2014 NBA Playoffs Preview: 1-8 Match Up

The 2014 NBA Playoffs are going to get going in just a few days and a quick glance at the match-ups promises some exciting basketball over the next couple of months. As I’ve been doing for the last few years, I’m going to go ahead and do a short preview of each series and predict who I think is going to win the series. I’m going to go down the series by match-ups, previewing each conferences’ match-up one-by-one.

Eastern Conference
INDIANA PACERS (1) vs. ATLANTA HAWKS (8)

Regular Season Series: Tied 2-2 (both teams split at home)

This is a surprisingly tough series to predict. Indiana looked like the cream of the crop for the first half of the season and then everything seemed to fall apart. Despite this, Indiana managed to snag the top seed in the East, though that was mainly because the Heat didn’t really appear to care. Interestingly, this is also the same first-round match-up from last year’s NBA Playoffs, though in that case it was a 3-6 match-up.

The Pacers may finally have gotten back on track but the Hawks have a team that can be dangerous. They have a bunch of second-tier role players, in my opinion, and I think the Pacers probably have the 3 best players in this series (David West, Lance Stephenson and Paul George). I think the series will be closer than the scoreline suggests, but the Pacers will manage to hold on. I wouldn’t be surprised if they take a dump and get knocked out, though.

PREDICTION: Pacers win in 5 (4-1)

Western Conference
SAN ANTONIO SPURS (1) vs. DALLAS MAVERICKS (8)

Regular Season Series: Spurs won 4-0

It’s that time of the year again when everyone has forgotten about the Spurs and is talking about the Thunder, Heat, Pacers and Clippers as serious contenders. Really? The Spurs just put in another 60-win season and have guaranteed home-court advantage for as long as they last in the playoffs. The Mavericks get to face the Spurs on the virtue of losing to Memphis in the last day of regular season. I honestly think both teams should have come to an understanding before the game and let the Mavs win because I think both teams would have a better match-up. I think Memphis matches up better with the Spurs and the Mavericks would have a shot against the Spurs. Anyways, no point mulling over hypotheticals.

San Antonio dominated the regular season series, winning all games somewhat comfortably. Dallas, in my opinion, overperformed this season because Monta Ellis finally became slightly more efficient and their role players outperformed expectations. I don’t think they have near enough to get around the Spurs, though. As a result of the dominating season, the Spurs have once again managed to rest their key pieces liberally and are entering the playoffs scorching hot (even though they are on a 2-game losing streak resting most of their important players). They got and integrated Kawhi Leonard back from injury at the ideal time and even allowed him to rest for the last couple of games.

I think there’s a high probability that the Spurs bring out the brooms in this series, but I’m willing to bet that Dirk will have at least one of those ridiculous games where everything goes in, regardless of how silly it looks. So I’ll give them a split at home.

PREDICTION: Spurs win in 5 (4-1)

So there you have it. I’m expecting the top seeds to take care of business fairly easily, although I’m way more confident about the Spurs than the Pacers. Next up I’ll preview the 2-7 match-up!

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recovery: part 2

It’s been a couple of days since my surgery now–in fact it is almost exactly 48 hours since I was discharged from the fine Central Park Surgery Center facility. I actually started writing this entry the same evening I had surgery but after reaching two sentences I became disgruntled and took a nap instead.

The last couple of days have been interesting. The pain this time around is a lot less than the pain last time around, which was to be expected, I suppose, since the procedure was far less… serious.

Day 0 PS (9/13/2013)

I won’t go through the pre-op process and all that again since it was pretty much the same as last time. The anasthesia worked and did its job well and I woke up in the recovery room with a cracker and apple juice in my hand.

I have still not figured out the specifics of what they did in my knee but as I understand it, they basically cleaned up everything from my previous surgery. This included removing the “hardware” (washers and pins that were responsible for holding the previous reconstructed ligament to the bone until it grafted) from the previous surgery and getting rid of the remains of the old ligament. They also trimmed my medial meniscus because it was apparently too lacerated to be repaired. I’m not sure if they removed it completely or just trimmed the part that was torn and in my joint, though.

The surgery took about 2 hours and I spent an additional hour in the recovery room. I came back home and took a nice, long nap on the painkillers on Friday and survived on a diet of fruits and liquids (juices and such) since that would supposedly allow the anesthesia to get out of my system the fastest. I slept a bunch on Friday but since I was not in that much pain (they had supposedly injected morphene into my knee joint) I did remote in and got a little bit of work done.

Day 1 PS (9/14/2013)

On this Saturday I spent most of the day lying in bed watching football. Not a bad way to spend the day if you’re a professional couch potato. I’ve kept my leg elevated almost constantly since surgery. I probably spent less than 10 minutes off the bed on Saturday, and that was just to walk around the house a little bit and use the restroom.

I had a delicious lunch of lamb curry and rice cooked by my uncle which lifted my spirits considerably. Rice ended up squeezing through a victory in their game against Kansas so that put me in a good mood, as well. I ended up going to bed around 10:30 PM with a fresh batch of ice in my ice machine and slept without interruption till about 5AM. At this point I disconnected the ice machine since it felt a bit wet and went back to bed for another couple of hours.

