Thursday, April 15

NBA Playoffs Pseudo-Analysis: First Round

Another Cavaliers championship run, another year of me previewing each NBA Playoff series. I'm going to take each round as it happens, because filling out a whole bracket and writing about a series that never takes place seems like quite the exercise in futility, just like my NCAA bracket is every year.

In other news, I'm trapped indefinitely in Oslo, Norway, because of the volcano explosion in Iceland. You can't make this stuff. As such, I don't really have an excuse to slack off on this piece, since I have all the time in the world. No clean clothes, but time.

Eastern Conference First Round

(1)Your...Cleveland Cavaliers! vs (8)Chicago Bulls

You have to like any matchup where your team is the top seed, has won 60 games, has LeBron James, and is playing against a club whose general manager recently shoved the coach (or else the other way around?) in an effort to pick a fight. You stay classy, Bulls management.

I love Vinny Of the Black's remarks here: "All those things are internal, I have no comment on that. Whatever happens is between the organization and myself, and the people involved." This is every bit as good to me as "yep, that totally happened." This should be admissible in court as evidence. The Cavs are not going to have a problem with these turkeys. Even without the infighting, the Cavs just have too much for this Chicago club; Cleveland outscored opponents by 6.8 a game this year while Chcago was actually outscored by 1.8, not usually conducive to a long playoff run. I don't see the Bulls generating enough interior scoring to keep this competitive, as interesting as Derrick Rose will keep things.

As for the Cavs' resting LeBron James - I don't see a downside, as I pointed out in this article where I refuted some sportswriter who took issue with the practice. As for chemistry and rustiness: I think LeBron will be OK. He's been playing with these guys every day for months now. And if there's anything that needs to be ironed out, well, that's what 1-8 opening-round matchups are for.

Last year, I picked the Cavs in 5 over Detroit and immediately wished I'd gone with the sweep, but I think this Bulls team is slightly more interested in participating in the postseason and will manage to win one. Just one.

Cavs in 5

(2)Orlando Magic vs (7)Charlotte Bobcats

I'm already excited at the prospect of my burgeoning hatred for the Orlando Magic going into overdrive for this year's postseason. Dwight Howard's sarcastic smiling, god-loving, and inability to understand the rules of basketball. Stan Van Gundy's appalling wardrobe. Vince Carter not trying. Anything and everything about Mickael Pietrus. Ugh. Still, the construction of the team is hard to argue with. On offense: a big man inside who's nearly impossible to stop with just one defender not named Shaquille O'Neal and a bunch of guys who bomb threes all game long. On defense: a big man who is the league's premier defender and a bunch of tall guys who stop threes.

I think I overrate the Bobbercats because of how well they match up with and have played the Cavaliers this year. They only sport a 3-1 mark against the Magic in 09-10, though they did win the clubs' most recent matchup, and they enter the postseason as the league's most accomplished defensive squad, allowing just 93.8 a game. That's the kind of thing that translates well to the playoffs. Despite some problems they'll have with Orlando's size, I don't think they're going to go quietly, and I simply can't help myself with an opportunity to pick against Orlando. Not the series, but a couple of games.

Magic in 7

(3)Atlanta Hawks vs (6)Milwaukee Bucks

The Hawks are the best 50-win team you've never heard of, featuring a tough lineup of Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford, Al Horford, and a suddenly-normal Josh Smith. These guys are not to be trifled with.

I like what the Bucks have done in the second half of the season, especially since adding the seemingly-unstoppable John Salmons to complement big man Andrew Bogut and rookie star Brandon Jennings. Unfortunately, I just don't think this team is ready for prime time just yet. Jennings is sporting an ugly 37% field-goal percentage, they aren't strong defensively at the guard position, and for as hard as he gets his club playing, Scott Skiles seems to miss a lot of opportunities to work the ball into Bogut offensively. This could be a stepping-stone campaign for the young Bucks.

The Hawks, I think, are mentally tougher and prepared for this series, having very nearly derailed the Celtics during Boston's title run two seasons ago and being humbled by the Cavs in a sweep a year ago. Just a bad draw for the Buckaroos.

