Sunday, May 1, 2016

NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Picks: Joy In Repetition

We're knee-deep into the second straight week of Prince mourning, and I'm not sure when it's going to end, honestly. It's been way too long for me to listen to most of his tracks, just because he's not exactly indicative of most of my Pandora feed, and I never got around to duplicating the tapes with CDs and iPod tracks. His stance against the Internet also meant you weren't going to discover him in a random YouTube moment. So now that he's gone, and the lawyers seem less quick about taking everything down, I'm just playing him all the time, and trying to get past the grief. It's not really working so far. Give me another month or six.

Anyway... everyone knows what is going to happen in the lEast; the Cavs advance and LeBron James appears in yet another Finals. But that doesn't mean the hoop hasn't been very watchable, with nearly all of the first round match ups being clearly more fun to watch than the West. Who cares if they don't really matter in the title chase? As the best musician of his lifetime said, there's joy in repetition. Even on the tracks no one remembers.

And with that.. on to the picks!

Atlanta vs CLEVELAND

The case for the Hawks:
Can play at a very high level, especially when hitting from the arc. Balanced offense with good passing bigs. No one expects them to win his round, and they do have significant playoff experience, so it's really not outside of the realm of possibility that they just play free and easy and get deep. PGs Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroeder are fearless and tenacious, and could exploit the Cavs on defense. Like any team that hits a lot of threes, can explode on you.

The case against: Just not good at defense, especially in the back court and bench. Home crowd among the worst in the Association. Playing against the best all-around player in the world, and he's rested, healthy and at home. As with all balanced star-less teams, struggle when elite athletic teams turn up the juice on defense.

The case for the Cavs: Have the best three players on the court, which is almost always enough to win a series. At home, rested, and just loaded for bear. Don't panic when things get tight. LeBron James in the open court is the defining force of his generation. PF Kevin Love finally looks right in this lineup, and also seems like he's earned James and Irving's trust.

The case against: Are basically operating without a coach thanks to James throwing David Blatt under the bus. Aren't deep, and the bench players (Matthew Dellevadova and JR Smith) can brick them out of games. Bigs are erratic, and team lacks intensity, because they pretty much know that games before May don't really matter very much when you have James.

The pick: Cavs in five. I'm not sure if this is really a great LeBron James team, but they are healthy and firing on all cylinders right now, and have rest, home court and the best three players on the court. It's not going to take long.

MIAMI vs Toronto

The case for the Heat:
Just a different and better team with Joe Johnson in, and Chris Bosh out. PG Goran Dragic and C Hassan Whiteside in particular have improved in Bosh's absence. SG Dwyane Wade is playing his best ball in years, and while he isn't the athletic freak that he used to be, is just cagey as hell. SF Luol Deng is made for playoff hoop. Bench is deep and defensive, and they might have just beat a better team than the one they are playing in this series.

The case against: As seen in the Hornets series, don't defend the arc nearly well enough to hang with good shooting teams. Dragic can be exploited defensively, and Whiteside is foul and insanity-prone. Club has been snake-bit by injuries many times in recent years, which could easily crop up again, especially if the series goes long. Dependent now on young bench guys, who tend not to show up in road games, and they don't have home court in this round. If Bosh comes back, could be as much a hindrance as help.

The case for the Raptors: Balanced team with surprising athleticism. Might start playing with their hands off their throats, now that they've finally won a series. Hands down, best home crowd in the NBA. Focused enough on pump fakes and mid-range game to get some of the Miami bigs in foul trouble, which is going to be critical. When Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are on their game, can push past any team in the conference. Went 3-1 against the Heat in the regular season.

The case against: Barely escaped Game 7, with offensive sets that were just horrifying, which speaks to terrible coaching. Won't get the benefit of suspect officiating in a series with Wade. Don't have anyone inside that can compete with Whiteside, and the Heat can pound you inside. Long history of coming up small in the playoffs.

The pick: Heat in six. Which gives us the James v. Wade battle to go to the Finals that the world wants, even without the referee conspiracy theories that always crop up when Wade's drawing whistles.

Picks so far: 6-2.

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