Thursday, April 17, 2008

First Round Predictions

Normally the first round is more of a formality, a week to ten days where the top teams warm up for the more intriguing second round matchups. This year, however, we know championship caliber teams will knock each other out. In a season which began with critics calling the NBA too predictable, its popularity wavering after poor Finals ratings, ridden with a referee betting scandal, and its best players wanted help and demanded trades, the NBA has completely turned the other way and it is on path for one of its greatest years ever. In fact, there has never been a more anticipated and unpredictable NBA Playoffs like the ones that begin this Saturday.

predicted winners in bold

Eastern Conference

1 Boston Celtics
vs 8 Atlanta Hawks
The concern is whether Kevin Garnett can lead the Celtics past the Pistons. What everyone forgets is that Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Sam Cassell are far better at performing in the crunch time of big games. Pierce and Allen each have carried their teams to the Eastern Finals before. Cassell won playoff series with the Wolves and Clippers. The Wolves and the Clippers, guys. Allen put the Sonics on his back in 2005, dominating a first round series against Sacramento and pushing the eventual champion Spurs to six games. Look for Garnett to anchor Boston's great defense, but Allen and Pierce to take over late in games.

4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs 5 Washington Wizards
It is actually a disadvantage for Boston to be the #1 seed, because both Cleveland and Washington have a shot at upsetting them in the second round. Washington won their last three against the Celtics, and are more of an unknown with Gilbert Arenas now back and coming off the bench. This is the one Eastern to watch though, as the Cavs have ended the Wizards' last two seasons creating a little bit of a rivalry here. Remember Lebrons' trash talking to Arenas at the free throw line at the end of the first series? Cleveland never really got it together after the trade deadline deal, but the real reason I pick against them is because of Lebron James' bad back spasms. If he somehow gets healthy, he can single handedly win the series. Just ask the Detroit Pistons.

2 Detroit Pistons
vs 7 Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers have been on a hot streak in the second half of the season. Too bad they had to run into the Pistons, who are built for the playoffs.

3 Orlando Magic
vs 6 Toronto Raptors
The Orlando Magic certainly have the ability to make some noise in the playoffs. Dwight Howard is a lot like Shaq in his early days - dominating, but unable to take over late in games because of his inability to effectively pass out of double teams. I do not expect Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis to be big time enough to take out the Pistons in the second round.

Western Conference

1 Los Angeles Lakers vs 8 Denver Nuggets
Remember the first 8 seed to upset a 1 seed? Not the Warriors, not the Knicks. It was the Denver Nuggets against George Karl's Seattle Sonics. Denver has the ability to score, and you know Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony will rise to the occassion and give the Lakers all they have. Problem is, the Denver Nuggets have no chance against a offense based on passing and execution like the Lakers' triangle. Pau Gasol is an all-star and Lamar Odom is playing out of his mind. Derek Fisher, the Lakers' most underated addition this year, will continute to make plays in the playoffs. Oh, and they also have some MVP guy wearing 24. There will be a need for Andrew Bynum later in the playoffs, however.

4 Utah Jazz vs 5 Houston Rockets
Houston has homecourt in this rematch of last year's only seven game series. Last year, each team won all their home games until Utah stole a thrilling Game 7 in Houston. But that was with Yao. Just like last season, look for Utah to win all their home games and steal one on the road. Jerry Sloan is a brilliant playoff coach, and Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer are the best two players that no one watches. I look forward to them giving the Lakers fits in the second round.

2 New Orleans vs 7 Dallas Mavericks
No, it is not because of the playoff experience factor that everyone is talking about. It is because last night when these two teams happened to play each other, Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitski showed that they can go on a whole another level when it comes to winning the big games. We have not seen that from New Orleans.

3 San Antonio Spurs vs 6 Phoenix Suns

  • I am not picking because I cannot decide. I really do not know. So let me tell you what I do know.
  • The Spurs and Suns played in a series that what was practically the NBA Finals last year. The Suns were a Nash bloody nose and a Amare and Diaw suspension away from potentially winning the series.
  • But these are not the same two teams. Grant Hill and Shaq are now in for the Suns. With Amare and Nash, has there ever been a team with four former MVP candidates?
  • The Spurs are not the same team either. Manu Ginobli has emerged as the Spurs best player this year. If his groin is healthy, he is up there with Kobe and Lebron as the best clutch perfomers. That is right folks, this entire glorious NBA season make come down to Manu Ginboli's groin.
  • Tony Parker will be able to score at will. Steve Nash is way too slow to keep up with him, and Shawn Marion, whose length contained Parker in the past, is long gone.
  • Anyone else notice how everyone forgot about Leo Barbosa? He is good for a random offensive explosion that could win a game.
  • Fouls will be huge. Amare and Shaq on the same floor is next to impossible to stop. Duncan needs to stay in the game as much as possible.
  • Bruce Bowen is slipping and Robert Horry and Brent Barry are not 100%. They are crucial, as Barry adds another sharp shooter to go alongside Michael Finley. And everyone knows Robert Horry is good for a couple of clutch plays to win a playoff game or two.
  • This is the Spurs' big cactus sized problem: Tim Duncan has never gotten past Shaq. The Suns acquired Shaq mainly to guard Duncan, so the Spurs went out and got Kurt Thomas to guard Shaq.
  • Nash. Parker. Hill. Manu. Raja. Bruce. Finley. Barbosa. Amare. Thomas. Shaq. Duncan. This is madness. Madness? This is not madness, this is...where amazing happens.
  • So while I am not man enough to pick a winner of this series, I am going to make an even bolder prediction regarding this awesome Spurs - Suns matchup: Winner is champion.