nba playoff predictions

It is once again that time of year when I make playoff predictions. Last year, I went 7-1 in the first round, but only picked one upset (Spurs over Mavs). I only got one series absolutely right from a scoreline perspective (the Suns 4-2 against Portland). This year is going to be significantly harder, especially in the West where the top teams are split within just a few games and there have been a lot of regular season upsets. Anyhow, let’s get going!

Eastern Conference

Chicago Bulls (1, 62-20) vs. Indian Pacers (8, 37-45)

This one’s the easiest pick, in my opinion. I’m still not quite comprehending the fact that the Bulls actually ended up with the best record in the NBA. About a month ago, one would think it would definitely be the Spurs grabbing homecourt advantage for the duration of the playoffs. Derrick Rose has been in beast mode for pretty much all of the season, and his complementary players are really stepping up. Boozer has been big for them and even Korver has stepped in nicely into a “big-Hinrich” role. This is a hard team not to like, even though it is full of ex-Jazz players. The Pacers scraped through the playoffs, 8 games below .500. They’ve got some good young talent but I just don’t see them having the firepower to stop a rampaging Bulls team. 4-0 to the Bulls.

Miami Heat (2, 58-24) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (7, 41-41)

The Heat made a good late-season push to oust the Celtics from that second spot in the East. Their livelihood in the second round may be more questionable, but they’ve set themselves up for success going into the first round of the playoffs. Barring any injuries, I don’t think this team will be stopped in this round. Even though Philly has been playing some really good basketball, in the end I think they will lose simply because they will rely a little too much on team basketball, which doesn’t work as well in the postseason. Igoudala has been good and Holiday is having a career year, but the Heat will probably take care of business. 4-1 to the Heat, with the Sixers winning one of their home games.

Boston Celtics (3, 56-26) vs. New York Knicks (6, 42-40)

This is probably the series to watch in the first round of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics will be mighty annoyed that they couldn’t take care of business the last couple of weeks and fell down to the third seed to face a challenging Knicks team that has done well to finish above .500. Amar’e has missed a couple of games in the stretch, but Carmelo has been filling in effortlessly. I still think the Knicks traded away too many assets in the Melo deal and will have a tough time closing this series down. That said, the Celtics offense has been sputtering ridiculously in the last few weeks, with Allen having lost his touch and Pierce being in a shooting slump. They’ve also lost some of their paint presence, so I expect Melo and Amar’e will have a field day in the paint and at the line. Still think the Celtics will pull it out, but they’ll have to work overtime to do it. I’m going to call it 4-2 to the Celtics but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Knicks won the series by the same margin.

Orlando Magic (4, 52-30) vs. Atlanta Hawks (5, 44-38)

The Hawks are the most underwhelming team in the playoffs, which is strange considering they’re a 5-seed. They’ve been at the wrong end of some of the worst losses this season and are in fact entering the postseason on the back of 6 straight losses. However, right before that, they also beat the Magic and Celtics in the span of 3 days. They have the players to get it done, but come on, this team lost to the Wizards by 32 points just about a week ago. They may just be one of those teams that plays to their opponent’s level. I think the Magic roll this one. 4-1 to the Magic.

Western Conference

San Antonio Spurs (1, 61-21) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (8, 46-36)

Ah, here is the fun stuff. Divisional rivals taking on each other in the first round of the playoffs. The Spurs, who have traditionally been a very defense-oriented league made a major change this season by going to the completely opposite side of the spectrum–becoming an offensive-minded team. They play with great pace and still have the ability to shut down teams in the 4th quarter. They are obviously still a contender, although the window is closing rapidly for Ginobili, Parker and Duncan. The season series between these teams was split 2-2, with the home team winning all of the games. The Grizzlies have been coping well without Rudy Gay, but I think they’ll find it tough to overcome the Spurs. I’m going slightly left-field with this scoreline, but that’s because I’ll have to see if the Spurs can slow down the pace during the playoffs, essentially re-tooling their game. 4-2 to the Spurs.

