ROUND I - I jokingly told someone in December to wake me when the playoffs start. Time to wake up.
There's a certain class of people who tend not to pay much attention to the National Basketball Association unless it's somewhere in the month of April and the playoffs are around the corner. The analysts, columnists, season ticker holders, and die-hard fans like to call these people the 'casual fans'. We question their loyalty and affinity for the game and proudly boast the fact that we watched every play of the 100-77 blow out win for Denver over San Antonio in the last game of the season that was meaningless and devoid of starters or desire. We're the kind of people who act like watching pre-season games actually gives us a heads up on the approaching season.
The truth is, we're all liars. 'We' being all those who claim to attend to every second of every game of NBA basketball, as if it were a cherished fleeting experience to be had and gone and never appreciated ever again. Seriously, leave it to the baseball nuts to try and convince people all 1 billion games in an MLB season are interesting. I'd like to think the 'hoops heads' have a little more sensibility than that. Enough sensibility to admit that some parts of the NBA season are just flat out boring. And for your information, I didn't watch a second of my Spurs getting trounced against the Nuggets. I'm not afraid to admit there are times in the regular season, namely late season when game mean nothing, when I simply find other things to do and wait for the post-season.
But before we know it, late April hits, seedings are settled, and the Association's marquee event is set to kick off. From the 1-8 match up in the West to the 4-5 match up in the East, nearly every series promises to be a tightly contested, drama filled adventure that showcases every reason why we love this game.
Dallas Mavericks(1) vs. Golden State Warriors(8)
Thoughts: The Warrior's strength lies in their explosive back-court with Baron Davis, Monta Ellis, and Jason Richardson, but Dallas has its own impressive core of guards. While Don Nelson has shown his ability to be a great playoff coach, so has his successor in Dallas, Avery Johnson. Dallas has more size and talent than the Warriors can contend with and that size especially will be the difference. Dallas makes the adjustments to overcome their problems with GS in the regular season. Dallas wins the series in six.
Utah Jazz(4) vs. Houston Rockets(5)
Winner: Utah Jazz
Thoughts: Expect McGrady and Yao to both play big and shoulder the load for the Rockets. And expect it to not be enough. Boozer, Okur, Deron Williams, and Andrei Kirilenko make up just part of a Jazz team that is too deep and too balanced for Houston's two man team to overcome. The Jazz play the right way and under the guidance of Jerry Sloan they advance in the playoffs for the first time since the Malone/Stockton era. Utah in six.
San Antonio Spurs(3) vs. Denver Nuggets(6)
Winner: San Antonio Spurs
Thoughts: Think of this series almost as an upgraded version of the Utah/Houston match up. Both Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony will be in usual form, scoring a junk load of points for the most part. In a seven game series, however, San Antonio's defense will catch up with them and throw one or both of the superstars off for a game or two. Denver will be a tough match up and make this an entertaining series, but they simply don't have the toughness or experience to beat a Spurs team that has an abundance of both.
Phoenix Suns(2) vs. Los Angeles Lakers(7)
Winner: Phoenix Suns
Thoughts: The Lakers have struggled down the stretch in a way they didn't do last season, going 11-20 in the latter stages of the season. I still contend that Kobe played the best basketball of his life in last season's series, and the chance of him replicating that is reason alone for believing L.A. can at least make this a close series. The Lakers will use their size to attack the undersized Suns, but in the end a healthy Amare Stoudemire and a potent Suns offensive will over come in possibly the most compelling series of the first round. Suns win in seven.
Detroit Pistons(1) vs. Orlando Magic(8)
Winner: Detroit Pistons
Thoughts: First, let me say I love Dwight Howard. I don't think it's a stretch to say he could be the best power forward (or center) in the league five years down the road. That being said, I don't think the young big man has enough around in him Orlando to defeat Detroit. Expect the Pistons to dismantle Orlando in traditional Detroit manner. Howard may shoulder his team to a victory at the most, but the depth and defense of the Pistons win out in the end. Pistons in five.
Cleveland Cavaliers(2) vs. Washington Wizards(7)
Winner: Cleveland Cavaliers
Thoughts: Had the Wizards been able to come into the playoffs healthy this could have been a rematch on the level of Phoenix/LA. As it is, with Wizards' leading scorer Gilbert Arenas out with a knee injury, and Caron Butler also missing the playoffs due to a broken hand, I don't expect this to be a lengthy or even very competitive series. Washington may pick up a win due to blunder or mishap on the part of the Cavs, but ultimately LeBron will get his team into the second round, and poised to go further than that. Cavs win in five.
Toronto Raptors(3) vs. New Jersey Nets(7)
Winner: New Jersey Nets
Thoughts: I know the hype on the Raptors has only been growing all season, and for as much as I love Chris Bosh, for as much as I hate to disappoint Mike Dojc - I'm not buying it. The Raptors have had a nice regular season in a bad conference (as have the Nets for that matter), but I'm not going to buy them beating a vastly more experienced Nets team in the playoffs. Even getting up there in age Jason Kidd came as close as ever to averaging a triple double this season (13 points, 9 assists, and a career best 8 rebounds per game). Vince Carter unleashes a barrage of points (and dunks) on his old team and the Nets win in six.
Miami Heat(4) vs. Chicago Bulls(5)
Winner: Miami Heat
Thoughts: I remember last year I calculated a Heat victory on the premise of "Shaq versus Tyson Chandler. The end." For starters, Mr. Chandler now resides in with the lottery bound Hornets and second, Ben Wallace is not Tyson Chandler. I also learned last season, however, not to pick against the Heat. Miami did struggle against the Bulls last season, even with the sappy front line of Chicago thanks to the Bulls' dynamic back court. But so long as Dwyane Wade is healthy and Shaq brings the intensity, the defending champs can get a tough, closely fought victory. Heat in seven.
Also, be on the look out for my Daily Picks series, starting tomorrow, where I'll pick the winner of every game, every day of action during the NBA Playoffs.