Day 2 PS (9/15/2013)

When my uncle came in at 7.30 AM to replace the ice I said that the leg felt wet so I was going to open it up. I went into the bathroom and went to work on the bandaging and its many layers. The lowest layer of gauze was fairly bloody but it was also all dried. So the wetness that I was feeling just appeared to be nerves down around my knee being pinched or something.

I got rid of all the old dressing and then put some new surgical dressing that my uncle had bought from Walgreen’s and wrapped it all up. There’s maybe 1 or 2 fewer layers now because I can definitely feel the ice pack when I reconnect it. I’m not putting it on all the time, though, because I’m afraid that the moisture might seep through and get the wound wet.

Pain levels have decreased to just discomfort. I’m still not taking the risk of testing my knee too much but the last dose of hydrocodone I took was last night at around 7:30 PM and I have been able to sleep and such without too many problems. Hopefully this improvement continues.

NFL is about to begin in just about 29 minutes so the rest of the day is going to be focused around fantasy football!

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going back under the kni– arthroscope

It’s almost been a full 2 months since I last posted something literary, and that post also happened to be a couple of days before I reinjured my knee. Since I’m going to be bedridden in a little more than 12 hours, I figured I’d get the creative juices flowing in anticipation of doing stuff to keep my mind occupied while recovering from my second knee surgery in as many years.

On July 22nd this year, exactly a year and 10 days after I had my first ACL reconstruction surgery and meniscus repair, I re-tore my ACL graft and meniscus while contemplating a game of volleyball. The entire injury was probably manifested over the last few months of my rehab where I had tweaked my knee a few times while running but was cleared to return to activities by the physical therapist.

Day 0 (7/22/2013)

On this fateful Monday, I was waiting in the rotation for a sand volleyball game when someone served the ball long. I retrieved the ball, turned around, took a skip step and threw the ball. Apparently my knee got stuck in the ground while the rest of the body pivoted and whatever was left of the graft shredded and took my meniscus with it.

The pain was not as extreme as I remember it being following my first ACL injury but still bad enough that I took a day off to ice it and got an appointment with North Austin Sports Medicine, the practice that handled my first surgery, as soon as I could. They sent me off to get an MRI and I spent the next three days or so icing my knee and staying off my feet. I then went to a bachelor party in New Orleans where I played phone tag with the surgeon’s assistant but couldn’t get through to find out what the diagnosis was. I did manage to reschedule my follow-up appointment to Monday from Wednesday through a series of voicemails. After doing extensive research on WebMD as well as the tests performed by both my primary care physician and the orthopedist surgeon, I was fairly confident that I had a medial meniscus tear. While this wasn’t ideal, the recovery schedule for this injury was about 3-6 months, a far cry from the 12 months I had just spent from my prior surgery.

Day 14 (8/5/2013)

I got to the orthopedist surgeon and after a 10-minute or so wait outside, I was ushered into a room and given my MRI results in paper form. I was then left to stew in what they said for the next 30 minutes or so, in the normal waiting game that NASM likes to play. This summary was pretty straightforward:

Impression:

  1. Complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament graft.
  2. Displaced bucket-handle tear of the medial meniscus.
  3. Moderate knee joint effusion.
  4. Status post resection of the medial synovial plica.
  5. Mild bone marrow edema of the proximal tibia.

That first line was the killer blow. The world didn’t spin around and I didn’t throw up in the doctor’s office, but I did spend the next 30 minutes gathering my thoughts and preparing for the spiel.

The surgeon came in and seemed genuinely disappointed and surprised and went ahead and recommended surgery as soon as possible but definitely within the next 1-2 months before scar tissue began to develop that prevented my knee from straightening, or before the cartilage tear got any worse. Unlike last time, I asked for a copy of my MRI with an intention to get a second opinion and an even stronger intention of going with the second opinion’s expertise for the repair surgery. While I have few problems with Dr. Brotzman, unfortunately his practice is not very well-managed, at least as evidenced by how long a trip to see him usually takes.

Day 16 (8/7/2013)

I scheduled a second opinion for this date with Dr. Carey Windler of Austin Sports Medicine. A few people I know have been to this practice and had nothing but good words for them. I even know two people who’ve had ACL reconstruction surgery there and have been recovering well. I took a copy of my MRI and they were able to access my last x-ray.

The verdict was pretty much the same: surgery. However, Dr. Windler suggested a different process, which was to fix my medial meniscus tear first (as well as undo the stuff from the failed ACL surgery) first and get that healed up completely and then follow by getting the ACL reconstructed next year. While this would be more expensive and increase my rehab time by a few months, it also made a little bit of sense for me because I could see how life was without an ACL (but a good meniscus). If I choose to go without an ACL long-term, I’ll have to cut out most all sports and running, and start swimming and biking. It’s a decision I haven’t thought about extensively and won’t really until my rehab from the first surgery is winding down.

In the weeks following this meeting I contacted NASM to attempt to talk to Dr. Brotzman about Dr. Windler’s opinion but I was never able to get him on the phone. Since they didn’t seem to want my business, I decided to go with Dr. Windler for my procedure.

