Thursday, April 17, 2008

Macbethketball: The 2008 NBA Playoff Preview

Recently, I took the Shooter Wife to see Patrick Stewart (yes, Star Trek's Captain Jean-Luc Picard -- shut up, he's actually a fantastic Shakespearean actor) in Macbeth, which is playing on Broadway as a straight drama. It was freaking awesome. The show has gotten great reviews, and Macbeth was always one of my favorites in high school and college. Hamlet's OK and all, but for sheer blood and guts, you aren't getting better than the guy with the wife with the hand problem. Spoiler alert: the play ends with Macbeth's enemies parading around with his bloody, decapitated head. It's hard to mess that up, and they don't.

Anyway, I figure if people can milk crappy movies and worse reality shows for blog grist, far be it from me to look a gift witch in the mouth. So without further toil or trouble, here's your Scottish Playoff Preview for a season in which there will be blood.

Chance may crown me: The (L)Eastern Conference

False face must hide what the false heart doth know: Celtics (1) vs. Hawks (8)

Now that the Pacers have managed to just miss getting that coveted 8th seed evisceration at the hands of the latest New England overlords (and no, I'm not going to notice how the Bruins are also in the playoffs, because that would involve watching hockey)... well, can Kevin McHale and Larry Bird just drop the act and admit that they are still on the Celtics payroll? Admittedly, it's far more obvious with McHale, but after giving away Kevin Garnett for less than what he could have gotten from Western Conference teams, it should be obvious -- no trades allowed for GMs with strong ties to a team from their playing days. Or, even better yet,no GMs allowed who used to be players. (And before you rub my nose with Joe Dumars, imagine that Pistons team with Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh. Instead, you got Darko. Gahhh.)

Astute readers will notice that I've said nothing about the Hawks so far. Or since. (But on the plus side, it's 4 more games than you've had for what, decades?) Celtics in 4.

Blood Will Have Blood: Detroit (2) vs. Philadelphia (7)

Here's a little-realized fact: the Pistons have ended the Sixers last two playoff appearances, first in 2002-03, and again in 2004-05. As both of those teams were in the waning days of AI1 and involved copious amounts of Larry Brown Hangover, it really does seem like a long time ago, but they really aren't... because those Pistons teams and this one do pretty similar things. The first being half-court defense, the second being taking care of the ball, and third being hitting their free throws when they need to ice the game late.

Philly actually matches up reasonably well with this Pistons team, since Sam Dalembert and Reggie Evans give them reasonable big man defense, and the backcourt duel between Miller/Iguodala vs. Hamilton/Billips is just old-school pleasure. But when the Pistons go to the bench, the Sixers can't match the energy. Also, sadly, Mo Cheeks just isn't that great of an in-game coach, and the percentages (i.e., the Sixers are bad from 3 and the line) will just cost them 5 to 7 points a game that they won't be able to get back. Pistons in 6.

Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under 't: Magic (3) vs. Raptors (6)

Orlando won 52 games for the first time since Shaq was young and frisky and working with Dwayne Wade 1.0 (aka Penny Hardaway), and Dwight Howard is Superman and all. But the Dinos can come closer than most to neutralizing him with Chris Bosh, seriously exploit the Magic at point guard, and sic Jamario Moon on the phenomenally overpaid Rashard Lewis.

The Magic will need good play from Hedo Turkoglu, and while he's been gret this year, the track record of ex-Kings in the playoffs (see Peja, Airball) isn't a good one. There's also this: Toronto has a sneaky great home court advantage, and Jose Calderon is playing out of his mind right now. They might even get something out of Rasho Nesterovic (epic contract run) and Andrea Bargani (who is a terrible rebounder for a 7-footer, but a pretty good rebounder for someone named Andrea). Raptors in 6.