Los Angeles Lakers (2, 57-25) vs. New Orleans Hornets (7, 46-36)

Everyone has been talking about the Lakers the last few weeks as they went on a rabid run post all-star break before simmering down considerably. The Lakers would be disappointed on missing out on the top seed, as they failed to take advantage of a Spurs slump. However, I don’t think the Lakers will have too much of an issue dispatching the Hornets. Maybe with D-West, they’d have a chance, but I think they’ll fail to make an impact here. Lakers swept the season series, too. 4-1 to the Lakers.

Dallas Mavericks (3, 57-25) vs. Portland Trailblazers (6, 48-34)

This is a match-up to watch out for. I still don’t understand how the Trailblazers manage to stay competitive after going through injury after injury every season. Kinda wish the Rockets could replicate that effort. The Mavs have been blowing hot and cold the last few weeks and split the season series between these two teams 2-2, with the home team winning every game. I have a feeling Rip City could pull off an upset here, depending on if Dirk’s teammates decide to show up. Going to go with my first upset. 4-3 to the Blazers.

Oklahoma City Thunder (4, 55-27) vs. Denver Nuggets (5, 50-32)

The Denver Nuggets have been playing some solid basketball since they got rid of their whiny star. The main reason for this is that they got a massive package from the Knicks and a bunch of players who play well with each other. OKC, meanwhile, was at one point threatening to slip down into the bottom seeds, but they did a good job to revive their season and almost go up as high as the 2nd seed. The Thunder won the season series between these two teams 3-1 and I think they’ll win here, but it will be tight. 4-3 to the Thunder.

That’s it. Can’t wait for some postseason basketball, even though I wish I had a chance to cheer for the Rockets!

rockets playoff watch: march 24th

The 4 games the Rockets were interested in yesterday went 2-2 so it can be considered an okay night. Fortunately, one of the results going in our favor was a home victory over the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies’ game was one result that went against us, as Memphis managed to pull off an improbably upset in Boston. Let’s take a look at the games one by one.

Memphis played a tight game against Boston that, I believe, didn’t go more than 3 points in any team’s favor in the 4th quarter. The Celtics were playing from behind for most of the way. Going into the last minute, down by three points after a missed shot from the Grizzlies, Rondo ran the break and, instead of looking for a good shot, tried to finish a tough teardrop to cut the lead to 1. He failed and the Grizzlies had to foul. Marc Gasol managed to miss both free throws (just a day after his brother, Pau, made to clutch free throws to send the game into 3OT) but the Celtics were unable to convert on the other end with about 4 seconds left on the clock. Boston, as a result, fell a game behind Chicago in the Eastern Conference standings. These losses could be crucial for Boston since they will be the difference between playing Orlando and Miami in the second-round.

Next up, we had Utah in Oklahoma City. Thankfully, the Jazz were working with a depleted roster with neither Favors or Harris active and fell to the Thunder by 12 points. That loss pushes the Jazz to a .500 record and they can probably write off their playoff hopes now unless the rest of the teams competing for a spot in the Western Conference severely implode. The Jazz shouldn’t mind missing out on the playoffs too much as they have gone through wholesale changes during this season.

The Rockets took on the Warriors at the Toyota Center next and it was the exciting, high-scoring affair that was expected. Well, exciting if you are a Rockets fan, which I am. The first quarter was pretty close, with the Warriors pulling up to 57-57 at one stage, before a 9-0 run gave the Rockets a bit of a cushion going into the halftime break. The Rockets came back in the second half and totally took care of business, with Chuck Hayes recording his first career triple-double. Most of the Warriors starters sat out most of the fourth quarter as Houston pulled out an easy win 131-112, including their highest scoring output this season. Interestingly, new signees Mike Harris and Demarr Carroll got minutes yesterday, but Terrence Williams continued his accommodation at the RADHisson (that’s the Rick Adelman Dog House).

