loses an early home playoff game?


celtics_logo3: Boston – Can they turn it on for one more run?

Whether you think it’s the Perkins trade, age, or general malaise, there’s no doubt something went wrong with the Celtics to end the season.  And even if age wasn’t a factor in that, it’s a factor.  Will those old legs have enough steam to carry a team that overhauled a third of its roster with less than two months left in the season?  Can the Big 3 of Pierce, Allen and Garnett lead one more charge before the proverbial window slams shut on Danny Ainge’s fingers?

magic_alt_logo4: Orlando – Will the “Dwight and four shooters” approach ever work?

Dwight is part of a dying breed.  The back-to-the-basket, classic center who rebounds and blocks shots on D.  Almost every other center out there has some kind of mid-range game now and will be happy to step away from the paint.  Orlando’s approach for years now has been to surround him with shooters and, when his brute strength forces a double team, work the ball around and take the open shot as the defensive rotations break down.  Boston has created a formula that has worked more often than not: don’t double and stay home on the shooters.  Even if Dwight has 40, holding the shooters to 40 will give you a great chance at winning.  If other teams copy that formula with success, Orlando have to undergo a major overhaul.  And will that cost them Howard himself?

hawks_logo5: Atlanta – Was giving Joe Johnson all that money a good idea?

Nothing like playoff success to justify your last offseason’s moves.  Rick Sund made what seemed to be a mind-boggling decision at the time to give Joe Johnson a six year-$119 contract.  And I know a lot of you either laughed, or screamed “NOOOOO” when you read the question, especially given how all Johnson’s stats regressed this year.  But there’s no greater justifier than the playoffs.  And if Johnson can somehow lead the Hawks past Orlando and make a good run with the spotlight on them, then there will be no doubt people will say “this is where you earn that big contract.”

knicks_logo6: New York – Will this Melo/Stoudemire combo work together?

After missing out on the LeBron sweepstakes, New York went with plan B (or maybe C? D?) in grabbing Amar’e Stoudemire.  And even after a run that brought New York back to relevance, it wasn’t enough.  So they traded almost everyone for Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups.   But immediately after the trade, the style of play changed and STAT was quick to publicly call for a return to Mike D’Antoni’s system.  The Knicks quieted some of the doubters with a late season run against a very soft schedule.  How will the Knicks look against the Celtics?  Will a tough series, win or lose, justify the moves?  And what if the Celtics dominate?  How much second guessing will that cause?

76ers_logo7: Philadelphia – Will the young kids grow up?

The Sixers rely on so many young guys to get the job done.  How will Thaddeus Young, Jrue Holiday, Jodie Meeks, Louis Williams and Evan Turner (a combined 12 years experience entering this season) respond to facing the Miami Heat?  And regardless of how this series ends, how will they apply those lessons.  Doug Collins has done an amazing job with this group of kids but now the spotlight grows a lot brighter.  Will they wilt under the pressure.  And if they do, can they summon enough strength to learn from it, and become a better basketball team.

pacers_logo8: Indiana – Can Danny Granger really lead this team?

The Pacers gave Danny Granger an extension and he responded by scoring almost four points less per game and the worst shooting percentage of his career.  The Pacers have a lightning quick guard in Darren Collison and a rapidly improving center in Roy Hibbert.  With just those two pieces alone, Granger should have had enough space to work with, when you consider his ability, to shoot better than 42.5%.  His PER (17.82) barely registers at “solid second option” level and is roughly equal to Andre Miller’s and David Lee’s… and lower than such names as Tony Allen, Ramon Sessions, and Ryan Anderson.  But like Joe Johnson, the playoffs can be a proving ground.  And this may well be Granger’s last chance to be a first option.  He’ll have his hands full, especially against Chicago’s defense… but that will only make a good performance that much more impressive.