Well the Bobcats were as horrible as we thought they were, and so the Knicks stay at the 7 seed, Philly stays at 8, and my Eastern Conference playoff series preview remains relevant. Just kidding, this is all an irrelevant waste of time.
(not appearing in this section for the last 9, or next 9, years: Sacramento Kings
(Home team in Caps)
Matchup: (1) SAN ANTONIO v. (8) Utah
Utah just snuck into the playoffs by beating Steve Nash and his D-League All-stars (unfair to Grant Hill and Jared Dudley). That said, Utah is playing well, they earned this spot, beating out decent-enough Phoenix (again, Nash) and Houston teams. Al Jefferson keeps getting better, although I guess he’s not a “young player” anymore, even though I want to call him that. Their actually young yet marquee big man, Paul Milsap should have been an all-star this year. Point guard Devin Harris has played better recently, as has two guard, and I’m guessing Utah fans’ favorite player, Gordon Hayward (who, I’m assuming from his name, time-traveled here from the 1955 NBA Champion Syracuse Nationals). They’re fun to watch; surprising for everyone who, like me, equates the Jazz with those dreary Stockton and Malone pick-and-roll playoff teams. But fun wont get it done, as no one has ever said.
Because San Antonio, man. I used to be bored by this Spurs team. I just thought of it as this plodding, Big-Ten style, grind it out, bank-shot team. And that Pistons-Spurs Finals was the worst. So I haven’t watched much San Antonio ball these last couple years. But I watched a couple games late this season, after following with some bewilderment their rise to tie Chicago for the best record in basketball. And wow. They are still very methodical, but now it’s so terrifying its beautiful, like a Gothic Cathedral or that lady bartender at the Horseshoe with all the tattoos. Timofey Duncan is still doing Tim Duncan things and even dunking on people, they are getting good play from rookie Kawhi Leonard and other role players, everyone seems pre-programmed; they get to the right spots, make the right passes and then smoothly hit open jumpers. Again, and again, and again. This team sees the Matrix. Starring Tony Parker as Neo. And Duncan as Lawrence Fishburne’s character whose name I forget.
Prediction: Spurs in 5
Paul Milsap is really becoming a great power forward. Tim Duncan is maybe the greatest power forward. Devin Harris is playing point guard well. PG Tony Parker is on many MVP shortlists. And Manu is back!
Player To Watch: Manu Ginobli (Spurs)
Ginobli is sometimes the best Spur. Better than Parker, better than Duncan. But he is a delicate porcelain doll, with a ton of cracks, including a broken hand and a strained oblique this year. If he’s healthy and playing well, he adds a chaotic flair that complements the San Antonio Basketball Machine, by keeping opponents guessing. But he’s also one Raja Bell bump away from crumbling into a pile of dust with a bald spot.
Player to Watch: Tony Parker
I don’t really get it? Is it because he’s French and has that accent? But he married Eva Longoria, then cheated on her with a teammates wife, and this all-star break he was partying in Vegas, where, “waitresses in the club wore Parker’s jersey as their work uniform, some of them even tailoring it to hug their body — and the divorcé didn’t seem bothered one bit.” (http://tinyurl.com/7vg3gja). So ladies love Tony P., I guess?
Matchup: (2) OKLAHOMA CITY v. (7) Dallas
This is a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals, but one of these teams came back weaker. I’ll give you a hint, its not the team with the second seed. Dallas lost defensive anchor and smiley-person Tyson Chandler (now anchoring a vastly improved Knick defense), as well as sparkplug J.J. Barea. And to be honest, star Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t sound or act like he’s burning with desire to repeat as champions with this team. He knows the plan is to clear cap space to bring in another star or two for next season (Dwight Howard and Deron Williams being names discussed on sports websites that I am now repeating), and if there’s one thing Germans love its beer. Oh, and plans. So although I expect Dirk and Kidd and Terry to rise to the occasion and give the Thunder a series, I don’t expect them to get the upset.
Then again, the Thunder have had some trouble closing the season. At one time in the hunt for the best record in ball with strong MVP candidate Kevin Durant, the Thunder dropped several games in April to playoff-bound teams like the Lakers, Clippers and Grizzlies, all of whom they SHOULD be favored against in the actual playoffs. For a nice (long) account of Thunder Sturm and Drang check out this article: http://tinyurl.com/d3ogr2h
Angst aside, the Thunder are awesome to watch. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both transcendent scorers, and World Peace elbow recipient James Harden is the NBA’s 6th Man of the Year winner, somewhat unfair considering he’s better off the bench than a lot of team’s best players
Prediction: OKC in 6
Player To Watch: Kevin Durant (Thunder)
I could have easily gone Harden here, mostly for the chance to discuss his Rutherford B. Hayesian beard and Frohawk combo. But for me, Kevin Durant really is the most interesting player in this series, and other than LeBron, maybe the playoffs. He won the scoring title and has been in the MVP discussion all year. This could be the be the year he finally puts it all together in the playoffs to become the Bird to LeBron’s Magic. Or he could get pushed into settling for jump shots instead of going to the line, which is pretty much what I remember happening last year.
Player to Watch: Kelenna Azubuike
What can I say? This is a series between two teams of average and below average looking dudes. Best I could do. If you’re looking for Kelenna on the Maverick’s bench, start with Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki and then immediately look to the other end of the bench next to the towel boys and gatorade squirters. But he is British, so has a charming accent, Guvnah.