The last game of the night was Phoenix hosting the lowly Toronto Raptors. The Suns, of course, were playing on the second night of a back-to-back after their close 3OT loss in LA on Tuesday night. Their tiredness showed as they were trailing most of the way, but Aaron Brooks came off the bench fresh (he was suspended for the previous game) and drained 25 points en route to a comeback win. The win keeps the Suns hovering around that last spot.

Updated Standings

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Denver Nuggets
— already/probably qualified —
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. New Orleans Hornets (+1)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (+0.5)
9. Houston Rockets (+2)
10. Phoenix Suns (+1)
11. Utah Jazz (+1)

Today’s Games

New Orleans Hornets (40-31) @ Utah Jazz (36-36)

The Hornets should have all but locked up a playoff spot this season, but the fact of the matter is that they are still just half a game ahead of the Grizzlies and 2.5 games ahead of the Rockets with about 10-11 games remaining for all the teams competing for a spot. A win for Utah would be nice here, but the last time we wanted them to do that they went and got blown out by the Grizzlies. Nevertheless, the Jazz are back at the Energy Solutions Arena and their motivation is that a loss here will almost certainly eliminate them from the playoffs (with the 8th seed mark speculated to be 45-37). Let’s hope Harris and Favors are back today and put a pounding on the Hornets.

Other Notes

The Nuggets continued to show how awesome they have become in the post-Carmelo era by taking care of the league’s best team, minus one Tim Duncan. The Spurs were off to a hot start again, opening a double-digit lead against the Nuggets in Denver, before the home team fought back through Al Harrington, of all people. It seemed like the Spurs were reduced to mainly a jump-shooting team and were beaten at their own game (three-pointers) by a sharpshooting Nuggets offense. Even with Arron Afflalo, their self-elected closer of late, injured the Nuggets were able to pull out a 3-point victory. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Spurs the rest of the season. If they continue to struggle without Duncan, perhaps a first-round date with them wouldn’t be entirely catastrophic for whoever the the 8th seed is.

rockets playoff watch: march 22nd

Not too many updates since yesterday. There was one game of importance for the Rockets: Utah vs. Memphis. We needed Utah to win this one so that we’d pull closer to the Grizzlies in terms of losses but unfortunately the Jazz were still smarting from their loss against Houston on Sunday. Or perhaps it was just that they lost Devin Harris in the first quarter, apparently. I don’t know how serious his injury is but if he is out long term then we can probably comfortably eliminate Utah from the playoff race.

Updated Standings

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Denver Nuggets
— already/probably qualified —
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. New Orleans Hornets (+0.5)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (+1)
9. Houston Rockets (+2)
10. Phoenix Suns (+0.5)
11. Utah Jazz (+0.5)

Today’s Games

There are two games of interest today as both the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trailblazers are in action.

Washington Wizards (17-51) @ Portland Trailblazers (40-30)

This should be a pretty simple walkthrough for the Blazers, who have managed to integrate Gerald Wallace into their line-up pretty quickly. The Wizards are having a season to forget. With Portland probably out of reach for the Rockets, a victory here for them wouldn’t hurt our playoff chances all that much. So while I’ll be cheering for John Wall and the Washington Wizards, I don’t really care what the outcome of this game is all that much.

Phoenix Suns (35-33) @ Los Angeles Lakers (50-20)

This is an important game for the Rockets because if Phoenix wins these types of games, they will jump ahead of Houston in that push for the 8th playoff spot. This is the first of 6 remaining games on the Suns’ schedule against teams above .700. LA has their playoff participation locked up, but the Mavs are close on their back for what would be homecourt in the second round of the playoffs, so I don’t expect the Lakers to take it easy. They also need to get Kobe into some rhythm heading into the April.

