When you invite over half of the teams in a league to your playoff-dance, you’re bound to have some teams showing up that are great dancers, some that dance so-so, and some that dance like Ellen Degeneres.
In other words, that last group likes to dance…their fans like to watch them dance…mainly because they’re funny, but no one will ever confuse them with Michael Jackson or Fred Astaire.
This “dance-ability” breakdown is most obvious in the Eastern Conference. There you have great dancers in the Cavs, Celtics, and Magic, a mediocre dancer in the Hawks, a really fun-to-watch (due to D-Wade) but lousy dancer in the Heat, and then three dancers (Bulls, Sixers, & Pistons) that simply have two left feet each.
The Bulls and Sixers barely managed to get to .500 in the regular season, while the Pistons wouldn’t recognize .500 if Allen Iverson wore it to practice. No wait…AI & practice…not a good example.
The Western Conference has better dancers overall, with one great dancer (The Lakers) and seven so-so dancers. The seven so-so dancers all pretty much “cut the rug” at the same level. If you could take the Lakers out of the mix, the Western Conference playoffs would be a complete crap-shoot.
Let’s take a look at the first-round matchups as well as some projections beyond….
We know that the winner of this conference will come from among three teams…Cavs, Celtics, or Magic. The other five teams are just playing for their fans and practicing for the future.
No. 1 Cavaliers v. No. 8 Pistons
This is a matchup between arguably the best team in the NBA and the worst team that somehow defaulted its way into the playoffs. This will be “King James” and his marvelous court vs the once-great-but-now-pathetic AI-less “Motown Munchkins”. This will be a slaughter.
Pick: Cavs in four…could be three if the NBA installs a series mercy rule.
No. 2 Celtics v. No. 7 Bulls
KG is out for the Celtics, and that bodes ill for their chances to repeat as NBA Champs. Frankly, they can forget about it. However, for this first round…well…they’re playing the Bulls. ‘Nuff said. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen could probably take out the Bulls in seven all by themselves….in six if Doc Rivers were to suit up.
Pick: Celtics in five
No. 3 Magic v. No. 6 Sixers
This will pit “Superman” and his legion against…well…some guys. Does anyone even know who plays for the Sixers? This will be almost as ugly as Cavs v. Pistons.
Pick: Magic in four
No. 4 Hawks v. No. 5 Heat
This will likely be the only first round series in the East that’s competitive. The only reason it will be is because of MVP candidate, D-Wade. The Heat could make some noise throughout the playoffs if D-Wade scores 55 points every game. Of course, they’re not playing the Knicks, so he won’t do that, but I think he’ll go off at a high level against the Hawks.
Pick: Mild upset here…Heat in seven
This entire playoff sequence will be about which team, if any, can sneak up on the Lakers. On paper, no team in the West can do that, but of course the playoffs are played on courts, not on paper.
No. 1 Lakers v. No. 8 Jazz
This could…could…could be one of the better No. 1 v. No. 8 matchups we’ve seen in a long time. This will be the precision and physicality of the Jazz vs. the finesse, skill, and athleticism of the Lakers…Jerry Sloan’s pick 'n roll offense v. Phil Jackson’s triangle.
The Jazz’s Deron Williams is one the top point guards in the NBA. Carlos Boozer is a young gun at forward, averaging a double-double in points and rebounds. Throw in solid players like Andre Kirilenko, and the Jazz could make the Lakers work.
They’re the only team in the west that the Lakers didn’t have a winning record (2-2) against this regular season. The Jazz are crappy on the road, but very tough at home. But for the Lakers, there’s Gasol, a rehabbed-healthy Bynum, Lamar “playing for a new contract” Odom, and of course…”Da Black Mamba”.
Pick: Lakers in five
No. 2 Nuggets v No. 7 Hornets
Now we’re getting into the three series that you may as well just close your eyes and try to pick the winners. Here you have the “Enver” (There is no “D”…at least none that’s played) Nuggets with “Melo” and their high-powered offense vs. point guard extraodinaire “CP3″ and the gang.
Pick: Nuggets in six
No. 3 Spurs v. No. 6 Mavericks
If Manu Ginobli were playing and Tim Duncan had healthy knees, I’d pick the Spurs to challenge (but still lose to) the Lakers for the Western crown. But since that’s not the cases with those two players, I pick the Spurs to be playing golf very soon. As a matter of fact, I think Dirk, J-Kidd, et al will upset the Spurs.
Pick: Mavs in seven
No. 4 Blazers v. No. 5 Rockets
Normally, one expects a No. 4 v. No. 5 matchup to be close. However, the Blazers finished the season as one of the hottest teams in the NBA (9-1 in their last 10 games), while the Rockets appear to be headed for their usual case of “chokitis”. They Blazers can throw 10 players at you without much of a drop off from the first five to the second five (their bench averages 35 pts/game). Meanwhile, the Rockets do strange things like sitting Yao Ming late in the fourth quarter when they’re down by 10 or less points because he’s considered a defensive liability. Heck, the man is like 13 feet tall and is an offensive juggernaut.
Pick: Blazers in five
IN THE END
When the Conference Finals roll around, it should be Cavs v. Celtics in the East and Lakers v. “Whoever” in the West. Everyone who’s not a Celtics or Nuggets fan is predicting a Cavs v Lakers NBA Finals. So am I.
I think it will go seven games. I think “King James” will out-play “Da Black Mamba”, but I think the Lakers are a deeper team with “Da Black Mamba” striking, as usual, in crunch times will win..game seven…in Cleveland!
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