Saturday, April 28, 2012

2012 NBA Playoffs

This is such a great time of year. The weather is amazing, the NFL Draft is in full swing, and the NBA playoffs are about start. Beautiful. This space would be remiss without some "forecasting" about the playoffs, but first I should note that the first big postseason win happened on Friday by a non-playoff team. That's right, the Warriors' process of tanking that has probably received too much coverage is almost complete after winning the random draw with the Raptors to secure the 7th best odds in the Lottery. That means they have a ~72% chance of keeping their pick now and just have to pray that a team below them doesn't win the lottery. Is it sad that their biggest win of the year didn't involve an actual game? Let's move on...
Carmelo is not going to stop LeBron's quest for a ring.
First Round

Bulls over 76ers in 5. Two of the best defenses in the league collide with an intriguing battle between Chicago's offensive rebounding and Philadelphia's speed demons in transition hoping to generate easy buckets. I think the Sixers will compete in each game but come up short without enough offense. Jrue Holiday's defense on Derrick Rose should be fun with the reigning MVP trying to get in rhythm after his injury plagued season.

Heat over Knicks in 5. Tyson Chandler's bout with the flu could severely hamper the Knicks' ability to defend Dwyane Wade and LeBron James at the rim. Amare Stoudemire needs to be fully healthy and truly dominate for New York to have a chance because Carmelo Anthony, despite his great end to the season, is not going to win his matchup with LeBron four times. The Knicks' 3 point shooting is the key to beating Miami's swarming defense, and I think that will win them one game.

Pacers over Magic in 4. I want to say a hot shooting night from Orlando will steal a game, but they just are too outmatched with Dwight Howard injured. Indiana's offense has really taken off with the addition of Leandro Barbosa and the insertion of George Hill as the starting point guard, and they are among the few teams to rank in the top ten in both offensive AND defensive efficiency. With Big Baby Davis having to fill in for Howard at center, Roy Hibbert should dominate with his huge size advantage inside.

Maybe KG can bait Smith into similar J's.
Celtics over Hawks in 6. My only "upset" in the East since the Hawks have home court as the 5 seed thanks to their better record, this should be one of the best series of the first round. I would go with Atlanta if they had some certainty with their injured centers because they are a strong rebounding team that doesn't turn the ball over: two of Boston's biggest weaknesses. The lineup combinations are intriguing since Jeff Teague-Kirk Hinrich-Joe Johnson-Marvin Williams-Josh Smith might be their best five in a small alignment, but they could get the matchup advantage by pitting the Johnson and his size against Avery Bradley at 2. Bradley's tenacious defense (combined with Kevin Garnett moving to center) is what rejuvenated the Celtics' season, but he is severely undersized against Johnson, as would Rajon Rondo. It's certainly something to watch as the series goes on.

Spurs over Jazz in 5. The young Jazz may end up with no lottery picks this year instead of two depending on the Warriors' luck (they have to give their pick to Minnesota since it was only lottery-protected), but that's fine since making the playoffs was more important and they have such a young core anyway. They might put a scare in the old Spurs with their size since Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are playing great and Derrick Favors is really showing his potential off the bench. I'm not sure their uber big lineup of all three on the court at the same time would really give them that big of an advantage offensively, and it could really hamper their already shaky pick and roll defense. The Spurs are just a machine with their offensive efficiency through pace-and-space: they hit a lot of open threes in transition and pick and roll action through great ball movement from side to side against the defensive rotations. Some of the familiar faces are still around, but these aren't your father's Spurs anymore.

Thunder over Mavericks in 5. This is a nice storyline series with a figurative passing of the torch from the old guard to the new. The defending champs have played the Thunder tough this season, but they just don't have enough offense to keep up with Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Kevin Durant--who ohbytheway is the youngest player to win three straight scoring titles and just the seventh to do so overall. Of course, Dirk Nowitzki is always a threat to just carry Dallas' offense on his back, but the surge protector, Serge Ibaka, has improved his defense and is less prone to simple mistakes. The Mavs' zone defense often poses problems for the Thunder, but the young guns should be ready for it this time around. Then again, Jim Carrey, I mean Coach Carlisle, does seem to have Jedi mind tricks.

Nuggets over Lakers in 6. This is my biggest upset of the first round, and I'll admit my bias of being fond of this Nuggets squad and "hating" on the Lakers may have influenced this pick. I just don't think anyone on L.A.'s team can defend Ty Lawson, and although the Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol should dominate the paint, Denver's pace will really give them an advantage. With the elbow thrower who shall not be named suspended for the first six games of the playoffs, I could see Danilo Gallinari getting loose for a few high scoring games that tilts the series. Of course, Kobe Bryant is going to get his points, but Arron Afflalo and Corey Brewer are two strong defenders who can at least make him work for it and slow him down a bit.

Grizzlies over Clippers in 7. I think this is going to be the best series of the first round, and I'm giving Memphis the edge because of home court and a big coaching advantage with Lionel Hollins over Vinny Del Negro. Tony Allen and Mike Conley give the Grizz some nice options to try to contain Chris Paul in crunch time, Rudy Gay has a big advantage on the wing, and Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol should have their way against the very athletic but very green Clippers front court of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Memphis is everyone's favorite darkhorse pick because of how dominant Z-Bo was in last year's playoffs, but I'm interested to see just how healthy he is since he came off the bench after returning from injury for a variety of reasons before starting the last game of the year as a tune up. The Clippers could certainly win since CP3 takes such excellent care of the ball and the superb Grizz defense thrives on turnovers, and the Clippers' zone defense could be effective against this Memphis club that doesn't shoot that well from deep outside of O.J. Mayo and sometimes Gay. However, I think the Grizzlies are built to go even deeper than last year now that Gay adds that much needed perimeter game to their rugged interior play.

I'm not going to go into detail for the rest of the playoff picks because a lot of things can change by then (UPDATE: Derrick Rose tore his ACL at the end of Game 1 after these picks were made, and well, that changes things just a bit), but I'll say this: if I'm being honest with myself, the Spurs are the best bet to win it all, but I'm going against them just based on a feeling.
Will Timmy go out with another ring?

Second Round
Bulls over Celtics in 6.
Heat over Pacers in 5.

Grizzlies over Spurs in 6.
Thunder over Nuggets in 6.

Conference Finals
Heat over Bulls in 6.
Thunder over Grizzlies in 7.

Heat over Thunder in 6

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