Day 52 (9/12/2013)

Over the last month or so my knee has felt better and gained strength but I still cannot extend it completely apart from, of course, being unable to run, cut, etc. At this point I’m probably back to the lowest physical form of my life (sadness). However, I did give up a little bit since it didn’t make sense for me to go hard with my workouts when I knew I would probably be spending about 3 weeks without any exercise anyway. I know, it’s rationalization at its finest, but I was okay with it.

My first surgery–to repair the meniscus and undo the work done in my previous surgery–is scheduled for tomorrow at 8.15am, which means that I will need to reach the surgery center at 6.45am, which means I will be having a very, very early day. My uncle has flown over from Las Vegas to help me out and that coupled with the fact that I’ve been through this once before has me feeling cautiously optimistic about the surgery and recovery. Hopefully it will all go as planned.

I’ll be using my bed-ridden state to blog ferociously and perhaps even work on some Windows Phone apps that I’ve been putting off, in between spurts of pain medicine and naps. We’ll see how it goes. Onwards to surgery!

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[acoustic cover] f***in’ problem by a$ap rocky feat. drake, kendrick lamar and 2chainz

It’s been a long time since I put out one of these up (or, as someone ears would say, ‘not enough time’) but I figure it’s the right time, before this song turns a year old. Although I may have missed it.

This song is called F***in’ Problem and I think it goes without saying that it’s gonna contain some bad words. So if that’s not your thing, don’t listen. Also, excuse the sound and the video shakiness. Apparently the Lumia 1020 is really good at deep basses but not as good as crappy acoustic covers. Ah well. I may put up another version if I ever set up my microphone rig.

Anyhow. Enjoy (as much as you can).


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from royce white to d-wight

If you have been following the NBA at all, you would have been aware that sometime during the July 4th weekend festivities last week, Daryl Morey pulled off a move that no one except Rockets fans expected him to. I’m talking, of course, about the Dwight Howard free agent signing. After being spurned by free agents (Chris Bosh) and the NBA (Pau Gasol), Morey was finally able to make a career-defining move. Or, at least, that’s what popular media claimed.

As a Rockets fan, though, it’s obvious how short-sighted that narrative is. Morey’s genius is in his ability to continually tinker until the pieces fall into place. Some might call it lucky, and it definitely plays a part, but I think it is about doing whatever you can to increase the probability of the outcome that you desire. Which, in this case, was getting a championship contender together.

Before we even reach Dwight Howard, we need to take a look at what is lovingly known as “Moreyball” over the last few seasons. Once it was apparent that Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming would lead to nothing more than jersey sales and a cornering of the Chinese market, Morey went to work. It is hard to imagine that the Rockets’ best player after McGrady went down and Yao was here and there was Trevor Ariza, or maybe Ron Artest. After that curtailed playoff run in 2009 where Yao went down for the penultimate time, it was obvious that we had to rebuild. But not in the way most NBA teams approached it: tank and go fishing in the lottery. Morey had to remain competitive.

The one thing that defines Daryl Morey as a GM more than anything else is his ability to treat players like financial assets. This is a blessing and a curse. It is great because he is able to extract maximum value from his roster moves but it is a curse because players don’t like being treated like lines on a balance sheet. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the laundry list of the last few players to be through the revolving door of the Rockets roster who were disposed of at their peak value: Tracy McGrady, Trevor Ariza, Kevin Martin, Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry, Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, Patrick Patterson, Luis Scola, Chase Budinger.

All these players were household names and starters when they were playing for the Rockets. T-mac was a shell of his former self but his was the trade that brought Kevin Martin into town and Kevin Martin was the player that brought James Harden to the red uniform. Ariza was dumped to the Hornets for something or another, where he has been languishing as a very expensive and inefficient defensive sharpshooter. Kevin Martin peaked as a Rocket, showed his lack of big-game play in the playoffs for OKC and now has gone running back into the arms of Rick Adelman.

Aaron Brooks was traded away post-injury for some valuable assets where he elected to play the lockout-shortened season in China. He is a free agent still looking for a team as we speak. Carl Landry was traded away to the wasteland that is Sacramento. Luckily, he managed to get to Golden State and has now signed a shiny new contract and is performing at levels near where he was with the Rockets. Lowry was traded to Toronto for a lottery pick and hasn’t come close to the success he enjoyed in a Rocket uniform. Dragic decided to test the free market and Phoenix bit but is now regretting it. Patterson, Budinger and Scola were great in Houston but have not managed to recreate their success in other surroundings.

In addition to all these big names coming and going, there have been a host of tiny little roster changes that are just blips on the radar for most “professional” analysts. When the Rockets traded for James Harden, everyone was surprised that it happened because no one expected James Harden to be a financial asset. Luckily for Houston, both Sam Presti and Daryl Morey were on the same page. Harden was going to become a free agent in another season and instead of having to deal with a Dwight Howard-like nightmare situation in Orlando, Presti elected to sell high. And despite what people might say, he got a pretty decent package. Kevin Martin was an able contributor in the regular season, Jeremy Lamb is now showing flashes of brilliance, Hasheem Thabeet has played meaningful minutes and Stephen Adams looks like he can become a solid role player. The players OKC lost apart from Harden aren’t in an NBA rotation right now.

