April 16, 2010

Let's talk Playoffs!

It's that time of the year again - all 30 NBA teams have played their 82 games, and the best 16 (top 8 from each conference) move on to the second season, aka, the most exciting time of the year - the NBA playoffs.

The postseason tips off on April 17th - playoffs will be held in knockout fashion with the teams fighting in best of 7 series in each round. The actual postseason lineups are slightly different from what I had predicted a few months ago following the trade deadline.

Here are the playoff matchups for 2010:

Eastern Conference

Cleveland Cavaliers (1) vs. Chicago Bulls (8)
Orlando Magic (2) vs. Charlotte Bobcats (7)
Atlanta Hawks (3) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6)
Boston Celtics (4) vs. Miami Heat (5)

Western Conference

Los Angeles Lakers (1) vs. Oklahama City Thunder (8)
Dallas Mavericks (2) vs. San Antonio Spurs (7)
Phoenix Suns (3) vs. Portland Trailblazers (6)
Denver Nuggets (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5)

There are a lot of young teams in this year adding excitement to the playoff picture. The Bobcats and the Bucks have been playing out of their minds in the east and fully deserve to be in the postseason. In the West, a nod obviously goes to Kevin Durant and the young Thunder as well as the injury-plagued yet surviving Trailblazers.

Here are my first round predictions:

Cavs vs. Bulls: Cavs in 4 - The Cleveland LeBrons have finished the season as the best team in the league (61-21) for the second straight year and will have home-court advantage right through the playoffs. Reigning (and soon to be named future) MVP LeBron James will be back after being given a week's rest, and Shaq will be back since his injury at the end of Feb. The Cavs are looking great, with Antawn Jamison, Big Z, Mo Williams, Varejao, Boobie Gibson, JJ Hickson all ready to fire.
The Bulls did beat the Cavs twice this season, but a healthy, motivated Cleveland team is too good. Despite Derrick Rose's brilliance, and the Bulls' late season form to sneak into the playoffs, I call a clean sweep here as Cavs will win all four games with relative ease.

Magic vs. Bobcats: Magic in 6 - I don't see this series being too easy for the favoured Magic, led by Dwight Howard and Vince Carter. The Bobcats are a tricky opponent: Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, and the tutelage of Larry Brown will make things scrappy and difficult for the Magic. Still, the Magic, who were last year's finalists, have too much experience of the playoffs and should be able to win the series in six games.

Hawks vs. Bucks: Hawks in 6 - The Hawks are number three not because they deserve to be number three (yes, I'm a hater) but because the Celtics kept on shooting themselves in the foot towards the end of the season. Now, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and my main man Al Horford will step up against a defensively great Milwaukee team, who will now be lead by rookie Brandon Jennings. Unfortunately, their best player Bogut got injured at an inoppurtune time, and the Hawks should be able to take advantage of that and get through to the second round.

Celtics vs. Heat: Heat in 7 - Here I go, predicting my first upset of the playoffs. Teams 4 and 5 are always the closest matched, and to be honest, I wouldn't have given the Heat a sniff of a chance against the Celtics in a playoff series at the beginning of the season. Things have since changed: the Celtics are struggling big time, the Big three are looking really old, and unless KG can wake up and take charge, this team will not replicate their famous 'ubunto' identity again. The Heat on the under hand have been on fire to end the season. The incredible Wade has led the team to win 12 of their last 13 games, and there is nothing better than momentum entering the playoffs.
Still, the talent on the Celtics can't be denied. This will be a tough, exciting series, and will go all the way to seven. But D-Wade will eclipse the Big 3 (and 4 now, counting Rajon Rondo) and win an exciting game seven.

Lakers vs. Thunder: Lakers in 5 - Good job at making it this far, Oklahama City. Kevin Durant will be a second-favourite on MVP vote, after already becoming the youngest player ever to win the scoring title. Speaking of scorers, Mr. 81 aka Kobe will be back, and so will the Lakers. Too much experience in Phil Jackson, Kobe, Gasol, etc here - the champs will win again.

I'm excited to see Kobe and Durant go off against each other, too. And to see Ron Ron deal with Durant defensively. Gasol (and the probably returning Andrew Bynum) will eat the Thunder post players alive.

Mavericks vs. Spurs: Mavericks in 7 - The Spurs are hitting form again, led by the return of Manu Ginobili's manhood. Tim Duncan can never be counted off, and that is why I believe they will take a supremely deep and talented Dallas team all the way to seven games. Still, Dirk, Kidd, Marion, Butler, Terry, Haywood... Oh the Mavericks are deep! They'll survive this one!
Here's an amazing Spur stat for you: The Spurs are starting the playoffs without home-court advantage for the first time since Tim Duncan's rookie year. That, my friends, was 12 years ago. Amazing.

Suns vs. Blazers: Suns in 4 - This series could've been so much more - but an unfortunate injury to Blazers guard and superstar Brandon Roy has meant that the Suns, who have finished the season in amazing form, will continue dominating opponents. Amar''e is on fire and Steve Nash is playing like its 2003. Add a rejuvenated Grant Hill and the serviceable Jason Richardson, and the Suns are looking great to sweep this series.

Nuggets vs. Jazz: Jazz in 7 - You smell that? I smell an upset. A Jazzy, Jerry Sloan led, Deron Williams dominated, Chauncey overshadowed, Boozer post destructing, Melo buzzer-beating missing upset. These two teams are too close to call, but the Nuggets seem to have lost their footing a little bit, and the class of Deron and the Jazz will see them through this very, very close series. I'm very excited to see the Chauncey-Deron matchup: two PGs of different generations who play very similar games.

April 17 is the date. Bring on the postseason - only the 16 now matter. Who will be the last team standing? I can hardly wait.

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