We're nearing the midway point of the first round of the NBA playoffs... let's see how my predictions are faring.
Let's start with the East...
- I picked Detroit to sweep Orlando, and they did that this afternoon.
- I predicted that the Cavs would sweep the Wizards, and they are playing right now with the Cavs looking to go up 3-0 in the series and well on track for a four game sweep.
- My Miami-Chicago series pick put the Bulls winning in 7, although with their current 3-0 series lead and Miami's lucklaster play, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Heat swept. Nor would I be surprised if they won Game 4 only to lose back in Chicago in Game 5. Of course, technically the series is not yet over, but I find it hard to imagine that this Heat team has the resolve to battle back from a three game deficit.
- Finally, the Nets-Raptors are keeping it interesting, as I suspected. The Nets currently hold a 2-1 lead after dispatching a thorough butt-kicking last night. I still like the Nets in 6.
Moving to the Western Conference...
- Despite the Mavs having lost all three regular season games against the Warriors, and casting aside the Warriors's strong end to the regular season, I picked the Mavs in 4. After last night's W, the Warriors lead the series 2-1. Whoops. I honestly expected the Mavs to play better ball, to not get out-run by the Warriors. I still do think the Mavs will win as they're the better team and the Warriors's style of play is usual inconsistent. Regardless, this is going to be a series the Mavs are going to have to work hard for.
- I picked Houston beating the Jazz in five, and I'll stick with that prediction. The Rockets currently lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 tonight in Utah.
- I predicted that the Suns would best the Lakers in five, as well. After a rather improbible win on Thursday, the Lakers trail the Suns two games to one with Game 4 in LA on Sunday. I expect the Suns to resume their dominant form tomorrow and win comfortably, then return to Phoenix and close the series out.
- Lastly, I picked the Spurs in 6. This series is the slowest moving of the eight, with only two games played in total thus far (although they do play later tonight). The series is knotted at one game apiece and heading to Denver. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Spurs take Game 3, then Nuggets Game 4, and then the Spurs Games 5 and 6.
Each year I post my playoff predictions before the start of the playoffs, from the first round through the Finals. In last year's predictions I mistakenly picked the Pistons besting the Heat and the Spurs beating the Mavs, resulting in a Spurs-Pistons rematch with the Spurs taking the title again. Whoops.
Let's get started with this year's picks! I've put the winning team name from each series in bold.
(1) Detroit beats (8) Orlando - Orlando has lost all four games to Detroit this season, which does not bode well for them in the playoffs. Also, Detroit is a much deeper and experienced team. Detroit in 4.
(4) Miami loses to (5) Chicago - While a lot of analysts are picking Miami to make it back to the Finals, I think they are going to have a hard time with D-Wade's injured shoulder and an older and slower Shaq. Last year the Bulls gave the Heat a fit in the playoffs, and that was before picking up big Ben Wallace. The Heat clearly have the experience, but I'll go with the younger, hungrier team in a fiercely fought series. Bulls in 7.
(2) Cleveland beats (7) Washington - No Caron Butler and no Gilbert Arenas makes this series as exciting as watching paint dry. The Wizard's record in April is 3 wins to 11 loses. Cavs in 4.
(3) Toronto loses to (6) New Jersey - Toronto has a promising future, but at this stage in the game they are too young and inexperienced to beat a veteran team in a best of seven series. There will be some close and exciting games, but in the end the Nets will clinch this series in 6.
Conference Semi-Finals (Round 2)
(1) Detroit beats (6) New Jersey - two teams with experienced, veteran teams promises to make this series an exciting one. If, by excitement, you mean watching games where the cumulative score fails to break 160. Regardless, many of these games will come down to final defensive stands. It will be a good series, but the Pistons will take it in 6.
(2) Cleveland beats (5) Chicago - after having a the equivalent of a week off in playing the depleted Wizards, the Cavs will be rested and out-play the Bulls on both ends of the court. However, the Bulls will stay in this series and make it interesting, taking it to a dramatic game 7.
Conference Finals (Round 3)
(1) Detroit beats (2) Cleveland - this game will bring back the ECSF excitement from last year, when the Cavs took the Pistons to Game 7, and I see this series going the distance, as well. And just like last year's series, I expect Game 7 to be a ho-hum experience with the Pistons controlling the game. Pistons in 7.
(1) Dallas beats (8) Golden State - Yeah, the Warriors have a 3-0 regular season record against the Mavs, but I expect the real Mavs to show up and play with a vengence. The Mavs have had a sole goal this year - to get back to and win the Finals. I assure you that the Warriors will not hinder their quest. Dallas in 4.
(4) Utah loses to (5) Houston - the Rockets are rolling and Yao and T-Mac are healthy and are ready to silence their critics. Of course, winning this series wins you an invitation to get stomped by Dallas. Houston in 5.
(3) San Antonio beats (6) Denver - the West is home to the three best teams in the League, with the Spurs being one of them. They are well-coached, experienced, and have a strong front court and back court with better than average role players. Despite Denver's dynamic duo of Iverson and Anthony, the Spurs will win this series in six and the series won't be as close as some might expect.
(2) Phoenix beats (7) Los Angeles Lakers - while the Lakers/Suns series from last year went 7 and was full of exciting moments, don't expect this year's matchup to be nearly as exciting. The Suns are stronger this year with a healthy Amare, and are motivated to get to the Finals in as few games as possible. Also, the Lakers are entering the playoffs with a pretty miserable final month and are lucky to hold on to the 7 seed. While Kobe's raw talent may lead the Lakers to a victory (or two), the Suns will make mincemeat of the Lakers this postseason. Suns in 5.
