rockets playoff watch: march 23rd

There were two games that had playoff implications for the Rockets yesterday night and they went 50/50 in the Rockets favor.

First, the Blazers hosted the sinking Washington Wizards and took care of business. This was not surprising or unexpected. What is more concerning for the Rockets and the other teams grappling for playoff spot in the West is the performance of Gerald Wallace. Wallace led the Blazers to the victory scoring 28 points off 14 shot attempts and also recording 8 rebounds and 4 steals. Even while keeping in mind that this performance came against the lowly Wizards, it’s certainly demonstrating that Wallace has been fully integrated into the Portland offensive and defensive schemes. We are done with our season series against the Trailblazers and given that they’ve probably more or less confirmed their playoff spot, this event should only really be a danger sign for whomever between the Lakers and Mavericks gets that 3rd seed.

In the second game, Phoenix visited the Los Angeles Lakers and for most of the game they looked like they were up against it. However, a late rally from the Suns sent the game to overtime. In OT, Channing Frye went to the line shooting three with 1.1 seconds left and drained all of them to send the game to double-overtime. In 20T, it was this time Pau Gasol knocking down two important free throws with a little more than 2 seconds left on the clock to tie the game up. Grant Hill was unable to handle an inbound pass from Dudley to shoot for the win and the game went into an unprecedented triple-overtime. This time, Ron Artest took over (never thought I’d be typing those words in that order) with some solid defense and a ferocious left-handed dunk that probably was the last nail in the coffin for the Suns. Some very questionable play-making in the ensuing Suns possessions ensure that they fell short by 2 on the night.

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 (+1)
9. Houston Rockets (+2)
10. Phoenix Suns (+1)
11. Utah Jazz (+0)

Today’s Games

There are many games of interest today as every one except the Hornets and Blazers are in action.

Memphis Grizzlies (39-32) @ Boston Celtics (50-19)

This is a very important game for the Rockets, who themselves beat the Celtics just about a week ago. The Grizzlies open a tough stretch of games, playing on the road at Boston and then Chicago on Friday before coming back home to face the Spurs on Sunday. If they go 0-3 in that stretch, they will end up with 35 losses, which is one more than the Rockets have now. That would be the ideal scenario for Houston. This is the last difficult stretch of games remaining for the Grizzlies and, in fact, their only remaining opponents above .600. If they swing even one of these three games, I would wager that the Grizzlies will lock up the 8th seed.

Utah Jazz (36-35) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (45-24)

Oklahoma City is in a strange position where they don’t really have too much room for improvement with regards to playoff positioning. A rough last couple of weeks, however, could mean that they surrender home-court advantage in Round 1 to the Nuggets. Hopefully that is motivation enough for them to take care of business against the Jazz. Devin Harris is listed as a game-time decision for the Jazz and Derrick Favors is currently questionable. Given that a loss here would push the Jazz to 36 losses, I would say it is extremely likely that they try to get both to play to give them the best shot at victory. A victory here for the Thunder would be perfect and probably push the Jazz one game away from playoff elimination.

Golden State Warriors (30-41) @ Houston Rockets (37-34)

This is the final game in the homestand for the Rockets before they head on an Eastern Conference road trip including a match-up against the Heat. A victory here for Houston coupled with a loss for Memphis would put the Rockets just 1 game out of the 8th seed. The Warriors are a team that depends heavily on their offense and I’m hoping that Houston’s improved defense of late will be able to counter them. The Rockets will be missing Budinger, however, which means that Courtney Lee will be starting, so the team chemistry may be affected slightly. This is a must-win game for Houston–a loss in a game like this most certainly eliminates us from playoff contention.

