Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The NBA Playoffs, where "Laker fans coming out of the woodwork" happens

Fresh off calling a perfect second round, I move on the conference finals. Thank you very little to the hoards of New Orleans bandwagoners who said the Spurs were too old to compete anymore.

Now comes some of the better conference finals matchups that have happened in a while.

Lakers vs. Spurs

Before the series started, I called that it would be a 7-game series. Here's where my Spurs bias may get me. In game 7 I have to give the edge to the Lakers, though I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the Spurs rise to the challenge yet again. After game 4 it looks dismal. Still, I wouldn't be surprised to see it go 7 games. What surprises me about the series so far is that the Spurs have lost both close games. I would have expected at least a split in that area.

For the Lakers, I was expecting Kobe to defer more than he tried to take over - probably averaging less than 30 points per game for the series. That looks good so far. Pau Gasol is weak and there is no surprise he's having trouble with Tim Duncan. People are finally starting to realize what I've said all along: Lamar Odom is not a winner - he is a stat-monger, very similar to Jason Kidd in those regards. Sure, he did well in clutch in game 4, but most of it was thrown at his feet. Luke Walton incidentally happens to be the best bad player in the NBA. All he does is occasionally make a great pass and occasionally knock down a wide-open shot that he gets because other better players are being double-teamed. Thank you, Luke Walton. Cash this for millions.

The question for the Spurs is a) whether their role players can provide enough support and b) whether they can avoid their habitual scoring drouts. Michael Finley and Brent Barry have to step up, which Barry has - he almost made up for Ginobili's mail in for game 4. Thankfully Popovich has recently figured out that Jacque Vaughn is the bane of the Spurs second-string offense and starting playin Barry instead. Tim Duncan owns Pau Gasol, and I'm surprised that the Spurs haven't tried to exploit that more than they have to this point. Incidentally I would just like to mention that I called Ginobili going off in game 3 (while everyone else was doubting) and Parker and Duncan in game 4. Much good it was for game 4, thanks mainly to Ginobili's disappearance. For some reason he just has a lot of trouble if it's not either a huge game and/or a home game. Being that game 4 was a critical home game makes his no-show even all the more surprising. Attribute it either to his bum ankle or to a prime defensive effort from the Lakers.

Game 4 was simply an all-around choke-city performance from the Spurs - no one could hit a clutch basket. I don't think I've ever seen Duncan miss so many critical shots. Unfortunate contraversial no-call at the end. But all things considered, game 7 is still very likely. The key for the Spurs will be getting big shots to put a stop to any Laker momentum any time it starts. Expect Duncan and Ginobili to step it up in the elimination games. On the other side, this is a great chance for Kobe to build his legacy - does he have what it take to close out the champs at the first opporunity?

Celtics vs. Pistons

Judging from all of the ridiculously poor outings from the Celtics and a lack of impressive outings by the Pistons, expect that yet again the Western Conference Finals are the NBA Finals.

The Celtics will win in 7, simply because they have their precious home court advantage. Bill Simmons made an excellent point the other day about Kevin Garnett. Garnett has trouble playing big in big games because he's always so intense. This prevents him from taking it to another level in the clutch. Ray Allen has become the second coming of the Invisible Man. Cassell looks like he's finally run out of gas. Pierce has already used up his token monster game. Still, they have the best fans in the game, so they'll ride that out.

The Pistons are on the verge of being good enough to win, but don't expect them to climb over the hump. Only Richard Hamilton is playing consistently well for them. Billups has been mostly ineffective since his injury, which really hurts them, despite the recent boost from Stuckey. When Antonio McDyess has the best line on your team, you know something's wrong.

Everyone wants to see Lakers/Celtics, and I don't blame them. But wouldn't it be funny if after all the hype it ended up Spurs/Pistons and every game scored in the 80's? Would David Stern lose his mind? Or what if an underdog Pistons team beat the Lakers for the second time in 4 years? Would Kobe Bryant lose his mind?

