Friday, April 21, 2006

"Me too!" 

Shouts the NBA. "I know you much prefer the NHL, Master, but please talk about us, won't you? It would be ever so much fun."

If there's anything I don't care for, it's groveling. Very well, NBA, I'll give you your time, as well. But know that while you are entertaining in the later stages, you are utterly predictable. Last season, I called every single playoff series. The trick? Pick the better team. Unlike the radically different construct which is ice hockey, basketball is designed with little-to-no room for upsets.

So, as I watch the 8th seed Edmonton Oilers lead the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in the 3rd period on the ice, on a day where I heard a small child on the Hollywood Walk of Fame ask, "Where's Kelly Clarkson's star?" (I shit you not, this country is going to hell in a handbasket) and I saw a Subway employee dining at In N' Out (that was priceless), let's talk some playoff hoops.

First off, it's a forgone conclusion that the Finals will be between San Antonio and Detroit. Do not let anyone try and convince you otherwise. Neither Phoenix or Dallas will be able to unseat the Spurs out West and Detroit's consistency in the East is too much for either Miami or New Jersey to handle in a seven-game series.

Eastern Conference
1 Detroit vs 8 Milwaukee - The underdog Bucks have a good team. Maybe next year, they'll have the record to match. They have a lot of talent, but are simply outclassed in every department. Sweep! Detroit in four.

2 Miami vs 7 Chicago - Pundits seem to think that Chicago has a fighting chance. Number of go-to-guys on the Heat: 2. On Chicago: 0. Shaq and Wade make short work of the gritty Bulls. Miami in five.

3 New Jersey vs 6 Indiana - Without a doubt, the best first round matchup in the entire playoffs. Jersey fans are nervous and they should be. They don't have an adequate answer for Jermaine O'Neal down in the post. But the Pacers' inconsistency has plagued them all season and, much like their hockey counterparts, the New Jersey Nets ended the regular season as the hottest team in the league. Jason Kidd is back on his A-game, which means Vince Carter is actually going to give an honest effort. Good series. New Jersey in seven.

4 Cleveland vs 5 Washington - Should be a high-scoring affair between these two sides. Both have elite scorers in LeBron and Gilbert Arenas, but Washington has the experience of last season's 2nd round appearance on their side. If there are ever upsets in the NBA playoffs, they are in the 4/5 matchup. The Cavs need major contributions from their supporting cast, but I don't think they'll outshine the role-players on the Wizards. Washington in seven.

2nd Round
1 Detroit vs 5 Washington - The Pistons will be well-rested and the Wizards will still be recovering after outlasting Cleveland. The rust costs Chauncey, Ben, Rip, Rasheed, and Tayshaun one game. Detroit in five.

2 Miami vs 3 New Jersey - If New Jersey is going to have trouble with Jermaine O'Neal in the first round, you better believe Shaq is going to be a tough assignment. However! Last summer, Miami foolishly jettisoned some of the key players that made them so dangerous last season in favor of players like Antoine Walker and Jason Williams. This is where the mistake of those acqusitions comes back to haunt the Heat. Let's not forget, by the way, that Shaq Daddy isn't 100%. In a bit of an upset, New Jersey in seven.

Conference Final
1 Detroit vs 3 New Jersey - Once again, the Pistons will be rested and their opposition will be spent from the series before. The Nets play fast and fun. Detroit knows how to defend that, as well as run with it. They're tougher than Jersey, too. Making a third successive trip to the NBA Finals, Detroit in five.

Western Conference
1 San Antonio vs 8 Sacramento - The Kings are playing well, but they have their work cut out for them. They'll give the defending champs a battle, though they'll be fighting uphill all the way. San Antonio in six.

2 Phoenix vs 7 Los Angeles Lakers - Here we go, Lakers, here we go. Convincing arguments can be made on behalf of Kobe Bryant for MVP and Phil Jackson for Coach of the Year. The Lakeshow improved 11 games over last season's misery and are playing their best basketball of the season down the stretch. Lamar Odom has been present more often than not ('bout damn time) and Kwame Brown (that piece of crap?) is finding a steady rhythm down low. Both of those players are the key to beating Phoenix. The Lakers can beat any team on any given night (with the possible exception of San Antonio). The problem, however, is that there aren't many contenders that they can beat in a series. The Suns are one of them. Forget their last game of the season when Steve Nash and Raja Bell didn't play, the Suns pretty much swept through the Lakers this year. If they dictate tempo and play their game on the perimeter, this series should be over quickly. Kobe will go off for at least 40 points in each game, but I'm picking Phoenix in five (go Lakers!).

3 Denver vs 6 Los Angeles Clippers - Sigh... the Nuggets won their division, but it's the Clippers that have homecourt advantage because of a better record. I ask you, powers that be, WHAT THE HELL IS THE POINT OF HAVING DIVISIONS IF THERE IS NO REWARD FOR WINNING THEM?!? Why not just have two conferences and do away with divisions altogether??? You know what? It doesn't even matter. This series is completely an afterthought. Regardless of who wins, that team will fall to either Phoenix or the Lakers in round two. Fact is, this won't be an upset because of the Clippers' superior record and the fact that Denver isn't that good. Who ever thought they'd see the day when the Clippers advance further than the Lakers in the playoffs? Los Angeles in six.

4 Dallas vs 5 Memphis - The Grizzlies are 0-8 in the playoffs. They'll finish this season 2-12. Pity them for not being as fortunate as the Clippers. I'm still not convinced of anything by Dallas, but they'll win this one. Dallas in six.

2nd Round
1 San Antonio vs 4 Dallas - As I was saying, the Mavericks are still the ultimate paper tiger in sports. They can win all the regular season games in the world, but it means nothing if you can't beat the top dogs when it counts -- something the Mavericks have NEVER been able to do. The Spurs play better defense, will be absolutely dominant in the low post, and have superior guard play. This series won't be as close as the division race for the Southwest was. San Antonio in five.

2 Phoenix vs 6 Los Angeles Clippers - If they can beat the Lakers, they can probably beat the Clippers. However, Phoenix's big challenge this series will be Elton Brand on the interior. If the Suns can find a way to isolate the rest of the Clippers so that Brand is the only one contributing (as they'll certainly do with Kobe in the first round), they'll be okay. Kurt Thomas may even be back for the Suns late in the series. Phoenix in six.

Conference Final
1 San Antonio vs 2 Phoenix - Did you see last year's conference finals between these two? Remember what a walk it was for the Spurs? Okay, now remember that the Suns don't have Amare Stoudemire. Phoenix can control tempo against anyone except for the Spurs (and even the Pistons to a lesser extent). A lack of killer instinct will bite them in the butt. More of the same, San Antonio in five.

NBA Finals
Detroit vs San Antonio - A rematch of last year's listless finals, where the first four games were nothing short of torture to sit through. A Finals series full of blowouts? Who needs it? Who cares for that? No one. Thank God for Robert Horry injecting some life into that monstosity in game five. I have faith, though, that this year will see a much more open series as Flip Saunders is allowing his Pistons to play looser on offense. Just like last year, this one is going the distance. Flip a coin, but I like San Antonio in seven. That would be back-to-back championships for the Spurs and three times in four years. Finals MVP: Tim Duncan (duh).

Let's hoop it up.

By the way, the Red Wings and Oilers just went to overtime. Oh man, overtime hockey in the playoffs?? SO exciting!

Have a good weekend.

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