Well, a long and tumultuous post-lockout season has finally drawn to a close. 66 games in 123 days for each team, which becomes 990 games in 123 days for the entire NBA. Now we've made it to the playoffs and things promise to get even more interesting than they already were. Let's just dive right into this thing, shall we?
(1) Chicago Bulls vs. (8) Philadelphia 76ers
For all the hubbub over 76ers' guard Evan Turner's comments regarding the Bulls, it's not like he's the only one thinking that way. The Bulls themselves acknowledge that the Miami Heat are the team to beat in the playoffs, regardless of seeding. We'll see how everything plays out, but it's hard to blame Turner for his sentiment, especially after the Heat summarily dispatched Turner and the Sixers in five games last spring. That being said, I hope the Bulls make him sing a different tune by the end of the series.
This is an interesting matchup in that it features a pair of defensive-minded teams that use their depth to their advantage. They've also both looked fairly vulnerable as the season has wound down. However, the Bulls are much better offensively, marginally better defensively and deeper overall, so they should come out on top. For those of you who enjoy high scoring shootouts, you're in for a disappointment. This is not the right series for you. But we'll get to you guys in a minute.
I'd expect the Bulls to win, although it may get ugly early on unless Derrick Rose regains his MVP form. But I think they'll be fine overall.
Prediction: Bulls in 5
(2) Miami Heat vs. (7) New York Knicks
This is the series to watch in the East. Both teams are actually really good defensively, so this is not actually what I was talking about in terms of shootouts. I mean, it could be for all we know, but it shouldn't be. That being said, watching Carmelo Anthony take on LeBron James is worth the price of admission all by itself, and that's before we get to Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, JR Smith, Steve Novak or my favorite rookie Iman Shumpert. I'm excited.
That being said, I don't know where the idea that the Knicks can pull of the upset comes from. They might be competitive, but I don't see them winning more than a game or two. I just think LeBron and Wade are going to be too much for them.
Prediction: Heat in 6
(3) Indiana Pacers vs. (6) Orlando Magic
I really, really hope that Orlando at least puts up a fight, if only because it would make precisely no sense whatsoever. But really, the Magic without Dwight Howard are terrible. Ryan Anderson's nice, I guess, and JJ Redick is all right. But everyone else is terrible. Let's be real. Besides, the Pacers are pretty good.
Prediction: Pacers in 4
(4) Boston Celtics vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks
This will be fun because NBA rules dictate that the team with the better record must get homecourt advantage, regardless of seeding. Of course, I say 'fun' sarcastically because it means more games in Atlanta instead of Boston, and games in Boston are approximately 3000x better than games in Atlanta, mostly because people actually show up.
I still don't know what the hell to make of Atlanta. They're good (fourth best record in the East)…and I can't totally take them seriously because they're the Hawks. And if you've ever been around ESPN.com's Daily Dime Live, you know that trusting the Hawks is a TERRIBLE idea. Which is why I don't trust them to win this series. Of course, I also can't trust them to lose it, so…uh…yeah. I really don't know what to do here. My head hurts.
Prediction: Celtics in 6
(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Utah Jazz
Raise your hand if you saw Spurs-Jazz as a 1/8 matchup coming at the beginning of the year and then put it back down because you're a f**king LIAR. This came completely out of nowhere, but here we are.
I'm fully aware that the Spurs came out of nowhere to grab the top seed last year and got trounced by a young, deep team with a powerful frontcourt in the first round, and that the same basic scenario applies this year. But last year's Grizzlies =/= this year's Jazz, first of all, and second of all this Spurs team is simply better prepared than last year's. They're deeper, Manu Ginobili is healthy, and Zach Randolph is nowhere in sight. The Jazz should put up something of a fight, but not much more than that.
Prediction: Spurs in 5
(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks
At the beginning of the year, I was as high on the Mavs as anyone. I was enthralled by the seemingly limitless possibilities afforded by Lamar Odom and put the Mavs back in the conference finals. Here's a particularly damning paragraph from my massive NBA preview back in December talking about the most underrated aspect of the team:
Probably that they literally stole Lamar Odom for nothing. I mean, the guy was the Sixth Man of the Year last year, he was an integral part of a team that won back-to-back titles and made the Finals three straight years and they got him for NOTHING. Also, don't think that Odom doesn't feel extremely disrespected by the Lakers, and may very well throw up some ungodly statistics this year. This is going to be awesome.
Uhh…yeah. About that…
Anyway, I still kinda like the Mavs overall, especially if Dirk Nowitzki plays like Dirk Nowitzki from last spring. But I don't see them beating the Thunder here, especially since James Harden and James Harden's beard have both been cleared for action. They may have done it last year, but the Thunder are slightly better and the Mavs are somewhat worse. There you are.
Although if I had to pick a series for those of you who love shootouts, this is the one. So there's that.
Prediction: Thunder in 5
(3) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (6) Denver Nuggets
I quite enjoy the Nuggets, especially since they swapped the productive, sane Nene for the occasionally productive, quite possibly insane JaVale McGee. There's a lot to be said for the deal, although I'm still rather confused by the whole thing, but come on. JaVale McGee in the playoffs!! How can you not be excited for this??
Of course, I sincerely doubt the Lakers lose this series. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are just too good to go down quietly if they can get anything at all from the rest of the team. Also, Ramon Sessions gives this team an element it hasn't had in quite some time: a point guard with a pulse. Sure, Denver's Ty Lawson is better, but still.
Prediction: Lakers in 6
Honestly, I pretty much like all of the matchups in the West, but this has to be my favorite. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin up against Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol? Sign me up. Also, Tony Allen will be involved, so there's no real downside here.
When it comes to the actual matchups though, I think I like the Grizzlies. The Clips don't have enough actual size inside (Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin and whoever the hell else hangs out on the bench there is a pretty terrible set of backup bigs) to bang with Randolph and Gasol and also don't have anyone who can guard Gay on the perimeter. Unless Griffin and Paul both go bananas, I don't see the Clippers having enough here. Which is a shame, because I'd love to see a Lakers-Clippers conference finals. So much intrigue. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here.
Prediction: Grizzlies in 6
Now, because I don't want to step on anyone's toes as I attempt to simultaneously write for Bulls 101 and Pippen Ain't Easy starting a week from today, I'm going to give preliminary picks for the rest of the playoffs here, and then you can follow along as things change over at PAE. Or you can just ignore my later musings and focus on these (sure to be wrong) picks. I'll leave it up to you.
Bulls over Celtics in 7
Heat over Pacers in 5
Bulls over Heat in 7
Thunder over Lakers in 6
Grizzlies over Spurs in 7
Thunder over Grizzlies in 7
Thunder over Bulls in 7
Yep, I decided to stick with what I said way back in December. Now let's get to it.
Happy Playoff Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor!
(Sorry. Enjoy the playoffs.)
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