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April 17, 2011
Playoff Prospectus
Saturday's Games

by Bradford Doolittle

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at Chicago 104, Indiana 99 (Chicago leads series 1-0)

Pace: 86.7

Offensive Ratings: Chicago 120.0, Indiana 114.2

The consensus: If the Pacers can't beat the Bulls shooting they way they did on Saturday, what hope do they have to take a game in this series? For 44 1/2 minutes, Indiana seemed poised to pull off a stunner. At one point in the third quarter, I calculated the Pacers' Offensive Rating at 127.4. If Indiana had maintained that level of efficiency, it would have been the biggest hurt laid on the Bulls' vaunted defense all season. Every time the Bulls hinted at making a run, someone, usually Danny Granger, would hit a big shot, usually a three. The Pacers shot 10-of-18 from behind the arc in the game. And, still, they find themselves down 0-1.

The light suddenly clicked on for the Bulls after a Tyler Hansbrough flurry, involving a jumper, a steal, a dunk and an and-one free throw. That put Indiana up 98-88 with 3:38 to play. From that point on, Chicago outscored the Pacers 16-1. Hansbrough, who scored 22 points and is averaging over 20 in three games against the Bulls this season, feasted on the offensive end against foul-plagued Chicago forward Carlos Boozer. Hansbrough would come out for a ball screen, roll to the side, receive the pass, hit the jumper. Boozer wasn't reacting quick enough to bother the shot and even when he got close, Hansbrough proved to be long enough to get a clean look. That, and the three-pointers which were largely a result of Chicago's policy of going under against screens, were what fueled the Indiana attack. And those were the things that disappeared down the stretch.

Meanwhile, you all saw what happened on the other end. Derrick Rose happened. In an absolutely electric atmosphere, Rose took over the game in the last few minutes, scoring seven spectacular points and adding two assists, including the game-winner to Kyle Korver for a wide-open trey in the final minute. Rose wasn't alone--Luol Deng picked up his production with 10-point final quarter and provided an emotional spark by going after Hansbrough for a hard foul on Rose, then egging on the crowd while Darren Collison was missing the technical free throw. That's when the energy at the United Center spiraled out of control and the frenzy fueled the Bulls' comeback. Before the late-game drama, the Bulls' offense was propped up by the work on the offensive glass by Noah and Deng. Chicago grabbed 21 of 42 offensive rebound opportunities, a facet of the game the Pacers have to improve if they are to have any hope of stealing one from the Bulls.

What's next for Indiana? First, the Pacers have to figure out a way to keep Rose from getting into the lane at will and they have to avoid fouling him once he gets there. Rose scored 39 points Saturday on 23 shots, an efficient showing that came despite the fact that he went 0-of-9 from three-point range. How? He went 19-of-21 from the line, making more foul shots than Indiana attempted as a team. The Bulls will likely make adjustments on defense to clean up the open looks the Pacers were getting from three, but the Hansbrough-on-Boozer matchup may still be one Frank Vogel can exploit. Still, Indiana has to find more consistent points in the paint. Roy Hibbert was effective early for the Pacers, but his touches all but disappeared until the waning moments of the game.

at Miami 97, Philadelphia 89 (Miami leads series 1-0)

Pace: 85.8

Offensive Ratings: Miami 113.0, Philadelphia 103.7

The Heat nearly woke a peanut gallery that has been slumbering thanks to Miami's recent run of success. On a day when three home teams were pushed late into games and the other lost, the high-powered Heat's scare against Philadelphia had the most shock potential. In the end, it turned into just another highlight reel for the Super Heat, but are there some things for the Sixers on which to hang their proverbial hats?

The aforementioned scare happened during the last half of the fourth quarter. James Jones' three gave Miami its biggest lead of the game, 88-75 with 6:40 to go. Suddenly, the Heat went cold. Seven straight missed shots, mostly jumpers, and two turnovers. Meanwhile, Thaddeus Young worked his way in for two layups for the Sixers. Jrue Holiday nailed threes on back-to-back possessions. Young scored at the basket again. In a span of about four minutes, Philly outscored the Heat 12-0 and trailed 88-87 with 2:23 to play. Cue the peanut gallery.

As in the Pacers-Bulls game, the upstarts couldn't keep the scoreboard turning. The Sixers managed just two more points, another Young layup, and missed their last five shots. The Heat got a truckload of crunch time free throws and a miraculous Dwyane Wade jumper, a 14-footer he banked in while falling to the floor. Consider it a missed opportunity for the Sixers.

