There's Playoffs Left, Who You Got?

 

Basketball's over for the Blazers, but it's not over for everybody yet. Photo courtesy of NBA All Star Wallpaper.

The 2010-11 season is over for the Trail Blazers, and because of this, Portlanders are in somewhat of an unfortunate position. There’s basketball left to play, and the Blazers won’t be playing it. I’m a fan of the Blazers first, but a fan of the NBA a very close second, and quitting pro basketball cold turkey is not in the cards for me.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that Portland’s season is over early for yet another year, and in the next day or two I’ll definitely have a season recap post. In the meantime, there’s still Playoff basketball left, and if the second round and beyond is anything like the first round it’s sure to be a barnburner. Watching basketball from here on out will be a little easier; less potential for cardiac arrest and/or deep depression based on the trials and tribulations of the Blazers. But it’s important to have some investment in games, even if it’s not the die-hard investment that someone like me has in the Portland Trail Blazers.

In order to better flesh out which team is going to be my team going forward, I’ve developed a formula of sorts that assigns a numerical value for criteria that play a key role in choosing which teams I root for when the Blazers are not involved.

The formula breaks down thus: For each former Blazer on the roster a team earns three points, that’s pretty self-explanatory. For each roster player that attended a Pac-10 college a team earns two points. Not quite on the same level of obvious as rooting for teams with former Blazers, but I tend to favor guys that played their college ball on the West Coast, specifically in a conference that includes Oregon State and the University of Oregon. For each player with some kind of connection to the Northwest a team earns one point. Like rooting for the Pac-10, I like to cheer for guys that grew up in this part of the country. Basically the Northwest connection is limited to guys that played their high school ball in Seattle. And finally, a team can earn a half a point for anything I deem to be otherwise noteworthy.

These point values can go double, or triple. For instance, Damon Stoudamire, working as an assistant for the Memphis Grizzlies, claims the Triple Crown. Damon played for the Blazers from 1998 to 2005, attended the University of Arizona, and graduated from Wilson High School in Southwest Portland, earning him a combined score of six points on his own. Sadly this formula will be limited to players only, so Damon’s numbers don’t really matter.

Of course, I reserve the right to not choose to root for the team that earns the most points using my formula, and encourage you to come up with your own criteria for picking a horse in the run-to to the Finals.

Also for the sake of having said I’ve done it, I included in this post, which turns out to be quite lengthy, my predictions for the next round.

Starting With the West


Oklahoma City

Former Blazers: none. 0 points

Pac-10 players: James Harden, ASU; Nate Robinson, Washington; Russell Westbrook, UCLA.  6 points

Northwest connection: Nate Robinson, Rainer Beach High School Seattle. 1 point

Other noteworthy things: Used to be the Seattle Super Sonics; Winners of the Northwest Division. 1 point

Total: 8 points

Why I may root for them: Oklahoma City is one of the best young teams in the league, with a lineup that is top to bottom incredible to watch. Westbrook and Kevin Durant are the best backcourt in the league, Serge Ibaka has grown overnight into a fantastic low post player on offense and defense, Kendrick Perkins is an absolute beast, James Harden and Eric Maynor lead an impressively deep bench. There’s very little about the Oklahoma City Thunder that even a casual basketball fan wouldn’t love.

Why I may not root for them: Oklahoma City this season is Portland in 08-09, or at least what Portland should have been in 08-09. A young team, with immense talent, an up and coming superstar, on the verge of becoming perennial contenders. It’s impossible to watch OKC, and not think about what might have been for the Blazers. That, and one time, at the NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers, picking first overall, selected Greg Oden. The Seattle Super Sonics, soon to be the Oklahoma City Thunder, picking second, selected Kevin Durant. At sometime going forward in these remaining Playoff games that will be mentioned.

Memphis Grizzlies

Former Blazers: Zach Randolph 2001-2007. 3 points

Pac-10 players: O.J. Mayo, USC; Leon Powe, Cal. 4 points

Northwest connection: Used to be the Vancouver Grizzlies. 1 point

Other noteworthy things: Super underdog as the eighth seed in the West; Tony Allen is a maniac. 1 point

Total: 9 points

Why I may root for them: The Memphis Grizzlies are the major underdog, the team that tanked to get the team with the best record in the West, and then promptly proved that they made the right choice by running the San Antonio Spurs right out of town. Zach Randolph, a favorite of die-hard Blazer fans throughout the Northwest, has come into his own with the Grizz, an eighth seed in the Conference Finals or beyond would be down right historic. Basically, rooting for Memphis is the NBA equivalent of rooting for the Cinderellas of the Big Dance.