The trade worked out for both teams. Presti realized his assets were going to tank because he wouldn’t be able to afford them in 2 seasons and the rest of the league would know that. Houston realized that their assets, particularly their futures, were worth cashing in to move into contender mode. Because once a big-name player comes into a city, others want to join (see McGrady and Artest).

A lot of people claim that Morey took a huge risk in drafting Harden because there was no idea he knew that Harden was going to put up top-5 SG numbers after being promoted from the bench to the starting lineup. It is easy to use hindsight, but I feel like all these naysayers didn’t watch any OKC series in the 2011-12 NBA playoffs until the finals. James Harden was an absolute stud and played an enormous part in them even getting to the finals. Yeah, he choked there, but the fact that people blamed him for the Thunder losing in 2012 is even more of a testament to how awesome he is.

It could have all gone horribly wrong if Harden did not make the transition to top dog well so it was absolutely a gamble on Morey’s part. But the gamble was like getting pocket aces in a game of Texas Hold’em. Yeah, you might lose, but there’s a high probability of winning the pot. Getting Harden was absolutely a safe bet, in my opinion. In fact, I think Morey may have overpaid by including both Lamb and a lottery pick. However, it was probably the overpayment that allowed the deal to get done without news of Harden being on the trading block hitting the rest of the GMs.

There was more luck at play as well. No one expected Chandler Parsons to strike gold. That was a case of low risk, high payoff. Not even Daryl Morey expected to get Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin in restricted free agency despite the poison pill contract. Especially in the case of Asik, where all the analytics pointed to a strong likelihood that he would be one of the top defensive players the league has seen. And the biggest piece of luck was obviously chemistry. Chemistry is officially a type of science but in the NBA, it is anything but.

Team chemistry is unpredictable and there are many examples. See the first third of the big 3 era in Miami. I believe that team went something like 18-16 and people began to question Riley’s vision. They’ve now been to three successive NBA finals and won twice. See the New York Knicks, who despite being full of successful players still struggle in the playoffs because of lack of cohesion. Most recently and topically, see the Los Angeles Lakers of last year, whose big 4 needed a healthy dose of zebra help to even make it to the playoffs where they were dumped in 4 straight games by a San Antonio Spurs team that has been together for seemingly forever.

Good team chemistry is hard to get which is why teams should strive to protect it. The Spurs have worked with a strong core (and a great coaching staff) for over a decade now, subbing pieces where it makes sense. They’ve not brought in a huge name from outside because they don’t want to disturb the equilibrium that already exists. I thought Dallas did the exact opposite thing when they disassembled their 2011 championship core. Now, the money may not have worked out and the Dallas GM probably realized that his assets had peaked so it may have been a good decision. I mean, if we see the rest of that championship roster, they’re languishing at the end of the bench somewhere. But they fit together perfectly in Dallas. I think Cuban should have ridden that train a little longer.

This brings me to Miami. A lot of people think the Wade-Bosh-James trio is going to break up in 2014 when that class hits free agency. And I don’t know if it will but I think Riley should be working his ass off to keep it together. Age and fading athleticism is not a problem—Parker, Ginobili and Duncan are well into their 30’s. They just need to make sure the big changes are happening at the role player level and not the star level. They’ve got to ride that chemistry all the way to dynasty level.

Anyhow, I’ve now gone off topic quite a bit so let me bring this back to Houston. Unfortunately, according to my theory, Houston is probably going to struggle this year, at least at the beginning. But Rockets fans will recall that the beginning of the Harden-era was fraught with problems. The rest of the team seemed anxious on offense and always deferred to Harden, resulting in a fair bit of hero ball. Once Harden began trusting his teammates, the Rockets took off (excuse the pun) and the chemistry became maximized.

I think Howard replacing Asik in the starting lineup will have a huge negative effect on chemistry. I won’t be surprised if this team, now expected to do so much, wavers around the .500 mark for the first third or so of the season. The Heat did it too. I think we have a better path, though, because we only have one person thrust into a new role—Asik. Harden was an able facilitator in Oklahoma City and I think his usage was above optimal levels last season. In contrast, the Heat had to deal with three players having to adjust—Wade became the second scorer and Bosh was essentially a glorified role player. LeBron’s adjustment was easier, if only because his teammates were now able playmakers and he could trust them. But it still took him about 35 games to gain that trust.

It definitely helps that Howard is already chummy with the Rockets, especially Chandler Parsons who has apparently had a friendship with Howard since his Orlando days. Dwight Howard chose to go to Houston, so you expect the chemistry to increase quicker, unlike his days in LA, where he was traded. I don’t know about others, but I cannot imagine Howard calling up Kobe, Pau and Nash to go hang out at a club as soon as he was traded. Those players are from a completely different generation.

Bringing this back to Miami, all of their big three were from the same draft class and already buddy-buddy. They had been through the same sort of challenges in their drafted teams—being the most talented player on a mostly crappy team. I think their ability to empathize helped them, which is why that I’m optimistic that the Rockets will gel if the fans and the media give them an opportunity to. Of course, I’m not optimistic that the media will adhere to this agreement as they probably already have a target aimed at the Toyota Center, but I’m hoping that the roster gets through it together. It’s obvious that they already believe in each other in a quietly confident sort of way.

