April 2005 - Posts
The NBA playoffs get underway tomorrow, so I best be making my picks. Before I do, though, let's look back at my, accurately dubbed, “insanely inaccurate” picks at the beginning of the season. Out of the east I thought the conference would shake out like so:
Personally I think those picks weren't too bad. Who could have guessed the Bulls of all teams would have had the season they've had, or the Wizards for that matter? Or that the Cavs would self-implode? Or that an in-stands brawl would knock out one of Indiana's top players for the season (Artest) and their premier center (O'Neal) for a month?
In the West I did a bit worse, IMO. Here's how I envisioned the season would shake out:
Regardless, though, I don't think these picks were too far astray. The Lakers should have made the postseason, and who knows how the Jazz would have fared with AK, a productive Boozer, and a content Arroyo? And the T-Wolves surely disappointed.
I guess what's most disappointing is that all my picks were safe. I didn't roll the dice on a team like the Bulls, Sonics, or Wizards breaking out. I didn't have the foresight to see that young and gun + a true point guard would have equalled excitement and Ws in Phoenix. Eh, so it goes.
Without further adeu, here are my picks for the playoffs:
Miami (1) beats New Jersey (8) - New Jersey is playing well now, but Miami is a better team. There will be matchup problems on both ends - the Heat have no answer for VC, the Nets no answer for Shaq. Miami in 6
Detroit (2) beats the 76ers (7) - Detroit is going to cruise through this series. They ended the season hot and are ready to repeat as NBA champs. Detroit in 5.
Celtics (3) lose to the Pacers (6) - will be a tough fight, especially with O'Neal not being 100%. I think the series could go either way, but I'd rather put my money on a team I think has more consistency. Pacers in 6.
Chicago (4) loses to the Wizards (5) - the Bulls have been hurt with Curry and Deng injuries. Bummer. Plus, team is too young. If Krause keeps the nucleus together, this team will be back here next year and will be better/smarter. Wizards in 6.
(1) Miami beats the Wizards (5) - Miami is a better team than these Wizards. More postseason experience, too. Miami in 4.
(2) Detroit beats the Pacers (6) - Detroit is the team to beat in the postseason. They are on a roll, have a healthy roster, and will manhandle the Pacers (or the Celtics, if they make it). Detroit in 5.
(1) Miami loses to Detroit (2) - Personally, I'd like to see Shaq make it to the Finals (again), but I think the Heat are going to have a hard time against the Pistons. Miami limped into the postseason with a piss poor finish; Shaq is older; the Heat don't have much of a supporting cast. Compare that to Detroit, which has a deeper team, the experience/swagger of being the NBA champs, and is on quite the roll. Pacers in 6.
(1) Phoenix beats Memphis (8) - Phoenix is red hot, the Grizz are ice cold. Memphis hasn't won a playoff game in its team's history yet, and it ain't gonna happen this season, either. Suns in 4.
(2) San Antonio loses to Denver (7) - This is my “risky“ guess here, rollin' the dice.... Denver is the last team the Spurs want to face, and they'll provide a great challenge. I think that the Spurs are better than the Nuggets and have more experience, but the Spurs have a track record of folding in the playoffs in the past... Denver in 7.
(3) Seattle beats Sacramento (6) - Peja is hurt; the Sonics have been in a slump. Prediction: this playoff series will not be nearly as exciting as it could be if both teams were playing top-notch, light-'em-up basketball. Sonics win in 6.
(4) Dallas beats Houston (5) - Dallas is playing well and the Rockets are still waiting for Yao to become a true franchise player (although I doubt he ever will). Dallas in 5.
(1) Phoenix beats Dallas (4) - This is likely to be one of the most exciting and fun series to watch - two offensively minded teams going at one another on one end of the court (but not really the other). Plus this series will have the extra drama of Nash's chance to show Cubes what's up. Should be a close and fun series, but the Suns are a more talented, younger, and exciting team. Suns in 6.
(3) Seattle loses to Denver (7) - bouyed with their win over the Spurs, an energetic Denver will take it to Seattle, winning the series in 6.
(1) Phoenix beats Denver (7) - this will be a good series, but not quite the Spurs/Suns series everyone was itching to see. The Nuggets will get frustrated by early Suns wins and pack it up and go home. Suns in 5.
Phoenix loses to Detroit - we have a repeat, ladies and gentlemen. If this matchup comes to fruition, I don't care who wins - it's bound to be one helluva exciting and entertaining series.
