Latest News, NBA / Apr 15, 2011 / 1:30 pm

Keys Open Doors: 8 Non-All-Stars That Will Decide The First Round

Lou Williams

Lou Williams (photo. RoyalRae Productions)

It’s tired and cliché but it’s still true: the playoffs are a different animal than the regular season. What worked during the 82-game run may not work in the playoffs. Still, normally you can find clues to determine who will move on and who’s starting the summer early, and it’s not always the big names that make the difference. It’s the supporting cast, the good players, the guys only the bloggers and hardcore fans who watch the same team every night of the year truly appreciate. (Guys like James Harden.)

With that, here are my key players for each series:

Indiana and Chicago

Roy Hibbert
Key number: 15

Don’t expect a big series from Darren Collison. He’s checking Derrick Rose, who has a penchant for destroying smaller, slippery guards. In fact, in four meetings this year, Collison shot under 35 percent from the floor against the Bulls. Chicago has been one of the best teams all year at contesting off the dribble, and figures to tear down the Pacers’ outside shooting just as they did in three of their four regular season games.

The biggest question mark is going to be Roy Hibbert. It’s unbelievable, but in the Pacers three losses against Chicago this season, Hibbert scored 10 points combined. In their one win, he had 15. While he had one of the odder years in recent memory – playing like an All-Star early, then completely falling off only to regain at least some consistency – Hibbert has to be a factor if Indiana even hopes to win a game or two. The Bulls feast on creating bad-shooting nights on defense, and if Hibbert can’t create enough easy shots to average 15 points, then this series will be over quick.

My prediction: Chicago in four

Philadelphia and Miami

Lou Williams*
Key number: 17

Williams was up and down this season against Miami, having games of 15 points and seven assists, and 24 points and five assists while also putting together a night with only four points. Miami has advantages at nearly every position; the Sixers’ best players – forwards Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala – are unfortunately matched up with Chris Bosh and LeBron James, and in three regular season games, the Heat won each game by at least nine points.

The Sixers face a tough test, but one advantage they do have is their bench play. Between Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams, they should be able to dominate Miami’s second unit. Williams especially will have to win his matchups with Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers. Actually, he needs to destroy Miami’s point guards. If he an average 17 points a game, up from 13.7 this season, it’ll give Philly a shot.

*Lou is a game-time decision with a hamstring injury, but he plans on being out there.

My prediction: Miami in five

New York and Boston

Landry Fields
Key number: 40 percent

Fields has been a revelation as a rookie, and looks to have found a home as a role player next to Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. And despite the Knicks 0-4 record against Boston this season, Fields played Ray Allen really well at times.

In the first two games they checked each other, Allen was just 1-9 from beyond the arc while shooting 33 percent. But in their final meeting, Jesus brought Hell down on the Knicks’ heads, scoring 26 points and hitting four threes. If Fields can hold Allen to around 40 percent from the field for the series, it’ll give the Knicks a chance at the upset.

My prediction: Boston in five

Atlanta and Orlando

Jason Collins
Key number: 22.6 percent

Very few people are giving Atlanta a shot in this series even though they won three of four against Orlando during the regular season. That’s what happens when you lose six straight to start the playoffs and half of your players already seem mentally checked out.

Still, Atlanta had success using a blueprint against Orlando that revolved around…Jason Collins. With Collins in to defend Dwight Howard one-on-one, the Hawks stayed clasped to the Magic’s three-point shooters, disrupting the entire rhythm of the offense. Against the Hawks this season, one of the league’s most dangerous deep-ball teams instead shot 22.6 percent from beyond the line. In Atlanta’s three wins over Orlando, they held Dwight & Co. to 82, 81 and 74 points. If they want any chance in this series, they’ll have to limit Orlando’s three-point shot, something the Hawks didn’t do in the playoffs like year.

My prediction: Orlando in five

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  • top_gun

    Bulls in 4
    Heat in 5
    Celtics in 6
    Magic in 6

    Spurs in 5
    Lakers in 4
    Trailblazers in 7
    Thunder in 6

  • derik

    I actually think that Denver has a better team than OKC, Denver in 7

  • JC

    Sweeney, you win just for the title. Great format for this entry as well, definitely made me think about the less-celebrated players and how they can help deliver wins.


    how will any of these players be deciding anything if you have them on the loosing sides?
    the favorites all winning basically means that its the all stars doing their ting and deciding what their sposed to be deciding.

    shouldn’t it be more like …. if wilson chandler can do a decent job (not stop) on Durant then the Nuggets can win
    or Aldridge puts up 25 and 10 then the Blazers win, or Marc Gasol goes nuts the Griz win… orrr… toney douglas give NY 15ppg off the bench and someone steps up and plays center they could beat the C’s.. or every 76ers player suddenly gets good they will win……. it makes the article tougher, cos obviously no non all stars are really gonna alter the outcome of the Bulls/Pacers or Lakers/Hornets sweeps, but at least that would be non all stars actually deciding something.

  • K Dizzle

    Bellinelli could average 30 and it won’t help the Hornets.
    Hornets ain’t shuttin Kobe down so they might as well put their best backcourt of CP and JJ out there and do what they can. Too bad they got rid of Marcus Thornton…

  • Bill

    Jeff Green?

  • Bill

    Didn’t trade away perks for a scrub.

  • QQ

    Damn is it really the hip thing now to choose the Blazers over the Mavs?

    It’s like Orlando vs the Bobcats last year, where Charlotte has all the momentum and people pointing out how they won the season series, how a big guard like Stephen Jackson is difficult to guard for our backcourt, how they have an athletic frontcourt to distract Dwight, etc….

    Then Orlando went on to fucking slaughter the Bobcats.

    I know Portland is a VERY scrappy team, and an upset is very likely, but it’s not as clear cut as everyone is painting it to be.

  • QQ

    *I am talking bout the comments, cause I see comments everywhere picking the Blazers like it’s a sure thing.

  • Arno

    LMNOP is right. What about Gary Neal or George Hill, for instance ?

  • gilford

    I still think that Pacers will be a tough match-up for the bulls in the playoffs.

  • Kyle

    The Pacers really should have won that game, and though the officials didn’t send them to the line often(and how hard Hansbrough plays, he should be there at least 8 times a game), it wasn’t anywhere as bad as the hilarious officiating to stop the Sixers from upsetting Miami. Wade’s karate kick to clear space and get him the continuation call is the seriously classic.

    LeBron didn’t have any points in the fourth quarter until a few free throws when the game was over and like a minute left. Classic LeBron effort.

  • http://www.twitter.com/retepadam RetepAdam

    This column should be re-titled “8 Non-All-Stars Whose Teams We Picked Against.”