To wrap up, this is going to be another exciting season of Rockets basketball. I think the playoff experience last year made this team even better, regardless of the Howard addition. I think the Howard addition will have some teething pains but I’m hopeful that that will clear up quickly. More than anything, I think these guys will just flat out have a lot of fun on the court and play some exciting basketball. The only regret I have is the diminishing role of Omer Asik and the likelihood of his impending trade. However, he’s hardly the first casualty of Moreyball. Here’s hoping to the health of the roster and a great season!

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nba playoff predictions: conference semis

So the first round of the NBA playoffs finally closed as the Chicago Bulls won on the road to become the last team to book their tickets to the conference semis. Let’s take a look at my scorecard for the first round of playoffs first before I go ahead and make my predictions on the second round based on what I saw.

Scorecard

Eastern Conference
Miami Heat 4-0 Milwaukee Bucks (PREDICTION: 4-0)
New York Knicks 4-2 Boston Celtics (PREDICTION: 4-2)
Indiana Pacers 4-2 Atlanta Hawks (PREDICTION: 4-1)
Chicago Bulls 4-3 Brooklyn Nets (PREDICTION: 4-2)

Western Conference
Oklahoma City Thunder 4-2 Houston Rockets (PREDICTION: 4-1)
San Antonio Spurs 4-0 Los Angeles Lakers (PREDICTION: 4-2)
Golden State Warriors 4-2 Denver Nuggets (PREDICTION: 2-4)
Memphis Grizzlies 4-2 Los Angeles Clippers (PREDICTION: 4-3)

Not bad, if I say so myself. I got two on the dot and 5 correct series winners with the incorrect scoreline, most of which really ended up being due to injuries. The Nuggets-Warriors pick was actually one I lamented over before going with the team with the best regular season home record, but apparently all it took was one loss at home to change the tide of that series. Now, let me look ahead at the conference semis.

Western Conference Semifinals

Oklahoma City Thunder (1) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (5)

I think Oklahoma City is lucky to have made it after the first round after losing Russell Westbrook, winning Game 2 and Game 3 on the back of some contentious calls and having to deal with substandard coaching for the entire series. I’m very proud of my Houston Rockets for putting up the effort that they did and I’m very optimistic about their future given that this is Year 1 of rebuilding and we now have 5 more years of Daryl Morey and James Harden to look forward to.

All that said, it looks like Scott Brooks finally got his head out of his ass during Game 6 and benched Kendrick Perkins in favor of the far more useful Nick Collison. It also helped, of course, that his role players remembered how to shoot while Houston triggered the “die-by-the-three” clause of their playing style, in the fourth quarter. Anyhow, the Rockets-Thunder series was almost the polar opposite of the Grizzlies-Clippers series in terms of play style as well as personnel. Both the Grizzlies and Clippers have solid half-court offenses and play a slowish pace (more the Grizzlies than the Clippers).

Looking at this series, I expect the Grizzlies to win, but not as easily as I thought before. The post-Russell Westbrook Thunder have finally figured out how to play without him but at the same time I think the Rockets laid a pretty good gameplan of how to beat them by shutting down KD. The Grizzlies were the best team in the NBA this season in terms of points allowed and they have several good defensive wings (Tayshaun Prince, Tony Allen) that they can use in single coverage against KD.

I expect this series to go down to 7 games because the Grizzlies are very poor from long-range and rely on post offense which I think Ibaka and Perkins can actually deal with pretty well. However, I still think the role players for the Thunder don’t show up consistently enough to make up for Westbrook’s loss. Grizzlies in 7 (4-3).

San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Golden State Warriors (6)

This should be another tremendously exciting series. Both teams have a bevy of sharpshooters and like to spread the floor and go to work on the perimeter with a series of pick and rolls. The Spurs have been rolling this postseason (what’s new?) and their efficient sweep of the Lakers means that Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have had ample time to rest up given that they’re both returning from injury. For a team whose core is all in their mid-30s, that was the perfect set-up for them. But can they run with the Warriors?

David Lee’s absence will mean a big deal for the Warriors because he was a phenomenal rebounder and would also force Duncan to defend. Lee may still play a few minutes here and there but I don’t expect any of them to be meaningful minutes. Carl Landry has been filling in well for Lee but he’s not nearly as consistent (and he’s not an all-star, either). Luckily for the Warriors, Andrew Bogut has been giving them really good minutes and has stayed away from injuries. That could all change in one play, though. I think the Spurs will prove to be too powerful in this match-up, although I’m gunning for the Warriors. Spurs in 6 (4-2).

Miami Heat (1) vs Chicago Bulls (5)

The Heat really brushed away the Bucks without much of an afterthought, killing Brandon Jennings’ dreams swiftly. The Bulls have been battered by injuries and barely managed to scrape past an underwhelming Brooklyn Nets team. Unless we see Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng make a return, I don’t see Chicago putting up much of a fight. I think they might split at home because Tom Thibodeau is such a great coach, but Miami will close this series out pretty easily. Heat in 5 (4-1).