If the Suns lose here, like they’re supposed to, they’ll slip another half a game down from the Rockets and, more importantly, will have the same number of losses as Houston. This would mean that Houston would have to win more games down the stretch than Phoenix, which should be easier considering we have an easier remaining schedule. I’m sure Steve Nash is not going to go down easily, so this will probably be a good game to watch. Go LA!

Other Notes

Just saw the news on Tim Duncan’s injury this morning. Apparently the Spurs were still able to take care of business against the Warriors. Unfortunately, it seems like a pretty minor injury in the context of things, and Duncan is expected to be out only a couple of weeks. I don’t expect the Spurs record to deflect much as a result of it but it could present itself as a ray of hope for whoever ends up getting 8th seed in the West, although in reality Duncan’s usage has been so low this season that it probably won’t mean much in the opening rounds.

rockets playoff watch: march 21st

As the Rockets try to sneak back into the playoffs, I’ve decided to do a bit of a daily watch at the position of the teams competing with us for that last spot and how the match-ups of the day will affect it. Since this is the first post of this nature, let me put in a bit of an introduction. First, let’s look at the Western Conference playoff race.

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
— already qualified —
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Denver Nuggets
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. New Orleans Hornets
— probably will qualify —
8. Memphis Grizzlies
9. Houston Rockets (+1.5)
10. Phoenix Suns (+0.5)
11. Utah Jazz (+0.0)

As I see it, the Blazers and Hornets will creep into the 6th and 7th slots, leaving 4 teams competing for that lost slot. Memphis is currently in the lead, but only2 games separate the teams going for the 8th spot. So this daily watch will basically be looking at those four teams, what their match-ups look like and what the Rockets need from them to be able to sneak into the playoffs.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are in pole position at the moment, holding a game-and-a-half lead over the Rockets with a relatively easy remaining schedule. With 12 games remaining, the Grizzlies have 7 at home and 5 on the road. They play 3 elite teams in the space of 5 days as they take on Boston, Chicago and San Antonio (the first two being an East Coast road trip). If they are able to get a win in even one of those games, I’d say they are fairly certain of locking up the 8th seed.

Must-Win Games: GSW, MIN, LAC, SAC, LAC
Elite Teams: BOS, CHI, SAS
Other Important Game: NOH x 2, POR
Next Game:
Today vs. the Utah Jazz

Houston Rockets

With a vital win over Utah at home yesterday as well as an important win against the Celtics last week, the Rockets have a bit of momentum. If we look at purely win-loss records of our remaining opponents, we have the “easiest” schedule at an average record of .497. That would not be the most accurate estimate, however,since we do play a bunch of contending teams in our remaining games.

Must-Win Games: GSW, NJN, PHI, SAC, LAC, MIN
Elite Teams: MIA, SAS, ATL, DAL
Other Important Games: NOH
Next Game: Wednesday vs. Golden State

Phoenix Suns

Phoenix was hit with the injury of Steve Nash at the worst possible time. They’ve gone from being solidly in the playoff race to chasing after everyone. Mind you, they are only half a game behind the Rockets. Phoenix have one of the toughest remaining schedules and as long as they don’t start beating teams that they shouldn’t be, we should be able to write them out of the race.

Must-Win Games: TOR, SAC, LAC, MIN x 2
Elite Teams: LAL, DAL, OKC, SAS, CHI, DAL, SAS
Other Important Games: NOH x 2
Next Game: Tuesday @ Los Angeles Lakers

Utah Jazz

Following the resignation of Jerry Sloan and the trading away of Deron Williams, Utah is in full-scale rebuilding mode and as such a playoff berth would be a bonus for them. They’ve had a torrid time following the trade and have dropped a couple of games that they should have won. The Jazz also have quite a difficult schedule remaining, facing only 2 teams below .500 in their remaining 12 games.

