18 April, 2009

Where Shoddy Predictions Happen

The NBA Playoffs are started today, pretty much as I wrote this (I promise I had already written my predictions for the Celtics and Cavaliers series before they tipped off, OK?). So, here are my calls for the first round (and a stab at beyond).
Eastern Conference
1st vs 8th: I honestly can't see Detroit pulling it together enough to take more than a single game against the Cavs, who have too many weapons, too much depth (LeBron alone probably has too much depth). Their 3-point shooting will be key this post-season, as will their inside threat. But I think the Pistons, especially Hamilton and Prince, may have enough pride to win one home game. Rasheed Wallace can be a force when he wants to be. Shame there's no Iverson in this series to add a bit of drama. Cleveland Cavaliers to take the series 4-1

2nd vs 7th: Interesting matchup between the ailing, KG-less Celtics and the resurgent Bulls. The acquisition of John Salmons has greatly benefited Chicago and how he matches up with Paul Pierce will be key to deciding this series. Boston will struggle to find new routes to score without Garnett and one of Glen Davis or Leon Powe is going to have to shoulder a heavy load on offense. Maybe then it'll be good for them to 'ease' into the postseason against Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas. I think the champs will get through the first round but I wouldn't be surprised to see this go to 6 or 7. Rondo and Allen will have to provide fire from the backcourt or PP34 is going to have to carry this team again. Chicago need to pinch one of the first two in Boston to make it a fight. Boston Celtics 4-2

3rd vs 6th: I haven't watched much of either the Orlando Magic or the Philadelphia 76ers but this seems to be something of a mismatch. There are a few doubts over Dwight Howard's ability to dominate games in the 4th quarter, but provided the Magic's shooters remain sharp it's hard to see Philly matching them. Orlando have tremendous strength on defense as well. I'm expecting them to take this in 4 or 5. If I watch any of these games I'll be looking to see how Howard steps up, and whether rookie SG Courtney Lee looks quite so composed in these playoff games. Orlando Magic 4-1

4th vs 5th: This is certainly appetising on paper, pitting Dwyane-Wade-fired Miami against a very solid Atlanta Hawks team. Neither are likely to trouble Cleveland too much in the 2nd round, but most expect this series to go to 7 games. I'd expect that to include Wade taking over in a huge way once or twice. But the Hawks won't have to go to their bench much and I expect their compact unit to be too much for Wade. Miami PG Chalmers is playing his first playoff games, also. Atlanta Hawks 4-3

Western Conference
1st vs 8th: The Lakers have looked like such a supreme force in the West, it's hard to imagine the shaky Utah Jazz stopping them in the first round. With Bynum and Gasol in the middle, and Kobe looking menacing absolutely everywhere, this will be too much for Deron Williams to steer through, although I doubt they'll be swept. Lamar Odom's attitude will be key for the Lakers throughout the playoffs. LA Lakers 4-1

2nd vs 7th: If Tyson Chandler and James Posey are fit, the Hornets have a chance in this one, given that Chris Paul is simply remarkable. Like all the top players in the playoffs, Paul's minutes will be up and the pressure will be on. Unfortunately for the Hornets, his opposite number Chauncey Billups is a superb defender and extremely experienced. His supporting cast in Denver seem much healthier and better drilled. Denver Nuggets 4-2

3rd vs 6th: The Dallas Mavericks looked a spent force 3 months ago, when they looked likely to be the 9th team in the West, but they're now on a decent run and preparing to face a San Antonio Spurs side missing one of their big three and fervently hoping another can get back to full strength. I expect that Howard and Terry will continue their form into the first round and Dallas will take this series. Tony Parker won't be able to carry the Spurs over 7 games against Nowitzki & Co. Dallas Mavericks 4-2

4th vs 5th: It's hard to judge how much weaker the Portland Trailblazers will be for their lack of playoff experience, but there are few players in the league that play better at crunch-time than Brandon Roy. Meanwhile Houston, much improved since McGrady's season ended, may be a touch over-reliant on Yao Ming, but under the right conditions convert his presence to free points. Still, if the Blazers continue to shoot well, I expect them to take this. Portland Trailblazers 4-3

A pretty conservative outlook, definitely. But real upsets look like they'll be hard to come by this year. I think if there's going to be one, Chicago-Boston might be the major candidate. If the Bulls can win a game in Boston then the Celtics should be concerned.

In the second round I expect the Cavs to cruise through in 4 or 5 again, as neither Miami nor the Hawks can match their firepower. Similarly, I'd expect the Lakers to make it to the West finals, although their record against the Trailblazers could make that a tough series. I think it would take something of a miracle for Boston to reach the East finals without KG, so I'd expect Orlando to win through to a matchup with the Cavs, and either Denver or Dallas to fight it out with the Lakers. I think this will be Denver's role, and although I'd love to see them beat the Lakers, I can't see it happening.

I expect the NBA finals to read Lakers-Cavaliers. It'll be a tough matchup that'll go all the way, but I think L.A. will have the slightest edge at the end.

Maybe we'll get to see some bits as good as this (I adore these ads - anything that combines slow-mo or black&white with sports):

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