Toronto Raptors (20-50) @ Phoenix Suns (35-34)

After a chaotic game last night against the Lakers, the Phoenix suns head home for the second-night of a back-to-back. The Suns are likely going to be very tired–not only is their core made up of veterans (Nash, Hill, Carter) but they played a 3OT game last night. The Raptors have had a torrid season after Chris Bosh took his talents to Miami and our statistically eliminated from the playoffs, I believe. They have nothing to lose at the moment. A win here for Toronto against a tired and drained Suns team would push the Suns over the Rockets in terms of losses, as long as we win our game.

playoffs, round 2

Round 2 of the NBA playoffs have now begun with a couple of teams I was supporting having crashed out. To start off with, let’s see how I did with my predictions:

Eastern Conference
Cleveland (1) vs. Chicago (8): Cavs 4-1 (Prediction: Cavs 4-0)
Orlando (2) vs. Charlotte (7): Magic 4-0 (Prediction: Magic 4-1)
Atlanta (3) vs. Milwaukee (6): Series tied 3-3 (Prediction: Hawks 4-2)
Boston (4) vs. Miami (5): Celtics 4-1 (Prediction: Celtics 4-2)

So I’ve got 3 of the 4 series winners right (and could get the Hawks-Bucks match-up as well). Unfortunately, I didn’t get any of the scorelines right! Apart from the Hawks-Bucks tussle, everything really went as planned. Which is not really a surprise since the East was pretty segmented in terms of strong teams and weak teams.

Western Conference:
L.A. (1) vs. Oklahama City (8): Lakers 4-2 (Prediction: Lakers 4-1)
Dallas (2) vs. San Antonio (7): Spurs 4-2 (Prediction: Spurs 4-3)
Phoenix (3) vs. Portland (6): Suns 4-2 (Prediction: Suns 4-2)
Denver (4) vs. Utah (5): Jazz 4-2 (Prediction: Nuggets 4-1)

My predictions here were kind of all over the place. While I nailed down 3 of the series winners and even one scoreline, I predicted pretty badly on the Nuggets-Jazz match up. To my credit, the 4-5 seed match-up is always a bit harder to predict! But seriously, the Jazz surprised me with their performance. Boozer looked unstoppable and Nuggets were missing George Karl a lot more than I expected. Not particularly happy, either, since I hate the Jazz (and the Spurs).

Let’s take a look at Round 2, now, the conference semi-finals. These are a lot harder to predict, but I’ll take a swing, anyway.

Eastern Conference

Cleveland Cavaliers (1) vs. Boston Celtics (4) — Cleveland leads 1-0

Game 1 was pretty hotly contested with the Celtics leading most of the way before the Cavs took over down the stretch. LeBron had another good performance and the Cavs have taken the lead and maintained home-court advantage. This series is difficult to call because you never know how well the Celtics’ veterans are going to play. Ray Allen had an okay night and has had only an okay playoffs with bursts. LeBron, the regular-season MVP, has being gunning at full power. I think the Cavs will win this one and it won’t go the stretch, but I’m not sure how many games it will take.

PREDICTION: Cavaliers 4-2

Orlando Magic (2) vs. Atlanta Hawks (3)/Milwaukee Bucks (4) — TBD

Hard to call a series that hasn’t even had the opponents determined yet! The Bucks are challenging the Hawks well, and it seems that Atlanta has been suffering from at least some level of complacency. Brandon Jennings is aiming for a fairy-tale finish in his rookie playoff series. I think Orlando will win the series to set up an EC final clash with the Cavaliers, but the scoreline depends on who they are facing.

PREDICTION: Magic 4-2 (vs. Hawks); Magic 4-1 (vs. Bucks)

Now, the Western Conference…

Western Conference

L.A. Lakers (1) vs. Utah Jazz (5)

The Lakers are coming off a harder-than-expected battle against the inspiring Oklahoma City Thunder whereas the Jazz have polished up the Nuggets in the first round pretty easily. The Lakers bench has finally began to show signs of life, punching in 30 points in Game 6 against the Thunder. However, they are still dependent on their starters and with Bynum injured for potentially a few games, they could be in a bit of a hole. The Jazz have learned to play well without a few of their regulars, but I think the Lakers play far too good team basketball to be outdone in similar fashion to the Nuggets. Boozer will find it harder to score against the likes of Gasol and Bynum (provided he’s back). Deron Williams is likely to draw Artest as his defender and we all saw how poorly KD shot during the first-round match-up. I’m going with the Lakers in 6.

