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Every so often, the writers of Magic Basketball tackle the world’s most important issues. In this case, we make a grand sweep of the Eastern Conference in the NBA and examine the early storylines being talked about by the mainstream media and blogosphere.
Are the Philadelphia 76ers for real? Have the Boston Celtics reached the end of the road? After their thrilling five-game series in the 2011 NBA Eastern Conference Finals last season, will the Chicago Bulls be pitted in a grudge match with the Miami Heat in this season’s Conference Finals?
And where do the Orlando Magic stand in all of this?
Nate Drexler: No one in the East can beat the Heat or the Bulls. For real. No one. They will finish 1-2 no matter what.
Matt Scribbins: Let’s hold off on naming you Nateradamus. You’re a great writer, but I’m not in love with this prediction. I’m telling you this right now — the Bulls and Heat will not face each other in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Drexler: Alright, alright. That’s a nice safe position you’re sitting in. It’s sort of like the “technically, anything could happen” position that my buddy takes no matter what the score and clock say in any game. I get it. So let me ask you a hard question. If the Heat and Bulls aren’t playing each other in the Eastern Conference Finals, then which one of those teams will choke in the early rounds? And who’s going to beat them?
Scribbins: The favorite to beat the Heat has a rotation six deep — two ankle braces, two compression sleeves, and two knee braces. Seriously, it looks like Dwyane Wade wears sweatpants on the floor. And somehow he just collected a new injury while wearing more pads than an NFL offensive lineman! For the Bulls, I think Rose’s turf toe could make it nearly impossible for the reigning MVP to play at an elite level through a grueling regular season and playoff schedule. After the injuries take their toll, the 76ers, Magic, or Celtics will deliver the final nail in the coffin to one of these teams.
Drexler: Please forgive me, Matt, because I have the utmost respect for your basketball knowledge, but have you lost your mind? The Sixers are a flash in the pan. They aren’t sustainable, and their biggest win this year so far is against the Indiana Pacers. I hate to be so down on the Magic’s chances, but I saw them fold against an ailing Derrick Rose. They let Luol Deng go off for 20 something and never had a chance. And with the deep rooted rivalry between the C’s and the Heat, I don’t think LBJ and company will let an aging Big Three knock them off their current pedestal of “best in the East.”
Just to recap: The Bulls are too deep (even without Rose at full strength), and the Heat are still just as strong (if not stronger) than the 2007, 2008, AND 2009 Cavs with LeBron at the helm.
Scribbins: The Celtics remind me of Toby Keith’s song “As Good As I Once Was.” I don’t think they can do anything in the playoffs other than getting fired up for one big series versus the Heat or Bulls. Boston’s reign as contenders is over, but the Big Three will have one last stand in the playoffs.
I was completely down on the Magic a few weeks ago, but it looks like they actually have a pulse now! Last time I checked, the Heat and Bulls aren’t exactly dominant inside, and we all know Dwight Howard has the skills to take Orlando on a deep playoff run. Plus, the Magic are playing exceptional offense, and it’s only a matter of time before the defense follows suit.
Someone needs to hit you with a #HOP for your take on the 76ers. They have the best defense in the league, and their offense is better than the Magic! Philly has nine players who play at least ten minutes every night. I’ll take my chances with a deep, young team in a shortened season.
The Bulls are considered deep because Derrick Rose can hide flaws on the rest of the roster. Take him out of the equation and a “deep” team turns into a team that would play their first playoff game on the road without the benefit of a great scorer.
I don’t want to turn this into a LeBron James bash session, but I don’t think anyone in the East is sleeping with their night light on if they face a Wade-less Miami team. Did you hear the Heat just lost three in a row on the West Coast with Wade and last year’s late-game issues were more apparent than ever?
Drexler: Look, I’m not going to say the Sixers don’t look great right now, because if I did I would sound like an idiot. I’m just more of an “I’ll believe it when I see it” guy, when it comes to substandard teams playing above their pay grade. Let’s see a week where they play some elite teams. Let’s see how that top rated defense matches up against someone other than Washington or Golden State. Is that fair?
Your faith in the Celtics rings familiar. I used to have all kinds of faith that they would pull out their clutch factor, or their explosive playoff factor, or their “we’re going to kill you in the postseason” factor. Whatever you want to call it, I don’t feel confident they have it anymore. I think I lost that confidence when the band broke up. When Perkins and now Glen Davis left the roster, well, to me that meant that they were done being a scarily good playoff team. So I actually close the book on them at this point.
Regarding the Magic as they relate to the Bulls — aren’t the Bulls one of those teams who let Dwight have whatever he wants as long as no one else gets anything? That seemed to be the case a few weeks ago. So sure, Dwight beats up on Chicago down low, but you can’t win a game (much less a series) that way. Also, IF D-Rose misses a large amount of games, do you think this Chicago team won’t be smart enough to scheme without him? Early examples will show they will stink without Rose, but those are anomalies, right?
Final note on the Bulls: they have been a fighting, scrappy, and wily playoff team for several years now. They haven’t peaked in the playoffs yet, though. They win games of attrition, which means they are primed to win a few tough series’ here before too long. I’d lose plenty of sleep thinking about their length/athleticism, even without Rose at full strength.
You really don’t think anyone is losing sleep over LeBron in the playoffs? I think if you asked any player in the league they would tell you it terrifies them. It’s easy for us talking heads to sit back and say he folds in the fourth, but we’re talking about the best player in the league here, and a guy who, in not too distant history, isolated at the top of the key for dozens of possessions down the stretch to sweep the first two playoff series (see: Cleveland Cavs). I know he’s had a hard time in Miami in the fourth, but you have to think a player of his caliber is going to be even more scary if Wade has to sit for a few months.
And lest I forget, Bosh is still capable of being a beast in Miami with both players on the bench. My final thought on all of that is that D-Wade is going to get healthy, and you can bet he’s ready to roll by playoff time. I hope I don’t need to remind you what Miami looks like when all cylinders are firing.
Scribbins: Bulls looked great in Memphis without Derrick Rose. Now I see why you love their roster. I’m being sarcastic of course. And as far as LeBron is concerned, I’ll buy into him when the Heat actually have a championship celebration (after the season, of course).
Anyway, I’ll give you this — the Bulls and Heat are the best teams on paper. But, how often does the favorite actually win these days? The Philadelphia Phillies, with arguably the best rotation in history, lost in the first round of the playoffs. The Green Bay Packers and their glitzy 15-1 record were blown out at home in their only playoff game. Instead, your beloved Cardinals defied all odds to win the World Series, and the New York Giants could be the first team in NFL history to make a Super Bowl after having a negative scoring differential in the regular season. That’s why the play the games.
You can take the favorites. I’ll take the field.
Drexler: To be fair here, I don’t always take the favorite. Sometimes I just take my favorite. I have way too hard a time believing that LeBron isn’t going to explode for multiple championships soon. Call me a fan. Call me subjective. Sometimes that’s just how I roll. (In your defense, I closed the book on my Cardinals in like August and never reopened it until the moment they won the Fall Classic.)
So maybe you’re right. It certainly seems that way after watching the Bulls crumble against Memphis.
I hold strong, though. I have faith in greatness. Why? Because in 1996, the Bulls were the best team on paper, and the best team at the end of June. I’m not saying the Heat are the ’96 Bulls, because they are not. But when they are clicking, it seems like the only team that could stop them is Jordan, Pippen and company.
I’m not a betting man, but I’ll put my reputation on the line for Miami playing Chicago in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Matt Scribbins is a contributing writer for Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.