Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Playoffs?! You Wanna Talk About Playoffs?!

So I dropped the ball pretty hard and didn't do an NHL playoff preview (sorry Steve). Luckily for me the NBA playoffs start tomorrow and I can write about that. So here are my predictions for the first round of the NBA playoffs which will hopefully be as good as last year (the Bulls/Celtics series had at least 3 games that will forever run on ESPN Classics).

Note: How come when experts do these prediction pieces they never predict a sweep? Is it so hard to believe the Bulls/Bobcats will get swept? Sack up and pick a sweep once in a while. I know I did.

Western Conference

#1 Los Angeles Lakers vs #8 Oklahoma City Thunder

The Lakers are the defending NBA Champions and so that can only mean 1 thing, they will suffer from the "Disease of More." The "Disease of More" is a theory that Pat Riley came up with to explain why teams rarely win back to back championships. Riley points out that when a team wins a title the next season everyone wants more. Guys want more money, bench players want more minutes and everyone wants more...well everything.

The Lakers exemplify this theory perfectly. Pick any player on the team and you can see how they have changed since last season. Kobe who was praised for 'finally figuring out basketball is a team sport' last year has gone back to his selfish ballhogging ways. Because of this Pau Gasol has started to complain publicly about Kobe taking too many shots. Lamar Odom seems like basketball is the last thing on his mind and Ron Artest cares more about his reality show than he does about basketball.

What does this all add up to? It adds up to a big balled prediction by me. The Los Angeles Lakers will lose their 1st round series to the Thunder. You read it here first. Write that down and make a mental note.

Kevin Durant and company will prove too athletic, young and quick for the Lakers. Bryant will try and do his alpha dog thing but it will be in vein. Durant became the youngest player to ever win a scoring title this season and recent comments from Lakers coach Phil Jackson about how Durant gets every call will only fuel his fire.

But I don't think the series will come down to the Durant/Kobe matchup. I think the key to this series is the Russell Westbrook/Derek Fisher matchup. Westbrook is too quick and too dynamic for Fisher to guard which means Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown will be relied on heavily. Both those guys are mediocre at best and lack Fisher's ball management skills. Westbrook will drink Fisher's milkshake all series and it will be the difference.

Prediction: Thunder in 6 (if this series goes to 7 there is no chance the Thunder win in LA)

#2 Dallas Mavericks vs #7 San Antonio Spurs

Don't let this late surge by the Spurs fool you there are a dusty team, and I don't mean dusty as in awful I mean dusty as in literally covered in dust because they are so old. Tim Duncan celebrated his 82nd birthday last week and Antonio McDyess is nothing more than a chalk outline out on the court. Even their coach looks like an old man headed to Bob Evans to catch the 4:30 early bird dinner special (seriously I would be willing to bet money Greg Popovich starts his day by walking around the mall before it opens).

In all seriousness Tim Duncan is a shell of his former self and if the Spurs want to win this series they will need him to be Superman. He will have to be their main defensive weapon and their main offensive weapon and he just doesn't have enough in the tank for that. Add to that the fact Tony Parker and George Hill are injured/coming off injury and you have yourself a recipe for a 1st round exit.

As for the Mavericks well they are a juggernaut since acquiring Caron Butler and Brendon Haywood. Butler gives them another scoring option and a versatile guard who can shutdown opposing scorers, like Manu, and Heywood gives them some toughness and size down low to deal with the likes of Duncan and rookie Dejuan Blair.

I hate both these teams and the fact that one of them will be elminated after this series brings me endless joy. The fact that it will be the Spurs, who are my least favorite team in the NBA, makes it even better.

Prediction: Mavs in 5

#3 Phoenix Suns vs #6 Portland Trail Blazers

I was really looking forward to this series because I thought it would be a conflict of styles as the Suns would try and push the tempo and make the Blazers run while the Blazers would try and slow it down and make it a half court game. Then Brandon Roy got hurt and I stopped caring.

Without Roy Portland has 0 chance of winning. Who is going to be their crunch time scorer Andre Miller or Juwan Howard? Who is going to put the clamps on Amare and challenge Channing Frye on the perimeter? The fact that Blazers fans are excited about the return of Nicolas Batum should be a giant red flag.

Phoenix isn't without injuries of their own however as center Robin Lopez is out with a back injury but they should be fine without him for the 1st round. Steve Nash and Amare will control this series and the Suns bench which features Grant Hill and Jared Dudley should be more than enough firepower to end this quickly.