PREDICTION: Lakers 4-2

Phoenix Suns (3) vs. San Antonio Spurs (7)

The Suns will be happy to have landed home-court advantage here, since at the beginning of the playoffs they would have undoubtedly been preparing for a second-round match-up with the hot Dallas Mavericks. The Suns ended up cleaning the heavily-injured Trailblazers in 6, probably a game or two longer than they would have liked. Phoenix cannot afford to lose home-court advantage to the Spurs in this series, especially not as early as the Mavericks lost it. The Spurs are playing some really hot basketball right now with George Hill on absolute fire. The big three of Ginobili, Parker and Duncan haven’t really been firing on all cylinders, either, so it would be scary to think of the possibilities if all four of those guys are playing well. I’m supporting the Suns, as usual, but I think the Spurs will take this. I will be very disappointed if they do so, since they would effectively have taken out 3 of the teams I do support in the West (Houston couldn’t make a playoff spot, Dallas in the first round and now, Phoenix).

PREDICTION: Spurs 4-3

Bring on the second round!

it’s playoff time

Finally the only playoffs I actually care about have started–the NBA Playoffs. This weekend featured 8 games in two sets of quadruple-header action. Interestingly, there were no upsets whatsoever, with all the higher seeds getting the victory except for Phoenix. It will be interesting to see if this will continue being the case as we progress through the playoffs. I’m going to take a look at each of the series and give a slight prediction as to what I expect to happen, as well as who I’d rather see winning:

Eastern Conference

Cleveland (1) vs. Chicago (8) — Cleveland leads 1-0

This one’s a no-brainer for me. The Cavs have far too much offense for the Bulls to be anything more than a blip on their radar. This showed in Game 1, where Derrick Rose was the only guy who could really put up points for the Bulls, and even he scored 28 points off 28 shot attempts. The Bulls will need Hinrich to score to cause any upsets in this series. Personally, I want to see the Cavaliers win because I think a Kobe vs. LeBron final would be interesting.

PREDICTION: Cavaliers 4-0

Orlando (2) vs. Charlotte (7) — Orlando leads 1-0

Again, this seems to be a competition between high-powered versus low-octane offense. In Game 1, Orlando got off to a huge lead before Charlotte clawed back. The Magic hung on for the win, however. I’m pretty neutral about this match-up–I don’t care for either team. Charlotte is a mix between young, inexperienced players (like Gerald Wallace) and veterans (like Stephen Jackson). Jackson sat out a portion of the game due to injury, though, so it’s probably going to be a Magic roll. I’ll go ahead and give the Bobcats a game, but that is a very optimistic prediction.

PREDICTION: Orlando 4-1

Atlanta (3) vs. Milwaukee (6) — Atlanta leads 1-0

This is a match-up that I think could get really close, especially if Brandon Jennings gets some help from his team. Both these teams are young and inexperienced, relatively speaking. If Andrew Bogut wasn’t injured, I wouldn’t be surprised if this went down to 7 games. Atlanta has secured their highest playoff seed in the last few seasons (right?) so they can consider themselves a tad unlucky for drawing a relatively hot Bucks team. I think the Hawks will hang on, though. I’m supporting them.

PREDICTION: Atlanta 4-2

Boston (4) vs. Miami (5) — Boston leads 1-0

The 4-5 match-up is always the one most likely to throw up an upset, but it seems Miami’s offense has been a bit stagnant of late. This is probably going to be a pretty low-scoring series, with an emphasis on defense. Ray Allen continued to struggle in Game 1 as the Celtics hung on to a scrappy victory. D-Wade was sublime and questionable in equal measures in the first game. For example, I couldn’t understand why he picked up his dribble outside the three point line over and over again in the 4th quarter whereas he had been getting to the hoop at will in the previous 3 periods. With Garnett’s suspension, Miami has a chance to steal one on the road. I want to see this series go down to 7 and for Miami to win, but I think Boston will hold on–as they’ve managed to in the last couple of seasons.