Something Wicked This Way Comes: Cleveland (4) vs. Washington (5)

Ever since the Tim Donaghy Spurs/Suns abomination, conspiracy theorists have been able to do anything they want with the NBA, because it's all on the table now. This year's fuel for the suspicious will be the return engagement of LeBron James and raising a supporting cast that, while better than nearly all of the teams in the D-League, would still have a fight on its hands to win the championship there. How bad are the Cavs without Lebron? Well, Joe Smith is probably your go-to guy in crunch time. No, really.

They get the same Wizards team that they've ran through before, in a repeat of an oddly entertaining match-up that saw pre-surgery Agent Zero nearly match King James in a no-defense dance dance revolution. The Wiz are a more balanced team now, since they've had to live without Arenas all year, and Caron Butler and Antwan Jamison are under-the-radar great. But even if I didn't believe in conspiracies, I do believe that James is the best player in the Association. Cavs in 6.

Fair is foul, and foul is fair: The West

Is This A Dagger I See Before Me: Lakers (1) vs. Nuggets (8)

Nothing is quite so fun for this little blogger than choosing a preference for the good teammate who has won a playoff series recently without doing the trade-me keep-me trade-me do se do over, you know, Alleged Rapist Kobe Bryant. I have people still blasting me out of the blue for thinking LeBron is more valuable for winning 45 games with Boobies, Smiths and the dessicated remains of Ben Wallace, rather than winning 57 with what was frequently the best front court in the West.

Yes, Kobe Lovers, I am feeling the burn. And so is your man, scrubbing his hands raw trying to look like a good teammate and decent human being. Sorry. We're not buying it. And in two years, when Lamar Odom has smoked his third strike, Andrew Bynum still isn't the guy you thought he'd be and the Lake Show are back on that 6th seed, one and done treadmill? The spot will still be there, Lady 8.

Anyway... the Nuggets might be the best offensive team ever to have an 8 seed, and if they were in the East, they might do damage. But they can't stop the Lake Show big men, Carmelo Anthony's DUI is really not well timed, and 9 times out of 10, when Kobe wants to put the clamps on Iverson late in the game, he succeeds. Lakers in 5.

Too Full O' The Milk of Human Kindness: Hornets (2) vs. Mavs (7)

It's been a great year for the Hornets, who rode MVP candidate Chris Paul to an 56-26 record and a 2nd seed in the West. David West is the best player in the Association that no one knows about, Tyson Chandler has completely blossomed now that he has a real honest to goodness point guard, and even cranky 'ol Peja Stojakovic has looked frisky.

And I was so sure it was going to end early. But then they went and got the perfect draw -- Dallas.

Let us say this plainly: Jason Kidd can't stay in front of Chris Paul. The Mavs would be better off sending Josh Howard -- or Curly Howard -- at CP3. So while The Hornets do not have the kind of home court or playoff experience that translates to a long run, especially when your grizzled playoff vet (Peja) has a lot of playoff experience in which he self-Heimliched, I can't pick against them. Even with Dirk Nowitzki looking MVPish lately.

It'll be close and grueling and you are crazy if you bet it, and that's amazing for a 2-7 matchup. But not so amazing when only 5 games separate them in the loss column. It also won't really matter who wins, because they are going down in the second round anyway. But for the record, Hornets in 7.

Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? / Out, damned spot! out, I say! All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand: Spurs (3) vs. Suns (6)

Here's how crazy the West is: the difference in the won-loss column between the 3 and 6 seeds is a game. One freaking game. We are also, of course, revisiting the scene of last year's crime, with the Tim Donaghy / David Stern experience. I suppose that, after the Sonic Screw Job, the Donaghy Series is no longer Stern's Greatest Atrocity, but the stain is still there...

The Suns seem to have gelled just in time, and getting the Spurs in the first round helps loads, because Mike D'Antoni seems to be actively trying to prove that benches are for Communists. The Spurs, of course, have Manu Ginobili to get all of the back-breaking late points, and their usual killer defense.

