Portland’s season officially ended this afternoon, with the Blazers addressing the media for the final time of 2011-12 at the team’s practice facility then departing for locations unknown to rest, rejuvenate, and watch what will probably be the best basketball anybody’s seen all season.
I was unable to attend the exit interview session (detained by a previous engagement: DAY JOB), so I have no first hand information, but there will be plenty forthcoming from those that report with their literal boots on the proverbial ground to further sum up the season and preview what’s up coming. I’ll have a seasonal recap type post coming too at some point.
Instead of talking about today’s pressers, or beginning the long process of breaking down draft order or potential picks/free agent stuff, I’m going to bust out a quick and dirty Playoff preview, in an attempt to handicap each and every first round series.
Last season I developed an abstruse little formula to help pick a team to support following Portland’s first round ouster by the future champion Dallas Mavericks. This Playoff season I’ve decided not to use this formula, and I’ve also decided to not pick an individual team to root for. I’ll probably stick with a Western Conference team, but right now I just want to enjoy some good basketball without having to put too much stock in a single outcome.
Because I’m not going to use my aforementioned formula, I’m also not going to do any research. I’ve watched every team in both conferences play at least once. I think that gives me the authority to predict their Playoff fates.
So without further ado, here is my First Round Playoff Preview, starting with the Eastern Conference.
Bulls vs. Sixers: Philly started the season pretty strong, but slid hard in the second half of the season with a couple of extended losing streaks (OK so I’m doing just a bit of research) after Game 30. Finishing in the eighth spot was probably not what Philly imagined would happen when they started 10-3. Getting a first round date with the Bulls (who tied with San Antonio for the best record in the NBA) also probably wasn’t at the top of Philly’s preseason end-of-the-season goals. Chicago played through injuries to Derrick Rose, and has proven that they’ve bettered themselves in the one area that killed them last year: depth. Rip Hamilton won’t win this team a Championship on his own, but he might take just enough pressure off Loul Deng and the other Bulls that will have to score to win games to push Chicago over the top. Certainly the Bulls have enough going on to win this series. Philly took a game off of Miami in the first round last year, no reason they can’t avoid getting swept out of the first round for a second season in a row. Prediction: Chicago in 5.
Heat vs. Knicks: If New York vs. Miami isn’t the marquee match-up of the whole first round, it is going to be the most watched opening series in the east. At least one “expert” has picked the Knicks to take this one, and plenty has already been written in the 24-hour space we’ve all been given between the end of the regular season at the start of the Playoffs (here‘s a long one, sift through this and you’ll find some other good stuff). The Knicks have been one of the through line narratives of the season, and they’ve survived Linsanity and Linseason ending knee surgery. They also managed to avoid a first round series with the Bulls. Not bad. I certainly think Miami is vulnerable, look at the way they play without the Big Three, but in my mind 48 minutes of in your face defense beats 48 minutes of devil may care offense at least four out of seven times. The Knicks have one thing going for them, they’re a roster full of guys that play to the occasion. These games are going to be appointment television. The MSG fans (Spike Lee included) will put enough heat (no pun intended) behind J.R. Smith to get New York at least one win. That being said, I don’t think the Knicks will be able to steal one in Miami, especially if the one they need ends up being game seven. Sorry Chris Sheridan, and all you other LeBron haters, Miami wins this one, they’re just too good and too determined to get knocked out in the first round. Prediction: Miami in 6.