PREDICTION: Boston 4-2

Now for the conference that matters… the Western Conference. 🙂

Western Conference

L.A. Lakers (1) vs. Oklahoma City (8) — Lakers lead 1-0

OkC would be disappointed with falling to the 8th seed in the West after having such a strong season and drawing a match-up with the Lakers. Luckily for them, the Lakers have been in questionable form for the last month or so. In their first playoff appearance, the Thunder, led by Kevin Durant, seemed overawed by the occasion. KD never really got going and the Thunder followed suit. They pulled close to the Lakers a couple of time, but even with Bryant shooting horribly, weren’t able to pull out the rare win in Lakerland. The Lakers will benefit mightily from having Bynum back and Odom will bolster up a very shallow and weak bench. If a Laker starter gets injured over the course of this series, I think the Thunder may get close, but as it stands, I think L.A.’s post presence is going to be enough to pull off the win. I’ll give the Thunder 1 win at home. I’m supporting the Lakers in this one.

PREDICTION: Los Angeles 4-1

Dallas (2) vs. San Antonio (7) — Mavericks lead 1-0

The Spurs are playing with their worst playoff seed since the 90’s or something like that. With many of their key players injured this season, I suppose they’ll take a low playoff spot rather than none. In Game 1, the game stayed tight for a long time but the Mavericks managed to hold on. Dirk Nowitzki was nearly perfect, yesterday, missing just 3 shots from the field and making all his free throws. Caron Butler provided a spark that was much-needed given Jason Terry’s lackluster performance off the bench (though Terry did nail some clutch jumpers at the end). The Mavericks have had a propensity to choke in the playoffs, though. Parker is still working his way into the rotation (he’s lost his starting job to Ginobili) and Duncan is still consistent but not phenomenal. I’m going to predict an upset here and say San Antonio will win in 7. I hope to hell that I’m wrong because there isn’t a team I despise more than the Spurs.

PREDICTION: San Antonio 4-3

Phoenix (3) vs. Portland (6) — Blazers lead 1-0

Phoenix were the only home team to lose on opening weekend and hence squandered their homecourt advantage to the perennially-injured Trail Blazers. With Brandon Roy recovering from injury for at least 2 weeks, the Suns were probably expecting a first round walkover. The Blazers have learned to play without their best players throughout the season, though, going through a bizarre sequence of injuries that affected everyone from Greg Oden to Pryzbilla to Aldridge to Roy over the regular season. They managed to get healthy to secure up a playoff spot, but lost Roy almost immediately. Andre Miller has played some inspired basketball of late, and the Blazers have snapped up the homecourt advantage to set up an intriguing contest. I’m supporting Phoenix in this match-up and I think Nash and Amare will eventually be able to get the away game back. In fact, unless Roy returns earlier than scheduled, I think the Suns will win with a game to spare.

PREDICTION: Phoenix 4-2

Denver (4) vs. Utah (5) — Nuggets lead 1-0

Denver would be disappointed at falling down to the fourth seed and possibly meeting the Lakers as early as the 2nd round. However, they’ve got to concentrate on the series at hand. Unfortunately for the Jazz, it looks like they’ve been hit by the injury bug at the worst possible time. Their offense has been severely dented by the loss of Kirilenko leading into the playoffs and now Okur, whose out of the rest of the postseason following Game 1. Boozer is not at 100% either, so that puts the burden of offense squarely on the shoulders of Deron Williams, with some help from the likes of Korver and Brewer. The Nuggets looked pretty strong on Saturday night, with Carmelo looking in great rhythm. I actually think that the Nuggs will take this series pretty easily. If the Jazz had been a bit healthier, my money was on them causing the upset, but this is just too many chips to overcome.

PREDICTION: Nuggets 4-1