Prediction: Suns in 5

#4 Denver Nuggets vs #5 Utah Jazz

Unfortunately the main storyline of this series is that George Karl will not be able to coach Denver because he will be undergoing treatment for cancer. Hopefully the Nuggets can make it out of the 1st round which might allow Karl to return court side. But in order to do that Carmelo Anthony is going to have to step up his game and Chauncey Billups will have to play the best basketball of his life.

Let's start with Melo. At the end of last season and the beginning of this one it seemed as if he had made 'the leap' and was ready to become a superstar. He was making big plays and was hitting clutch shots every night all the while being a vocal leader. Then some unknown event occurred and he reverted back to his old self, which is just another great NBA player but not the kind that can put a team on his back and carry them through a series. If the Nuggets are going to be successful they need Melo to snap out of his current funk.

But Melo's efforts will be for not if Billups mails it in. Billups is not only charged with the toughest defensive assignment, stopping Deron Williams, but he is also the 'pseudo coach' with Karl away from the team. The team will be relying on Billups to make smart decisions and step up in Karl's absence and if he can't do that then the Nuggets are screwed.

Injuries are key in this series as the Nuggets are missing JR Smith and the Jazz are missing Carlos Boozer. Also Kenyon Martin is coming off an injury as is Andrei Kirilenko so that is worth noting, probably in a better way than I just noted it.

Prediction: Nuggets in 7

Eastern Conference

#1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs #8 Chicago Bulls

If the Cavs lose even 1 game in this series I will be shocked. Shocked. The Bulls barely scraped their way into the playoffs and are a .500 team. The Cavs are the best team in the NBA and have the best player in the NBA. They are a solid defensive team and with the addition of Antawn Jamison they are more versatile than ever.

For me this playoffs is all about LeBron James. I will be watching every series but all I really care about is whether James wins an NBA Championship because that will answer a lot of questions. I have my doubts that James cares more about things outside of basketball than he does about the game and the way he plays in these playoffs will either prove me right or prove me wrong. I want to see him go to another level where he averages triple doubles and has 5 or 6 plays a game that just rip the heart out of the other team. This season he shown flashes of indescribable talent and I want him to unleash that in these playoffs.

The Chicago Bulls will end up being James' victims and will left a bloody mess afterwards but Bulls fans can take solace in the fact that this time next year they will have an improved team with at least 1 max-contract free agent, maybe even 2.

Prediction: Cavs in 4

#2 Orlando Magic vs #7 Charlotte Bobcats

If you think the Cavs are going to steamroll the Bulls wait until you see what the Magic do to the Bobcats. This is going to be a slaughter. Someone tell me 1 way the Bobcats win a game that doesn't involve the entire Magic team being killed in some sort of 'We are Marshall' incident. It just doesn't happen.

Is Gerald Wallace or Stephen Jackson going to take over a game? Not a chance. The Bobcats are a team of opportunity. They played in the Eastern Conference and took advantage of the opportunities to play the Nets, Knicks, 76ers and Wizards to build their record. They have a decent enough team and they will definitely make Orlando work for their wins but they don't have the talent to hang with the Magic.

So this is a warning to all you Bobcats 'fans' you may now exit the bandwagon. I hope you enjoyed your ride.

Prediction: Magic in 4

#3 Atlanta Hawks vs #6 Milwaukee Bucks

One of the most unfortunate injuries in recent memory is Andrew Bogut going down last week with a nasty arm injury. At the time the Bucks looked like a serious threat going into the playoffs and people everywhere were buying into the new slogan, "Fear the Deer."

The Bucks had turned into one of the best defensive teams in the league thanks to Bogut and Carlos Delfino but also had the offensive firepower to hang with most teams in the East in large part due to Brandon Jennings and mid-season acquisition John Salmons. Alas it is all for not as the Bogut injury effectively killed any chances the Bucks had of making any noise in the playoffs.

Prediction: Hawks in 5

#4 Boston Celtics vs #5 Miami Heat

For some reason everyone is picking this as their upset as they believe the Heat will beat the Celtics. I find it hard to believe that so many people could pick a team that has the corpse of Jermain O'Neal on it to beat the Celtics. Yes the Celtics have lost their swagger and yes the 'Big 3' seems to be on its last legs but come on.

The Heat don't have anyone on their team that can stop Rajon Rondo and god forbid Dwyane Wade has an off night and Michael Beasley is counted on to do anything other than supply the weed. Udonis Haslem is a solid defender but isn't good for much else and other than that it is a poo poo platter for the ages with Carlos Arroyo and Quentin Richardson.

The Celtics definitely looked awful for the second half of the season and seemed to mail in every other game but they aren't bad enough to lose to the Heat especially seeing as they have homecourt advantage. Will they win the title? Of course not but the Heat won't either because they won't get out of the 1st round.

Prediction: Celtics in 6

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