Sunday, May 1, 2011

NBA Second Round Playoff Predictions

Boston vs Miami

We are supposed to believe, through the Boston-centric NBA media, that the Celtics are the team you are supposed to root for in this round. After all, LeBron James Is Evil, and the Heat are all that is wrong in the modern NBA, where superstars rule the asylum, fans of small market and cold-weather teams are just abused for funsies, and arrogance is the new black.

This, of course, ignores the fact that the Celtics and Lakers have benefited from the Old Ways forever, and that any person who is so invested in the status quo should be judged biased until proven, well, biased. Sure, it's not exactly fun for the NBA to wind up with huge advantages for only a few franchises with tax advantages and geographic advantages... but honestly. If the ball is good, and Celtic or Laker Fan gets to eat it, are you really going to feel all that bad about life?

The simple fact of the matter is that only fools and bigger fools think that a Celtic win / Heat loss will refute LeBron's Decision for now and forever, or that Evil Will Be Vanquished with the win of either of these nausea-inducing clubs. The far more substantial problem for everyone who isn't a fan of the laundry is that both of these teams play ball that's hard on the eyes. The Celtics go slow and thug and charge-taking flow-breaking gallstone-passing ball, and the trade of Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder for Jeff Green just means that they do it with a little less depth. The Heat are only entertaining when they force turnovers from the opposition and run in the open court, which just doesn't happen in the playoffs -- even against the up-tempo Sixers, the Heat didn't provide more than a run or two a game that spoke to their watchable potential. In the half court, it devolves into Dwyane Wade or James Against The World, and we have many years of grinding horror playoff games that shows this won't work.

So, um, sure, I guess many people are looking forward to this series, and will tell you how great it is, and how anticipated, and yada yada yada. Just know that of the four series that are coming down the pike, this will be the least watchable, and the most watched. Sigh. You'd think that the four mostly unwatchable regular season games (of which Boston won three, losing only when injuries and late-season indifference finally gave the Heat a win) would have clued people into what is to come, but no. I guess when you are more into soap opera than ball, that happens.

And as for who will win? The Celtics, since Rajon Rondo will be big, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce always fight James and Wade to standstills, and Kevin Garnett will basically do anything he wants to Chris Bosh, especially as the series gets longer and Bosh's curious reaction to pressure gets apparent. I'm also not sure how the Heat are supposed to do anything with Rajon Rondo, and Heat Fan will also be especially nauseated by the freshly animated Jermaine O'Neal. Celtics in six, and I'll watch it while feeling dirty. Very, very dirty.

Chicago vs. Atlanta

It's a little hard to see how the Bulls are going to have a harder time in the second round then they did in the first. Atlanta has the Turrible Matchup problem with Chicago, relying on athletic forwards and a shooting guard that capitalizes on weak defenders to get to their pretend contender status. Chicago, of course, has become an outstanding defensive team specifically at the forward and swing positions, with Joakim Noah sliding off centers, Luol Deng locking down everything in front of him, and cloney bigs waiting to tear you down over time. Atlanta struggles against quick points; Chicago might have the quickest in the business in Derrick Rose. Atlanta works best when they go against teams and coaches that don't have the ability to adapt their personnel to make them think; Chicago can play any game you like, or more accurately, any game you don't like.

The way to beat Chicago is to thug it up, slow it down, make Rose shoot from distance and make them think that they don't have the playoff cojones to pull it off. None of that describes the Hawks, and it's why Bulls Fan should be rooting like mad for the Heat, or at least, an attrition war that gives them the chance to rest up and have an edge. Against a team that's probably just thrilled to have the revenge point of taking out the Magic, it won't take long, and there will be quitting. Oh, and expect Bulls Fan to will be heard in Atlanta by the thousands, because Atlanta Fan is going to lose faith in his team about the same time that the Hawks do. Bulls in five.

Lakers vs. Mavericks

There are, actually, plenty of reasons to like Dallas for the upset here. They have plenty of athletic bodies to throw at Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Jason Kidd has played some of his best ball in years. Shawn Marion has been very useful for the last few months, and Jason Terry could be a real problem for the Lakers. JJ Barea is terrible, but against the Lakers, that won't be quite so evident. And there's always Dirk Nowitzki, who was spectacular in ending the Blazers on the road in Game Six. It's not as if he's never carried a team in the playoffs before, or that he can't go things in this matchup. Finally, there's the fact that the Mavs haven't played the Lakers in the playoffs in forever, mostly because the Mavs kept losing in the first round and ruining any chance of a series.

But, well, picking against the Lakers? That pretty much means that you are betting into the idea that Tyson Chandler will be OK against Andrew Bynum, a series after Bynum destroyed Emeka Okafor. You also have to think that Derek Fisher won't love this matchup after his usual sad turns against speed guards, that Lamar Odom won't have a big series against a team that has no good matchup for him, and that Peja Stojakovic won't cost his team just about every minute he's on the floor. Or that Phil Jackson won't get so many calls that Mark Cuban will signing many, many checks.

So it will be a longer series than some anticipate, and there will be an early part where things will look dire for LA. But whenever these things go long, the Lakers win, because they just wear down the bigs and start to play volleyball on the boards. The Mavs will counter with Chandler, Dirk... and Brendan Haywood. Yeah, that's not going to work. Lakers in seven.

Thunder vs. Grizzlies

Finally, the series that I want to see, and probably the one that will go to the ghetto. The Thunder dodged a huge bullet in missing the Spurs, who had the Grouchy Old Men game that would have generated any number of incredulous looks at the refs and block/charge calls. They also looked all grown up with a vengeance in dispatching the Nuggets in five, with a decided and forceful shove out the door provided by Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka on offense and defense in crunch time. Meanwhile, Memphis managed to stake the Alamo Vampires with relentless interior work and athletic defense, combined with an over-the-top home crowd advantage. This is going to be great.

For the hardy few that actually like ball over personalities, Thunder-Grizz will give you 100% committed home crowds that are too young and hopeful to do anything but mark out for the whole four quarters. You'll also get to see Durant fight against Shane Battier and Tony Allen, aka two lockdown defenders where he will have to use his height to defeat. On the other side, Ibaka against Zach Randolph will be worth the price of admission, and Perkins will draw Marc Gasol in the matchup's one moment of True Ugliness.

What will eventually decide this thing, along with whether or not Durant can eventually overcome the shackles, is who wins the battle of remarkably flawed point guards, Mike Conley and Russell Westbrook. Westbrook's better, which is a problem, because he's just good enough to take his team out of a game. Conley is more limited and hence less problematic; when the Grizz want the guard to lose the game for them, they go to OJ Mayo, who usually has an edge, but not against James Harden. Good heavens, I'm geeked for this matchup even when it comes to the backups. If I write this long enough, I'd be talking about Greivis Vasquez, who is clearly a character from "Phantom Menace."

So what's the pick? Well, the world thinks the Thunder will win by a 3-to-1 margin, having fully bought in to the unstoppable force of Durant, and the idea that Memphis isn't at all ready to make it past round two, having picked against them in round one. I personally think the Thunder win because Ibaka/Perkins will make life a lot more miserable for Gasol/Randolph than the Spurs were able to do with Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess.

And well, having seen Durant in Game Five against Denver? Hell if I'm betting against him. Thunder in six.

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