Playoffs about to begin... This is my favourite period of the sports calendar, apart from when we get a NFL playoffs season like this year. Speaking of which; this NFL season+playoffs came after an almost lockout, and was one of the best in recent memory (see:49ers vs Saints, 49ers vs Giants, Superbowl- unless you're a Pats fan like me- and Denver vs Pittsburgh), does that mean after this NBA lockout we're going to get an even better playoffs? I believe so. Anyway, best part of the sports calendar, here we go.
First round match-ups:
(1) Chicago Bulls vs (8) Philadelphia 76ers.
Bulls. Easy. They could win this without D-Rose. Bulls are the top seed in the league and are one of those teams that don't beat themselves ever. I can see the 76ers somehow stealing a game at United Center, but then I see the Bulls being able to do the same in Philly, so no biggie if that does happen. Bulls in 5.
(2) Miami Heat vs (7) New York Knicks.
There's no way the Heat could lose this... right? Nah. But what if...? Nah. D-Wade could get injured and then Lebron would... nah. Not going to happen. Or could it? Seriously. Lose D-Wade to an injury, Bosh can't step up like he has at other times, and LeBron could buckle under the pressure. Look, either Miami are just going to blow NY out of the water in 4 like the C's did last year and I am going to feel embarrassed for even questioning this one, OR... the insanity begins.
See, in my mind there are three potential ways these playoffs could play out: 1) Top seeds calmly dispose of lower seeds, either of the top 2 seeds from each conference make it to the Finals, and the favourite out of those two wins it. 2) We get a repeat of half-blown playoff insanity like last year, where the Spurs get taken out in by the 8 seeded Grizzlies in the first round, the Mavs make it to the Finals, the Mavs WIN the Finals, etc. This could happen again, easily. OR, we get 3) FULL-BLOWN INSANITY. Both 1 seeds get taken out by 8 seeds, Denver vs LA and Orlando vs Indiana go to 7 game series, the Knicks make it to the Finals... and then lose it... at Madison Square Garden... in Game 7. Like I said; full-blown insanity.
In scenarios 1 or 2, the Heat are just too good to get taken out before at least the conference Finals, no matter what craziness is going on around them. But in scenario 3... insanity reigns supreme, and anything can happen. Or should I say... Linsanity reigns supreme, and anything lin happen! That's right. Knicks somehow manage to hold Miami to 2-2 behind one insane game from 'Melo (let's say... a 43 pointer), and then their awesome defence (no, really it is
) wins them the other. At this stage, Jeremy Lin finally returns from injury for game 5, creates Linsanity round 2 by beating the Heat in Miami, and then takes a 3-2 lead back to MSG. Even if the Heat win there, every basketball fan in NY will fly down to South Beach for Game 7, effectively making it a home Game for the Knicks, and scaring the pants off of LeBron. You laugh now, but this could happen.
So, what am I saying? Heat in 4. BUT. Prepare yourself for the possibility of scenario 3, because if that happens, this series is going to be the one that lights that fuse.
(3) Indiana Pacers vs (6) Orlando Magic.
People who live in Orlando are cruelly punished on a daily basis, just for having to live in that city, and this masochism extends to their basketball team. Remember when the 2008-9 Magic beat the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals because of their huge height advantage? And then lost 4-1 to the Lakers because they weren't really that good, but the Cavs just sucked against tall teams who can shoot 3s? See, Orlando have made absolutely no progress since then, except for watching Dwight Howard get bigger and badder, and they made plenty of backwards progress, as evidenced the decision to trade Turkoglu, which was a good way to foreshadow how badly their management was going to deal with Howard wanting a trade this year. Anyway, I'm rambling. Orlando are going down, unless... which is crueler? Orlando losing in the first round to a team they beat 3-1 in regular season match-ups because Howard is out and then Howard walking out on the team without even giving them a chance, or Orlando winning the first round somehow, and therefore making Howard wonder if 'hmm, maybe this team and coach have got what I need to win a ring' and becoming even MORE indecisive about whether to go elsewhere, until at about the same point of this season the Dwama began, Howard realises 'oh no wait they don't' and then starts talking trades all over again? Whichever of those sucks more; that's what will happen to Orlando fans. So, I guess we'll find out in a week.
Pacers in 4.
(4) Boston Celtics vs (5) Atlanta Hawks.
With the form that Pierce and KG are in, with Avery Bradley and Greg Stiemsma coming out of nowhere, with Rondo chasing John Stockton's 10+ assists per game streak, you think I'd be happy with my Celtics. I'm not. They should not have given up home-court advantage to the Hawks so easily. Sure, Doc has a point about rhythm. And god knows the big 3 can use every chance they get to rest, injured or not. And it's good to see the reserves getting a bit (/a lot) of time in and looking like they might threaten to do something special (Sasha Pavlovic; I'm looking at you). But when I think of the chances that this series splits 2-2, and then Boston HAVE to win either game 5 away then game 6 to close it, or a game 7 in Atlanta, I'm not happy. Not at all. Being a Boston fan means never ever admitting your team is not as good as the other, no matter how screwed they are, so I'm not going to pretend this is an unbiased call.
