Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Who's a better first round opponent for the Celtics? Sixers or Knicks?

I've been thinking that the Celtics should purposefully get the 3 seed, so that they could match up with Philly instead of New York... And after last night, I'm sticking with that thought.

Chris Forsberg broke it down yesterday and made a really good argument about why the Celtics should fight for the 2 spot. He argues that the team with home court advantage in the conference semi-finals is statistically more likely to advance to the conference finals. The team with home court advantage wins the series .787 % of the time. The numbers for all of the other series are lower: the first round is .769 % advantage to home court, conference finals is .685 %, and the finals is .788 percent %. He also points out that even though the Celtics made it to the finals from a 4 seed last year, it wouldn't be as doable this year, since the competition atop the Eastern Conference has become significantly more staunch. These are all valid points, but it's just not enough for me to change my mind.

If the debate is about who would be a more attractive first round match up for the Celtics between the Sixers and the Knicks, I pick the Sixers every time. Yes, the Sixers are a younger and more athletic team than the Knicks, and those types of teams have given the Celtics trouble in the past, but I think that over the course of a 7 game series, the Sixers are more mentally vulnerable than the Knicks. They simply don't have the offensive weapons and veteran experience that the Knicks do.

The Knicks possess one of the most formidable scoring duos in basketball, in Amare and Carmelo. I'd like to remind everyone that Amare averaged 37 points in the 2005 Western Conference Finals against the Spurs. Yes, that was a couple of years ago now, but I think he's still physically capable of posting similar numbers. That wouldn't be any fun. The Knicks also have an experienced, veteran point guard in Chauncey Billups. He's an NBA Finals MVP and he won't rattle under pressure, and we all know how valuable that kind of experience is. It's true that the Knicks don't exactly play defense, but at the end of the day, if you can score more points than the other team, you win the game. I think that the Knicks have enough offensive firepower to potentially outscore a Celtics team that has at times struggled to put points on the board. A drought in scoring would be an easier storm to weather against the Sixers than the Knicks. It's much harder to shut down Amare, Carmelo, Billups and a host of other trigger happy perimeter shooting players that can get it going in a hurry, than it is to stifle Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand and Jrue Holiday. Finally, one of the things that's so hard about playing the Celtics is that in the final minute, if someone needs to make a big shot, you never know who they're going to go to. The same could be said for the Knicks- they have three legitimate options.

If the Celtics are going to get to the Finals, it's seemingly inevitable that they will have to defeat Miami and Chicago. Another reason why I'd rather see the Celtics in the 3 is that it means Miami would match up against New York in the first round. Philly hasn't beat Miami this season. New York has. The Heat don't have a big man that can out muscle Amare, and I truly believe it would be possible for Amare to bruise his way to a victory. Someone always gets hurt against him, it's inevitable. I believe that Miami could be rattled by the physicality- and even if they don't lose the series, they will advance to the second round having exerted considerably more energy and effort than they would against the Sixers. The Celtics can match Amare's physicality- but it's not exactly a desirable idea in the first round. The Celtics want to preserve their health and energy, and at the end of the day, I think that the Knicks would take more out of them than the Sixers. Lastly, while the Sixers may be a more athletic team than the Celtics, and many view this as a reason why the Celtics could be vulnerable matched up against them, the same can not be said for the Heat. Lebron and Dwyane Wade are not only freakishly athletic, but both have more playoff experience than probably the whole Sixers team combined.

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