What if Stephen A. Smith got fired? Would anyone lose their mind besides Stephen A. Smith?

Coming up next: Some recent interesting sports betting experiences, and maybe a top 10 list...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The NBA playoffs, where "weeding out the 'soft gene'" happens

Why do I pick NBA playoff matchups, you might ask? Allow me to take you to the gas station scene from No Country For Old Men. Picture villain Anton Chigurh as he presents his coin: "You stand to win everything. Call it." With the NBA playoffs, I stand to win everything. I call it.

A 7-1 record in calling first round series (assuming Boston win tomorrow, which they will, handily). Thank you, thank you very much. Gilbert Arenas, you cost me perfection. You have been the bane of my involvement with the NBA this season every since I made you my fantasy league first round draft pick. Terrible choice, in retrospect, but I still managed runner-up, in spite of you.

Round 2 will have entertaining but predictable matchups. In actuality there was more uncertainty in Round 1 than there is for Round 2. Here's how it unfolds (incidentally, this was written before any of these games took place)...

People just don't seem to realize that the Spurs have a higher gear that is reserved for the postseason. You can't judge how well they are going to do based on their regular season, because you haven't seen them at their best. Consequently, the decision seems to be split down the middle regarding the Spurs/Hornets series. Allow me to straighten out all you misled minions.

Chris Paul will put up good but not great numbers for the series, because the Spurs defense is too solid. With Tony Parker playing the way he is now, the point guard matchup will essentially be a wash. Two matchups put the Spurs over the top. Matchup 1: Tim Duncan vs. David West. It should take you about 0.2 seconds to make a choice between the two. The difference will be noticed between All-Star and Hall-of-Famer before it's all said and done. Matchup 2: Manu Ginobili vs. any Hornet. Expect Ginobili to average between 25 and 30 a game with around 7 free-throw attempts per game. The Hornets' bigs are not good enough shot blockers to throw him off either. Don't count on Peja - he will have a generally poor series, probably erupting in one maybe two of the Hornets' home games. And Mo-Pete is too washed up. If the Hornets are going to win on the road in this series, they must have significant contributions from Bonzi Wells and Julian Wright. Incidentally, Bonzi probably has the best chance to D-up Ginobili.

The Spurs will win in six games or less. The only thing that keeps it from being five is that the Hornets have home court advantage. Here are the two ways it could play out: scenario 1) a split in the first two games in New Orleans, the Spurs take 3 and 4 at home, New Orleans gets game 5 for a little respect, and then the Spurs close them out at home in game 6; scenario 2: the a split for games 1 and 2 and games 3 and 4, before the Spurs win the last two. I'M CALLING IT.

Detroit and Orlando unfortunately is an easily foregone conclusion. Orlando needed home court for this series, and even that wouldn't have been enough. Detroit fooled around with Philly, but the sleeping giant should be awake enough by this point. I expect Detroit to win in five. Sorry Orlando, Rashard Lewis is not a franchise player that you treated him to be. He'll make you second-round material, and that's about it. Dwight Howard will have a few big games. *Yawn*. Here's what will have to happen if Orlando is going to have a chance: Turkoglu, Evans/Bogans, and Nelson must combine for 60+ points three times. Will that happen? Not a chance. I'M CALLING IT.

Game 7 between Boston and Atlanta. Anyone who thinks Atlanta has any kind of chance is on crack. Sorry all you slipper-wearing hopefuls. Expect Boston to get up by ~15 early, keep it that way until late third, Atlanta make a small run, and then Boston finish them off. I'M CALLING IT.

