NBA Stretch Run: The Best of the East

It’s been a long haul, longer than last year’s
abbreviated 66-game NBA regular season, but the playoffs are just around the
corner. So who wins the NBA title? The most talented team? The luckiest? The
We all know the favorites don’t waltz to the NBA Finals. Last
year San Antonio was a No. 1 seed and up 2-0 on the young Thunder in the NBA
Finals. Then, WHAM, Oklahoma City won 5 in a row to take a 1-0 lead in the
Finals. Then, WHAM, Miami won 4 in a row to shell-shock wide-eyed OKC.

Even in college we just saw Wichita State make a deep run, and tiny
Butler was a fifth seed in 2010 and a No. 8 seed in 2011, advancing to the NCAA
Championship game twice. Two years ago the Dallas Mavericks were the No. 4 seed
in the West, then knocked off everyone on the way to a surprising title.

There’s another factor that stands out, best summed up in a famous
quote: “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the
strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The
credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by
dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short
again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but
who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a
worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high
achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring
greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who
knew neither victory nor defeat.”

The speaker? Not a famous coach, but
Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States. The quote was from his
speech “Citizenship in a Republic,” but the hard work he was describing about
the man “In the Arena” could apply to any NBA star pulling on sneakers and
battling for the right to advance to the championship over the next two months.

It takes teamwork and effort, lots of effort, to hoist the crown at the
end of a long season. In 2004 and 2008 the Lakers appeared to be the most
talented team in the NBA Finals, favored each time, but were knocked around by
the hard working Pistons and Celtics, both of whom really earned their rings.
Next week I’ll take a look at the best of the West, the conference that has won
10 of the last 14 NBA titles. This week, it’s the best of the East.

Heat: The defending champs are easily the team to beat, fresh off a
27-game win streak, the second longest in NBA history. Miami is not a good
rebounding team, but so what? They weren’t last year, either, and met every
challenge in an impressive postseason run. The Heat is not lacking for star
power with 28-year old Lebron James (26.8 ppg, 8 rpg, 6.5 apg), 31-year old
Dwyane Wade (21.4 ppg) and 29-year old Chris Bosh (16.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg).

There are very good role players in Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier, Mario
Chalmers and newcomer Ray Allen. Miami has exceptional balance, 5th in the NBA
in scoring, 7th in points allowed, a flexible, deep team capable of playing any
style. The Heat is 10-4 ATS on the road, 7-1 over the total against the Western
Conference and 18-7-1 over the total versus the NBA Southwest. Miami is the team
to beat again, in the East and for the whole ball of wax.

Bulls: Will he
or won’t he? That’s the waiting game in the Windy City, wondering if star guard
Derek Rose will be able to return for the playoffs. Chicago has clearly missed
Rose on offense, falling to 29th in the NBA in scoring. They rely on slowing the
pace down, rebounding and playing a physical defensive style, 3rd in the league
in points allowed.

Chicago is No. 6 in the NBA in rebounds, led by
Joakim Noah and hard working Carlos Boozer. The key for the stretch run is to
get Rose and Richard Hamilton healthy. The Bulls are 10-24 ATS against the
Western Conference and have been money burners at home.

NY Knicks: New
kids on the block? The Knicks feel like they can challenge the Heat in the East
but this is anything but a young team on the rise. This veteran group has good
balance with 28-year old Carmelo Anthony (27.5 ppg), 27-year old J.R. Smith
(17.4 ppg) and 30-year old Amar’e Stoudemire (14 ppg) handling the offense.

Veteran Jason Kidd was brought in and big man Tyson Chandler blocks
shots and is a fine defensive roll player up front. But aging teams are prone to
more injuries and that has been a problem for this team down the stretch. They
just ripped off an impressive 6-0 SU/ATS run. They rely on the three-pointer to
carry them too often and note tat Miami is 10th in the NBA at defending on the

Pacers: Indiana certainly has the kind of team to make a
terrific postseason run: great defense, rebounding and a big frontcourt. They
are tops in the NBA in rebounding and points allowed. 6-9 David West (17 ppg),
6-8 Paul George (17.7 ppg) and 7-2 Roy Hibbert form a dominant front line, while
26-year old PG George Hill (14 ppg) runs the b backcourt.

They can
dominate bad teams: The Pacers are 13-3 ATS in their last 16 games vs. a team
with a winning percentage below .400, as well as 11-4 under the total against
those teams. But will they wilt under the playoff spotlight again? Last year’s
flameout to Miami (blowing a 2-1 lead) was embarrassing and the Heat just
thumped up again, 105-91, during their win streak.

Written by Jim Feist of

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