Friday, April 17

NBA Playoffs Quasi-Analysis: First Round

Welcome back everyone, to my annual NBA Playoff preview series, where I put about five minutes' worth of thought and effort into a handy guide on what to expect during each round of the NBA Playoffs. The Western Conference (cumulative point differential: -5.7) didn't do me any favors by letting its seedings go down to the wire, but I handled it. Frankly, I liked the way things were going to end up prior to Wednesday's games - these newer West matchups aren't as good.

I go round-by-round so as to predict actual matchups instead of projected ones; as much as I expect a Cavs-Lakers showdown in the Finals, it'd look silly for me to have spent the time analyzing the series if it doesn't come to pass. Cavs in seven.

Eastern Conference First Round

(1)CaVs vs. (8)Pistons

When I left, I was but a, I am the master.

You know, it really wasn't alll that long ago that the Pistons were a real force in the East. They have, after all, been to the Conference Finals six straight years and did win 59 games a year ago. I even picked them to win the title last year, and they might have if they'd bothered to show up against the Celtics. Three years ago, the upstart Cavs pushed Detroit to a surprising 7 games before falling, but you always got the sense they were living on borrowed time, a feeling confirmed by Game 7. Cleveland's victory over Detroit in 2007 to earn a trip to the Finals still seems rather fortunate to me - play that series five times and the Pistons advance at least four.

But this is 2009, and things are different. The midseason trade of Chauncey Billips for Allen Iverson has backfired in epic fashion, Detroit's veterans have aged without getting much in the way of reinforcements, and Darko Milicic somehow turned out to not be as good as Dwayne Wade. The once-mighty purveyors of Deee-troit Basketball are lugging a -0.5 point differential and 39-43 record into the playoffs against a historically good Cavalier squad sitting at 66-16 and +8.9. Think about that: assuming a sort of league-wide transitive effect, the Cavs on average outperform the Pistons by 9.4 ppg. And so it will go in this series, as LeBron and company will easily dispatch the Pistons and await their second-round opponent, whom they will also easily dispatch.
CaVs in 5

(2)Celtics vs (7)Bulls
For some reason, I've never been totally sold on the Celtics all season long. I know they won it all last year and I know they play good defense, but I'm just not feeling it. A major factor in this year's playoff run will be just how healthy Kevin Garnett is when he returns; hearing Doc Rivers talk today, it sounds like this could be not at all, which is terrific news for Cavs and Magic supporters.

It's also good news for the Chicago Bulls. I'm still picking the C's to win this opening-round series, but I think the streaking Bulls will push the Celtics hard behind Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose and John Salmons. The Bulls won't play nearly enough defense to win the series, though - Chicago allowed more ppg than any other playoff squad, 4.5 more than the next-highest east team and a staggering 11.1 more than the Cavaliers. Fun team with some surprises in it, but not fully ready for these playoffs.
Celtics in 6

(3)Magic vs. (6)76ers
I don't want to be scared of the Orlando Magic, I really don't. But I kinda am. How the hell do you stop these guys? Dwight Howard is virtually unstoppable if he gets the ball within 10 feet of the basket, and Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, and company make teams pay from behind the arc. When I watch NBA games, I find myself sort of subconsciously following and creating defensive strategies - the Magic tie up my mind in knots. This doesn't seem to be a national consensus opinion, but we'll see.

Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for Philly fans, the Cavs won't be seeing them for a while. This is a tough draw for a 76er team that struggled mightily to beat the Cavalier JV's on Wednesday night. Some people think a team might expose Orlando in the first round (and that they were lucky to dodge the Bulls), but a totally healthy 59-win team with a +6.7 differential is not going to be seriously challenged by a .500 club.
Magic in 5

(4)Cavaliers vs. (5)Wizards
Just kidding. It's going to be weird not taking these guys down in the 1st round, though, right? I'm not sure what I'm going to do without their ridiculous gold uniforms, dirty fouls, logo that in no way resembles a Wizard, and loony bin of players like Agent Zero and Souljah Boy. Ah, the good old days.

(4)Hawks vs. (5)Heat
This is really an intriguing matchup, as the 4-5 opening-round series so often are. The teams are similar overall; both are pretty good home teams and lousy road teams, though Atlanta finished with four more wins.