So it's playoff time again, and this year's playoffs look like they'll be one of the most even and exciting in quite a while. This year, IMO, has finally seen the resurgence of the East. Sure, last year we had some great teams in the East (notably Indiana & Detroit), but this year boasts even greater parity. For example, last year the worst team in the West (the Clippers) would have finished tied with Atlanta for fourth worst in the East. That is, the three worst teams in the League hailed from the East. Last year the Eastern Conference teams averaged a 37-45 record, while the West averaged the opposite: 45-37. An average West team was worth another 8 wins than an average East team.
This year, however, the lopsidedness has regressed a bit. The average East team record this season was 39-43, while the average West team was 43-39, netting a difference of only 4 games as opposed to 8. Highlighting this improvement is that fact that entry into the Eastern Conference playoffs is much more stringent this year than last. Last year the 8th seed were the lowly Boston Celtics with a 44% winning record (36-46). This year, that type of record in the East would put you tied with Orlando for the #10 spot. The #8 spot this year - New Jersey (and Cleveland, in the #9 spot) - had a +500 record at 42-40. Had the Nets had this same record last year they would have been seeded fourth. (Incidentally, the Nets' record last year was 47-35, winning them their division.)
Why the change in disparity between the East and West? Here are a couple of potential reasons:
- Shaq's move to the East - with the addition of Shaq and the continued maturation of Wade, the Heat improved from 42-40 last year to 59-23 this year.
- New Orlean's Move to the West - New Orleans, last year, was an Eastern Conference team, but was scuttled to the West this year as the Bobcat's took their place in the East. Stuck in a tougher division and plauged by injuries, the Hornets fell from a record of 41-41 last year to 18-64 this year - ouch! (Of course, New Orlean's overall effect on the East vs. West rankings is mitigated by their Eastern replacement's identical 18-64 record.)
- The Stumbling West - a number of typically strong Western Conference teams this year sufferred records far worse than they were used to. The Lakers ended up in the bottom of their division, sporting a 34-48 post-Shaq record. The T-Wolves also stunk it up, falling from a Western Conference best record of 58-24 last year to a lottery-bound 44-38 this year. Utah, which looked to have a bright future at the start of this season, sufferred some injuries and unhappy players, landing them with the fourth worst record in the leage at 26-56. Portland was a big disappointment as well.
- The Surging East - a number of craptacular teams in the East really stepped it up this year, such as the Bulls (first playoff berth since MJ left town) and Wizards. Also considering “the brawl“ and it's cost on Indiana's rotation and moral, the Pacers outshined their mid-season expectations, finishing with a respectable 44-38.
In the end, this all sums up to an exciting playoffs from both conferences.
With Minnesota's loss last night to Seattle the Timberwolves are officially out of the playoff hunt in the West, and I am $5 poorer. I was in Vegas prior to the start of the season and (foolishly) put down $5 on the T-Wolves for winning it all this year, who had 5-1 odds at the time. Last night's loss rendered that gambling ticket as worth as much as the paper it's printed on.
My other $5 bet made that trip was on the Spurs winning it all. If they do, I'll break even.... so come on Spurs! :-) The last time I bet on the NBA in Vegas was in the 2002/2003 season, when I put $5 down that the Lakers would three-peat. And, sure enough, they did, netting me $2.50, if I recall correctly. Bouyed by this success from years past, I punkered down twice as much capital back in October. Drat, Vegas is a mean temptress!
From Bill Simmons's latest article I stumbled upon Paul Shirley's blog. Who is Paul Shirley you might ask? He is the Phoenix Suns 12th man, having racked up a total of 19 minutes of playing time this year (as of this blog entry). Besides being a pro at riding the pine, he's also got a knack for writing, making his blog is a warm and hilarious look into to the life of a bench warmer. As Paul puts it:
I play for (I use the term loosely; play for/cheer for—same thing) arguably the best basketball team in the world. My responsibilities include: 1. Showing up for buses, practices, games, etc. on time. 2. Refraining from causing undue stress to anyone by misbehaving on road trips or wading into the stands to attack fans. 3. Practicing hard when given the opportunity. 4. Entering games when my team is up by an insurmountable margin and attempting to break the shots-per-minute record. It is not a difficult job, really, and I can find very little to complain about, especially tonight.
Paul's writing comes off so well, I think, because he seems like an average guy, not an NBA baller. He has thoughts and feelings, worries and concerns that you might expect to hear your brother talking about, and he provides these narratives with the right mix of insider access and self-depricating humor.
