Football season is long gone. March Madness has turned into April Sadness, and the only thing we sports fans are hearing about is the NFL lockout, baseball games that don’t matter, and NHL Playoffs. Blah. But, have no fear! The NBA playoffs start THIS WEEKEND! There are some great matchups in the first round, and four die hard fans here at The Thread (facecurtainista, The King’s Law, our resident NBA guru WPWinter and myself, MichaelYoungHistory) are here to break down the matchups for you, as well as predict this year’s NBA champ! Like any great playoffs, we hope to see physical play, fights, technical fouls, buzzer beaters, tears, epic fails, great finishes, and if we’re lucky, Artest will go into the stands again…Anyway, with no further ado, the 2011 NBA Playoffs!
#1 Chicago Bulls vs. #8 Indiana Pacers (The King’s Law)
Regular season record: 3-1 Bulls
What to watch for: Hibbert’s college hairline to show up (#scary)
Sadly there isn’t much to talk about here. We could expect a couple of notable performances from Psycho T or Danny Granger, or we could pay attention to the only factor that will matter in this series… Derrick Rose.
This guy is playing the season of his life right now. The Bulls have an aggressive identity that has challenged the Eastern Conference monolith Celtics to a 7 game series for the past two seasons. This season, they have a killer instinct that has allowed them to enter this year’s playoffs with a 9 game winning streak… The Pacers will enter with a 2 game losing streak.
I predict that both teams will continue their current momentum. Sadly for Hibbert and TJ Ford, that means that an inconsistent effort from a team with no [real] star, and a visit from the ghost of playoffs past; they didn’t get a ring with Reggie Miller, and with nobody on the team that can be nearly as relevant, the only ring they’ll see is the 0 in their win column at the end of this series.
D. Rose has a chance to do for his team what only Michael Jordan was able to do. In order to make that happen, the Bulls will need to make a statement in the first round. Expect Deng, Noah, and Boozer to assist in muting Indiana’s Pace…
Prediction: Bulls in 4
#4 Orlando Magic vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks (WPWinter)
Regular season record: 3-1, Hawks
Key acquisitions: (ORL) Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, (ATL) Kirk Hinrich.
What to watch for: (ATL) Can the Hawks overcome the “good-not-great” syndrome and finally knock off the Magic? Will Joe Johnson ever stop laughing about the fact that he signed the largest NBA contract in the summer of Lebron/Wade/Bosh/Dirk/Amare/Pierce?
On paper, the Magic should be pretty comfortable with this matchup: they have faced and beaten the Hawks two years in a row, they clearly have the best player in the series on their roster, and they have all of the Finals experience (not a single Hawks player has even been to the conference finals). And it’s not like Atlanta is a shining model of consistency – the Hawks finished with a negative overall point differential this year, the only team in the playoffs other than the 8-seeded Pacers to do so. But there are definitely reasons that Coach Van Gundy should be concerned (I still think he looks like a trashy strip club owner that does lots of business, but still owes the mob like 20 grand for some reason).
Atlanta dropped the first game against Orlando this season and then proceeded to win the next three. In those three Magic losses, Dwight Howard was held to an average of 17.3 PPG on 39% shooting (D12’s numbers in the other 75 games he played in this year: 23.1 PPG and 60%). The red-and-yellow kryptonite that plagues Dwight is…. Jason Collins?!?! I mean… I guess. Although Collins is a solid defensive center, there are about 12 of those in the league every night and none of them have displayed any kind of sustained success at shutting down Dwight. Due to Collin’s transformation to Bill freaking Russell and the presence of talented-yet-brutish Al Horford, Dwight may have a game (or even two) where he struggles offensively. However, the smart money is still on Howard to continue his dominant, All-Pro season and eventually wear down the Hawks frontline until they’re beaten into submission.