New York Knicks (2) vs. Indiana Pacers (3)

Can you believe this is the only series in these playoffs where both top seeds actually made it through? The Knicks have looked a bit shaky (or shaaakkkyyy as Royce White would put it) after Carmelo’s insane form finally fell through but they were able to power their way past an offensively-challenged Celtic roster. The Indiana Pacers dispatched the Hawks with a little bit of a fight, but I don’t think anyone was surprised. (Side note: It’s going to be an interesting off-season in Atlanta with both Josh Smith and Al Horford becoming free agents.)

I really have no idea how this series will transpire. The Knicks may have recaptured some of their swagger after the Game 6 victory in Boston, especially now that it looks like Iman Shumpert has made a full recovery from ACL surgery. The Pacers weren’t really challenged in their first round series even though they dropped two games on the road and ended up with a few blowout victories. This should make for an interesting series as the Knicks try to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since… forever.

I think they succeed because even as far as Paul George has come this season, Carmelo knows how to turn it on when he needs to and he’s a far superior offensive player. I think the Knicks role players and bench is just a lot better at knowing what their roles are (and nearly all of their roles is “3-point specialist”). Anyways, we’ll see. I’ll take the Knicks in 6 (4-2).

 

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nba playoffs preview: 4-5 matchup

This is a rematch of last year’s match-up, except that the Clippers hold home court by virtue of winning the regular season series 3-1 after the two teams finished with identical records on the year. The Clippers continued building on their roster from last year by adding a few veteran role players while the Grizzlies decided to move in a different direction by getting rid of Rudy Gay. Is this year’s series going to have a different result?

These two teams play very different games. Memphis is the best defensive team in the NBA in terms of points allowed and also the only team that allows fewer than 90 points a game. They do this by playing a slow pace and relying on their significant post presence to get points. Zach Randolph has continued making weird, falling away, unbalanced baskets from near the rim with remarkable accuracy and Marc Gasol has continued to make a claim for the Most Valuable Gasol award in the NBA this year. Their backcourt is solid with Mike Conley continuing to provide consistent play and Tony Allen being a great defensive stopper. Post-trade, they did away with the low-percentage shots that Rudy Gay threw up to add veteran Tayshaun Prince, who has a very underwhelming but successful style.

On the other side of the coin is a team entirely predicated on point-guard play, forcing turnovers and getting into transition. Chris Paul continues to be the best playmaking point guard in the NBA and has made a motley crue of role players look like all-stars. Blake Griffin has polished up his very rough back-to-the-basket game somewhat, but it is still cringeworthy to watch. Caron Butler has been great this year when he’s been playing and even Chauncey Billups has worked his way back to health and he’s always looking for big shots to hit during the playoffs. Matt Barnes has been a spark-plug off the bench and his solid defense and ability to stretch the floor from three-point range will have the Grizzlies bench in a tiff.

In the end, though, I think the Grizzlies will take care of this match-up because of Z-Bo. DeAndre Jordan may be able to limit Gasol’s impact, but I don’t think Griffin will be able to hang with Randolph. I also expect the zebras to play a part in this series, especially if the Lakers get knocked out early against the Spurs. I’m going to call the Grizzlies in 7.

PREDICTION: Memphis win in 7 (4-3)

I’m sorry, but I’m still not convinced by the Nets. Which is weird, considering they have a pretty solid core with good inside-outside play but I guess they’ve just been flying under the radar. Brook Lopez has made some noise for a first-team all NBA selection with typically consistent play. Deron Williams has been solid without being spectacular. Joe Johnson continues to make the Atlanta Hawks front office look like idiots with the contract they gave him. Gerald Wallace has been decent offensively but his big value is really as a defensive stopper. Well, at least the Nets are back in the playoffs, but I don’t see them having too long a stay over here.

The Bulls, in contrast, have been extracting every ounce of over-achievement from their severely depleted roster. Not only are they missing Derrick Rose (whose participation has been the object of media speculation over the last week) but they’ve also had Joakim Noah battling injury towards the end of the regular season. In Rose’s absence, Nate Robinson has stepped up wonderfully, particularly in the last few weeks of the regular season in big match-ups. It seems like Robinson is a big-game player but with Robinson, you’re going to get a guy who can just as easily shoot you out of the game as shooting you into a game.

The Bulls have really been about defense and I think they’ll match up with the Nets pretty well. The Nets do have Reggie Evans swallowing up boards at an alarming pace, but I just don’t see the x-factor from them. Luol Deng has stepped up well as primary scorer for the Bulls team and Carlos Boozer has been consistent as ever. I think this series will really come down to whether Noah can come back healthy, since he will do a big part in limiting Lopez’s effectiveness. I think the Bulls defense will be able to handle the Nets from the perimeter.

I’m going to risk Noah being healthy and call an upset in this 4-5 matchup as well.

