Thursday, April 20, 2006

NBA Playoff Preview - The Final Countdown

The NBA season has ended. For those who don’t know, this season was extra special. Apparently, the NBA organized a fantasy celebrity league that included Bernie Mac, Samuel Jackson, Pamela Anderson, Diana Taurasi, TNT Analyst Kenny Smith, and none other than Bill Simmons. As expected, Bill Simmons won the league further solidified his status as one of the best fans in the league. Interestingly, Kenny Smith somehow finished 1-22. Bill Simmons said one of the funniest things:

“And it's been even more disappointing that the TNT guys, who normally are all over stuff like this (especially the producers), keep refusing to bring up during "Inside the NBA" that Kenny finished in last place in a Celebrity League that featured Star Jones and Pamela Anderson. And he's getting paid to analyze basketball for them every night?!?!? How does this not get brought up every 10 minutes? Every time he opens his mouth now, I can't take him seriously - it's like listening to someone on MSNBC give stock advice after finding out that they recommended 50 different dot-com stocks in 2001 that all went under.”

Anyways, the NBA playoff matchups have just been set. Lets take a look at where the dust has settled on some interesting matchups.

Eastern Conference-
Detroit vs. Milwaukee – The good news for the Bucks was that with the return of TJ Ford, the signing of Bobby Simmons, and a capable rookie in Andrew Bogut, they were able to quickly return to the playoffs. The bad news is they drew the Pistons! The Bucks will definitely be one of the contenders in the upcoming years, just not this year.
Pick: Detroit

Cleveland vs. Washington– Larry Hughes gets his wish and gets to play against his old team, the Wizards. As ESPN and every other sports outlet has been shouting, the Wizards had a 3-1 record against the Cavs this year. I still believe the Cavs can go the distance and take the Wizards out. It won’t be easy, but I’d imagine that Hughes should be able to at least slow down Gilbert Arenas. The biggest problem is that the Cavs don’t’ have anyone to matchup against Jamison. Obviously, Lebron has to dig deep to get the Cavs through.
Pick: Cleveland

New Jersey vs. Indiana – I know New Jersey is an overwhelming favorite, but I think this series will be closer than people expect. Indiana is CAPABLE of playing at a much higher level than their 2nd half slump demonstrates. I really respect Indiana’s coach, and I’d expect for him to find a way to steal some victories. Indiana’s point guard situation is pretty poor though, and in the end, that will probably be a major factor with Jason Kidd slicing and dicing his way through the defense.
Pick: New Jersey

Miami vs. Chicago- I feel like the Heat got real lucky. I just don’t see how the Bulls can give them many problems when it is unclear how the Bulls would be able to guard either Dwayne Wade or Shaq (granted, most teams have that problem). Ben Gordon went 9 for 9 from 3-point land last week to tie an NBA record. He would have to do that for multiple games for the Bulls to have any chance. Maybe Bulls coach Scott Skiles could suit up and help guard Wade, because that would help. And then Bulls GM Bill Cartwright could come down to help guard Shaq and Mourning. If only.
Pick: Miami

Western Conference
San Antonio vs. Sacramento – This could actually be a tough matchup or the Spurs. The Kings have Ron Artest who will be able to shut down Ginobili. At that point, Bibby may be able to neutralize Tony Parker. Which makes everything come down to Duncan and whether he’s healthy. The Spurs should advance, but it could get ugly. Warning to Spurs fans – even if it gets ugly, please don’t throw any paper cups in Artest’s direction.
Pick: San Antonio

Dallas vs. Memphis – Memphis has never even won a playoff game! Its quite dubious when you realize they have already been in the playoffs the last 2 years! Odds are, they will find a way to steal one game and then they can throw a parade. Honestly, no Grizzly will be able to stop the Mavs multi-prong attack in the 1st round. This playoff matchup also has to set the record for “the shortest coaches in an NBA matchup” – Avery Johnson vs. the 5’4” Mike Fratello. If only they could get involved in a halftime show where they could really duke it out in some of those gigantic sumo suits to determine the “Toughest-Little-Coach” in the NBA. The TLC Championship! I’d watch, and you know you would to.
Pick: Dallas

Denver vs. LA Clippers – Oh yeah! Not only are the Clippers in the playoffs, but they are in a very winnable matchup with Denver. This series probably will go the distance. In the end, it still doesn’t seem possible that a team like Denver, with ze-ro (say it like they did on Family Feud) chance of hitting the 3-pointer. It makes devising a defensive strategy that much easier. Throw in a home crowd of the Clippers that contains “celebrities” like Bill Simmons, and it seems like Elton Brand and company should be able to survive.
Pick: Clippers

Phoenix vs. LA Lakers – I would love to see LA vs. LA in the 2nd round of the playoffs. But short of Kobe scoring 45 points per game and hitting 80% of his shots, I just don’t see it happening. The Suns have TONS of weapons, even if Steve Nash is resting on the bench. Between Marion, Boris Diaw (best “export” from France since French Fries), and even Nash’s backup Brazilian, Leandro Barbosa, there is just no way Smush Parker and the rest of the bumbling idiots on the Lakers are going to be able to do to stop the Lakers. I did find a good quote from ealier in the season though, when Phil Jackson was asked about the play of Kwame Brown, and Jackson just said “He is a pussy.”
Pick: Phoenix

Later rounds
Here are the rest of my predictions, just so I have a record of it. Not sure whether that will be something I’m proud of, or something I laugh at, but only time will tell.

2nd round
Detroit over Cleveland – It’s too much to expect Conference Finals from Lebron at this point. Plus I’m convinced that Detroit’s starting 5 might be one of the best of all-time.
Miami over New Jersey – It won’t even be close.
Conf. Finals
Detroit over Miami – rematch from last year’s conference finals, except this time Wade is healthy. Same result though!

Dallas over San Antonio – I just don’t believe Duncan is in great shape. This series will be like a media circus. I bet Michael Finley also pulls a big game against Dallas.
Phoenix over Clippers – I’m so tempted to pick the Clippers, but that would just be too emotional. Ultimately, Phoenix’s coaching staff is superior, and with the personnel of the Suns, they will find a way to neutralize Elton Brand.
Conf. Finals
Dallas over Phoenix – As if last year’s 7-game series wasn’t good enough, this one should be a run-n-gun for the ages!

NBA Finals
Detroit over Dallas – I think Detroit will take home a 2nd championship in 3 years. It will be pretty sad for Dallas though, who has taken a long time to get to this point. Then, to make Mark Cuban even more furious, everyone will be asking the “what if the Pistons played the Spurs???” This series will still be close and it will all come down to a Desagna Diop turnover.

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