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Eastern Conference Preview
by Matt Fargo - 04/20/2007
Orlando Magic (8) +850 vs. Detroit Pistons (1) -1300
Orlando got off to a red hot start but faded before coming back to life at the end of the season when it counted the most. The Magic started out winning 13 of its first 17 games and was looking like a team that finally had all of the pieces to make a legitimate run. That ended with losses in 10 of its next 14 and then later after a five-game winning streak, losses in 22 of 29 games. Orlando won four straight and six of seven to close out the season and avoid not even making the postseason which would have been devastating after that start.
The Pistons were no lock for the top seed in the Eastern Conference halfway through the season but then all of a sudden, they started winning and winning a lot. The acquisition of Chris Webber keyed the midseason stretch as Detroit won 17 of 21 games at one point to pull away from the competition. The Pistons went 11-7 down the stretch with six of those losses coming against playoff teams. Detroit tended to play up or down to the competition at times this year and cannot get caught looking ahead.
Orlando won only eight of 26 games against teams ranked in the top ten in the league so it wasnâ€™t able to take care of the top completion. Asking a team to win four games after winning just eight all season is too much. Detroit swept the regular season series against the Magic and has won eight of the last nine. In order for the Magic to even sniff an upset, they need to win two games in Detroit since the Pistons will not go winless in Orlando. Seeing that Orlando went 15-26 away from home, it wonâ€™t happen. Pistons in Five
Washington Wizards (7) +1450 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (2) -2500
This one is over before it even starts. Washington had a freefall at the end of the season but was able to avoid the 8th spot and missing the playoffs altogether. The loss of Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler showed down the stretch as the Wizards lost eight of their last 10 games and went just 10-20 in their final 30 games. The offense was at one point one of the best in the league but the options are limited now and the Wizards have averaged a putrid 87.8 ppg over their last six games and have topped 100 points only once in their last eight, which was an overtime game.
Cleveland was able to take advantage of an easy closing schedule to win its final four games and overtake the Bulls for the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference. With that, the Cavaliers avoid playing Detroit until the conference finals should both teams make it that far. Cleveland ended the season with a 30-11 record at home, which was second best in the Eastern Conference but more importantly, it learned how to win on the road. The Cavaliers went 8-4 down the stretch away from home and wonâ€™t have any problems winning on the road in this series.
This is a rematch of the memorable first round series from last season that saw the Cavaliers win it in six. The last two games went into overtime so it easily could have gone either way. This year, that is not going to be the case. The Cavaliers took two of three in the regular season including a five-point win at Washington with both Arenas and Butler out. Washingtonâ€™s lone win came with Clevelandâ€™s Larry Hughes on the sidelines. Washington has no confidence, no scoring, no defense and simply no answers. Cavaliers in Four
New Jersey Nets (6) +140 vs. Toronto Raptors (3) -160
Toronto finished 37 games behind Detroit last season and this year, the Raptors ended up just six games behind the Pistons so stating that they narrowed the gap is an understatement. This team surprised many and the Raptors arguably have the best team in the conference right now. Many seem to forget how much Toronto struggled early in the year as it started out 6-14 and was left for dead. The Raptors finished 41-21 over their last 62 games, a game better than the Pistons 40-22 mark over that same span.
The Nets are playing very good right now, having won 10 of their last 13 games to finish the year at an even .500. Most importantly, they defeated the Bulls in their season finale to lock up the 6th seed and a date with Toronto as opposed to the 7th seed to play Cleveland. Vince Carter picked up his game over the stretch run and it became pretty apparent that he wanted the 6th seed to be able to face his former club. New Jersey has been ousted from the playoffs the last two seasons by Miami, getting swept both times.
Toronto had won six straight and nine of 10 games before dropping its final two games of the regular season. The first loss came at Detroit where Chris Bosh didnâ€™t even play but the loss on Wednesday to Philadelphia is concerning since there is no momentum heading into the postseason. The Raptors have not seen the playoffs in five years so inexperience could play an early role. The home team won all four meetings this season by double-digits. Carter cannot do it himself and the Raptors advance. Raptors in Six
Chicago Bulls (5) -145 vs. Miami Heat (4) +125
Chicago had a chance to lock down the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference with a win over New Jersey on Wednesday but failed to come through. Instead of playing the Wizards in the first round and having home court until the Conference Finals, the Bulls open with the defending champions. The good news is that they have the homecourt edge in this series and finishing tied with the 3rd best home record in the NBA does not hurt. Chicago closed the season with 17 wins in its final 23 games.
The defending champions werenâ€™t expected to finish 4th in the conference but injuries and age played a part in the down season for the Heat. To even have a chance at winning a second straight title, Miami is going to have to get the job done on the road in every series unless it gets to face a team off an upset and is a lower seed. The Heat went just 17-24 on the road this season but did win six of their final 11. No one thought Dwyane Wade would be around for the postseason but here he is, bad knee and shoulder, ready to carry the team again.
Chicago won the regular season series 3-1 but Shaquille Oâ€™Neal was around for only one of those losses and played limited minutes. He played in the lone Heat win, which was a 33-point blowout in March. The Bulls won the first meeting on opening night by 42 points when Miami was more involved with getting its championship rings than playing a basketball game. This is only the second time both Oâ€™Neal and Wade will be on the floor in this series but it wonâ€™t matter. The Bulls are playing too well but will still be in for a fight. Bulls in Seven