PREDICTION: Chicago in 6 (4-2)

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nba playoffs preview: 3-6 matchup

This should be one exciting series. Scoring is the modus operandi of both teams and both franchises are enjoying one of their best seasons ever. Golden State is back in the postseason after a short hiatus while George Karl, the Nuggets coach, has once again disproved the theory that a team needs superstars to succeed. At one point during the season, it did look like the Nuggets would lose their 3rd seeding to either the Clippers or the Grizzlies, especially after they lost Danilo Gallinari for the season and Ty Lawson for the stretch, but they held on and even dominated opponents to end the season.

Denver has the best home record in the league this season at 38-3, a mark better than even the sizzling Miami Heat (37-4). Not only that, but they have managed to win 8 of their last 9 regular season games despite losing key players to injury. Although Gallinari is lost for the season due to a torn ACL, Lawson and Kenneth Faried are expected to be healthy for the postseason. The Nuggets run Moreyball-on-cocaine, meaning that nearly all their shots are either from beyond the arc or in the paint. They rely on forcing turnovers, getting offensive rebounds and getting lots of buckets in transition. The fact that they play their home games in Denver and are accustomed to the atmospheric differences helps, too. Visiting teams often find themselves out of energy by the 4th quarter.

Golden State is returning to the playoffs with a pretty solid offensive unit but one that has ushered in some semblance of defense into their line-up as well. This isn’t the same GSW team that stunned Dallas a few seasons ago, but it’s packed with lots of multi-faceted offensive player. Stephen Curry is the most important player on this team and is proving his credentials as an elite shooter by eclipsing the single-season three-pointers made record set by Ray Allen. However, one often overlooked facet of Curry’s game is his ability to hit a variety of different teardrops in the paint.

The pressure doesn’t go off once Curry goes to the bench as he is backed up by Jarrett Jack, a candidate for 6th man of the year and probably even Most Improved Player. Jack has been on a tear, notching up 40% from beyond the arc and being very aggressive offensively. Watch out for a bunch of transition jumpers from him. Beyond Jack, the Warriors feature several solid offensive players in David LeeKlay Thompson (another threat from three-point range), Harrison Barnes and Carl Landry. However, I think the key for them being able to pull off an upset this year is going to come down to how much play they can get out of Andrew Bogut. Bogut is a rim-protector and shot-blocker but he’s also unfortunately one of the most injured players in the league. Expect a layup drill from the Nuggets if Bogut cannot get dressed for these games.

I think this will be a very exciting serious and actually contemplated giving the Warriors the upset pick here, but the Nuggets’ resilience despite injuries through the end of the season (as well as their easy 3-1 victory in the regular season series) encourages me to use logic instead.

PREDICTION: Nuggets in 6 (4-2)

I won’t lie, this is a series I’m unlikely to watch and one that I’m guessing is going to be relegated to NBA TV for a lot of the games. This should make it fairly obvious that I haven’t followed either of these teams this season, but I’ll try to cobble together a little preview.

From the Pacers perspective, this has been the season of Paul George, the leading candidate for Most Improved Player of the year. And it couldn’t have come a moment too soon for the franchise, who lost Danny Granger for most of the beginning of the season and even towards the end after a few games played. They’ve been led well from the point guard position by George Hill and David West has been as solid as ever. And of course, Roy Hibbert remains one of the top defensive centers in the league. However, it is still hard for me to get too excited about this team. I think they’ll play well but aren’t near being contenders, yet.

Atlanta, meanwhile, managed to string together a decent season despite trading Joe Johnson away to the Nets. Al Horford has put in a steady season and Josh Smith has once again put in decent numbers despite being one of the stupider basketball players to play the game (seriously, stop shooting three-pointers, Josh). I guess this team also has Jeff Teague and Lou Williams but I feel like they’re injured and I cannot bother to find out. These two teams split their regular season series 2-2, but I expect the Pacers to walk away with this one.

PREDICTION: Pacers in 5 (4-1)

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nba playoffs preview: 2-7 matchup

The Los Angeles Lakers not only clinched their playoff berth on the last day of the regular season but also managed to leapfrog over the Houston Rockets to take the 7th seed by virtue of winning the season series. The San Antonio Spurs, in contrast, have had their playoff qualifications on ice for about as long as anyone can remember although key injuries to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili led to them losing the top seed in the Western Conference to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers won in a hotly contested overtime affair yesterday for the right to play San Antonio. Let’s see why.

After a typically age-defying season in San Antonio, the Spurs have been cold down the stretch. Part of it was obviously injury, but part of it may have just been to coast through to the playoffs. The Spurs have dropped 7 of their last 10 games, starting with the two point loss to the Heat (which I believe was a Chris Bosh buzzer-beater). That said, they were dealing with injuries to key players leading up to the playoffs and probably wanted to prevent any further harm. Tim Duncan has been monstrous this season, one of his most efficient seasons in the league. The “greatest power forward of all time” has averaged nearly 18 points, 10 boards and 3 blocks a game in 30 minutes a night. That is insane. He should be fresh in the playoffs.

The Lakers have been dealing with injury issues of their own and unfortunately none of those injury situations will be resolved come playoff time. After losing Kobe Bryant to an Achilles’ injury last week, the Lakers regrouped very well to qualify to the playoffs and grab the 7th seed. Mike D’Antoni has finally realized that Pau Gasol is a superior player to Earl Clark and he is getting the minutes once again. The offense can again run through Dwight Howard–something he is a lot more comfortable with. If Steve Nash can get back into the mix quickly, this Lakers team may actually become more of a threat than the ball-hogging Kobe version.