However, if Dwight does struggle to score consistently, the onus will be on his supporting cast (which was put together MacGruber-style with two toilet paper rolls, a rubber band, and a used dildo without the batteries) to pick up the slack. (By the way, I went with MacGruber instead of MacGyver because the presence of Gilbert Arenas pretty much ensures that this experiment will blow up at the end.) In all seriousness, Jason Richardson or (the smarter bet) Jameer Nelson will need to step up in a big way to overcome the Hawks perimeter play. Although Atlanta’s “franchise player” Joe Johnson has struggled this season, he (along with All-Star Josh Smith and Microwavesque gunner Jamal Crawford) can still fill it up in stretches and put pressure on the Magic to keep up the scoring pace.
I realize it may seem simplistic, but the analysis for this series really doesn’t need to go much further than Howard. Consider for a moment the fact that the Magic finished #1 in the NBA this season in defensive efficiency. I mean, really think about that. This makes less than no sense when you consider: (1) the Magic do not have a bruiser/enforcer post man to pair with Dwight (the staple of almost any great defensive team is the presence of two athletic 7-footers) and, in fact, their only other post player of note is the 6’5” (I don’t care what his Wikipedia page says) jump shooting Brandon Bass; and (2) the second-best defensive player on the team is a 6’10”, white 3-point specialist who doesn’t start. No, SERIOUSLY, this guy. Take a look at the rest of the key players on the roster. Jason Richardson (criticized for his lack of D on his last team, and that was Phoenix), Jameer Nelson (plays hard but far too undersized to have a positive impact most nights), J.J. Redick (hahahaha!), Gilbert Arenas (career turnstile), Hedo Turkoglu (see: Richardson, or Redick)… I mean, there’s just nothing.
This leads me to the inescapable conclusion that Dwight is more dominant defensively than anyone else in the game is offensively. I know it’s too late to de-rail the Derrick Rose MVP train, but damn. Can you imagine if someone like Lebron or Durant won the scoring title and led his team to 50+ wins and his team led the league in offensive efficiency and the second-best scorer was somebody like Al Harrington (roughly the offensive counterpart to Ryan Anderson’s pretty-average defensive abilities). He’d be crowned MVP at the All-Star break and no one would even blink. Then consider that, after everything he brings to the table defensively, Dwight also averages 23 points and finished top-3 in field goal percentage and offensive rebounds. Add it all up, and I want a Jeb Bush special on this one, and the vote isn’t even in yet.
Prediction: Magic in 5 (and no reporters approach Hedo after a game)
#3 Boston Celtics vs. #6 New York Knicks (MichaelYoungHistory)
Regular Season Record: 4-0 Celtics
Key Trades: (NYK) Sent all of their team to Denver to get Melo and Billups….what, ya’ll didnt hear about this? (Bos) Sent Kendrick Perkins to OKC for Jeff Green and Kristic…#epicfail
What to watch for: (NYK) Can Melo put his lack of playoff success behind him? Is Amare totally healthy, or did the grind of the season wear him down? (Bos) Will Shaq EVER get healthy? Does Jermaine O’Neal have a pulse?
First off, I’d like to welcome the New York Knicks back to the playoffs. It’s been awhile…And given the story that Amare is making a rap video with
Mr. Keys Swizz Beats for the Knicks playoff run, lets just hope that the Knickerbockers aren’t content just to be back at the party, because we know the C’s arent. Since acquiring the Big 3 (Pierce, Garnett, Allen) and their beast of a point guard Rondo, they have been to the NBA Finals 2 of the last 3 years, including last year’s loss to the Lakers. They arent getting any younger, and they know their window is closing fast. The Celtics looked great on defense at the beginning of the year and looked poised to take the top spot in the East, but the Perkins trade has them in an epic identity crisis. They look soft on defense, and although KG talks a big game, defensively he can’t fill the void left by Perk. Shaq has been hurt. Big Baby has been…well…doing shit like this…
Jermaine O’Neal has been soft, which shouldnt shock anyone. Without an inside presence, they are more than vulnerable.