You'd figure the Sixers had a big advantage in bench play and they did, led by Young's 20 points and 11 rebounds. The Sixers' defense played pretty well against Miami's Big Three, in particular in holding LeBron James to 4-of-14 shooting. The Sixers held Miami to 4-of-17 shooting on threes, committed only nine turnovers and even held a 13-6 edge in transition points. As I said, a missed opportunity. The Sixers weren't a great rebounding team during the regular season, but Doug Collins' group did finish 12th in defensive rebounding. Miami, the league's third-best overall rebound squad, hammered the Sixers off the glass. That's can't continue. Also, Miami shot 39 free throws, 33 by Wade, James and Chris Bosh.

Atlanta 103, at Orlando 93 (Atlanta leads series 1-0)

Pace: 88.8

Offensive Ratings: Atlanta 116.0, Orlando 104.8

Is it a shocker, or isn't it? Sometimes a seemingly inferior team just matches up well with a certain type of quality opponent. The Hawks are now 4-1 against the Magic this season. That fact alone is reason enough for Orlando fans to worry, especially now that the Magic have lost the home court advantage. But not only is Orlando down a game, but they lost a contest in which Dwight Howard put up a ridiculous 46-point, 19-rebound line and scored 31 points in the first half alone. They lost a contest in which Jameer Nelson scored 20 his 27 points in the third quarter. It is indeed worrisome.

The Hawks broke the game open with a 38-point second quarter blitz. Their balanced attack that period featured 14-of-18 shooting and not a single turnover. For the game, Atlanta had five players with 13 points or more. Orlando had only Howard and Nelson reach double figures. The Hawks scored 21 points off 18 Orlando turnovers (eight by Howard) and committed just 10 miscues of their own. Jamal Crawford scored 23 points off the bench, filling the role that Gilbert Arenas (six points) is supposed to fill for the Magic.

Al Horford posted a modest line for Atlanta, scoring 16 points on 7-of-14 shooting and adding six rebounds. That doesn't begin to do justice to Horford's effect on the game, as he helped to more or less erase Magic power forwards Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson from existence. The combined numbers for that duo: 41 minutes, zero points, 0-of-6 shooting. Horford is a tough matchup, because he can defend the entire floor, but the Magic can and likely will get more than a cipher from its four position.

This series may well turn out to be much more difficult for Orlando than we originally thought. The Hawks may well be a difficult matchup for the Magic. But this is a pairing of a team with a 56-win point differential (Orlando) and one with a 39-win profile. Over a seven-game series, a 17-game game difference in quality is going to manifest. Sure, upsets happen, but expect Orlando to get things figured out. If not, people in Chicago will be happy, because a second-round matchup against Atlanta is a lot more appealing than one against Mr. Howard and Orlando.

at Dallas 89, Portland 81 (Dallas leads 1-0)

Pace: 79.9

Offensive Ratings: Dallas 111.4, Portland 101.4

Another close call for a home team, another missed opportunity for a visiting underdog. The Blazers led for a nearly six-minute stretch of the fourth quarter, but after holding Dirk Nowitzki to 10 points, 5-of-16 shooting and no free throws through three quarters, the big German took over in the final frame. Nowitzki scored 18 points in the fourth on just four field-goal attempts. He went 13-of-13 from the line and the Mavericks went 18-of-19 from the charity stripe in the contest, a part of their game that makes them so tough in close games.

Nowitzki might not have been in position to take over the game if not for Dallas' hot shooting from three-point range. Jason Kidd went 6-of-10 from behind the arc and scored 24 points--not something you figure Rick Carlisle was counting on. Kidd hit the coffin-nail shot in the final minute, a contested three to beat the shot-clock buzzer that brought Mavs owner Mark Cuban dancing up out of his seat. Dallas shot 10-of-19 from long-range for the game.

The Blazers got plenty of mileage from LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 27 points in 40:39 despite foul trouble. In fact, the Blazers' bigs had a big night, as Marcus Camby grabbed 18 rebounds in 29:02 and handed out five assists. However, Camby was absent down the stretch, getting just 1:16 in the final period while Nowitzki went to town. For that matter, Wesley Matthews, one of Portland's crunch performers this season, played just 25 seconds in the final period. Meanwhile, the ghost acting the part of Brandon Roy played all but one second of the fourth quarter. Roy went scoreless in the period and scored just two points on 1-of-7 shooting in 26:22 for the game. If you're scratching your head on that one, join the club.

This promises to be a tight series, as expected. The Blazers shot just 2-of-16 on threes, so like Indiana and Philadelphia earlier in the day, Nate McMillan has to rue the squandered chance. If the match continues to be as close as it appears, the Blazers are going to have to figure out a way to keep Nowitzki under control--for the full 48 minutes. Otherwise, the Mavs will continue to do what they do best: Win close games.

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Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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