2008-2009 Playoff Predictions

Each year I post my (insanely inaccurate) playoff predictions prior to the start of the postseason. I some rare circumstances my picks are spot on - such as my prediction last year of a Lakers / Celtics Finals with the Celtics winning in 6 - but most of the time my guesses are horrific and gum up my entire bracket (such as last year's pick of the Wizards beating the Cavs in Round 1... whoops) or are just so divorced from reality, as in the case of picking that the Celtics would sweep the Hawks in Round 1. This year I didn't have as much time to pontificate on my playoff picks because the Western Conference seedings weren't finalized until the last day of the regular season. With such a tight bunching between the 2nd and 8th-seeded teams, every game this regular season mattered. From Chris Tomasson in Nuggets Can Thank Papovich for No. 2 Seed:

In San Antonio, they remember the Alamo. They also might remember Feb. 3. That was the night Spurs coach Gregg Popovich rested most of his top players against the Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Playing the second game of a back-to-back situation after winning the previous night at Golden State, Popovich didn’t use Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili or Michael Finley. Although Ginobili had gotten hurt the night before, Popovich gave no concrete reason for resting the others.

The Spurs J.V. team battled well. But they fell 104-96 to assure that Denver won the season series 2-1. Well, guess what? The Spurs and the Nuggets both finished the season 54-28, with Denver, due to the tiebreaker, getting the No. 2 seed in the West and San Antonio settling for No. 3. Had Popovich used his top players that night and the Spurs won, San Antonio would be the No. 2 seed and would be in line for homecourt advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs. Of course, an extra loss would have meant the Nuggets would have finished the season 53-29. That would have resulted in them losing the Northwest Division to Portland (54-28) and losing a tiebreaker to Houston (53-29) for the No. 4 seed.

Let's get started with this year's picks! I've put the winning team name from each series in bold.

Eastern Conference

Round 1
(1) Cleveland beats (8) Detroit - The Pistons have had a disappointing season marred by a disastrous trade. Cleveland and LeBron have been unstoppable, netting the league's best record with only two loses on their home court all year. Cleveland will win this series easily in 5. I forsee the Cavs being up 3-0 when the Pistons win a meaningless Game 4, only to have the Cavs dominantly close the series in Game 5 back in Cleveland (although a four game sweep wouldn't surprise me in the least).

(4) Atlanta loses to (5) Miami - D-Wade is a beast and here's the scary part - he could have been a Detroit Piston! I've mentioned this before many times, but we, as a society, can never forget - the Pistons took Darko as their #2 pick in the draft over D-Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh. Ok, I feel better now. I see Wade putting forth a Herculean effort that cannot be stopped or matched by the Hawks. Heat in 6.

(3) Orlando beats (6) Philly - While Orlando has slipped a bit in the last bit of the season, they're in a perfect position now. They won't have to worry about the Cavs until the Conference Finals and they'd face a depleted Celtics team in Round 2. Philly will be a road bump for the Magic, who will win in 5.

(2) Boston over (7) Chicago - First, the bad news: Celtics Coach Doc Rivers announced that, after sitting out several games late in the regular season, Garnett will likely be out for the entire playoffs with a bum knee. While the Celtics have won the vast majority of their games during Garnett's absenses this season, one wonders how they will fare in the playoffs without the services of their emotional leader. This first round should be a good test as Chicago is the team that poses the greatest threat to any of the top-seeded teams in the first round. However, I don't think the Bulls have any real chance here - they're still too young and too inexperienced. There will be some interesting and close games, but the Celtics will prevail in 6.

Round 2
(1) Cleveland beats (5) Miami - Another walk in the park for the Cavs. I expect Wade will have at least one phenomenal game that overwhelms the Cavs - and the Heat have had a resounding win against the Cavs in Miami this year - but this series will serve as an appetizer for the main course - the Eastern Conference Finals! Cleveland in 5.

(2) Boston beats (3) Orlando - The Celtics are missing Garnett, they're old and tired from a six game series with the Bulls. The Magic are young and hungry and rested. It will be a good series with a couple of close games, but the Celtics experience and mettle will see them into the ECF. Celtics in 6, possibly 7.

Round 3
(1) Cleveland beats (2) Boston - The Cavs have everything in their favor going into the ECF - two "easy" Rounds, a very hungry and motivated LeBron, and a depleted Celtics squad firmly between their sights. The Celtics will have enough juice left in them to win one game at home, but the Cavs will overwhelm them in this series, winning in 5.

Western Conference

Round 1
(1) Los Angeles beats (8) Utah - The Lakers are the favored team in the West; the Jazz have been struggling late and have questions around the health of their star forward, Carlos Boozer. The Lakers bested the Jazz earlier this week. Things are not looking up for the Jazz. Even Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan admitted things are pretty bleak in Utah. While most analysts have written off the Jazz, I think they're going to give the Lakers two or three tough games, winning one or two. The Lakers have this series in the books barring any freak injuries, but the Lakers will have a couple of rough patches, especially seeing as how they are a team whose attention and energy is not always tightly focused. Lakers in 5, maybe 6.

(4) Portland beats (5) Houston - Portland is young, hungry, and talented. Houston is still struggling to get out of the first round of the playoffs this decade. I think this will be a heck of a series with some memorable games, but in the end I think Portland's youth and home court advantage will give them the series in 7.

(3) San Antonio beats (6) Dallas - The Spurs are old and without Manu, and Duncan's knees have started to deteriorate on him, but they still are the Spurs, they still know how to win in the postseason, and they still have a great coach in Popavich. The Mavericks biggest problem is their lack of defensive intensity and their inability to stop fast guards, like Tony Parker. There may be a close game or two in this series, but I see the Spurs pulling through without much ado, and winning in 5 or 6.

(2) Denver loses to (7) New Orleans - The Hornets are beat up and the Nuggets have home court advantage, but I think that if there is going to be one upset in the first round, this series will be it. Denver always seems one boneheaded play or emotional outburst away from a full-fledged breakdown, and Denver's stars have never seemed as hungry as the likes of Chris Paul. Granted, the Nuggets have the Hornets beat on talent, but I think last year's push into the second round and their hunger will give the Hornets the edge and the ability to best the Nuggets in a tight 7 game series.

Round 2
(1) Los Angeles beats (4) Portland - This should be a great matchup. Two fun teams who will bring a lot of energy and excitement to the floor. The Blazers will have an exciting win or two, but I see the Lakers winning this series in 5 or 6. The difference comes down to postseason experience. There will be a few key plays in key games that the Lakers will capitalize on and that will be the difference.

(3) San Antonio beats (7) New Orleans - This year's rematch of last year's WCSFs series will be just as exciting and will have the same outcome - Spurs in 7.

Round 3

(1) Los Angeles beat (3) San Antonio - The Lakers are too fast and too deep, too young and too hungry. The Spurs are too old, without Manu, and worn from a longer and more depleting Round 1 and Round 2. Much like last year's WCF, the Lakers will blow by the Spurs, winning in 5.

NBA Finals

(1) Cleveland loses to (1) Los Angeles - The Lakers have had the Cavs number this season, winning both games against the Cavs and handing Cleveland their first home loss (and only home loss until the last game of the season). The Lakers are hungrier, too, having gotten to the Finals last year, but losing in 6. This year, with a healthy Bynum, with Phil gunning for 10 rings, and Kobe needing a ring to cement his legacy and to prove that he can win without Shaq, the Lakers will take this series in convincing fashion, winning in 6 and being crowned the world champions!

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