Must-Win Games: WAS, SAC
Elite Teams: OKC, DAL, LAL x 2, SAS
Other Important Games: MEM, NOH, POR, NOH
Next Game: Tonight @ Memphis

So that’s how the teams look going into the final few weeks of regular season action. Let’s take a look at the games today that will have some effect on the Rockets playoff hopes:

Utah (36-34) @ Memphis (38-32)

Ideally, both these teams would lose so that the Rockets could move half a game closer to the Grizzlies and half a game farther from the Jazz. Unfortunately, this is not possible. If the Jazz win today, they will once again be tied up with the Rockets at 37-34, but we would, I believe, own the tie-breaker by winning the season series 2-1. Given the Jazz’s remaining schedule and the Grizzlies’ remaining schedule, we should be hoping for a Jazz win tonight. If Utah beats Memphis, the Grizzlies will have only one fewer loss than us and with our remaining opponents more or less the same difficulty, it will come down to who plays better basketball down the stretch.

That’s it for this first update!

time to build a run

The four new Rockets have now been dressed for two games, and half of them have seen playing time. Kevin Martin came off the bench in both our losses whereas Jeffries had his debut in the ketchup-mustard alternate today, against the Hornets. So far, the signs have been encouraging, but unfortunately the “W” has been in the wrong column for the Rockets, on both days.

Yesterday’s loss to Indiana stung particularly hard, especially since these are the teams that the Rockets have to beat to make it to the playoffs. Indiana is currently the second-worst team in the Eastern conference, and considering that the worst team are the lowly New Jersey Nets (who will probably end the season with a single figured number of wins), this was a harsh loss. What was worse was that the Rockets lost despite scoring 115 points. I think Indiana average in the mid-90s this year, but yesterday they put 125 on us.

Kevin Martin came off the bench and Ariza moved to the small forward position, as expected. He had a particularly nondescript shooting night, scoring 14 points going 3-16 from the field. Today wasn’t much better, as he went 5-12 against the Hornets. He’s yet to hit a three pointer in a Rockets uniform, too. However, he seems to be getting into the rhythm, especially late in the game today. It’ll be up to Adelman and his staff to get these new additions to get into the system asap. The Rockets commentators suggested that this may take as many as 10-15 games. Unfortunately, with 27 games remaining in our season as of now, that may be a bit too many.

Jared Jeffries played his first minutes today and he was pretty impressive, especially on defense. The 6’11” length that he brings us is definitely going to help us. The Rockets are already a pretty good offensive rebounding team, from what I remember, and if Jeffries can repeat performances like today’s, where he grabbed 6 offensive boards, we’ll be in good shape. Jeffries did miss a couple of easy lay-ups and for some reason he abhors the dunk. Late in the fourth quarter, Jeffries took drop in lay-ups with no one at the rim instead of flushing it down. Perhaps he’s just playing it a bit easy until he gets comfortable with his team and the coaching staff.

Jordan Hill and Hilton Armstrong are yet to see minutes. It’ll be interesting to see how many opportunities they will get to earn a spot in the rotation, going late into the season.

Our schedule next week is rough–we play Orlando, who dealt the Cavs their third straight loss today, on Wednesday, followed by back-to-back games against San Antonio and Utah on Friday and Saturday. So if we think it’s going to get easier for our new players to adjust, we’ve got another thing coming! Let’s see if Kevin Martin and JJ can prove that they are a proper replacement to Landry (who had 18 points in the Kings’ loss to the Suns tonight).

One more off-topic point. I saw T-Mac play yesterday for the Knicks against the extremely hot Oklahoma Thunder and he certainly impressed. Now, one game is not enough to judge anyone, but I think one can safely conclude that no one expected McGrady to put these sorts of numbers up any game this season, let alone the first one. He had 19 points at the first half, and what was particularly encouraging for him was the fact that most of these points came from layups. As usual, though, he missed a pair of clutch free throws that could’ve earned him his first Knicks victory, allowing KD to tie up the game with a deep three and beat the Knicks in OT. T-Mac’s performance was impressive, and he is a player I will follow closely this season (I already added the Knicks to my League Pass). Let’s see if he has the legs and conditioning to come back and play his best basketball night after night.