Thursday, April 16, 2009

NBA Playoff Predictions: Round One

"Nobody writes them like they used to
So it may as well be me."

Alright, the seeds are set, and it's on to some NBA talk. Anyone who doesn't think April is the best sports month of the year is crazy. I've done an NHL and NBA playoff preview in back-to-back days. It doesn't get much better than that. So, here are my thoughts on the first round (season series in parentheses):

Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland vs. (8) Detroit (CLE 3-1):

Line: CLE -4000

Detroit is the third worst offensive team in the league in terms of points per game and in threes made. The Pistons do lead the league in defending the three. Cleveland is third in the NBA in threes made per game. The Cavs lead the league in points allowed per game and are second in defensive FG%. Anytime you are in a seven game series, and you have absolutely no favorable matchups, which is what Detroit is looking at, you basically have no chance. Not only do I think Detroit has no chance, but I will be surprised if they even win a game. Joe Dumars totally has egg on his face still from the Billups/Iverson trade debaucle. Sometimes, you really have to wonder what goes through GMs' heads when they make some of these moves. Are they really that more qualified than you or me? I'm not so sure about that.

Pick: Cleveland in 4

(2) Boston vs. (7) Chicago (BOS 2-1):

Line: BOS -600

It's bad enough that the Celts will be without KG for likely the duration of the playoffs, but now they get easily the toughest draw of all the higher seeds in the East with the Bulls. Sure, the Bulls have struggled lately, but they still have the pieces in play that could create some mismatches for the C's. I'm not so sure if you're going to get a better point guard matchup than Rondo vs. Rose. The Bulls also made out like bandits in their deal with Sacramento in mid-February, getting John Salmons and Brad Miller for Andres Nocioni, Drew Gooden, and Michael Ruffin. Miller is going to create some matchup problems for Perk down low, with his ability to hit the 12-14 foot jumpers. This is a real tough series for Boston to start off with, but I believe they will be able to survive based on the play of Leon Powe and Glen Davis. If those two play as well as they are capable of doing, then the C's should be able to win their home games, and then take one in Chicago. However, if the Bulls start dictating the tempo like they did in the last contest on St. Patty's day (which was easily the most confusing basketball game I've ever watched..."wait, I have to root against the green jerseys?...The Celtics aren't wearing green jerseys?...What the...), then the C's could be vulnerable of receiving a quick exit and not even getting close to trying to defend the title. It pains me to say that, but you never know...

Pick: Boston in 6

(3) Orlando vs. (6) Philadelphia (ORL 3-0)

Line: ORL -1000

Philly is the second worst team in three pointers made. Orlando is last in the league in free throw percentage. The Magic are second in threes made and allowed, and third in rebounds and FG% allowed. I definitely have a conspiracy theory about the Cavs blowing a game at home to Philly, thus giving Philly the six seed and the Bulls the seven seed. First of all, the Cavs were 39-1 at home this year, and they were about to break the all-time mark set by the '86 Celtics for best homecourt record. How could they lose to Philly? Simple. They wanted the Celtics to have the absolute toughest road to get to the Eastern Conference Finals where they would inevitably meet. This would explain why the line in the 3-6 game is bigger than the line in the 2-7 game, which is counter-intuitive to the entire seeding process (meaning that, all things considered, the higher the seed, the easier the first round least in theory). In any event, this is a series like the Cavs/Pistons series in which I would be surprised if the lower-seeded team won a game. Orlando dominates the Sixers in literally every facet of the game. I guess the one concern would be the health of Lewis and Turkoglu, but even then I can't see Philly winning a game.

Pick: Orlando in 4

(4) Atlanta vs. (5) Miami (ATL 3-1)

Line: ATL -145

Miami is the third worst rebounding team in the league. Atlanta has the third worst FT%. This is going to be an interesting series because of these two totally different philosophies as to how to win a game. Atlanta uses a team dynamic built around Bibby, Horford, Johnson, and Josh Smith, whereas Miami uses the D-Wade dynamic, basically giving him the ball, and hoping for the best. What's funny is that both styles have worked this season. While it is not a winning formula to get deep in the postseason, I honestly think that Wade will be enough for the Heat to sneak out a win in Atlanta in the first two games, and then be able to sweep the Hawks at home. Atlanta was great at home last year in the playoffs, but these are different circumstances. The Hawks were playing last postseason in an attempt to prove that they were legit, going seven games with the best team in the NBA. Now, I think they will sleep on Miami, and the Heat will be able to win this in six.