Best of all Paul comes across as a smart and level-headed guy. He doesn't seem to have many close basketball friends, preferring the company of trainers, and he often laments about the loneliness of the road, of being in your late 20s without a core group of close friends or a wife or serious girlfriend.
A great blog to read... what really is a downer, though, is I can't find an RSS feed to the blog. Personally I don't think you should be able to use the word blog unless you provide an RSS feed. (NBA.com is pretty notorious for this offense; yes, they have some RSS feeds, but not for Paul's blog and not for their “blog squad.”)
With all the recent hubub of steroids in baseball, it's not surprising that the NBA wants to proactively deflect any potential suspiscion of steroid use amongst its players. A recent article by Marc Stein, Stern On Steroids: 'It's Not a Problem We Think We Have,' talks to a couple of NBA players around the league who state that steroids are not really an issue. These players explain that basketball players want to remain nimble, quick, lean - they aren't looking to pack on muscle, muscle that will only render them a quick slower and reduce their overall stamina.
Memphis' Shane Battier echoed Massenburg's assertion that steroids are unlikely to appeal to NBA players – now or in the future – when weight training appeals to so few.
"Something you've got to understand is that basketball players just don't like to lift weights," Battier said. "Most of us would rather be out playing ball. We all grew up either on the playground or in the gym. If we're going to spend time working on our game, we're going to be on the court."
That sentiment seems to make sense, as I've read in numerous NBA books about coaches having to drag their players into the weight room, but what doesn't add up is the size of NBA players today compared to NBA players in the 80s. I have several classic NBA games from the 80s and early 90s on VCR and the most apparent thing when watching an old game vs. watching a game from this century is the size of the players. Who knows, it might be the camera angle, but the average player back then looks much skinnier, much lankier, less atheletic, and less strong than today's player. The muscle definition isn't there. The thick arms and legs aren't there.... I dunno, I just remember how stark the differences in body mass appeared to me when watching my first “classic” game, a game from 1983 (specifically, the highest scoring game in NBA history - the Pistons besting the Nuggets, 186-184 in triple overtime).
Bill Simmons's latest article for ESPN.com is out and focuses on the NBA MVP race. In the article Bill provides his list of the year's most (and least) valuable players. Trailing the pack as the least valuable player is - no surprise here - Ron Artest. Let's hope his music producing career is taking off. Bill also mentions Darko Milicic as an LVP, a recognition that, for some reason, many sports writers overlook. Granted, Darko is a no-name, so you don't really hear that much about him, but when you look at:
- The success Detroit has had this year and last,
- The three players the Pistons could have snatched in place of Darko - Carmelo, Chris Bosh, or Dwyane Wade - it makes you wonder just how much better this team could be.
Factor those two things together and I would say that myself, as one who really could care less about Detroit teams, spends at least a few minutes a week thinking, “Jesus, just imagine...” So how could this not be a more common discussion elsewhere? Props to Bill for pointing out the worst draft choice in my memory. Worse than taking Kwame #1 - at least Kwame is averaging 22 minutes per game to Darko's 5.5. (On ESPN.com for each team they list the five starters and their backups - Darko is missing from this list; at least Kwame is credited as a backup for Jamison.) Bill sums up my feelings wonderfully with his prose:
“A quick recap of the 2003 Draft ...
No. 1. – LeBron James
No. 2. – Darko Milicic
No. 3. – Carmelo Anthony
No. 4. – Chris Bosh
No. 5. – Dwyane Wade
(That's like reaching into a brown paper bag filled with two checks for $100 million, two checks for $10 million, and a check for $10 ... and pulling out the check for 10 dollars. Ouch.)
Bill's Top 10 MVP candidates are filled with the usual suspects: Garnett, Kidd, Duncan, Iverson, and so on. Bill gives Reggie a spot at #8, which is a bit generous realistically, but a nice gesture seeing as Miller's playing great team ball, producing, and taking things in stride in his final year as an NBA player. If only MJ could have shown the same demeanor and attitude when he made his last comeback with the Wizards, I wouldn't be surprised if the Wiz kids had made the playoffs both of those years.
Bill pegs Nash at the #6 spot, unable to move him higher due to the fact that:
- He can't play defense
- He has a supporting cast that would make any good point guard look like an MVP. (If I had a time machine I'd bring Magic Johnson in his prime to the current day so I could watch him run and gun with Phoenix's other starting 4.)
