With only a week left in the NBA’s regular season, playoff projection is already starting to heat up in what promises to be another wild and crazy postseason. An eventful summer and a few marquee trades throughout the year have led to what may be one the most anticipated NBA playoffs in recent memory.

With LeBron James now in Miami, Carmelo Anthony now in New York and the newly redesigned Chicago Bulls atop of the NBA ladder again, the Eastern Conference playoffs alone will make for some sleepless, digital video recorder-aided nights.

Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO sports desk have been squaring off all year over who they think will square off in the NBA Finals in June. Check out part I of their debate as they toggle between their picks for the Eastern and Western Conference representatives, starting with the East.

Stephen D Riley (S.D.R): The Boston Celtics are heading back to the Finals, simple. People want to talk about Chicago, people want to talk about Miami and that’s fine. But the Celtics still have the best team in the East in my opinion and they still can play lock down defense. It’s clear this is the last go around for Boston and I think they’ll go out of their way to make the most of it. I hate the fact that they’re relying on the two O’Neals (Jermaine and Shaquille, not related) to return to good health but once they get their center duo back they can pretty much close out the paint against any team and their top four stars form an incredible nucleus.

Perry Green (P.G): As you’ve seen it for most of the year, the Bulls have been the best team out East and the best defensive squad. Derrick Rose is the MVP and head coach Tom Thibodeau just brings something different to the table when you’re talking defense. The former Celtics defensive coach has installed toughness to this team and I love it. The acquisition of forward Carlos Boozer means they can now score in the post and small forward Luol Deng is having a career season, both offensively and defensively. A year ago, I would’ve picked Boston, easy, but they’re not the same dominant team they used to be.

S.D.R: People said that about Boston last year as they sputtered into the playoffs but then they turned it on and came one quarter away from bringing home the championship. Look, I know Boston looks beat up, they look tired and they look old, but this is still the Celtics we’re talking about here and you better believe that they’re going to be amped for this last shot at a title. Throw the regular season records out the window; Boston simply gets it done in the playoffs. They match up well with Chicago and the addition of reserve forward Jeff Green gives them some different lineups to play with. From top to bottom, I’d say Boston is a more complete team than Chicago, which relies way too much on Rose to get them going offensively.

P.G: What’s wrong with relying on the NBA MVP? Rose gets it done and we’ve already seen what a Chicago team can do when it has to rely on an MVP. Does the name Michael Jordan sound familiar? I agree with what you’re saying. Maybe they do rely too much on Rose but if you’re going to rely on somebody, he’s not a bad option. You talk about Green but you don’t talk about Kendrick Perkins, who’s now the defensive pillar for Oklahoma City. Sure, Green gives them some lineup flexibility but Perkins was their rock on the defensive end and he’s not there anymore and that’s going to hurt them. Neither one of the O’Neal’s is a sure bet to even last throughout the postseason and if one of them doesn’t, Boston may struggle severely. Chicago is locked and loaded and ready for a title run. Everyone’s healthy, they have the MVP and home court advantage, what’s not to like?

S.D.R: Funny, Chicago has the same mix that Cleveland had last season and you saw what health, the MVP and home court advantage got them when they played Boston. The Celtics don’t care where they play or who the MVP is. This isn’t some inexperienced team who’s going to bow down to a regular season champ. They’ll play inspired basketball and return to the Finals, count it.

P.G: We’ll see. I really think you’re discounting what the absence of Perkins is going to do for this team. A mid-February trade still has them scrambling to find themselves. I’ll go with the team that’s been consistent all year and has only gotten better over the last portion of the season. The Bulls are back and they’ll be back in the Finals for the first time since the Jordan era, count that. 

Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley

AFRO Sports Desk