Thursday, April 15, 2010

Playoff Predictions

The match ups for the 2010 NBA Playoffs are set, and we have some very intriguing first round pairings. Unfortunately, the NBA is nowhere near college in the amount of upsets that can occur; with every round of the postseason being seven games, it is very rare to see a top team upended. The West is wild, and the East will run through LeBron and the Cavs, but with no further ado, here is how I see this years NBA Playoffs playing out.

Starting in the West, we have the 1 vs. 8 matchup:

Los Angeles Lakers vs.OKC Thunder

The Lakers hold the advantage in almost every category one can think of. They have better personnel, experience, coaching and they have number 24, the Mariano Rivera of the NBA. The Lakers, however, are literally limping into this years postseason, they have lost seven of their last eleven games and seem to have an endless list of players and ailments on their injury report. Andrew Bynum has missed the last 13 games with a strained achillies, Kobe Bryant has soreness in his knees and the fractured index finger on his shooting hand, Ron Artest and Shannon Brown both have thumb problems, Lamar Odom has been complaining of sorenesUs in his right shoulder for quite sometime, and to add insult to injury, the last two games have produced injuries to back up guards Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic. Everybody is expecting the Lakers to just flip the switch and turn up the intensity and it will be interesting to see if they caIin actually do that.

The OKC Thunder are making their first playoff appearance in the franchises short history. Only a few players on the roster actually have playoff experience, those being: Thabo Sefolosha at nine games, rarely used Kevin Ollie at 41 games, Third string center Etan Thomas at 15 games, and Nick Collison at eleven games. The Thunder do have enough fire power, though, to strike fear in the hearts of the defending champs, hence Phil Jackson already playing mind games with Kevin Durant. OKC had a great season and should be a legitimate force in just a few years, but their reward this year is facing the Lakers in the first round.

Prediction: OKC gets one at home, but the Lakers take the series in five.

2. Dallas Mavericks vs. 7. San Antonio Spurs

The Mavs have been one of the hottest teams since the All-Star break. Their mid season acquisition of Caron Buter and Brendan Haywood was key to adding depth and fire power to their roster. The Mavs are loaded on offense, no doubt about it, the doubt lies in their desire to defend. They give up nearly 100 points per game to opposing teams, that is the third most among playoff teams ( Phoenix is first and Denver is second). Another startling statistic is opposing teams shoot 46% from the field against the Mavs, that is second worst among playoff teams behind only the Trailblazers. There is no question that Dallas can score the ball with the best of em, but can they tighten up their defense enough to keep Parker and Ginobili out of the lane? That will be the deciding factor.

Oh the Spurs! They never seem to go away. San Antonio reminds me of my grandfathers 1992 Toyota Corolla because neither of them ever seem to break down, no matter how old they get. The Spurs are a savvy bunch of veterans with a couple of dynamic rookies sprinkled in. They win games the ugly way, with hustle plays and defense. The key to the Spurs having success in this years playoffs is the health of both of their point guards, Tony Parker and George Hill. The contrasting styles of these teams will make for a very exciting series.

Prediction: I think this will be a home team series and Dallas will take it in seven.

3. Phoenix Suns vs. 6. Portland Trailblazers

Phoenix is by far the hottest team in the association going Into the postseason. Steve Nash is playing at the same level as his back to back MVP seasons and all the trade talk surrounding Amar'e Stoudemire seemed to have lit a fire underneath him. Since the All-Star break, Stoudemire has averaged nearly 25 points and nine rebounds per game. Unfortunately for Portland, the Suns love to play against them. In three games against the Blazers this year, Amar'e has put up 23 points and eleven boards per, and Nash posted 16 points and ten eleven assists per. Phoenix has a ton of depth and a ton of confidence, if they keep this momentum going, they will be a very tough out.

Portland could have been a very scary team to face in this years playoffs, but the injury to Brandon Roy will most likely cause them to be one and done. Even with Roy out, though, the Blazers are a very tough and gritty group. Andre Miller and Marcus Camby bring the veteran experience and LaMarcus Aldridge is very capable of carrying this team offensively, especially going up against the questionable defense of Amar'e Stoudemire. Portland's bench is also pretty deep despite all of the injuries, Martell Webster, Rudy Fernandez, and Jerryd Bayless are all capable of coming off the bench and putting up 20 points.

Prediction: too much fire power for the Blazers to handle, Suns in six

4. Denver Nuggets vs. 5 Utah Jazz

Up until a few months ago, Denver was considered the top candidate to dethrone the Lakers as the kings of the West, but with head coach George Karl away from the team due to illness, the Niggers have fallen apart at the seams. In their last 16 games, Denver is 8-8, with losses to both Houston and the Knicks. Even with these issues, the Nuggets are a very dangerous team. Carmelo Anthony is a bonafide NBA superstar, Chauncey Billups is one of the best Point guards in the league, J.R. Smith can change the game from three point range, and Kenyon Martin And Nene bring front court toughness that is greatly needed in the playoffs. Billups will need to do more, however, than just play his usual game. Interim head coach Adrian Dantley will need Billups to keep his teammates calm on the court. The Nuggets are notorious for making very questionable decisions at key times in games. If Chauncey can find his inner Karl, the Nuggets will be a tough out.