Hawks in 5

(4)Boston Celtics vs (5)Miami Heat

This really, really annoys me - somehow a disinterested Boston team tanks the final game of the year and draws the worst team from the bottom of the Eastern Conference pool. This looks, on the surfaec, like easily the least interesting of the first-round pairings. I would totally pick Charlotte or Milwaukee over the Celtics, but I think Boston's veterans will get it together and beat the one-man band from South Beach. This reflects my lack of confidence in the Heat crew rather than any endorsement of the campaign the Celtics have put together this year. Seriously, after Wade, look at the Heat roster: Michael "Pam" Beasley, Jermaine "Not Shaquille" O'Neal, and Udonis "Seriously, 'Udonis'?" Haslem. Is anyone excited by this club? Frankly, I'm impressed that they won 47 games.

Though I don't think they're really all that, I'll stop short of bashing the C's as much as uber-fan Bill Simmons has this year. My god, man, stop whining so much about a 50-win team who won the NBA two years ago. We get it, you don't like their style. My favorite team has NEVER won a title in ANY sport, and I've had to watch the Browns for the past 10 years, so please stop griping about a four-seed with recent championship success. Pick your spots, dude.

Celtics in 7

Western Conference First Round

(1)LA Lakers vs (8)Oklahoma City Thunder

Despite LA's uninspiring finish to the season, the Lakers still managed the West's top seed, and should have Andrew Bynum returning for the postseason, though it's anyone's guess how healthy he'll be.

As impressive as OKC's 27-win turnaround behind Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Jeff Green has been, they don't have the firepower to compete with Kobe, Odom, and Gasol. Too bad they didn't get that call in Utah - they'd have a better chance against Dallas or Phoenix. Still, I think they'll win at least a game, but probably not in LA.

As long as we're on the topic of LA, Phil Jackson's comments about Durant were just pathetic. Ugh, Lakers.

Lakers in 5

(2)Dallas Mavericks vs (7)San Antonio Spurs

Are you aware that Dajuan Blair put up 27/23 for San Antonio in a season-ending loss to the Mavericks? Good thing we drafted Christian Okoye or whatever his name was.

I wonder if Tim Povtak will write an article lambasting Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili for sitting out the Spurs' finale vs Dallas in a game that had actual playoff implications? I know, I gotta let the Povtak article go, but it was just so stupid. OK, we're done.

Anyway, as savvy and playoff-tested as San Antonio is, without home-court advantage, with Duncan aging, and with Tony Parker still getting back into game speed, I just don't think the Spurs will be able to handle Dallas. I'm impressed they managed to pull out 50 wins. I've made mistakes picking against the Spurs in the past, but this time I feel good about taking the Mavericks over them. They've got excellent balanced scoring, are a more athletic club, and have Dirk Nowitzki's awesome hair on their side.

Mavericks in 6

(3)Phoenix Suns vs (6)Portland Trail Blazers

I had no idea the Suns had won this many games this year; they're still a handful playing their run 'n' gun system. Steve Nash had another great year, a season that barely represents a drop-off at all from his two MVP campaigns (in neither of which he played 82 games), while Amare Stoudemire managed to average 23 ppg and, yep, 1.0 apg.

Meanwhile, coach Nate McMillan somehow squeezed 50 wins out of this injury ward of a Portland club, a remarkable job of team management. Even with Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Andre Miller leading them into battle, I can't see them getting past the Suns, though I don't foresee a long playoff run for Phoenix after this.

Suns in 7

(4)Denver Nuggets vs (5)Utah Jazz

Easily the best matchup in the West - I would have taken either of these clubs against anyone else in the conference except maybe the Lakers. It's the total opposite of the lame 4-5 matchup in the East.

Fun fact: Utah led the West in point differential at +5.3.

The teams ended up with identical records of 53-29. Both of these teams were monsters at home; Denver went 34-7 while Utah went 32-9. Might we see a series like Cleveland-Boston a couple of years ago where neither team claims a road victory?

I really waffled on this one quite a bit, but in the end I'm going with Denver for the following three simple reasons:
1) They have home-court advantage
2) Jazz star Carlos Boozer missed the regular-season finale with injury
3) I hate Jazz star Carlos Boozer

Nuggets in 7


Figgs said...

Cavs in 4
Magic in 5
Hawks in 6
Celtics in 6

Lakers in 5
Mavs in 7
Suns in 5
Denver in 7

Andy said...

I made my Suns-Blazers pick before the Roy injury was announced, otherwise I'd have Phoenix in 5 as Figgs does.