That said, the Lakers’ biggest Achilles’ heel (sorry, Kobe) is their defense. Although they were able to stifle Houston yesterday, that was more a case of the Rockets taking a bunch of stupid three-point shots (8-33 from the field…). The Spurs offense is much more refined and actually has a low-post presence that can effectively spread the floor. Duncan and Splitter will match up well with Howard and Gasol. Tony Parker will ruin Steve Blake. If Ginobili is back in the fold, there is no one on the Lakers who can stop him, either. Basically, the Lakers will have to outscore San Antonio, something that I wouldn’t be envious of being able to do when your best players are 4′s and 5′s and like the ball in the post.

The Spurs won the regularly season series 2-1, with all three games being pretty tight. I think they’ll drop a couple in Los Angeles thanks to David Stern, but I expect them to take care of business, here.

PREDICTION: Spurs win in 6 (4-2)

I hate giving credit to the New York Knicks but they’ve been playing pretty superb basketball this season. With Amar’e Stoudemire injured and no other singular offensive threat in the starting lineup, it looks like Carmelo Anthony has finally got a core of players around him who don’t mind just passing the ball into him and watching him shoot. And luckily, for him, he has done this with stunning accuracy over the last few weeks en route to an improbable scoring championship, beating out Durant, the leader for most of the season.

The difference this year is two-ingredient cocktail: 1 part J.R. Smith and 1 part dead-eye three-point shooters. Smith is the leading candidate for sixth man of the year and helped New York stay relevant when they were battling injuries mid-season. They’ve got a plethora of shooters on their roster, most of whom don’t really want anything to do with the ball other than catch and shoot it when open. Raymond Felton finally looks like he hasn’t retired early to open a donut store.

Much credit must be given to the Celtics who managed to fight their way to a playoff spot in the consistently paltry Eastern Conference despite losing Rajon Rondo midway through the season. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have had good (but not great) seasons and Jeff Green has provided some much needed offense. They’ve also got a couple of dead-eye shooters in Jason Terry and Courtney Lee but both these guys haven’t had the chance to break free from the slow-pace Celtics offense. Avery Bradley has also been fantastic defensively and will probably spend some time guarding the likes of J.R. Smith if he gets hot.

The Knicks should win this one easily on paper, having taken the season series 3-1, but it’s foolish to take the Celtics for granted come postseason. Defense wins championships, after all. I think they’ll hang on for a victory in 5 or 6 games, but the series will be a lot closer than the final scoreline will suggest.

PREDICTION: Knicks win in 6 (4-2)

 

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nba playoffs preview: 1-8 matchup

It’s been a while since I blogged so I figured what better way to get back into the scheme of things than kicking off my annual playoff previews and predictions. With an exciting day of games just complete, the NBA playoff brackets are finally set up so I’m going to go ahead and start previews by seed matchups. Hopefully I’ll get all of these out of the way before the playoffs start up on Saturday!


This series is a match made in David Stern heaven, which probably explains the questionable officiating in the final regular season NBA game between the Lakers and the Rockets. The obvious storyline at play here is James Harden returning to the city that made him and his magnificent beard famous and trying to topple them in the playoffs. Harden has a lot to prove since the Thunder front office essentially told him they didn’t think he was worth the money.

In the regular season, the Rockets fell 2-1 to the Thunder, managing to record a 3-point victory in their final attempt after two lopsided blowouts. In that victory, Harden had 46 points, going 14-19 from the floor including 7-8 from the three point line. In the losses, Harden averaged 21.0, shooting 9-33 from the field (4-12 from deep). Going by Harden’s efficiency over the last month or so, I don’t see this improving anytime soon, especially given that Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins will be erasing a lot of shots at the rim. I feel like Jeremy Lin is going to be spending most of his night running around trying to catch Russell Westbrook and hence is offense will be stagnant.

For the Rockets to win, they’ll have to shoot lights out over the course of the series because defensively they have no one to stop Kevin Durant and Westbrook. For a team that shoots so many threes, I figure that they’ll catch enough fire at least once in the first four games to steal one. I see this OKC winning the first two at home, the Rockets winning the third and losing the fourth before the Thunder wrap it up at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Sadface.

PREDICTION: Thunder win in 5 (4-1)

The Bucks may have stolen a regular season match-up from the Heat but with the league’s MVP (LeBron James), official cry-baby (Dwyane Wade) and resident velociraptor (Chris Bosh) and surrounded by sharpshooters from deep, I don’t see them repeating any of it in this first round match-up. The Heat have been on cruise control since February and have been outplaying opponents with ferocity.

Really, the only shot Milwaukee has is if LeBron has a debilitating injury. A team more inclined to play down low may have been able to steal a game away but the Bucks’ best players are Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. Sure, Larry Sanders may have a few exciting defensive plays, but I wouldn’t put my money on the Bucks being able to stop anything the Heat do offensively.

PREDICTION: Heat win in 4 (4-0)

I hope to hit up the 2-7  match-up tomorrow!

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