Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Omigod omigod omigod the NBA playoffs are starting omigod

Ummmm...if you couldn't tell by the title of this post, I'm excited for the NBA playoffs to commence. Like, really excited. Like, Jessica-Alba-just-walked-into-my-apartment-wearing-only-a-Carmelo-jersey excited.

(Okay, not quite that enthralled. But still.)

Certainly, it helps that my favorite team had itself a dream regular season, and for once - FINALLY - looks like a team that knows who it is, like it has the parts necessary for a deep playoff run even if it would take a minor miracle to win the whole shebang. Not to mention, home court for the first time in the Carmelo Anthony era. Sheesh, only took the Nugs six years.

But you know what? Here's what's different this year: usually, when Denver gets knocked out after a week in the luxurious NBA Postseason Hotel, my fanhood checks out for the summer and I'll gently peruse the postgame recaps for the remaining rounds without really watching the games. But I solemnly swear this: even if the Nuggets get swept out of the first round, I will watch the entire playoffs with great intent. It's gonna be good. Nay, great.

LeBron trying to officially become the greatest player in the NBA without match or master? Kobe trying to jump into the NBA's top 10 of all-time? D-Wade trying to get his second ring, which judging from his supporting cast would take something along the lines of 35-point, 15-rebound, 15-assist, and 12-block averages from now till Father's Day? The Celtics trying to embark on the impossibly difficult task of repeating (hasn't been done since Kobe-Shaq nearly 10 years ago), and doing it without a healthy Kevin Garnett? The Magic, Nuggets, Hawks and Rockets trying to prove they should've gotten more midseason pub rather than getting sloppy seconds on all the headlines? The Hornets (Chris Paul), Trail Blazers (Brandon Roy), and Bulls (Derrick Rose) trying to ride their young stud guards to some postseason success? The Sixers and Mavericks trying to recapture old glory by upsetting a top contender or two? And finally, the Spurs, Jazz and Pistons trying to prove they're not totally washed up?

What's not to like about this postseason? I think my favorite part is, there are 16 quality teams participating in these playoffs. When a franchise that's played in the last six conference finals is your worst team - and it's not even close - that's a good thing, my friends. There's something to love about every one of the eight opening series, and I'm gonna preview them in some quick capsules here, adding in my first-round predictions (B-Dubs is in a busy stretch, but his picks are included). Some time before the playoffs actually begin on Saturday, I'll throw in my personal handicaps for the entire playoffs, March Madness-style ... but only if you allow me to change some stuff up after the first round. Cool? Cool.


1) Cavaliers vs. 8) Pistons

LeBron, you're quickly becoming the world's most popular athlete. You're at the top of every guy's "If I could be a famous celebrity for a week, who would it be?" list, along with Justin Timberlake, Andy Roddick and whoever's doing Brooklyn Decker. (Oops, the last two are the same. Pardon me while I sob into the bottom of a Kleenex box.) But you've gotta, just gotta, stop that dancing crap. Don't make us hate you. It was cute ... once. Maybe twice. It's no longer cute. It's kind of annoying now. Besides, you're only firing up the Lakers, Celtics, Magic, and yes, the Pistons, who if you've forgotten have owned this conference since you freaking entered the league.

That said, has anybody seen the Pistons lately? Anybody? I feel like I haven't heard their name or seen any Detroit highlights in, like, three months. I guess I can see the Motown crowd, still fired up from Michigan State's run, helping the Pistons steal one from Cleveland. But the Cavs will get the other Palace game, which means they'll wrap it up back at the Q with relative ease.

Prediction: Dancing Queens in five games
(B-Dubs takes a Cavs Sweep)

2) Celtics vs. 7) Bulls

This series might be fun ... if Chicago can keep playing like it has since early March, finishing the season 14-7 and winning every game in April until the last one, the one they needed to avoid a first-round trip to Beantown. Derrick Rose, however, is Chi-town's best hope, and might not even be the best point guard in the series, the way Rajon Rondo has stepped up for the Celts.

It would be beneficial for the reigning champs if they can work in KG and win this series with relative ease, preparing him for what would then be three very, very difficult series ahead. But again, you can't discount hot (and young) teams like the Bulls, and you just get the feeling that Boston will have to labor for six weeks straight if it wants to raise No. 18 in 2009.

Prediction: The Champs in seven
(B-Dubs has the advantage of knowing KG is done and takes Chi-town in 6)

3) Magic vs. 6) Sixers

Talk about a gift basket for Orlando. I mean, Philly couldn't have backed into these playoffs much more forcefully if it had a hemi and the emergency brake snapped in two. Six straight losses in April? And would've been seven if the Cavs had needed that final game?

The Sixers have enough talent and have played well enough in stretches this year to make me believe this won't be a clean sweep. But a part of me feels like Orlando, even more than Cleveland, should be sure to have a large supply of brooms close at hand.

Prediction: Disneyworld Dwight in five
(B-Dubs take Superman in 5)

4) Hawks vs. 5) Heat

Mmmm, a tasty matchup in the Southeast U.S. of A. Now, everyone and their mother wants D-Wade to win this series and set up an epic clash with buddy LeBron. For that reason, I can't blame anyone for picking Miami, since David Stern's minions/referees has shown in the past an incredible ability to ensure Wade gets two free throws if a defender gets too close to him with a high fever. Unfortunately, David Stern's minions are more competent than Flash's minions.