Pacers vs. Magic: If there is an upset special in this first round (like there was last season with the Blazers/Mavericks series) this is it. Not because Orlando is great or anything. Mostly because nobody really knows what to expect from Indiana. The Pacers finished last season in the eighth spot in East, making the Playoffs with a losing record, and got blown out in game five by the Bulls after playing and losing three very close games and playing and winning one very close game. This season, Indiana has surprised everybody. And when I say everybody (and nobody two sentences before that) I mainly mean me. The Pacers are easily the team I know the least about. I watched them once in 2011-12, and that was during their blowout victory over the Blazers in Nate McMillan’s penultimate game as Portland’s head coach. Danny Granger, David West, and Roy Hibbert are All-Star level players for Indiana. After that, they’ve got guys like George Hill, Paul George, and Tyler Hansbrough that can make things happen. They’ve also got one of the quickest PGs in the league in Darren Collison. The Magic have a bunch of shooters, and are missing the centerpiece of their entire franchise. The reason Indiana could get in trouble in this series is because they haven’t been in this position before, or at least this version of the Indiana Pacers hasn’t been in this position before. Blazer fans know, having home court advantage for the first time is no walk in the park. The Pacers have the benefit of having a Playoff run as an eight seed under their belt, so they’re not as green as the 08-09 Blazers, but they might have first-timer jitters all the same. This series will come down to road games. First team to win on the road wins. If nobody wins on the road, well then Indiana wins. That’s what home court advantage is all about. Prediction: Indiana in 7.
Celtics vs. Hawks: I have to say, I was a little taken by surprise just now when I looked at the Playoff breakdown and saw that Boston was a four seed. I don’t follow the East very closely, and I just assumed they were in the bottom half of the bracket. I was going to say that a four/five with Atlanta as the four and Boston the five would be the only upset in the East. But I can’t say that can I now that I know the Celtics are the lower seed. If there’s one thing Atlanta has shown in the last few years it’s that they can play like they absolutely don’t care at all, and then turn it on to win a Playoff series. If there’s anything we know about Boston it’s that they seem to get reborn to some degree when the Playoffs roll around. Like Indiana/Orlando, I have a feeling this series will come down to home court advantage. If Boston can steal a game in Atlanta (especially if that game is Game Three with the Celtics leading 2-0) they should have no problem getting into the second round to have the chance to play spoiler against the Chicago Bulls. If Atlanta can grab home court by winning in Boston, then this is their series to lose. Whichever team is more motivated to win on the road wins this one. In my mind the advantage goes to the Hawks. They have two chances to win in Boston before the Celtics have a shot at winning in ATL. My bet is a highly energized Atlanta team storms Boston, catches the Celtics off guard, and takes the opener. Prediction: Atlanta in 6.
OK, I hope you’re still with me. So the East is out of the way for now. On to the West. I can easily say that I’ve watched the West play a lot more in 2011-12 than I have the East. Many of these teams I’ve seen at once in person even. No way anybody would deny my expertise after reading that.
And so…the West.
Spurs vs. Jazz: The San Antonio Spurs should be studied. It’s amazing that a team can consistently be the best (this is the second season in a row that San Antonio has been the number one seed in the West) and not really be the odds on favorite. The Spurs lost for the final time in the 11-12 regular season on April 11th. They won their final 10, many without their three best players. And there’s a good chance that picking San Antonio to even reach the Finals is going to be done only by those national media dudes that have reputations for “going against the grain.” It’s insanity. San Antonio is good. They’re scary deep. And the last time there was a lockout shortened season they finished as the NBA Champs. Utah is no push over, though. Winning in SLC is a challenge, even for the best teams in the league. However, at the end of the day, this series is going to come down to talent. San Antonio out talents Utah every way you spin it. The Jazz get one solely on the strength of their home supporters, but that’s all. I predict that at least one of the games in this series ends as a blowout after the Spurs go a whole quarter without missing a shot. Prediction: San Antonio in 5.
