So after a shortened season and a compressed schedule, its come to this. 16 teams (out of 30) battling it out for the championship. The last time this happened was in the 1998-1999 season, where the Spurs won their first championship in a 50 game season. Phil Jackson, ever the playful needler, referred to the Spurs’ win with an asterisk, but Phil’s no longer coaching (though Popovich and Duncan are still together). Wouldn’t it be ironic if the Spurs win again this year? How many Spurs haters would come out of the woodwork and say they seem to only be able to win during shortened seasons (not counting the other 3 they won in the 2000’s during regular length seasons)?
Lots of storylines this year, and if you want a more professional look at it, I suggest you read Bill Simmons’ (the stupid Boston homer! :p) article on Grantland.com. But that was written a few weeks ago, I have the benefit of having watched a couple games already!
#1 San Antonio Spurs vs. #8 Utah Jazz: [San Antonio leads 1-0]
Like last year, the Spurs are the top team in the West. Unlike last year, it doesn’t look like they’re going to get bounced by the #8 seed. Utah doesn’t look like they have a chance, though a lot of the prognostication (word of the day!) before the series seems to give Utah a puncher’s chance at it. The reasons are the same: Duncan and co. are old, they aren’t athletic, and they’ll need to try to slow down the pace of the much younger and faster Utah frontline. Same story as last year, but Utah doesn’t have a couple of all stars like the Grizzlies did. Game one was a rout, I don’t expect Game 2-5 to be much better. SA takes this in 5
#2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks: [Oklahoma City leads 2-0]
This would have been my pick before the playoffs to be the best series and so far it hasn’t disappointed. The previous champ vs. the up-and-comers, this series features a bunch of fading but still great stars like Dirk Nowitski and Jason Kidd vs. some possible future HOF-caliber players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The concern was that the Mavs kind of gutted their team from last year’s championship for some reason and won’t be able to compete this year. I generally agree with that, but now after finally winning a 'chip, I think Dirk’s going to still be a force. Its unfortunate that they are going against the Thunder, who are really deep and have some superstars to carry the load when things get hairy. Its already been proven in the first 2 games. Durant won Game 1 at the last second and Game 2 pretty much came down to the end as well. However, I disagree with some, like an article on FoxSportsSouthWest.com, that the Mavs are done. The Thunder held homecourt but that’s what they were supposed to do. The Mavs will get a boost once this thing goes back to Dallas. With how close the games were, the Mavs could still win it. However, I think the Thunder takes this in 7
#3 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #6 Denver Nuggets: [Los Angeles leads 1-0]
I was really concerned coming into this series, and still sorta am although Game 1 helped a lot to dissipate that worry. People were saying this was the worst first round matchup for the Lakers, as Denver has size and youth and speed, traditionally a killer for older teams (see last year’s Spurs vs. Grizzlies). But LA’s still got some size, even though we didn’t get Howard (whoa, dodged a bullet there!) or Chris Paul, I think we are still capable of winning it all this year. Sure, I didn’t see Game 1 as such a lopsided win, but who did? But I want to be a little wary because the same thing happened after the Spurs game earlier this year where Bynum got 30 rebounds, we lost the next 2 games against the Spurs. Game 2 will be much closer and I think we lose at least Game 3 in Denver. Still, Lakers should finish this in 5.
#4 Memphis Grizzlies vs. #5 Los Angeles Clippers(!!!): [Los Angeles leads 1-0]
A second LA team making the playoffs? What?! Its been 6 years since the Clippers even sniffed the playoffs so the fact that they’re here makes things especially interesting for us who live here in the City of Angels. But this isn’t the old Clippers team (I hope). We’ve got Chris Paul, the best point guard in the league, so this should actually be a regular occurrence for a few years (!!!). Maybe the dream of the Lakers vs. Clippers WCF will finally be realized soon? But back to the series, this team looked like the old Clippers for 3 quarters, going down by as much as 27 before impossibly shocking the Grizzlies at home with a 1 point win and a 28 to 3 run (!!!). I’m running out of exclamation points to describe their play!! I think most people thought this would be an exciting series and Game 1 didn’t disappoint at the end. I hope it wasn’t a fluke and they start playing more evenly from now on. Zach Randolph was hurt, I think, so that doesn’t bode well for the Grizz. If he were healthy, I’d probably say Grizz in 7, but since he’s not, I’m going with Clippers in 6.
#1 Chicago Bulls vs. #8 Philadelphia Sixers: [Chicago leads 1-0]
Lucky for the Bulls that they know how to play without Rose, but even though they’ll win this series, I think they’ll get beaten by the Heat for sure if they even make it that far. What a weird bunch of freak injuries they’ve had so far. I hope this is the last of them, except for Lebron. I hope he gets hurt, I can’t stand that guy. This wasn’t much of an interesting series before, but now with Rose out, I can see Chicago needing 6 games to win this.
#2 Miami Heat vs. #7 New York Knicks: [Miami leads 2-0]
So now we come to the other freak injuries. First Shumpert tears his ACL an hour after Rose, then Amare breaks his hand punching the glass from a fire extinguisher case last night. WTF? New York, why do you keep having these weird head cases on your team all the time? The Knicks were supposed to give the Heat some trouble with their size and length and shooting, but it looks like they’re going to break their record tying 12 straight playoff losses in Games 3 and 4. I see a Miami sweep here, and NY, don’t you dare rush back Jeremy Lin to try and save your asses. You’re done, just give it up. I read a NY paper’s article the other day about how terrible this team’s been in the playoffs. They haven’t won a playoff game in like 10 years. The article listed 96 NYK players who have come and gone in that time without ever winning a playoff game. Hell, the Clippers at even won some games 6 years ago! I just don’t know what’s wrong with this franchise. Somebody sell this team to the same owners as the Yankees, maybe they can do something about this travesty. And for the record, I’m not one of those people who think New York is the mecca of basketball. They haven’t won anything since the early 70’s and except for a brief window with Patrick Ewing, they haven’t been relevant for 20 something years. I’m just annoyed that games in MSG could mean something but they don’t. They do have really vocal and loud fans, which is always nice to see. They deserve better
#3 Indiana Pacers vs. #6 Orlando Magic: [Series tied 1-1]
This is kind of the snoozer series of the playoffs. Orlando’s without Dwight Howard who is out with back surgery, and Indiana has almost nobody you’d be able to pick out of a lineup. With the exception of Danny Granger, I literally have no idea who is on that team. I want Orlando to win because all of the BS surrounding Howard this season (and the emergence of Andrew Bynum as a force) has soured me on him. Plus, I loved that weird press conference where Howard pretend like nothing happened between him and Van Gundy right after Stan told the media he knows Howard tried to get him fired. I wish players would just tell the truth, and I loved that Van Gundy did. It took balls to do that, so I can’t root against him. I hope he outcoaches the Pacers into a Magic win. I’m going to predict (hope) Magic in 6
#4 Atlanta Hawks vs. #5 Boston Celtics: [Atlanta leads 1-0]
I have a sliver of hope, like Bill Simmons, that Boston goes on to win and beats the Heat again, setting up for a culmination of the trilogy with LA vs. Boston part 3. I think the Celtics will at least get to the ECF, because I’ve never had any confidence in the Hawks. They have terrible road history dating back the last few years. And Boston really only had 1 bad quarter before they played them pretty even for the last 3. I can totally believe Boston coming back to win Games 3 and 4 (since Rondo’s suspended for Game 2) and then beating the Hawks on their home floor in a Game 7. And without Rose, I give a slight edge to the Celtics against the Bulls in the next round. Also, that was totally not a suspension worthy bump