Western Conference Semi-Finals (Round 2)
(1) Dallas beats (5) Houston - another brick in the wall for Dallas on their way to the NBA Finals. Dallas in 5 in a one-sided series.
(2) Phoenix beats (3) San Antonio - except for the WCF, this will be the best series of the entire playoffs. The games will be tight, competitive, and high-scoring. Nash will dazzle with his passes, Amare will explode to the basket, and Duncan will hit big shot after big shot, showing little to no emotion. This will be a roller coaster series with the Suns winning at home in Game 7.
Western Conference Finals (Round 3)
(1) Dallas beats (2) Phoenix - this will be a series for the ages, one where you will want to watch every game. And in the end, the depth of the Mavs bench will be the deciding factor, as the Suns run out of gas late down the stretch. Mavs in 7.
Dallas beats Detroit - Dallas is the best team in the League this year and will rightfully win the title. The series will have its share of blowout games, but will also have one or two exciting ones. I see the Mavs winning in 5, capped by Mark Cuban running onto the court and acting like an excited fan rather than a stiff owner, which is appreciated by this blogger.
I watched Sunday's Mavs-Spurs game and was as mystified as everyone else when Tim Duncan picked up his second technical foul while sitting on the bench. This clip shows how Timmy gets the first technical (sitting on the bench) and then the second, laughing on the bench.
There's been a lot of talk about the two Ts on Duncan, which led to his ejection and helped the Mavs win the game. Reportedly, referee Joey Crawford was asking Duncan if “he wanted to fight,” which not only seems odd but rather foolhearty. Mark Cuban, who usually is outspoken, had the following to say:
I'm not going to comment on what happened during our Spurs game Sunday. My feelings about the subject havent changed and its not worth the money to comment on it here. In fact, I've given up writing in this blog about the NBA because my number one rule of blogging is that if you cant offer an honest opinion, say nothing.
He's got a good point. Why complain or lambast the officiating when, (a) the error in judgement was so crystal clear and out of line that any commentary is really unnecessary, and (b) such commentary will result in a ham-fisted fine from the commish? So best to hold your tounge and just say, “You know what happened, and it was unfortunate.” While Tim Duncan's ejection helped the Mavs secure the W, you know Mark would rather have had Timmy out on the floor. He's a businessman and he knows people are paying their hard earned money to see the best players play, not to see them get tossed because they are laughing while sitting on the bench.
The good news is that David Stern is also a clever and intelligent businessman and realizes such behavior by referees detracts from the quality and marketability of the game. In response, he has suspended Joey Crawford for the remainder of the season and playoffs and will speak to him in the offseason about the game and his likelihood for returning. Crawford was one of 10 NBA refs who were charged with filing false income tax returns in 1998. He resigned from the NBA, but was reinstated by Stern in 1999.
It's official now - Greg Oden will enter the NBA draft. Part of me was hoping this man child would be staying another year in the NCAA, and I thought that maybe the loss to Florida would give Oden and his friend and point guard Mike Conley, Jr. the determination to remain amateurs for another year. But the NBA calls and when the NBA calls, players harken.
Mike Conley, Jr.'s father will be the agent for both Greg Oden and his son.
After a talent-rich NCAA tournament, most of the premier players are bolting for the pros, which is the opposite of what happened at the end of the previous season. Florida's experienced core are all entering the draft, as are Kevin Durant, Oden, and Conley. Ditto UCLA's Arron Afflalo, Georgetown's Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert and UNC's Brandan Wright. The mock draft at NBADraft.net has Oden and Durant going 1 and 2, followed by Brandan Wright at number 3. Al Horford is the first Florida player to crack the list at #4.
This is shaping up to be a very deep draft year, perhaps comparable to 2003 when LeBron, Carmello, D-Wade, Chris Bosh, and Boris Diaw all entered the league. I doubt it will live up to the 1984 NBA draft, however, when players like Michael Jordan, Akeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton started their NBA careers.
Check out these Top 10 Dunks by Shawn Kemp (hat tip, TrueHoop blog). Very impressive, that guy was an animal back when he was motivated and in shape. A physical specimen.
My favorite dunk is #5 because it shows good sportsmanship. Preceding Kemp's dunks Chris Gatling stuffs a couple of guys trying to make layups around the hoop. Kemp finally gets one of the blocks, takes a power step, and goes up. Gatling gets a piece of the ball and a large piece of Kemp's shoulder, arm, and face, and Kemp just powers through it and stuffs it on him. What's priceless is right after that dunk the two make eye contact, Gatling gives him this look like, “Damn, you the man,” Kemp extends his hand, and they do a nice little hand shake/chest bump.
Too awesome. Too often when a player is dunked on or the butt end of a fine play, they lack the humility to give the guy props. Too worried about their own self image, or just want to move on and forget that one. And too often the guy who instigated the play is ready to brag or do some dance. In this rare instance we saw the best of both players: Gatling giving Kemp his respect and Kemp accepting it in a very noble manner.
To see the opposite of what I mean, just watch the #1 dunk. Kemp dunks over a guy, knocks him to the ground, and then points at the guy lying on the ground with both hands before running back downcourt.
This video has been making the blog rounds (hat tip, TrueHoop blog), but I just had to post it here, too. This kid has amazing atheletic ability, as evidenced by his dunks. Sadly, he doesn't sound like a very good basketball player - he plays mostly scrub time at his school, Eastern Washing University - so don't expect to see him strutting his stuff in the NCAA tourney or playing ball in the pros. But he does have an awe-inspiring ability to defy gravity. Wow.
I especially liked the part where he leaps over like six little kids to do his dunk. Impressive and entertaining.