There are two storylines that I focus on in this series: the Hawks' strong home court advantage and the superstar calls that Dwayne Wade has been known to get in the playoffs. I think Wade is going to shoot about eleventy thousand free throws in this series, but Philips Arena will make the difference as the home team takes all seven games here. Unlike last year versus the Celtics, holding serve works out this time to Atlanta's benefit.
Hawks in 7

Western Conference First Round

1)Lakers vs (8)Jazz


On paper, I feel like the Jazz should be better than they are; Deron Williams gives them 20 points and 11 assists every night, Carlos Boozer improves his Unlikability Index virtually every game, and the club gets contributions from AK-47, Paul Milsap, Memhet Okur, and Ronnie Brewer. Actually, the Jazz are no slouch; their +2.6 on the season would make them 4th in the East, and they posted a sparkling 33-8 home mark.

However, Kobe, Odom, Gasol, Bynum, and whoever else is on the Lakers are simply too good for the Jazz. The Lakers will kick them around in LA (as they did Tuesday), steal one in Utah, and move on.
Lakers in 5

(2)Nuggets vs (7)Hornets
This might just be the toughest call on the board. For whatever reason, I can really see myself getting on the Nuggets bandwagon, but at the same time it makes me nervous. What a silly team - Chauncey Billups running the point, crazy Chris Andersen blocking shots, JR Smith giving good production off the bench, and Nene inexplicably being referred to as "Nene Hilario" now. Good times for Furious George Karl's bunch.

In the tightly-bunched West, these two clubs are separated by five seeds but just five games in the standings (for comparison, Boston is 21 up on Chicago), so it's not the mismatch the seeds might indicate. This one is ripe for upset, and if the Nuggets had drawn the Rockets or Trail Blazers I might have picked one, but I think they'll get past a somewhat disappointing Hornet team despite the heroics of Chris Paul, the game's best point guard.
Nuggets in 7

(3)Spurs vs (6)Mavericks
Does anyone else miss Avery Johnson's squeaky-voiced coaching? I sure do. Still, whether behind Avery or Rick Carlisle, I don't really see this year's Mavericks as a playoff threat.

I wanted to pick against the grizzled veterans of San Antonio in Round 1, I really did, but not against this Dallas club. With Tim Duncan at less than 100% and Manu Ginobili at 0%, these aren't your father's Spurs, but Popovich's San Antonio club is still too good to drop this opening-round affair.
Spurs in 6

(4)Trail Blazers vs (5)Rockets
Now this is a hell of a series, as the young guns of Oregon go up against a veteran New Galveston Rockets squad. The two teams are nearly identical in the standings - Portland ended up with home-court via a season-ending six-game win streak that put them one up on Houston, but the clubs' overall numbers are very similar.

This will go down as the series where the Blazers officially introduce a new star to NBA fans from coast to coast: Joel Przybilla. I'm sorry, I meant to type Brandon Roy there - everyone already knows JP. Przybilla, along with Greg Oden, will rebound, block shots, foul Yao Ming, and look awkward, while Roy and his excellently-named supporting cast (LaMarcus Aldridge and Travis Outlaw) will work to punch holes in a solid Rocket defense.

Houston's defense really impressed me the times I've seen them, and they're getting consistent production from Yao Ming and an almost unfathomable 17 ppg from Ron Artest. Really? Plus, they have the hugely annoying Luis Scola and the improbably named Von Wafer. Read that again: Von Wafer. I really want the Blazers to take this, but I think they're a year away.
Rockets in 6


John said...

Nice preview. I'm going to say on paper at least its going to be a Cavs/Lakers Finals. Those two have been hugely impressive all season.

For me the best series to look forward in the first round is the Blazers/Rockets matchup. It looks pretty tight for me.

The Blazers will come out gun slinging with their youthful offense and Rockets might play a more conservative approach.

Overall the 2009 season is expected to be the most exciting ever in recent years and I can't wait for it to began. For me personally as an Albiceleste supporter, things are not looking good but we'll just have to wait and see.

Oh yes! I've also published my own version (not really mine but a friend name Dave from the NBA Round Table) and would like you to give us your view as well.

Ernest said...

Sometimes I like to say "Joel Przybilla The Vanilla Gorilla" over and over again to the annoyance of everyone around me.

Nick said...

I think Heat/Hawks could be a fun watch, too.