(6) Orlando Magic vs. (3) Indiana Pacers
Time: 6 p.m. CST
TV: NBA TV
Pacers lead series 3-1.
The Pacers, regardless of apparent flaws, are the superior team in this matchup. Barring an unforeseen comeback in Game 1, the Pacers would have advanced to the first round in an uneventful sweep. They have won the last three consecutive games by completely eliminating the Magic’s transition offense and simultaneously taking advantage of Orlando’s deficient transition defense. Ryan Anderson, the 2011-12 Most Improved Player, has also been ineffective this series. He’s averaged 8.5 points primarily because of the extra attention he’s garnered without space-eating center Dwight Howard patrolling the paint.
Final verdict. Pacers by six.
(4) Boston Celtics vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks
Time: 7 p.m.
Celtics lead series 3-1.
Good news: Al Horford and Josh Smith returned. Bad news: They returned to experience a 22-point loss. Awful news: Their next loss will signify the end of their 2011-12 season. There’s a lot at stake for a team that has experienced moderate success in the playoffs in the last five year. Unless they can impede Rajon Rondo, the vast majority of the Celtics offense predicates on his passing ability, the Hawks will have very little margin for error tonight. Rondo has controlled every aspect of the series, averaging 19 points, 13 assists, seven rebounds and 3.7 steals.
Final verdict. Celtics by seven.
(8) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (1) Chicago Bulls
Time: 8:30 p.m.
TV: NBA TV
76ers lead series 3-1.
Yawn. I enjoy good defensive basketball as much as the next guy, and the Bulls and 76ers are technically brilliant defensive teams, but I also appreciate sound offensive execution. And this series, devoid of the impetuous Derrick Rose, doesn’t offer the same quality of basketball that the Spurs, Thunder and Heat provide. Watching the likes of Spencer Hawes, Lou Williams, Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, John Lucas III, CJ Watson isn’t quite as appealing as other playoff matchups.
Final verdict. 76ers by four.
(6) Denver Nuggets vs. (3) Los Angeles Lakers
Time: 9:30 p.m.
Lakers lead series 3-1.
The Nuggets offensive advantage – they average 109.2 points per 100 possessions – has been rendered mute because of the Lakers’ size. To combat the Lakers frontcourt, George Karl instituted small, more mobile lineups in the hopes that they could defeat the Lakers through systemic precision and superior floor spacing. And, while they have the depth to accomplish this goal, their play might be irrelevant. The Lakers aren’t relinquishing their control anytime soon.
Final verdict. Lakers by five.