I mean, you're coming at me with two rookies and Joel Anthony up front? Like Jermaine O'Neal's just gonna wake up this morning and be 26 again? Not happening. Atlanta plays very well at home, gets nice production from solid pieces up and down the lineup, and has a little playoff experience of their own from last year's near-upset of Boston. You think D-Wade on his own is better than that Boston squad from a year ago? Think again...because if he is, then maybe he does deserve the MVP.

Prediction: Hotlanta in six
(B-Dubs takes D-Wade in 7)


1) Lakers vs. 8) Jazz

I just love Kobe's attitude when talking to Craig Sager after his Lakers admirably played out the string and defeated Utah to make sure the Jazz would be retuning to the City of Angels for the first round. Sager mentioned Utah's physicality, and Kobe said, "We want that. This is good for us, we need to play a team like that to find out who we are."

Love it. I believe that a team like L.A. with legit title aspirations shouldn't care who they play in the first round, even if Utah is certainly capable of figuring out how to play basketball again at the snap of Jerry Sloan's fingers. But as long as Kobe keeps being Kobe, Andrew Bynum can keep getting back to full strength, and the Lakers can get something, anything, out of the point guard position, they should be fine through to round two. Just don't be surprised if it's not a cakewalk from the get-go.

Prediction: Flakers in six games
(B-Dubs: Kobe and this team take it to another level. Lakers in 5)

2) Nuggets vs. 7) Hornets

Don't think I can write this without any semblance of bias, but I will try. I remember going to a Nuggets-Hornets game back on Thanksgiving night at the Can, when the Hornets basically stole a victory with a series of ridiculous events at the end to take home the W (no insult intended; great teams win games they have no business winning. I'm just saying: the Hornets had no business winning that night.) I walked out muttering to myself, the four guys I went to the game with, the guy handing out Conoco coupons at the door, anybody who would listen: "we are better than that team" over and over again. I believed that then, I believe it now.

Denver has always played Chris Paul very, very well; really, so well to the point that I'm a little puzzled what all the fuss is about with CP3. I know his stats speak for themselves, but I just haven't seen it when he plays Denver. The Nuggets are obviously Western Team Number One with an ape-sized monkey on the backside: trying to get out of the first round for the first time in forever. Luckily, the Hornets team on the opposite bench hasn't been there either, and has less overall experience. Other than Paul, New Orleans just is not very good, and I don't think they'll put up much of a fight in this series. Please, I beg you basketball gods: prove me right.

(B-Dubs: No homers here, Denver squeezes by in 7)

3) Spurs vs. 6) Mavericks

I keep feeling lucky about how the postseason draw opened up for the Nuggets, figuring that if they do get past Chris Paul and Co., that we'll finally see Denver get a fair shot at the Spurs, and with the benefit of home court. But hold on. Who says San Antonio will get that far?

Dallas is playing very well to finish the season, San Antonio isn't. Dallas is completely healthy, San Antonio isn't. Dallas plays extremely well at home, San Antonio doesn't. Dallas is relatively young besides its point guard, San Antonio is the opposite of young. Old? Old, I think the term is. San Antonio is old. Dallas has better overall talent than San Antonio. I'm trying to think of a good reason why I should pick the wounded and susceptible Spurs.

Meh, let's go with it. My upset special's right here.

Prediction: Mark Cubans in six
(B-Dubs: Cautiously taking my boys in 7)

4) Trail Blazers vs. 5) Rockets

Sorry, Rockets. Sure, you could've gotten home court in this series if Denver had cared enough to show up in the Rose Garden tonight. But, uh, maybe you shouldn't have coughed up an eight-point halftime lead in your own game tonight. Try and blame Kenyon Martin for that one.

By the way, Yao? Your boy? Softer than a 12-pack of toilet paper. Somebody please inform him that flapping your right arm at Brandon Bass is not the definition of trying hard for a loose ball in a game your team needs to lock up home court. Of course, the rest of Yao's team is an offensive mess.

On the flip side, there's a lot to like about Portland. Why, Hubie Brown is sleeping soundly right now and still gushing about how lovely the Trail Blazers play basketball like he did for two hours Wednesday night (despite the fact their opponent couldn't care less about the outcome, but I digress.) They're one of the best home court teams in the league; Brandon Roy is arguably a top-ten NBA player right now; there's good shooters all over the floor, a talented post presence in LaMarcus Aldridge, and a goof like Greg Oden who's trying really, really hard. You know, in general. That's, uh...that's about the best compliment I can give Oden (who also answers to Mr. Foul on Number 52, that's his fifth personal in about 12 minutes of play.)

But Houston, after all, is Ape Firmly Planted on Back Team Number Two. Somehow, it's survived the T-Mac crap through all this, and Ron Artest is now a team player. Yes, that Ron Artest. Throw in the Rockets' tough D, and I can see this thing going the distance. With the home team winning each time out, and that's bad news for Yao, who still has never tasted second-round glory.

Prediction: Baby Blazers in seven
(B-Dubs: Hacktastic Odens in 6)

Like I promised, I'll run through my picks for the conference semis, conference finals and NBA finals before the playoffs tip off Saturday. gonna be good. Can't wait.


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