Why I may not root for them: It’s hard to find a reason not to root for the Memphis Grizzlies. Just about the only thing I can think of is that maybe they took the low road in tanking, and therefore should be punished because in the NBA the most important thing is always winning. Having said that, though, losing in the regular season in order to win in the post season seems to me to be winning on aggregate.

Los Angeles Lakers

Former Blazers: Steve Blake 2005-2006 and 2007-2010; Theo Ratliff 2004-2006. 6 points

Pac-10 players: Matt Barnes, UCLA; Luke Walton, Arizona. 4 points

Northwest connection: none. 0 points

Other noteworthy things: Playing Dallas. .5 points

Total: 10.5 points

Why I may root for them: The only reason that I would root for the Lakers is because of the teams they are playing. In the second round the Mavericks, the team that knocked out the Blazers, obviously, and in the Finals, potentially, the Heat.

Why I may not root for them: They are the Lakers. Making a conscious decision to root for the Lakers may result in my never being able to look at myself in the mirror again.

Dallas Mavericks

Former Blazers: none. 0 points

Pac-10 players: Jason Terry, Arizona; Jason Kidd, Cal. 4 points

Northwest connection: Jason Terry, Franklin High School Seattle. 1 point

Other noteworthy things: Knocked out Portland. .5 points

Total: 5.5 points

Why I may root for them: I can’t think of one good reason to root for Dallas. Rooting for the team that beat the Blazers is not good enough.

Why I may not root for them: They beat the Blazers. I would like nothing more than to see them swept out of the second round by the Lakers.

Predictions: Second Round

Oklahoma City Thunder Vs. Memphis Grizzlies

This is going to be a very interesting series. Neither team has much in the way of Playoff experience as far as being beyond the first round. Kendrick Perkins, Tony Allen, and Nate Robinson all went deep into the Playoffs with the Boston Celtics, Allen and Perkins with rings, Robinson with some big time Finals minutes. Robinson doesn’t play for this Thunder team, and most of the rest of the Playoff experience for this roster comes from last season’s team that was bounced in round one by the Lakers, and the limited Playoff minutes racked up by Daequan Cook in his time with the Miami Heat. That being said, this Thunder unit dispatched the Denver Nuggets with relative ease, and looks poised for a long, deep playoff run.

If Memphis is going to win this series, they are going to do it by defending the perimeter play of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Grizz took their series with San Antonio with strong interior offense, and even stronger interior defense, shutting down the scoring of Tim Duncan. The Thunder don’t go inside much for offense, so Memphis is going to have to adjust what they’re going to want to do on defense. The Thunder have a high powered and efficient offense that is likely going to be too much for Memphis to match. If it becomes an offense-only series, Oklahoma City has a serious advantage.

Prediction: Oklahoma City in 6

Los Angeles Lakers Vs. Dallas Mavericks

Another interesting series. Both Dallas and LA were pushed in the first round, but responded with close outs on the road. The difference between these two teams in the first round; LA lost at home, Dallas didn’t. That does mean, though, that the Lakers were able to win twice on the road, something Dallas did only once, and not until their last road game of the series. Dallas’s inability to finish Portland in games three and four, especially in game four, will come back at least once in this series. Dallas/LA will come down to which team can win first on the road, and to which team can recover fastest from the first round.

Neither of these teams lacks for age or experience, so getting rattled by being this deep into the Playoffs isn’t likely. On that note, though, it will be the highly publicized first Dirk Nowitzki Vs. Kobe Bryant Playoff series. Dirk is more likely to feel the pressure from that than Kobe, if anybody does. Dallas killed Portland by knocking down shots, and getting their big time players into the right spots at the right time. That won’t change. Dallas’s shooters will stay shooters, and Jason Kidd won’t suddenly forget how to play point guard.

The key for Dallas will be interior defense. LaMarcus Aldridge gave the Mavs fits all series; the only thing that stopped LMA was having to play 40 minutes of defense on Dirk every evening. The Lakers have a lot more length than Portland, and Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom are all proven and effective offensive weapons. Those three alone will be too much for Dallas to handle. Dirk, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Terry, and somebody else- maybe Jason Kidd, maybe Shawn Marion- will have to have a couple big offensive nights to put the Mavericks over the top. Caron Butler might come back for this series; whether or not that will make a difference could be a story line in this series.