Boston/Cleveland: Some people think that Boston will have a lot trouble with Lebron, based on the trouble they had with Joe Johnson. There is something to that, but not enough. Atlanta matched up better against Boston because they had a number of young and sprung athletes like Josh Smith and Marvin Williams. Cleveland has Lebron and not much else. Lebron could average 40-15-10 and it wouldn't matter. Garnett will get his because he always does. If Cleveland had trouble with Stevenson, Mason, and an injured Arenas, you can bet that Pierce, Allen, and Posey will have at least their fair share. Cassell will school any of the Cleveland point guards. Bad news if Doc Rivers decides to employ the hack-a-Ben Wallace - Wallace is an energy rebounder/defender that Cleveland needs in order to contend with the likes of Garnett, Perkins, and Powe. Boston in 6, which is still showing mad respect for Lebron. I'M CALLING IT.

LA/Utah: One word sums up this series: Kobe. Utah has no one who can guard him. Kirilenko? Too weak. Ronnie Brewer? Too inexperienced. Korver? Ha. Deron Williams? They need his energy on the offensive end, and he's not the Energizer Bunny. Here's another problem for Utah: LA has the perfect lockdown defender for Williams in the feisty Sasha Vujacic. Significantly, Williams loses his height advantage in that matchup, with Vujacic being 6'7". Fisher is not a bad defender, either. Only chance for Utah - Williams and Boozer combine for 65+ three times. Sorry, not happening. Lakers in 6. I'M CALLING IT.

Coming up next: the top 10 moments of the first round...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The NBA playoffs, where caring happens, unless you're Carmelo

Or, perhaps, "The NBA playoffs, where 'J.R. Smith's thugs are waiting for you in the parking lot' happens."

The LA/Denver series could have ended up being the most entertaining, if only based on the number of eccentric personalities involved - Kobe, Vujacic, Iverson, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith, and Carmelo at times. It's like playing with dynamite. Here are the four things that at the beginning I said had to happen for the Nuggets to have a chance. Needless to say, none of them came even close to happening, and now the Nuggets are back home researching the latest hard tattoos.

1. J.R. Smith must play the ENTIRE GAME. He could be one of the top 10 guards in the league with proper coaching. George Karl is simply an idiot.

2. Nene must play at least 20 minutes a game. Go ahead and let the long hair fool you - Gasol is a girl and definitely doesn't appreciate anyone bodying him up. Nene's physical defense could disrupt the finesse game that he loves so much.

3. Iverson must show some unparalleled leadership and motivate the rest of his team both by example and by getting right in their face when necessary. The Nuggets could very well be the most listless team in the NBA. Sometimes I think they let others teams score just so that they can get the ball back faster. They just sit around while the other team parades all day to the basket. Here's the newest show for ABC: The Stiffs, staring the entire Nuggets team. In the first episode, their house burns down on top of them while they all sit around and admire each other's tattoos.

4. Carmelo must give a rip. He's potentially the best player on the Nuggets, except when he's jacking around, which is his default mode of action. I think over the course of the series he averaged five missed layups a game. Someone said he looks like he's high when he plays. I'm 99% percent sure that he's not high - there's actually a reasonable chance.

bonus: 5. George Karl must be fired. He commands no respect. It sounds in the huddle like he's afraid that one of the players will slap him across the face and force him to get a ghetto tattoo at knife point.

And what happened? Smith dominated on the offensive end from 3's to taking it to the rack seemingly whenever he wanted (on defense wasn't much different than the rest of the team), but then would disappear from the rotation for almost an entire quarter. KMart seemed to be the only player besides J.R. Smith who cared somewhat. By the way, I wonder how he feels about having his nickname be the same as a troubled department store chain that sold Martha Stewart merchandise. Doesn't that put a sizable dent in his street cred? Iverson was like Gollum from Lord of the Rings. He just kind of lurked in the shadows, you knew he had all kinds of potential, but in the end he never put anything significant together and passed away. Nene was a ghost, and Gasol did whatever he wanted. Judging by how easy it was for Gasol, I'd wager that he could have ridden a skateboard down the lane and scored. That's how untouched he was during the series. Carmelo is becoming the new tin man of the NBA, rivaling Vince Carter - neither apparently have any heart.

Coming next: Top 10 moments of the playoffs so far...