Matchup: (3) LOS ANGELES LAKERS v. (6) Denver
LA lost Metta Mike Tyson for basically the first round of the playoffs following his suspension (6 playoff games total) for a Flagrant 2 foul (offense: being Ron Artest). At first glance, hey good job NBA sending a message and punishing that vicious hit he put on the OKC Thunder’s James Harden. But that precise length of suspension does two things: Allows Metta to come back as a potential Game 7 savior in the first round, and/or guarantees Metta will play in a second round series, against likely opponent…OKC, and bearded victim Harden. So I’m a little cynical the league is turning this punishment into league-scripted drama to increase interest. Luckily the games will be on TNT, and drama is a thing they know. Kobe Bryant shoots a lot, Andrew Bynum is pretty good now, Pau Gasol is tall.
Denver has been such a fun team since they traded away Carmelo Anthony, who I still think is great, I say as if worried he’ll take offense. They are star-less but not in an atrocious way like Charlotte, they play great basketball. Italian Stallion Danilo Gallinari is a pretty real deal now, though he’s been battling injuries, and the Nuggets already had one super fast young big guy in Ken Faried, and now they have another in JaVale McGee, who has twice the acceptable amount of capitalized letters in his name. JaVale came at the expense of Center Nene, who is better right now, but JaVale has been playing really good in this last stretch of games (this, despite the fact that earlier in the season he ran the wrong way down the court once, something coaches yell at 5th grade players for). In fact…
Player To Watch: JaVaLe McGeE
If McGee can continue or accelerate his learning curve, and play just a bit more controlled and just a little bit more mindful, he could really help a team populated with otherwise even more inexperienced big men. And its not like McGee has to memorize a 50 page playbook, if the Nuggets are going to win this series they’re going to do it by running the Lakers out of the gym; and McGee could be dangerous there.
Prediction: Denver in 7
I think they can do it! Probably not, but I really dislike the Lakers, especially…
Player to Watch: Kobe Bryant
You know what’s always awesome to watch? The crowd in Denver HATING on Kobe Bryant in a playoff game. You know what’s not awesome? The reason for that. But everyone else on the Lakers is hideous (Pau Gasol and Steve Blake have been cast as mutants in the Total Recall remake), and I don’t know what anyone on Denver looks like, so:
Matchup: (4) MEMPHIS v. (5) Los Angeles Clippers
The Memphis Grizzlies are the Team No One Wants To Play. I know this, because every time someone on tv brings up the Memphis Grizzlies, they are apparently contractually obligated to note that Memphis is the Team No One Wants to Play. The reason Memphis is so moniker’d is that they are a good team that was pretty successful in last year’s playoffs, and it’s thought that the only reason they don’t have a higher seed this year is because they’ve dealt with injury issues, most notably to their star big Zack Randolph. Well Randolph is back, but he is definitely not all the way back. And yes the Grizz have Rudy Gay this year (injured last year), so they should be better. But they’re still scarier on paper then consistent on the court. I don’t know. Maybe I’m biased against the Grizzlies because they play in Memphis and the jet lag from Egypt is horrible.
The Clippers added Chris Paul, with an assist from the NBA head office, and they’ve been a high-flying and, at times, formidable team. But they’re still, with the exception of Paul, inconsistent and could easily go down to a more experienced squad like Memphis. Which is too bad, because the Clippers are way more fun to watch. Blake Griffin dunked over a car, then moved on to more impressive dunk victims like the Thunder’s Kendrick Perkins. But he still isn’t much of a defender. Meanwhile, with playoff yoda Chauncey Billups injured, LA is going to have to rely on Mo Williams and Caron Butler to take and make tough shots, which ok, but not ideal.
Prediction: Memphis in 6
By now you’ve probably figured out that when I pick a team to win in 6, what I’m saying is, I like that team a little better than the other team, but I’m hedging my bets because I have no idea.
Player To Watch: Blake Griffin
We, you and I, know that as playoff assassins go, Chris Paul is a playoff Mossad agent. So I’m not worried about him. But Blake Griffin, last year’s Rookie of the Year, is going to have to do more than jam a few highlight reel dunks, especially as the games slow down and transition points are hard to come by. He, along with Center DeAndre Jordan, are going to have to contain Masc Gasol and Zack Randolph, while running smart and hard pick and rolls with Paul. Griffin’s got the energy, lets see if he has the skill.
Player to Watch: Chris Paul
CP3 is the Captain of the Clippers, as well as the Captain of my heart.
So I like San Antonio Playing Memphis and OKC playing LAL. I’ll say Memphis-OKC, so as not be completely predictable, and I’ll say the Thunder take that in 7. That makes for an NBA Finals of OKC v. Miami, which is my deepest desire, so it probably wont actually happen. And as long as I’m making unfounded picks, lets say OKC in 7, followed by a million calls for Miami to trade James, Bosh or both, all of which will be dumb.
Playoffs Previewed! Thanks for hanging in there, if you’ve reached this point. Maybe I’ll post some more as the games actually take place, if the bosslady says ok. And if the Kings win the draft lottery on May 30 and get the first pick, I’ll come on to post a paragraph of exclamation marks. These playoffs are shaping up to be as fun as last year’s games, which were pretty fun! Hopefully I’ve convinced one of you to check out a game or two. That said, if we end up with a championship of Memphis v. Atlanta, feel free to not watch that, or any other basketball game ever again.