Saturday, April 16, 2011
*The NBA Playoffs: Where The Cool Kids Hang
Tonight the most irrelevant round in all of sport gets under way: round one of the NBA playoffs. The time of year when all the teams who battled so very hard to get into the post season are reminded that they play in a league of haves and have nots. Geeks and jocks. It's not often in basketball that a lower seeded team gets the job done in round one, but some competitive match-ups can be expected. Let's look at how the first round shapes up...
The NBA's best Chicago Bulls take on possibly the least exciting team to make the cut: The Indiana Pacers. This series is going to be a wash, and it serves as a metaphor for the uneven landscape of the NBA's first round. Indiana has nowhere near enough talent to compete with the Bulls and I would be very surprised if they can even pull off a single win. The Bulls are a young team, and are getting their first taste of life in the Association's upper-echelon, but they are a team with the pieces to win now. Derrick Rose is the odds on favorite as the league MVP this year and has the goods to take this team on a deep run. Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah provide the powerful inside presence that is a must-have to do any real damage. Bulls in 4
Many people (myself included) have a real hate on for the Miami Heat. For much of the year they had trouble jelling and sat around the middle of the playoff pack, making it hard to believe that they would be able to win right away like a lot of people predicted after the farce that was "The Decision". The Philadelphia 76ers will have a tough time making this series competitive, but their starless team-oriented approach could surprise a few people. Miami will play the way they have all year, coasting on talent for three quarters and turning it on late to frustratingly steal wins. Talent trumps substance. Heat in 5.
Easily the highest profile match-up of the first round sees the suddenly mortal Boston Celtics taking on the inconsistent New York Knicks. The dumbfounding loss of Kendrick Perkins has left a gaping hole in the paint for the once powerful Celtics, and the team has spent the last month of the season trying to find an answer. Kristic and Green have not brought a lot to the table, and Boston is heavily relying on the so-old-he-can-barely-move-yet-somehow-still-manages-to-contribute Shaquille O'Neal. They are going to need The Big Shamrock as well as Jermaine O'Neal to lock down the inside game of Amar'e Stoudamire. The Knicks have enough talent to make this a series, especially if they're allowed to penetrate, but ultimately the Celtics are the better team. They may not seem to have the goods to go back to the final again, but one should never discount experience (plus Rondo is just better than Billups). Celtics in 6.
The one series that may have the best chance of going to the wire is the 4-5 pairing of Orlando and Atlanta. Atlanta has been consistently improving year after year, with their young core growing into NBA adulthood together, whilst the Magic seem to be in a a bit of a decline. Orlando may have peaked two years ago when they lost in the finals, and one would have to think that sooner or later Atlanta is going to break out and go on a legitimate run. The biggest difference maker? Dwight Howard. He's the most dominant centre in the game and the Hawks are going to have a hard time handling him, especially if the Magic's outside shooters get hot. Orlando has been successful with the drive and kick in the past and it could be the dagger in this series. If Jason Collins and his sprained ankle can cause problems for D12 like he has all year then Atlanta may have a shot in this one, but I'm not willing to bet against Orlando just yet. Magic in 6.
The Spurs are back on top of the western conference, and they've done it while dealing with intermittent injuries to some of their key players. That said, Memphis provides probably the second most lopsided opponent in these playoffs. Zach Randolph has had a beastly year, but it will not be enough to take out the mighty Spurs. The Grizzlies are out-matched at virtually every position on the floor, and should provide little resistance for San Antonio. Spurs in 5.
The aforementioned "second most lopsided match up" is topped only by the Lakers versus the Hornets. This series is going to be a beat down. The only storyline providing any glimmer of hope for New Orleans is the fact that L.A. back-up point guard Steve Blake is fighting the chicken pox, while Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum (who is already out with another knee injury), and Kobe Bryant have never had chicken pox before. If it becomes a full blown epidemic for the purple and gold then the Hornets may be looking at a decent chance. Not likely though. Lakers in 4.
The Dallas Mavericks seem to follow a similar script year after year: have a great season, usually with 50+ wins, only to fizzle out in the post season. There is not a whole lot to indicate that this year will be any different, no matter how easy a time they should have with the Portland Trailblazers. The Blazers have finally started to see the fruits of their draft day labour start to pay off, and they're growing into a legit team in the west, but there is now way they've got what it takes to get past Disco Dirk and the Mavs. The ageless Jason Kidd continues to be one of the best point guards in the league, further fueling my theory that he is in fact a super-villain with a high-profile alter-ego. This one will be short and sweet. Mavs in 6.
As it is in the east, the western 4-5 match-up also promises to be the most competitive. The Thunder-Nuggets series (which is just so much funny to say out loud) should be a lot of fun. Kevin Durant has continued to play MVP-calibre ball, and after fleecing the Celtics to acquire Kendrick Perkins the Thunder are no longer missing that interior presence keeping them from elite status. Denver on the other hand has had an incredible run since trading away Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, proving that addition by subtraction can sometimes be a valid formula for success. The Nuggets play an aggressive style, and their record is a testament to the motivational coaching abilities of George Karl. This one is going to be a lot of fun to watch, especially if Denver can steal a game in Oklahoma City early on. I still think the Thunder are going to make a lot of noise this year. Pun intended. Thunder in 6.
In the Finals I'm going with the Lakers and Celtics, for the simple fact that the NBA is the most crooked, most fixed league in North America and another epic Boston - L.A. final would be very good for business. Lakers will take it in 7 games. You heard it here...well, not first, but you heard it here.