I tend to agree, although I think I'd bump him up a bit higher. Sure, Nash isn't the only reason the Suns are playing lights out, but let's not forget that last year Phoenix was 29-53. Steve derserves a lot of that credit, I think. (Especially considering that their first major slide was when Nash was on the injured reserve.)
The #1 MVP on Bill's list, and the player I think will definitely win it this year, is Shaq, especially if the Heat live up to their potential in the postseason. Maybe we shouldn't be too surprised - after all, as discussed earlier, some folks argue that Shaq is the most dominant player in the history of the NBA. This is the Shaq whose departure from the Lakers turned them into the lottery-bound team, and whose addition to the Heat made them one of the few teams in the league no one wants to face come the postseason.
When this season started, the Lakers played to people's expectations - no one expected them to dominate, but with Kobe getting his opportunity as the team captain, with the addition of skilled coach Rudy T, Lakers fans were expecting a low playoff seed with a likely early playoff exit, hopefully making it into the second round before getting bounced. The Lakers, through much of the first half of the season, played consistently well enough to hover around the 6 or 7 spot in the Western Conference rankings. But then things started coming apart. Can't say what exactly precipitated it all, but Rudy T left; Kobe was beset by some nagging injuries; the Lakers - never really playing like a team much at all this season, started playing even less like one; players showed signs of fatigues; those lucky bounces stopped.
This all sums up to a Lakers team that is now playing merely to not have the embarassment of having a worse record than the LA Clippers. (After last night's humiliating 102-82 loss to the Grizzlies - the team currently holding the West's 8th spot - the Lakers are currently a half game up over their chronoically mediocre neighbors.) So who will stink it up worse, the Lakers or Clippers? If we use history as a guide, we'd have to go with the consistently sucky Clippers, who do have a tough schedule remaining. However, the Lakers have an even tougher schedule, in my opinion. While the Clipps do face the Spurs twice, the Suns, and Houston, they also get to play the Bobcats and New Orleans twice. The Lakers, on the other hand, face Phoenix twice, Houston, Seattle, the Kings twice, the Mavs, the Warriors, and the Trailblazzers. Except for the final two meaningless games among the playoff absence, the other games are against tough teams still jockying for playoff position.
Hopefully the Lakers can improve in the offseason, but as I discussed in an earlier blog entry, I don't have much hope for the Lakers until Kobe leaves or matures, and neither of those are likely to happen anytime soon.
Moving to the Eastern Conference, if you were to have told a friend last year, “Man, I can't wait for the Bulls/Heat game,” he'd probably have you committed. But tomorrow night the Bulls and Heat, two of the top Eastern Conference teams, meet in Miami. The Bulls have won nine straight and are playing the best basketball since a number 23 suited up in red and black. Should be a great game. The rest of this regular season should be a good indication on how the Bulls will fare come playoff time - they have games against many of the teams they'll likely meet: Miami tomorrow, Orlando the day after, Detroit, Washington, and Orlando again, next week, and the recently surging Pacers to close off their season.
Of course, the regular season's performance can mean squat in the playoffs without a skilled coach. Who can forget Isaih Thomas's Pacers team that cruised through the playoffs like a bat out of hell only to stumble in the playoffs, playing well below their abilities. Hopefully, though, the Bulls make it to at least the second round, where they'll likely be bested by a superior Detroit or Miami team (depending on how the regular season shapes up).
In the playoffs I expect Miami, Detroit, the Spurs, and Phoenix to be the teams others fear to play. While Seattle had a hell of a bang to start the season, I think they've lost momentum. Couple that with their playoff inexperience and I think they'll exit sooner than most people may think. Should be a great postseason in both conferences!
NBAWebLog.com's latest blogger, chowell, recently emailed me with a couple suggestions for improving NBAWebLog.com:
- Allow bloggers an easier way to modify the content in their blog's layout. Unfortunately the blogging software I'm currently using - .Text - only allows modification of the content through the Admin interface. A blogger can add links and various sections to the site layout, but cannot physically modify the site's layout - you need access to the files on the Web server to be able to do that.
Once I have more free time I plan on upgrading my version of .Text to the new and improved Community Server software, which includes not only a much more customizable blogging interface, but also provides forums and photo galleries. Just need to find a spare few hours to make the change!
- Provide a means to search NBAWebLog.com. This idea is one that I plan on implementing, hopefully today, but maybe not for a couple of weeks, depends on how my schedule pans out. But a great idea nevertheless!
Do you have any suggestions or ideas for improving NBAWebLog.com? If so, please don't hesitate to let me know.