Thunder vs. Mavericks: Let’s be honest, nobody really thought Dallas was going to be able to win back-to-back championships did they? Last season wasn’t a fluke. The Mavs played great basketball down the stretch, peaked at just the right time, and did what a championship team has to do, capitalize on every single opportunity. Dallas has been up and down all season, and I have to believe they’re just happy they avoided the ignominy of falling all the way to the eight seed. Part of the reason San Antonio will be playing the part of Rodney Dangerfield this post season (and getting no respect) is because of the Oklahoma City Thunder. They’re the team that everybody loves to love. The Thunder will have to play well without their concussed sixth man extraordinaire James Harden at full strength, but I imagine that will be little more than a speed bump in the first round. If Harden should get hit in the head again or something like that, then I’ll reconsider, but at this point, broken legs for both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be the only thing stopping OKC from rolling over the Mavericks. I want to say that the Thunder sweep, and there’s a possibility they might especially if they win one of the first two by 10 or more, but I think the Mavs get one in Dallas. Prediction: Oklahoma City in 5. (note: last season I picked against Dallas three times and for them once. Obviously they won every time.)
Lakers vs. Nuggets: Here’s your upset special. How the Lakers managed to finish the season in third in the West is still beyond me. I thought this LA team was supposed to be bad. Denver started strong, faded because of injuries, then finished strong. LA is going to be without Metta World
Elbow You In The Head Peace for this series so that might hurt their chances. Denver goes deep and plays the opposite of LA’s one-man and four-other-guys offense. This one is up in the air. The Nuggets are going to have to find a way to stop Andrew Bynum. Kobe Bryant is going to shoot a lot, but it’s going to be Bynum’s play in the paint that will define this series. Denver plays mostly small ball, so if Bynum has a couple 20-20 kind of nights the Nuggets are in trouble. Where Denver has an advantage is their bench. Kobe is going to play a lot of minutes, but he can’t play all the minutes. If the Nuggets focus on beating the Lakers when Bryant isn’t on the floor, or at least not letting the Lakers’ second-tier guys go off, they’ll have a real chance of taking this series. Again, this one is going to come down to winning on the road. If the Lakers get one of the first two in Denver, regardless of what the Nuggets do in LA, they win the series. I don’t feel like Denver can win a close-out game at the Staples Center. I just don’t. Like Atlanta/Boston, Game One will be of the utmost importance. That’s Denver’s chance to give themselves a chance. Prediction: Lakers in 7.
Grizzlies vs. Clippers: And so we end with the best match-up in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies were the Cinderellas of last year’s ball (one of the few times that can actually be said about the NBA). This season they’re the sentimental favorite. The Clippers want very badly to be the poster team of the new NBA. This series is an NBA-hipsters worst nightmare. The Clips are young and hip and fun to watch and they’re from LA but they’re not from the establishment LA they’re from the alternative LA. The Grizzlies are the mother f-ing Grizzlies. Tony Allen owns Twitter. Gilbert Arenas is the reason Twitter was invented. Zach Randolph is every NBA snob’s favorite player. Hip NBA-o-philes can tell you that Marc is the better of the Brothers Gasol and they’re not wrong. What are we supposed to do? Watch and enjoy. This series isn’t going to be the best basketball in the first round (that will probably come from the San Antonio/Utah series because neither of those teams is super exciting), but it will probably be the most fun to watch. Blake Griffin is going to get BEAT TO HELL, and he’s going to make it look ten times worse than it actually is. The Staples Center is going to be PACKED with Clippers fans. Randy Foye is going to go nuts. Chris Paul is going to do something amazing. O.J. Mayo will do something just as amazing then people will Twitter fight about whether or not O.J. Mayo > Chris Paul #NBAPLAYOFFSAREAWESOME. Zach Randolph won’t dunk a single time and will finish with much better stats than either Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan. The series will go six or seven games and two or three of them won’t even be close. Somebody will get punched in the face. Memphis/LAC is what the NBA Playoffs is all about, too bad it will be over and done with in the first round. The team that gets serious first wins this series. I don’t think the Clippers are old enough, mature enough, or experienced enough (I know I just used three words to say the same thing but whatever) to get serious before its too late. And who knows whether or not the Clips can be serious at all? Prediction: Memphis in 6. (Bonus Prediction: CP3 stays in Clipper-land and this team wins 50 games in 2012-13 under the watchful eye of Nate McMillan).
It’s straight up crazy that the Playoffs start tomorrow. I hope you enjoy them, because they’re going to be good.
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