Meanwhile, the Knicks are slowly finding themselves. After trading away their entire roster, Melo, Chauncey, and Amare are starting to gel. They’ve had some losing streaks, but they’ve played well against the better teams in the league since the trade. They have not beat Boston this year, but with the Knicks trending up and the C’s trending down, this should be a great series. Billups will have to score b/c there is no way he stops Rondo. Amare needs to shut KG down and shut him up (please…)
And Pierce can’t guard Melo when he’s hot. I think the key is going to be whether Ray Allen is hot or not. The Knicks don’t play much defense (though they have been playing better in that area), so Boston can win this series with some hot shooting. This is a tough one to call, but I think the C’s take it with homecourt advantage.
Prediction: Celtics in 7
#2 Miami Heat vs. #7 Philadelphia 76er’s (Facecurtainista)
Well, it appears the Heat have reached the first step in their quest to win not two, not three, not four, not five…but the 15 rings or so Lebron predicted for this Miami team. As luck would have it, they get the Sixers, a team they swept in the regular season, currently dealing with the injuries of Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams. With ABC pushing this game up a day to overhype this series further, the Sixers ultimately suffer in their effort to get their team as healthy as possible before the start of the post-season. To their advantage, the Sixers have considerably less pressure, given they started 3-13 and have tiptoed into the playoffs quietly as the flashier, cockier Heat stumbled into the season 9-8 after a spectacular preseason championship celebration disguised as a “welcome party”.
With this ridiculous amount of pressure riding on the Heat, it will be most interesting to see how Chris Bosh responds to playoff pressure and how the Sixers will replace Iguodala if he isn’t there to cover Bron Bron effectively. Philadelphia probably has a better bench, given that Miami relies too much on the Big 3. When James, Wade and Bosh aren’t at their best, neither is their bench. It’s going to take a lot of blood, sweat and tears for this Miami team to make a run at a ring, but from what I’ve seen and heard, they have tears. And quite a bit of spit, thanks to this guy.
However, the Sixers won’t pose too much of a threat to the Heat. Young Evan Turner of Ohio State fame will potentially have to guard D. Wade and LeBron while he’s in the game, which may be a little painful to watch. Elton Brand, the Sixers’ leading scorer averaging 15 points per game (Chris Bosh averages 18) and Lou Williams as a game-time decision hurts Philly both on the court and in the locker room as a leader.
I’m taking the Heat, but they’ll need a wakeup call at some point, I’m sure. They SHOULD sweep the Sixers, but then again, these games aren’t played on paper, they’re played by men asking “What should I do?” and sending video messages online to help them get out of a hotel bathroom you can apparently lock yourself in.
Prediction: Heat in 5.
#1 San Antonio Spurs vs. #8 Memphis Grizzlies (The King’s Law)
Regular season record: 2-2
What to watch for: The game will be in Zach Randolph’s Hands
The once hot-to-trot flavor of the week Spurs may be the blandest spice on the seasoning rack. Nobody gets excited about the way they play or when they win; not even when they are seemingly chasing the progress of the greatest team in NBA History (the 95-96 Chicago Bulls). Befouled by a series of injuries and a late season 6-game losing streak, the San Antonio Spurs have a lot to prove to the world before their victory can be considered a forgone conclusion this season.
The Grizzlies lost their first two meetings in San Antonio this year. The third meeting, in Memphis one day after the second game, the Grizzlies found a way past the rolling Spurs. A month later they would win again. So you have a hungry and very much so slept on Grizzlies team that can win at home against a Spurs team missing key players. As long as all of these variables remain present, the Grizzlies have a shot at making this series interesting.
Memphis’ top scoring trio in this year’s series with San Antonio (Randolph, Allen, Conley) have averaged 55+ points against the Spurs. With Manu Ginobili out for at least the first game of the playoffs with a banged up non-shooting elbow, Memphis will be looking for a statement win in San Antonio in order to gain momentum early. Zach Randolph will be the key to these games. If he can make his presence felt in the paint, he’ll not only contribute 25+ points, but also the benefit of 14 boards. San Antonio will have a hard time competing against this aggressive play with Manu out; Tony Parker and Gary Neal will feel extra pressure to create shots with Duncan’s knees getting old and Richard Jefferson being afraid of the hole (pause).