There is also the feeling, that in all of the hullabaloo of the West's upping the ante trades -- Gasol to the Lakers! Shaq to the Suns! Kidd to the Mavs! -- there's still the Spurs, sitting back and watching everyone do their little dance, knowing that they can not be killed by any man borne of a woman. Is there a C-section superstar out there?

The answer is yes, because they win every other year, not every year -- and the Association is going to give Phoenix that nowhere near equal make-up call here. Besides, you were expecting a Macbeth-themed preview to go well for Duncan? Suns in 6.

Double, Double toil and Trouble: Utah (4) vs. Houston (5)

Ah, Tracy McGrady in a winnable first round series. I'd say more, but why?

OK, fine... Deron Williams will treat Rafer Alston like the Macbeths treat their house guests, and while Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur are just waiting to kill Jerry Sloan with DNP-Choke Decisions in a playoff series, it won't be in the first round. But really, once Yao went down, I've been waiting for the Rockets to die; team play and good defense are great, but the playoffs are about stars, and T-Mac's just not that guy. Williams, on the other hand, is. Jazz in 6.

Bonus Quotes for the Bard Enthusiast...

Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased / Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow / Raze out the written troubles of the brain / And with some sweet oblivious antidote / Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff / Which weighs upon the heart?

Macbeth's pathetic plea to a doctor to fix his wife from her guilt-crazed wanderings goes to the Mavs, and that was before they had Kidd with his marital woes.

I have almost forgot the taste of fears. -- The Spurs. Yup, I'm just not feeling a repeat.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...

The first round, assuming one of these exceptional series goes the full 7 games, concludes in a lightning-fast 17 days from now. If you've ever wondered why NBA teams don't really work on developing their bench the way they used to, it's simple: the playoff scheduling in the modern cable era has meant that it's really not important.

And finally, jumping ahead to the begetting of the new king...

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The finest speech in the history of nihilism goes for... everyone except the (sigh) Celtics. Short of LeBron playing the finest basketball of his life in a Round 2 matchup, or Detroit rolling back the clock in the same third round where they completely ran out of gas last year, they won't really be tested until the Finals. Once they are there, they will get a team/survivor that has been through the meat grinder for two months.

Combine that with their suffocating defense and sneakily tolerable bench, and you've got something that even Doc Rivers can't screw up.

(And if you are seeing this as another Masstermind-level ploy to help break the hearts of Massholes... well, false heart and all that.)


The Truth said...

Boston in 5
Cleveland in 6
Orlando in 5
Detroit in 4 (Broom time)
LA in 5
Houston in 6
Phoenix in 7
Dallas in 7

Anonymous said...

good column but the lakers are built for the future more than you give them credit for. Sasha Vujacic and Jordan farmar are all having their best seasons yet and when bynum reaches his full potential (he will), they will become one of the top teams in the NBA. Odom has been spotless for years too. Excuse my homerism.

Anonymous said...

what does the Donaghy mess have to do with the Suns/Spurs series last year? I know people are mad about Donaghy, and I know people are mad the Suns/Spurs series last year, but I don't think those two things are actually connected.

You really think Stern has a desire to see the ratings-killing Spurs advance? Come on.

jawaan oldham said...

What did Donaghy have to do with the Suns/Spurs series? He was reffing the game when Amare and Diaw got ejected, during which he made about 20 of the most ridiculous calls in the history of basketball.

DMtShooter said...

The Lake Show's fine only as long as Kobe stays in his shoes. Count me in the longstanding hater majority that isn't banking on that. But I do like their bench a lot, and your homerism is more than justified. They are my second choice to win it all.

In re Donaghy, thanks for the pick up, Jawann.

As for Stern's preference for the Spurs, who knows why he does anything anymore? Seattle's losing their team to Oklahoma City, for heaven's sake. He also thinks having teams in Europe isn't a hassle for anyone, because customs is just a walk in the park. There was also last year's weirdness with the ball. It's quite possible that the Commish needs to be brought in for regrooving, is all I'm saying...

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