Pick: Miami in 6

Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles vs. (8) Utah (LAL 2-1)

Line: LAL -2500

Utah is third in the league in FG%. The Lakers led the league in rebounding and were the third in scoring. Of course it is a foregone conclusion that the Lakers will reach the NBA Finals. In fact, this is probably the first time since the Bird/Magic days where there were two teams that literally everyone has making the finals, and not only that, but no one had any conceivable way that it would not happen. The Cavs were benfeciaries of the KG injury, and the Lakers got the word about Manu Ginobili weeks ago. Utah is a team that can basically be characterized as "not looking right." You hear this about almost every guy on that team. Carlos Boozer "doesn't look right," Andrei Kirilenko "doesn't look right," and so on and so on.

Pick: Los Angeles in 4

(2) Denver vs. (7) New Orleans (Tied 2-2)

Line: DEN -225

Denver has the sixth best scoring offense. New Orleans has the fifth best overall defense. This series really comes down to the health of Tyson Chandler. If the Hornets can get Chandler at even 80%, then the Nuggets really don't have much of a chance. The Nuggets' best thing going for them is Chauncey Billups, who will likely be neutralized by Chris Paul. 'Melo's my man, but up to this point, he has not been able to really take over a game like he probably should (I realize Sports Guy already set that precedent up, but it is true, so sorry for the repeat). I think the Hornets have a real good shot of making a run due to the "Power of 3" theory. With Paul, Chandler, and David West, the Hornets are the sleepers of the NBA Playoffs this year. Also, did I mention a certain James Posey plays for them?

Pick: New Orleans in 6

(3) San Antonio vs. (6) Dallas (Tied 2-2)

Line: SA -145

Dallas is second in the league in FT% and second in defensive FT%. San Antonio was second in the league in scoring defense and in the threes allowed. I have to say that I absolutely hate the Spurs in the playoffs this year. They are old, and they are incredibly banged up. Meanwhile, I like Dallas for two reasons: 1) They have Jason Kidd, who is perhaps the most underrated guard of the last twenty years, and yes, I'm dead serious about that, and 2) Kidd's backup, Jose Juan Barea, the pride of Northeastern, is this year's X-Factor of the playoffs. When he gets going, the Mavs are an unstoppable force. With Barea and Terry coming off the bench, the Spurs simply don't have the kind of manpower to keep up with the Mavs over a seven-game series.

Pick: Dallas in 6

(4) Portland vs. (5) Houston (HOU 2-1)

Line: POR -140

Houston leads the league in FT% allowed. Portland allows the highest FT% in the league, but also leads the NBA in rebounds per game. This is easily the most intriguing series in the entire first round. To sum up the utter lunacy of the West, we're looking at a 4-5 matchup that features two teams with 53 and 54 wins a piece. Simply amazing. Portland obviously gets the edge in athleticism with Roy, Aldridge, Outlaw, and Fernandez, while Houston has the edge in defense with Artest, Battier, and Yao. My two biggest keys are the guard play by Houston, and Greg Oden for Portland. The Rockets traded "Skip To My Lou" to Orlando in a deadline deal for Kyle Lowry, meaning Aaron Brooks had to step up and play the point. While on paper it appears like that would be a giant leap, his minutes only when up by an average of five minutes a game after the trade, so it's not as though Brooks needed a ton of adjusting to move into the starting spot. Brooks will combine with Lowry and Artest in the backcourt. Greg Oden could be the story of the playoffs (outside of the Cleveland/LA overtones). If he plays to his potential, the Blazers could win this series, then move onto the Lakers and maybe scare them a little bit. However, if Oden cannot adjust to the pace of the playoffs, then Portland will be in big trouble. I'm banking on the latter for Oden.

Pick: Houston in 6

So, we are now up to speed on the NHL and the NBA. I wish I could have gone a little more in-depth on these, but time is actually tight now, which is definitely a good thing. Don't get me wrong, I love having free time, but there's a fine line between free time and being a bum, and I was riding dangerously close to slipping into the bum category, but now I think I have rebounded back into normalcy. So, hope you enjoy your weekend. Take care. Peace.


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