Thursday, April 17, 2008

Raptors, Hornets & Hawks...oh my!

So its not got quite the same feel as "lions, tigers & bears" but my choices were limited.

Now that the wild and historic trip through the NCCA's Madness of March is over, the NBA postseason is upon us with its own sweet 16 set and ready to play. Back in late February before the trade deadline, key injuries & a certain 22 game streak took place, I boldly made my playoff predictions. I made some right picks, some half right picks, and was just plain wrong on others, but for not being an NBA expert I think I did pretty well.

In the East I correctly predicted seven of the eight playoff teams, including all three division winners and accurately placed four teams in the right seed (#1, 2, 3 & 8). Out West I had all eight current playoffs team still playing at this point in the season.

I predicted the Lakers would win their division, and be the #1 overall seed out West, which is true. I also predicted the Jazz would win their division as well. With all the craziness out West though, I was only able to lock down two teams in their correct seed (#1 & #8) and failed to predict New Orleans as a division winner.

Initially I had the Lakers beating the Jazz out West, and the Celtics taking down the Pistons in the East, with the Lakers winning it all. I think I'm going to stick with that for the most part, but let's take a look at the actually seeding and I'll look into my crystal ball one more time.

(1) L.A. v. (8) Denver: Lakers swept the Nuggets in the regular season, and I see much of the same here.
Lakers win in five.

(2) New Orleans v. (7) Dallas: Season series is tied at 2-2, with each team winning both home games (though NO needs OT to win one of those home games). I think the Hornets had a great run, and CP3's lack of playoff experience won't be as big of a factor as most people think. He'll play great, but the Mavs have too much playoff experience and the reigning MVP in Dirk.
Mavs win in six.

(3) San Antonio v. (6) Phoenix: Suns lead the season series 3-1, with each team trading road wins in the first two games then Phoenix taking the last two after the addition of Shaq. The Spurs didn't seem to do too much this year and yet they're the #3 seed. Even still, I think they've peaked as a team and even if they manage to sink the Sun(ny) Shaq attack in round one, they won't win the title this year and probably not again with Duncan. They're too old and I think everyone else has figured them out, especially Shaq & the Suns.
Suns win in six.

(4) Utah v. (5) Houston: Jazz lead the season series 2-1, and despite winning their division the Rockets get home court advantage here because they have the better record. I'm really not sure how this one will play out. McGrady has never won a playoff series, and despite losing Yao they played great ball to close out the season. With Yao the edge is clearly with Houston, but without him it's pretty much a toss up. Alston will be out the first two games in Houston so...
Jazz win in six.

(1) L.A. v. (4) Jazz: I think Gasol, Bynum (if he's back), Turiaf & Walton will neutralize Boozer, Okur & Kirilenko. Fisher & Farmar can handle Williams enough to keep him from taking over games. Jazz are extremely tough at home, but without home court advantage and Kobe (you thought I was forgetting about him didn't you) they'll play the Lakers tough but bow out here.
Lakers win in seven.

(6) Suns v. (7) Mavs: Run, run, run. Defense? Where? Let's see who scores 120 first. This will be a fun series to watch and a tough one to predict. It seems like Kidd has finally settled in and is in sync with the team, and Dirk. Their bench is thin, but then again so is the Suns' bench. If Shaq & Amare can stay out of foul trouble, I give the edge to Phoenix. Two key players to watch in this series will be Raja Bell & Josh Howard, as both will play key roles to their team's success. Edge goes to Raja for his 3-point shooting and lock down defense...and thus the Suns win.
Suns win in six.

(1) L.A. v. (6) Suns: I just realized this means Kobe v. Shaq. How ridiculously awesome would that be? OMG. Lakers have the better team, the better bench, the better coach & the best player in the league. Plus they have "that look" right now. Expect many quotable moments from Shaq in this series, and the Lakers' defense to be the difference.
Lakers win in six.

(1) Boston v. (8) Atlanta: Here is all you need to know...KG
Boston wins in four

(2) Detroit v. (7) Philadelphia: Surprisingly the series is tied 2-2. Each team with a road win. Philly was a pleasant playoff surprise but the Pistons can beat you in too many ways and have an uber load of experience.
Detroit wins in five.

(3) Orlando v. (6) Toronto: Howard v. Bosh and solid role players for both squads, though Bargnani needs to step it up and prove himself. Magic have better role players and supporting cast, and the Turkoglu/Lewis combo is deadly from the outside. Plus Howard can be completely unstoppable at times on both ends of the floor.
Magic win in five.

(4) Cleveland v. (5) Washington: Does this matchup not happen every year? I mean seriously. Too bad for the Wizards they're still mediocre and the Cavs still have LeBron...which means 30,8,8, 2 (steals) & 1 (block) on any given night. Cavs aren't dominate enough to sweep or completely shut down the Wizards, but they're good enough to win.
Cavs win in six.

(1) Boston v. (4) Cleveland: LeBron may just play out of his mind...even more so than in playoffs past, but in the end the Celtics are just too much. Cavs cannot stop or even contain KG, and Rondo runs wild on the Cavs, putting up career high numbers. Really not even close here.
Celtics win in five.

(2) Detroit v. (3) Orlando: If Orlando comes in confident and still running hot from round 1, watch out Detroit. They've looked exploitable at times this season, but the Magic have also looked juvenile at times too. I don't think Detroit is quite as "over the hill" as the Spurs, but I see a symbolic passing of the torch to the Magic as Dwight Howard brings it like we've never seen before, and the Magic are that new scary team that nobody wants to see in the the Pistons used to be.
Magic win in six.

(1) Boston v (3) Orlando: Howard is playing with such force that people start to wonder why a guy averaging 20 & 14 on a division winner didn't get more MVP hype. Unfortunately the Magic run face first into destiny...and its not on their side. KG elevates his game to match the new intensity of Howard, but his playoff experience & MVP caliber career are the difference, though Pierce hits the series winner and is named Conf. Finals MVP.
Celtics win in five.

(1) Boston v. (1) Los Angeles: No this is not the 70s and 80s. There is no Magic, no Bird, no Kareem, no Parrish, no Walton, no McHale...but the Celtics/Lakers rivalry is back on center stage. I truly think these are the two best teams from their respective conferences, and will showcase this throughout the playoffs to reach the NBA Finals. Boston may have three superstars, but the Lakers counter with two, one of whom is the best player in the league, and this year's MVP, as well as the best coach in the game. KG is as dominant as ever, but is getting old, and the younger (now healthier) Gasol is up to the task of taking on the Big Ticket. I think Pierce & Rondo will do a tremendous job on guarding Kobe, but great offense will always trump great defense, and that is the case here. Kobe has been on a mission all year long to prove he's still the greatest, he can lead a team without showing them up, and that he can win a title without Shaq. Not even the greatest turnaround in NBA history can stop Kobe this year. Sorry Beantown but this trophy is going to L.A.
Lakers win in six.

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