Friday, April 16, 2010

The 'Other' Pro Sports Playoff

While my eyes are usually focused on hockey, the NBA Playoffs are kicking off Saturday.

Unfortunately for the bouncyball association, the drama is not likely to kick in until the second round or later, because the league was so ridiculously top-heavy that it's hard to find more than one or two potential upsets among the first-round series.

That makes it pretty easy to preview them, no?

Anyway, FanHouse does a much better job covering the NBA than I ever could. It's the passion of many of those folks, and they do some great writing.

As for me, I enjoy putting together dumb lists and preditions and then watching them blow up in my face. Or at least that's what happened with the NHL.

Why not one more dumb column with playoff predictions? We'll head back to school and do it in the form of the old-school true-false test.

The Lakers will not repeat. TRUE
They're the favorites, I believe. Kobe Bryant is still playing like a man possessed, and he's got help from Pau Gasol and Ron Artest.

However, it's insanely difficult to repeat. They lost 25 games this season, including 17 to Western Conference teams. There are enough cracks in the armor to suggest they can lose a best-of-seven series without being totally incompetent, something Bryant will likely not allow to happen.

Even though I have serious doubts about the Lakers' ability to roll through the likes of Utah, Denver, Dallas, and maybe Cleveland, they shouldn't have much trouble with Oklahoma City in the first round. The Thunder are a cute story, and Kevin Durant is an absolute beast, but they don't have the kind of supporting cast around him that they need to win a playoff series.

No higher seeds will lose in the first round. FALSE.
It's not as easy as you might think. This is a patently ridiculous statement in a normal year, but this isn't normal.

In the East, Cleveland, Orlando, and Atlanta are mortal locks to move on. Cleveland is a great team up against a pretty average Chicago outfit. Orlando is a horrific matchup for first-time entrant Charlotte, though I'd still be worried if I were a Magic fan, because Larry Brown has outcoached smarter guys than Stan Van Gundy in his career. Atlanta gets a Milwaukee team that is without starting center Andrew Bogut and will have a hard time competing against the athletic Hawks without him.

However, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat have a great chance to upset the aging, unfocused Celtics. If Kevin Garnett's gait and Rasheed Wallace's attitude weren't enough to implode the once-great Celts, word leaked this week that coach Doc Rivers might step down after the season. That end might come quicker than anyone in Boston wants to believe.

Anyway, the Western Conference sees the Lakers get a series with Oklahoma City. The Thunder won't win more than two, if they win that many. I love the "We're not all about Brandon Roy" angle for Portland, but I don't know that it's effective. They'll try to slow the Suns down, and if they can keep the pace slow, they might have a shot. It's still a long shot, though.

Denver might go down to Utah, but the loss of Andrei Kirilenko will be a huge blow for the Jazz. San Antonio has a boatload of playoff experience, but that didn't help them against Dallas last year, when the roles were reversed in terms of seeding (Dallas is the high seed this year). Mavericks win.

So, while the odds aren't great for the low seeds, the No. 4 vs. No. 5 series provide enough intrigue to make me think at least one high seed will fall.

Don't be surprised if this is horribly wrong, though.

Cleveland is a lock out East. FALSE.
I get the mantra. Earn the No. 1 seed, then do everything you can to get ready for the playoffs.

However, the Cavaliers lost their last four games. They started a bit of controversy by resting LeBron James for home games.

Feel how you want about that (I don't agree with Tim on the issue, but the bottom line is that sitting the best player in the world for regular season home games is not a good marketing plan), but the Cavaliers aren't carrying momentum into the playoffs.

Yes, Mike Brown looks stupid if James sprains his ankle going for a rebound in a meaningless game, but you don't sit him for the entire preseason, do you? He has to play to get ready for the regular season.

Similarly, he should play at least 15-20 minutes a night down the stretch to keep fresh and ready for game action when the playoffs come.

While I still believe Cleveland will play in the NBA Finals come June, there will be speedbumps. There will be tests of character. And I believe that James will need some time to get his legs back after taking time off. Orlando already knows they can beat Cleveland when it matters most. Atlanta wants to believe they can get the job done. Why plant any more seeds of doubt by allowing time to develop rust before the most important games of the year?

Good thing the first-round opponent is Chicago.

"Fear The Deer" is brilliant. TRUE
Marketing campaigns in sports are generally lame. The Milwaukee Bucks have found a gem.

"Fear The Deer."

No one knows its real origin, but it's made the rounds on Twitter, and the Bucks are smart to embrace it, wherever it came from.

It's the kind of thing that won't help you win a playoff series against a better team, but it's something the fans can get excited about. Right there you have enough reason for the Bucks to love it, because they were 22nd in the NBA in attendance.

I'm dumb enough to make more predictions. TRUE

Cleveland over Chicago in 5
Miami over Boston in 7
Orlando over Charlotte in 6
Atlanta over Milwaukee in 5
Cleveland over Miami in 5
Orlando over Atlanta in 7
Cleveland over Orlando in 7

L.A. Lakers over Oklahoma City in 6
Denver over Utah in 7
Dallas over San Antonio in 6
Phoenix over Portland in 6
L.A. Lakers over Denver in 7
Dallas over Phoenix in 6
Dallas over L.A. Lakers in 7

Cleveland over Dallas in 7

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