Prediction: Lakers in 5

Moving to the East

Chicago Bulls

Former Blazers: none. 0 points

Pac-10 players: Brian Scalabrine, USC; Taj Gibson, USC. 4 points

Northwest connection: none. 0 points

Other noteworthy things: More Derrick Rose is never a bad thing. .5 points

Total: 4.5 points

Why I may root for them: Derrick Rose is an amazing player to watch. Although his team has struggled at times in this postseason, getting a solid run for their money by the sub .500 Indiana Pacers, they do have some moments where they play really inspired, team basketball. Chicago is certainly a team that is fun to watch on a nightly basis, and strangely is viewed by many to be something of an underdog.

Why I may not root for them: If Derrick Rose and this team of Bulls get to the Conference Finals, then the Finals, and then win, the Michael Jordan comparisons are going to fly. I could be spared that.

Boston Celtics

Former Blazers: Jermaine O’Neal 1996-2000; Von Wafer 2008 played in eight games. 6 points

Pac-10 players: none. 0 points

Northwest connection: Ray Allen played for the Seattle Super Sonics from 2003 to 2007. 1 point

Other noteworthy things: Could be nice to see Boston knock out Miami. .5 points

Total: 7.5 points

Why I may root for them: Like the Bulls and the Thunder, the Celtics are a great team to watch every night out. Rajon Rando, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, they have a serious group of guys that can flat out ball. Also, I would love to see a Shaq versus Kobe Finals, even if Shaquille doesn’t play a single minute.

Why I may not root for them: Like the Lakers, I find it hard to root for the Celtics and still call myself a Blazer fan.

Miami Heat

Former Blazers: Juwan Howard, 2009-2010; James Jones, 2007-2008; Jamaal Magloire, 2006-2007. 9 points

Pac-10 players: Eddie House, ASU; Mike Bibby, Arizona. 4 points

Northwest connection: none. 0 points

Other noteworthy things: Miami making it to the Finals would be the sports story of the year. .5 points

Total 13.5 points

Why I may root for them: Miami has the most former Blazers, three, two of which were favorites of mine when they played in Portland, Juwan Howard and James Jones. But really the only reason I would root for the Heat has less to do with the team and its players than it does with what a Heat championship might mean for the league as a whole. Due to the Decision and all the hoopla surrounding LeBron James and his new team and teammates, this NBA season has reached more casual fans and non-fans than probably any season in history. From day one, the Heat related intrigue of 2010-11 has produced a better narrative and more drama than any season I can remember. If the Heat were to get to the Finals, and if upon reaching the Finals were to win, it might generate enough media attention to avoid, or at least limit the length of, a lockout.

Why I may not root for them: Rooting for Miami is, in my mind, bandwagoning of the very worst kind. I’m a Blazer fan because this is where I live and where I grew up, not because I think they are the best team in the league or have the best chance of winning it all every year, although I do tend to think those things because I’m a dyed-in-the-wool homer. I don’t cheer for the Yankees, I don’t cheer for the Patriots, I’m not going to start front running by rooting for the Heat. Although, by a formula of my own design, they’re the team I should be picking.

Atlanta Hawks

Former Blazers: none. 0 points

Pac-10 players: Jason Collins, Stanford. 2 points

Northwest connection: Jamal Crawford Rainer Beach High School Seattle; Marvin Williams Bremerton High School Bremerton, Washington. 2 points

Other noteworthy things: Atlanta getting out of the second round would be an absolute miracle. .5 points

Total: 4.5 points

Why I may root for them: I can’t find a good reason to root for Atlanta, except it might be interesting to have an NBA Champion that seems to not care at all about winning, ever. Also, Jamal Crawford is one of my favorite, non-Blazer, players.

Why I may not root for them: Like I said, they don’t seem to care, so why should I waste my time caring about a team that doesn’t care.