Boston in 6.
(1) San Antonio Spurs vs (8) Utah Jazz.
Even in scenario 3 (aka insanity), the Jazz are not the 2011 Grizzlies. There is no Z-Bo on their team, and they will not beat SAS.
Spurs in 4.
(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (7) Dallas Mavericks.
There will be blood. Oh, so much blood. Dallas are a shadow of themselves, thanks to the idiocy of their management (Tyson Chandler OUT?! Lamar Odom IN?!) but they still have Dirk's jumper, which should be good for at least 2 wins, if not 3 somehow. I don't think they can win this, but then everyone said that about the Mavs last year right?. And OKC's recent form? Well... enough said. I want OKC to right themselves so badly I think they will, but this will be a series to watch.
OKC in 6.
(3)LA Lakers vs (6) Denver Nuggets.
I had no idea that Denver were still a good team after Carmelo left, and when they made it to the playoffs last year I just assumed it was the Ewing effect+having had Melo play half the season with them. But here they are, still a good team. Lakers are definitely going to win this, although Kobe hasn't had anyone to complain about in a while, now that Derek Fisher's gone and Pau no longer hides in the big games, and so it's about time a new target came along. Mike Brown doesn't feel right for the Lakers, but them being perpetual bridesmaids under him like the Cavs were until Kobe gets too pissed at the thought of retiring with one less ring than MJ and insists he'll leave LA for... let's say the Brooklyn Nets... unless they SOMEHOW rehire Phil Jackson does. Yeah that seems right. History repeats, so Kobe getting mad and insisting on change is definitely happening. And Mike Brown being the cause of that change is also definitely happening. So, they're probably not winning a ring this year. And if they're going to lose in the playoffs who better to lose to than a starless team like the Nuggets (well, actually there are so many better teams to lose to; Boston for starters, but let's go with this for now)? It won't happen unless scenario 3 happens, but a man can dream.
Lakers in 5.
(4) Memphis Grizzlies vs (5) LA Clippers.
Do you think if Chris Paul won this series in Game 7 at Memphis that people would start to admit he's as good as he was pre-injury? Not likely, because people love Chris Paul so much they prefer to hold this ideal view of him as the near-perfect PG, the kind of guy who can do it all, and then on top of that still come up with the game winning shot with 3.4 seconds to go. Thing is, CP3 IS that guy. It's just that the Grizzlies aren't going to let the Clippers even get near that 3.4 second shot. Did you see them take down the Spurs last year? And do you realize they're an even better team this year? I said the Clippers chance of winning a playoff series went out the window when they lost Chauncey Billups early this year. Sad but true. I love both these teams, so it's a win-win/lose-lose for me in this series, and that means I can call it like it is.
Memphis in 6.
Oh what we're done? Damn.
Ok, some overall predictions. If scenario one happens, either the Heat or the Spurs are going to take it all out. It's going to be boring, because watching LeBron win the first of many, many rings will be, or because the Spurs are. Scenario 2? Now we're talking. Teams like the Bulls and San Antonio will make it through the first round ok, but you really can't count on anything else. If this does go down, then I see three possible teams who can pull through and actually WIN it: OKC, Miami, and the Lakers. That might seem like I'm not gambling much there, but I'm calling out the Spurs, Dallas AND the Bulls. The reason those first 3 teams are there, and the second three aren't? Because I believe in their ability to scrap for it more than any other team except Boston and Memphis, who are good enough to make it to the conference Finals and even maybe the Finals themselves, but not win it all.
"But wait" you say; "I thought Boston fans never admitted their team might be inferior?". Enter scenario 3. It's all gone to shit. The Bulls lose to the 76ers. LeBron sets a playoff record with a 63 point game but the Knicks still take the series. In the Conference Finals the Grizzlies battle OKC and the Celtics are somehow taking on the Magic. Carnage ensues. Men sacrifice their wives to survive, children sacrifice their parents, David Stern rips out his hair with simultaneous delight and frustration! The impossible has been surpassed and we are now in the land of the possimpible; where the possible and impossible meet. Amongst the post-apocalyptic wreckage, two teams emerge; OKC and Boston. Boston takes it in Game 7 in OKC, with a 3 pointer from Ray Allen with 0.6 seconds remaining, coming off a Rondo assist that takes the 10+ assist record from John Stockton, and gives Rondo the Finals MVP trophy that he and I both lie awake and night thinking of!
Ladies and gentlemen, let the games begin.
Aw crap just read Bill Simmons' column
and we say pretty much the same things. I'd just like to point out that I wrote this BEFORE reading his column, and WHILE reading Sebastien Pruiti's