The Jazz are as solid of a team that one will find. Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer run the pick and roll just as beautifully as Stockton and Malone, Mehmet Okur spreads the floor with his soft touch from behind the arc, and Paul Millsap is a double double threat coming off the bench. People always say that teams take on the personality of their coach, and in this case, that is a perfect description for Utah. Jerry Sloan is a hardworking, get after it type of coach, and his team goes out and executes night in and night out.

Prediction: this series will come down to coaching, the Jazz and Jerry Sloan win in six

The East is not nearly as difficult as the West to analyze. A lot of the first round match ups are virtual locks, and it would take a miracle for any of the top three seeds to get knocked off in the first round. Let's start with the 1 vs. 8 match up.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Chicago Bulls

The Cavs have been considered the best team in the NBA all season and rightfully so. Cleveland finished the year with the best record in the league and showed no signs if slipping at any point during the season. The Cavs are led, of course, by LeBron James who is undoubtedly the best player in the association and the leagues MVP for many years to come. But James isn't the only weapon that Cleveland can deploy, Antwan Jamison, who was acquired mid season from The Wizards is a 20-10 threat on any given night, and JJ Hickson is a young, athletic big man who can run the floor and finish against anybody. The Cavs don't need much help in this first round tango with the Bulls, this will just be a tune up for Shaq to return to form.

The Bulls fought valiantly to make the playoffs this year, and their reward for all that hard work: a first round date with Cleveland. Chicago is a very young, but talented team; they feature one of the best young point guards in the league in Derrick Rose, and a high energy forward in Joakim Noah. What surprises most people when they look at the regular season between these two teams is that the four games were split 2-2. In order for the Bulls to have a chance in this series, someone has to step up and stop LeBron, but that is a beast that has yet to be conquered.

Prediction: too much LeBron, Cavs in five.

2. Orlando Magic vs. 7. Charlotte Bobcats

The Magic are really, really good. People forget that this same team, minus Hedo Turkoglu, and plus Vince Carter took it to Cleveland in the east finals last year, only to lose to the Lakers in the finals. Dwight Howard is a legitimate MVP candidate, and his presence in the paint and on the boards is so crucial to winning in the postseason. Orlando's key, though, is how well they shoot the three. Even with Howard on the inside, the Magic seem to always live or die by the long ball. Like the Cavs, it's a lock for the Magic to march on to the second round.

The Bobcats, like the Thunder, are making their first playoff appearance in franchise history. The Magic are considered the run away favorites in this series, but the Bobcats can match up quite well with the Magic, especially if Tyson Chandler is healthy. Stephen Jackson can score as well as anyone in the league and Gerald Wallace is capable of taking on the tough defensive assignment and can still do a ton of damage on the boards. The Bobcats need to let Dwight Howard get his, and stop everybody else in order to have a chance in this series.

Prediction: the Bobcats season comes to a quick end, Magic in five

3. Atlanta Hawks vs. 6. Milwakee Bucks

The Hawks are an extremely talented team, led by All-Star guard Joe Johnson. Atlanta has a plethora of players they can send out to score on any given night. The Hawks can also defend though, two of their forwards, Josh Smith and Al Horford are up for all-defensive team consideration. This high energy team can also get caught up in some bad habits throughout a game, and those things usually end up killing them at the end the day. They like to abandon their offense and take quick three's, and they also seem to turn the ball over a lot in crunch time. The key for this team is sixth man Jamal Crawford, and if he can stay hot going into the first round.

The Bucks are a surprising team this year, with rookie point guard Brandon Jennings leading the charge. Jennings has had a stellar rookie year, and he has shown that he can get hot in a hurry, with a 55 point outburst earlier in the season. It is surprising to see the Bucks in the playoffs because they lost their All-Star and best player, Michael Redd to a season ending knee injury earlier this year. But coach Scott Skiles rallied his troops and they have executed very well down the stretch. Many people thought the Bucks were the team to come into the playoffs and make some noise, until center Andrew Bogut went down with a freak arm injury just a few games before the end of the year. If "The Big Austrailian" was still in the lineup, I would give the Bucks a much better chance in this series.

Prediction: Jennings goes off in two games at home, Hawks win in six

4. Boston Celtics vs. 5. Miami Heat

The Celtics come into these playoffs as the biggest question mark. The "big three" have seemed to disappear as the season grew longer, and the rift that Rajon Rondo is causing in the locker room is cause for concern. With all of those questions, though, the Celtics have themselves in a good position. They match up very well with the Heat, sweeping the season series 3-0. Boston has the ability to make a deep playoff run with the amount of talent, depth and experience they bring to the table, but the question is, do the Celtics have enough in the tank to make another run for the title.

The Heat are extremely hot coming into the postseason, no pun intended. They have won 18 out of their last 22 games and are clicking as a team on all cylinders. Dwayne Wade is one of the brightest stars the game has ever seen, and he seems to always show up even bigger as the stage and spotlight are at its highest. The question for Miami, however, is not whether or not D-Wade will show up, but who else will step up to take some pressure of off the superstars back. The Heat drafted Michael Beasley two years ago to be the Robin to Wade's batman, but Beasley hasn't always shown up when the team needs him most. There is no question that he is blessed with a ton of talent, but in order for the heat to make some noise against the Celtics, Beasley needs to channel his inner Kansas State.

Prediction: Boston squeaks it out behind hot shooting from Ray Allen, Celtics in seven.

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