Zicarelli's NBA East Playoff Preview

LeBron James leads the Miami Heat against the New York Knicks in the first round of the NBA...

LeBron James leads the Miami Heat against the New York Knicks in the first round of the NBA playoffs. (REUTERS)

Frank Zicarelli, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 4:32 PM ET

Now that the NBA’s second season has been hatched, it’s a second chance for the Miami Big 3 to prove last off-season’s mega splash was worth the toil and torment.

Failure this time will inevitably result in casualties, the most likely victims, head coach Erik Spoelstra and the one-time face of the Raptors, Chris Bosh.

But decisions of that magnitude can wait. The debate whether the Heat learned anything from last year’s bitterly disappointing exit in the NBA final will resume the moment Miami and New York jump ball in the highest-profiled opening-round series any hoops fan could possibly envision.

As sure as LeBron James will once again be placed under the playoff microscope, images of Jeff Van Gundy grabbing Alonzo Mourning’s leg will be replayed, providing one of many moments of raw emotion that was once the calling card of a Knicks-Heat matchup.

The teams, though, haven’t met since 2000, ending a run of four years in a row where games were decided by the closest of margins, where series were marred by aggressive basketball not seen in today’s era.

“It’s a different NBA where melees like we saw then are a thing of the past,’’ first-year Heat and NBA veteran Shane Battier said. “But it will be a passionate, emotional series.’’

There can be no debate in what Battier expressed.

Last time there was an NBA lockout, the Knicks entered the post-season in 1998 as the eight seed in the East, knocking off the No. 1 Heat en route to an unlikely appearance in the NBA final, where New York would lose to David Robinson, Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs.

While there’s talent on the Knicks roster and Carmelo Anthony is more than capable of upstaging both James and Dwyane Wade, it’s hard to see Miami losing a best-of-seven set.

“Playoff time is what we’ve all been waiting for,” Wade said.

It’s also a time for validation.

Miami didn’t exactly tank games late in the season, but it did rest players in preparation for the playoffs, including Bosh.

On paper, the East is a two-horse race featuring the No. 1 seeded Bulls, who held the exact spot last spring, and the Heat.

Boston, depending on the health of its Big 3, is more than capable of summoning one last post-season run as changes await in Beantown.

“We’re a very, very motivated group,” said Kevin Garnett, who in all likelihood is making his final appearance in Celtics green. “Individually, we have a lot of pride. Together, we play hard as (bleep).

“Like I said, we’re a very prideful team. Like I always said, man, when you come in here and put that jersey on, there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that, and we don’t take that lightly in here.”

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca

Chicago Bulls vs. Philadelphia 76ers

The Skinny: Philly went 1-2 in season series versus top-seeded Bulls as no team scored more than 98 points in each game; if this series turns into a half-court game, Chicago’s defence will stifle Sixers; whatever chance Philly has of staging an upset will depend on its ability to dictate an up and down tempo that best suits its athleticism.

Marquee Player: Derrick Rose had as many injuries, it seemed, as he played games; if he can’t regain his MVP form, Bulls will not go deep; C.J. Watson and John Lucas III turned heads, but they are nowhere near as good as Rose.

Quote/Unquote: “Very versatile team ... They’re fast. They gamble a lot and get a lot of steals and are dangerous in transition. They pose some challenges for us.” — Bulls PF Carlos Boozer.

Miami Heat vs. New York Knicks

The Skinny: Heat swept three-game season series, holding Knicks to an average of 87.3 points; the Knicks are in tough, their fate based on their ability to protect the basketball and somehow limit Miami in transition; on past reputation and star power, this is a delicious matchup, but don’t blink because it might be over quick.

Marquee Player: Carmelo Anthony has been on fire of late, perhaps the one guy in the NBA who can go toe to toe with LeBron James, at least offensively; Melo can’t do it alone and he simply needs to get his teammates involved.

Quote/Unquote: “We’re playing at a very high level coming into this weekend. That’s all you can ask for, to have as much health as you can and play at a high level and we were able to accomplish both of those things.” — Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.

Indiana Pacers vs. Orlando Magic

The Skinny: Magic went 3-1 in season series, but with no Dwight Howard (back surgery), Orlando has no chance; Pacers played well down the stretch, posting an 8-2 record.

Marquee Player: Roy Hibbert has the chance to dominate the series with undersized Glen (Big Baby) Davis expected to start at centre for the Magic; Hibbert, a restricted free agent this summer, posted career numbers in points (12.8), rebounds (8.8) and blocks (2.0).

Quote/Unquote: “I was feeling good. My legs were there. I was feeling okay. But you can’t compare this game to what is coming. The playoffs are totally going to be a different atmosphere.” — Magic SF Hedo Turkoglu, who played in team’s season finale, his first game action since April 5 when he fractured his face.

Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks

The Skinny: Despite its lower seed, Atlanta gets homecourt because it had a better record; Cs went 2-1 in season series, holding Hawks to an average of 81.0 points in both wins.

Marquee Player: Kevin Garnett knows this could be his last run in Boston, a guy who has started at centre on a team not deep in size; K.G. will get a lot of Josh Smith in a series that has the potential to go long, but a lot will depend, as it always has in recent years, on how Atlanta plays team basketball.

Quote/Unquote: “It would have been easier to open up at home, but we’re just not.’’ — Cs head coach Doc Rivers, who decided to rest Garnett in last week’s loss in Atlanta. “We had to make tough choices. Looking at Kevin the way he ran, I was happy with the choice. It looked like his legs were back. For me, that answered the question.”

 


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