Saturday, April 18, 2009

Llllllllllet's Get Ready To Rumble!

Well, here we are, we've made it to the most wonderful time of the year. Winter is finally over, the weather is warming, and the trees are starting to bloom. Baseball is back in full swing, meaning there'll be sports to watch each and every day of the week. The scarves and down jackets have been officially put into hibernation, and the ladies of America are starting to transition to summer wears. It's a great time to be a man.

But of course, all that pales in comparison to the annual dawning of the NBA Playoff season (well, all that except for the ladies). I could wax poetically about the wealth of games, the great matchups, the fun of the 8-series-deep first round. But I think I'll try something different -- for me -- this year. I'm usually loathe to making predictions, because prognosticators are almost always invariably proven wrong, but I will actually put my proverbial neck on a block and offer up some predictions for the opening salvo.


(1) Cavaliers vs (8) Pistons
Cavalier depth and LeBron's growing greatness vs. Detroit experience and intestinal fortitude. In this case, quality team bests quantity of experience. The Pistons could easily find their swagger and make it a decent 6-game series, but I'll go with the teams' respective current trends: Cleveland in 5.

(2) Celtics vs (7) Bulls
How do you handicap this one? Which Celtics team will show up, the one that was 15-7 without Garnett, or the can't-shoot-straight squad that lost one of those 7 by 31 points? And which Chicago team will we see, the one that reeled off 12 wins in their last 15 to bring the season near a close, or the one that got tossed around by lottery-bound Toronto on the final day with a chance at 6th place on the line?

The Celtics psyche vs the Bulls hype. Rose vs Rondo. Salmons vs The Truth. This is just an interesting series because of all the variables. But, for the sake of a pick, I'll say Celtics in 6.

(3) Magic vs (6) 76ers
Will the Magic rediscover their long-range shooting touch? Or their defense? Is Hedo over his bum ankle? Has the extra rest brought Rashard back to two spritely knees? Will Superman stay out of foul trouble? Will Rafer be able to contain Andre Miller, or will Courtney, Pietrus, et al need to take turns? Can the Sixers defend at all? How can they even dream of slowing down the new man of steel? Did I really just suggest that Andre Miller might consistently abuse a defender?

Given the inconsistent nature of these teams, a 4-game blowout is as likely as a 7-game nail-biter. But I'll go with conventional wisdom -- too much Dwight Howard and too little Philly defense -- and just take the split and say: Magic in 6.

(4) Hawks vs (5) Heat
Easily the most intriguing East matchup on paper (the playoffs usual shake out to be way more interesting than paper). At present, Dwayne Wade doesn't quite have enough help, or healthy-enough help: Hawks in 6.


(1) Lakers vs (8) Jazz
The only way this shakes out to be a competitive series is if Utah figured out their road woes in the past three days. You get the feeling that L.A. was partly toying with the Traveling Mormons a few days ago, scoring a mere 69 points in the second half. Devin Williams vs Derek Fisher is the only advantage Utah has to exploit, but the emergence of Shannon Brown off the bench may end up negating a chunk of that advantage anyways. Other than that, Boozer looks neither healthy or dominant enough to be the man this time around. Lakers in 5.

(2) Nuggets vs (7) Hornets
The Jazznets have gone from conference contender to irrelevant playoff participant in less than 12 months. The front office should garner a few votes for Non-Executive of the Year on the strength of standing pat and watching the rest of the conference zoom on by. (Naturally, Steve Kerr's name is being etched into this trophy as we speak). The Hornets don't have nearly enough quality bigs to keep this interesting. Another fall-back year like this and people will start wondering where Chris Paul will bolt in free agency. But that's another subject. Nuggets in 5.

(3) Spurs vs (6) Mavericks
A fun series just on the strength of the teams and rivalry involved, this has a good possibility to turn into an upset, if you put stock into how well the Mavs are playing lately. How healthy are Tim Duncan's knees? Hmm. This will be a tight one, but I think depth, experience, Duncan and Parker push the Spurs over the top -- barely. Spurs in 7.

(4) Rockets vs (5) Trailblazers
Can Artest and Battier make life difficult enough for Brandon Roy? Will the Blazers be launching wide-open threes or highly-contested ones? I'm gonna take the slightly-less popular pick here, and go with the Rockets' defense and Artest's will: Rockets in 6.

Well, now that that's done, I can sit back, watch the games unfold and see just how incredibly wrong I was. With any luck this'll put me right on par with the "experts".

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