However, I only see the Grizzlies winning one game in San Antonio to start the series. Coach Pop will be ready to adjust and Manu will not miss Game 2.
Prediction: Spurs in 6.
#4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #5 Denver Nuggets (Facecurtainista)
With Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups taking their talents to Madison Square Garden, most expected a Nuggets breakdown, especially given that they received two guys, Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov, better known for their posterizations by Blake Griffin (click their names for the goods). The new-look Nuggets surprised everyone, going 18-7 after the trade, finishing 5th in the West and proving to be an unpredictable opponent for a first-round matchup. George Karl, who publicly noted he would rather play the Mavericks than the young, athletic Thunder, has good reason to be concerned. The Nuggets won only one game against the Thunder this season, a game in which the Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups combined for 51 points against a then-Perkins-less Thunder. Denver is fresh off of two home losses last week to the Thunder, and with 4 of 5 Nuggets starters nursing injuries (including the critical Ty Lawson sprained ankle during the season closer Wednesday), bench production will have to be at an all-time high in order to avoid a sweep.
Defensively, Oklahoma City has thundered up its defense, with Serge Ibaka leading the league in total blocked shots and Kendrick Perkins proving to be tougher than 3 black guys trying to get into Pure (Austin) at the same time. Offensively, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook seem unstoppable, especially given the possibility of Gallinari having to guard KD at some point.
To recap, the Nuggets are injured, poorly matched against the aggressive Thunder defense due to injuries and have the second worst road record among playoff teams in the West, which will not bode well against the rabid fans of OKC. Add in the trash talk by Karl and crew accusing the Thunder of being “cocky”, and it appears the basketball gods are smiling down on OKC to finally make a run in the playoffs. Hard not to predict a sweep, but I say the Nuggets eventually heal up to make it competitive for at least a game or so.
#3 Dallas Mavericks vs. #6 Portland Trailblazers (WPWinter)
Regular season record: 2-2, with each team twice holding serve at home.
Key acquisitions: (DAL) Peja Stojakovic (signed), (POR) Gerald Wallace (traded)
What to watch for: Whether the Mavs can overcome their recent playoff curse (Cuban’s squad has lost in the first round 3 of the last 4 years) against a young guns Blazers squad.
If the Mavs can slow down Greg Oden, they’ve got a chance.
This was the DEFCON 3, worst-case scenario for Dallas in the first round. Had Kobe Bryant missed a contested, pull-up-while-going-left three-pointer on Wednesday night that forced overtime in Sacramento, the Mavs would be sitting pretty at the 2-seed. However, rather than face the limping Hornets, Dallas gets the privilege of facing Portland, a team that was already young, deep, long and bouncy and got younger, deeper, longer and bouncier (someone get Jay Bilas a damp towel) with the trade deadline acquisition of swingman Gerald Wallace.This trade was an absolute steal for Portland, to the point that it will not surprise me in the slightest when we find out in 15 years that it happened only because Michael Jordan either A) lost a high-stakes Skins match and didn’t have his checkbook on him (which also doubles as the only explanation for this) or B) thought he was trading for Sean Elliott instead of Sean Marks (is it weird that both A and B are about equally likely in my book?).
Anyways, the Blazers recovered nicely from the discovery that Brandon Roy, their unquestioned franchise leader 10 months ago, actually has knee ligaments made out of Oreo cream filling, and Greg Oden, their Franchise Center of the Future as recently as 2010, actually has bones made out of Twizzlers. Many national pundits predicted an absolute collapse, but that was avoided by (1) MJ’s aforementioned brain aneurism, and (2) the vast improvement of (University of Texas alum) LaMarcus Aldridge, who slapped up a career-best 22/9/50% this season and was robbed of making his first All-Star team (I’m looking at you, Manu). Because of the uncertainness with Roy (team doctors have been hard at work attempting to calcify the cream-filling ligaments, but with limited success) to beat Dallas, Aldridge needs to go Beast Mode and at least cancel out Dallas’ perennial All-NBA power forward, Dirk Nowitzki. He’ll have help in the form of Marcus Camby, a long, intelligent big man who has made a living out of weak side shot blocking (not unlike the Mavericks’ counter, center Tyson Chandler).