Predictions: Second Round

Chicago Vs. Atlanta

These Eastern Conference series are going to be hard for me to get a good read on, seeing as I didn’t get a chance to see much of any of these four teams. I did get a chance to watch Chicago run a couple times in the first round, but saw only a few minutes of the entire Orlando/Atlanta first rounder. Atlanta got by the Magic primarily due to the fact that Orlando’s shooters couldn’t get on track. Chicago doesn’t play the same type of game as Orlando, although both teams get a lot of their points in the paint. The drive from Derrick Rose isn’t the same as the dunk from Dwight Howard, although stopping Howard wasn’t something the Hawks did at all in the first round, giving up an average of 27 points per to the first MVP candidate Atlanta will be facing in 2010-11’s post season.

Atlanta relied on balanced scoring in their unexpected win in the first round, having five scorers average double figures for the series. Chicago went five deep in the scoring column too. The Bulls leaned heavily on Rose, as they did most of the regular season. Chicago lives and dies by Derrick Rose. If the Bulls can get consistent contributions from guys like Kyle Korver and Carlos Boozer they should probably be ok.

In reality, though the Hawks are going to be tough to get a good handle on. They never should have made it out of the first round, in fact the way they played down the stretch it seemed as if they didn’t want to play in these Playoffs at all. That being said, they’re still alive, and they can give Chi a serious run. Atlanta has a core group of veteran players, lead by Joe Johnson who can kill if he wants to, and has one of the best sixth men in the business in Jamal Crawford. Chicago is a relatively young team, with limited Playoff experience, and the burden of having to overcome a less than stellar opening round. The Bulls will have to grow up fast if they want to reach this season’s Finals. There will be no better time to get to growing up than their second round series.

Prediction: Chicago in 6

Boston Vs. Miami

Boston versus Miami is going to be the first marquee matchup of these Playoffs. When Chicago vaulted the Celtics and the Heat to claim the top seed in the Eastern Conference, this second round series became all but inevitable. Boston and Miami were favorites to reach the Eastern Conference Finals when the season started, but unfortunately one of these two teams will not be included. Furthermore, the winner of this series, depending on how it all plays out, could become the de facto favorite to represent the East in the NBA Finals. Throw in last season’s less than glorious finish for LeBron James in this same round against this same team, and to say there’s going to be some tension in this series is somewhat of an understatement.

Because of that, I’m going to say that this series is going to come down to which team can handle the pressure, and which team can win on the road. Boston, with basically this same roster, has reached the Finals twice, winning once, and has played in plenty of high-pressure situations. Miami, with this roster, has yet to really accomplish much in the way of post season wins. However, there has likely never been a team in the history of the NBA that has faced the wire-to-wire pressure that the Heat have seen starting even before the first jump ball of the first game of the pre-season. When you predict a string of championships, you better expect some pressure to make good. The pressure has gotten the better of Miami at times this season, crying jags et al, but has brought the best out of the super team down the stretch. The Heat lost only twice in the regular season following a March 16th loss to Oklahoma City. That stretch did include nine games against non-Playoff teams, one of which was a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but also included a blowout win in Miami against Boston.

The Celtics were up and down after the All-Star break, with many pundits speculating that trading Kendrick Perkins may have cratered Boston’s toughness. A four-game sweep of the Knicks in the opening round may have erased some of the questions surrounding the Celtics potential as Finals contenders, but no doubt there will be some renewed speculation should Boston lose big in either game one or game two.

As far as winning on the road, Boston beat Miami twice in Boston and once in Miami in the regular season. Miami beat Boston just the one time, and it was on their home court. Home court advantage is going to be huge in this series. Miami only has to win at home; so stealing home court has to be the Celtics primary goal. But Boston probably shouldn’t hold out hope of winning a game seven on the road.

It’s going to come down to Miami’s big three versus Boston’s big three. Miami’s three are younger, and at this point in their careers might have a little more to play for. That might give them the edge.

Prediction: Miami in 7

So, which team am I rooting for going forward?

After some careful thought, and looking at my unique mathematical equation that, based on some arbitrary preferences, should tell me which team is my new favorite, I’ve decided this. I will be rooting for the Memphis Grizzlies, and should they lose, I probably won’t actually be rooting for anybody, just some really good basketball. I’m picking the Grizzlies primarily because of Zach Randolph. I loved him as a Blazer, although it’s frustrating that he never lived up to his obviously enormous potential while still playing in Portland, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he’s capable of on a basketball court. Also, given the choice, I tend to root for underdogs. Call it an unintended side effect of living in a small city, and being almost exclusively a fan of a small market team.

Which team would you like to see as NBA Champions in 2010-11

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