Friday, April 18, 2008
Ideas on the NBA Playoffs (round one).
Ah, the NBA playoffs. As I was telling a work-buddy and avid pro-ball enthusiast, this may be the best playoff year since 1986. Might be. That hinges on a few crucial ideas. I'll be revisiting them as they come to fruition.
1) The Mavericks are actually clicking. Yes, they destroyed some teams at the end and the post-injury Dirk has been intense and fear-worthy. The big question (to me) is, whether they can beat the Hornets four times. The hybrid Mavs, half-running/half-set, are going to have to adjust to Chris Paul more than the Hornets adjusting to Jason Kidd. Can anyone guard him? Are they going to be able to close the lanes with deflections or close the post without getting beat by a good cutting team?
The Mavs are playing well on offense, sure, but they have problems with good point guards. Kidd can't defend Paul, so Terry and Howard will have to limit his options once he penetrates. If they can do that fairly effectively, we got a seven-game series on our hands.
2) LeBron James is Jesus Christ. If this is true and he can single-handedly win a round in the playoffs AND challenge the Celtics with the worst fourth-seed in recent history (all of this without throwing in the towel with Kobe-style frustration), then the East will be much more interesting than people think. Philly is playing well enough to steal one in Detroit, LeBron is putting up the best non-MVP numbers I can think of and Boston is going to be scrutinized on every play the make or don't make.
The most interesting thing about the East? Cleveland is just as good as they were last year. Seriously. This was the Finals team. LeBron is still there, folks. Hughes was hurt against San Antonio and still jacked up tons of shots and Mike Davis (my least favorite coach in this league) was too stupid to replace him with Daniel Gibson. Instead, he played them both. Take Hughes' shots away, give them more Boobie, and place better rebounders/defenders in over Gooden. This is not a great team. It's not. However, it is LeBron's team. And he is great. Great enough to beat the Pistons down last year and scary, considering I'm a Celts fan. They will beat the Wizards if they don't turn the ball over a ton and then LeBron gets a chance to tame the giant. Oh shit.
3) The Spurs cannot repeat. If the Suns beat them up (a la the Red Sox losing to the Yankees but baseball fans knowing the Yanks had no chance in the next round) and they still advance, the next round will be even harder. They can be exposed. The trick is whether or not Nash, Amare and Shaq are enough to do it. Shaq has to contend with Timmy, Udoka AND Kurt Thomas. He's older, slower and less likely to dominate in big games and the one problem no one seems to talk about? A lost step for the Spurs was made up in shrewdness when they picked up another big body before the trading deadline. Bowen, Thomas, Udoka, and Duncan are defenders. Last year, in a championship year, they had one less body to handle the big guys.
This is the thing: this series will come down to guardplay. Shaq vs. the corps of bodies, Timmy versus Amare-- all secondary to the fact that someone, ANYONE has to stop the guards for San Antonio. Nash is a worthless defender-- as has been chronicled-- and Raja Bell is only one man. Manu and Tony Parker will run wild. If the Suns don't find some toughness at the point or some deflections once the guards penetrate, they aren't going to make it to seven games.
That said, if the Spurs make a repeat appearance in the Finals, this will be a playoffs of complaint rather than a celebration of good basketball at a peak time.
Melo and AI are going to be a force whether they play defense or not. People are fully asleep on the idea that the Nuggets are a tough out. Allen Iverson hasn't been in the playoffs in years, Melo has something to forget about, and these guys can SCORE. They have shooters, slashers and a machine at the two-guard who is just as hungry (if not hungrier) than any one of the three Celtic superstars.
No, I don't think the Nuggets can beat the Lakers, but I do think they can steal one or two at home and extend the series. Lamar Odom, an injured Bynum and a Kobe less than a year removed from a temper-tantrum that alienated him further from NBA fans (somehow) do not a champion make-- until next year, maybe. Yeah, they'll carve up the Nuggets for 115-120 a night, but it's possible that they will give up 116-121 at least twice.
I mean think about it: the Suns are playing the Spurs IN THE FIRST ROUND. The Nuggets-Lakers series could see 900 points scored in five games if Melo is allowed by law to drive to the games. The Hornets could be one of the best young teams in history and they have to play a team that has the most to prove (alongside the Suns) in this entire playoffs (yeah, I said it). The Celtics are fielding the hungriest team in NBA history with a statistically perfect defense. LeBron is lurking about. Kobe is too.
And on top of it all, AGENT ZERO IS BACK. YYYYYYYEEEEESSSSSSSSS. Get ready. This is gonna be awesome.
East picks (R1 only):
Cleveland in six.
Orlando in six.
Detroit in five.
Boston in four.
West picks (R1 only):
San Antonio in seven.
New Orleans in seven.
Utah in six.
Los Angeles in six.