Everyone knows the Mavericks are a jump-shooting team, and when those jumpers are cold, the other team usually has a decent chance of winning. However, other than praying for an off shooting night, there’s really only one proven formula to beat Dallas in the playoffs – flood Dirk Nowitzki with smaller, more athletic defenders and force his underwhelming supporting cast to beat you. The problem with this strategy is that there are only about six players in the league who possess the requisite size, length and lateral quickness to effectively bother Dirk. Unfortunately for the Deutschman, Paul Allen signs the paychecks for four of them (Wallace, Nicolas Batum and, to a lesser extent, Aldridge and Wesley Matthews).
Despite this, a look at the numbers shows that Dallas has a clear advantage in many key areas. The Mavs have a higher offensive efficiency (106.4 to 105.2), shoot a better field goal percentage (47.4% to 44.9%, a huge advantage), make a higher percentage of their 3-pointers (36.4% to 34.1%) and dominate in terms of true shooting percentage (56.3% to 53.4%). Dallas scores more overall, scores more on the break, shoots and hits more jumpers (especially threes), and they shoot far more effectively than do the Blazers. If the zebras aren’t a factor, and this series turns into a free-flowing, ABA-style affair, then Portland probably stands no chance. To have a legitimate shot, the Blazers need to force the Mavericks into ugly contests – dominate the offensive glass, limit transition opportunities, and frustrate Dirk enough to throw off his game (note to opponents – we’ve already seen that man slaps have no effect on the Blonde Bomber).
Unfortunately for Portland, although Dallas doesn’t seem intimidating on paper, those goals are of the much-easier-said-than-done variety. Although this is the most likely upset in the first round of the NBA playoffs (4/5 matchups don’t count), I have to give the edge to Dallas for two principal reasons – they have home-court in a series that is as likely as any to go 7 games, and they have the best player on either team.
Prediction: Mavs in 7 (just like the last time these two teams met in the playoffs).
#2 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #7 New Orleans Hornets (MichaelYoungHistory)
Regular Season Record: 4-0 Lakers
What to Watch For: (LAL) The Lakers have been in somewhat of a slump in the last 10 games, and almost dropped to the 3 seed. Also, Bynum is banged up (again). (NO) Is Chris Paul gonna be focused or is he thinking more about free agency? Also, the world is about to meet the greatness that is Carl Landry…
Phil has already told the Lakers that this is his last year. They have won the last two NBA Championships and are looking for Phil’s 4th 3-peat (Jesus….) They have had a few slumps this year, but overall they ended up as the second seed in the west. Lamar Odom is probably having the best year of his career, and Kobe is…well…he’s Kobe.
Although they’ve limped a bit into the playoffs, I don’t think anyone expects the Lakers to face a challenge from New Orleans. Sure, Chris Paul is a great point guard, but he hasn’t shown us that he can put a team on his back and go win a series he’s not supposed to. The Ariza/Artest matchup will be interesting, but the most fun matchup to watch will be Landry taking on Pau the Spanyard. As a Rockets fan, I was really sad to see Landry go, but he’s a really good player who can score at will. A few good games against Pau will really put this guy on the map. Also, Emeka Okafor vs. a banged up Bynum should be alot of fun too. However, nobody can guard Kobe. Lakers get back on track in this series.
Prediction: Lakers in 4
MYH: Bulls vs. Thunder: Bulls in 7
Facecurtainista: Bulls vs. Thunder: Bulls win it all
The King’s Law: Bulls vs. Lakers. Bulls win it all.
WPWinter: Lakers vs. Heat. (Editors Note: This guy no longer has a soul SMH) Lakers in 6 for the 3peat
Hope yall enjoyed the post! Here’s to a great playoffs for the NBA before the lockout…FML
-MichaelYoungHistory, The King’s Law, Facecurtainista, WPWinter
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