Thursday, April 14, 2011

NBA Playoff Preview


#1 Chicago Bulls vs #8 Indiana Pacers

The Bulls flourished in their inaugural season of the Tom Thibodeau era...Longtime readers of the blog will remember last year when we talked about the idea that the Raps should try to hire Thibodeau as he was the next up-an-coming guru...We know they did not try to get Thibodeau (the 2011 result was Raps win 22 games while Chicago won their 22nd game on Jan 1) but ChiTown did and they are reaping the rewards...

62 Bulls W's...9 straight to finish the season...Top seed in the East...Michael Jordan telling Chicago fans they may win another 6 Titles with this current group...It all adds up to wow...A TON of press/attention for the MVP likelihood for Derrick Rose...Marvelous season by Rose...We mentioned a few months ago that we would follow Rose very closely after Kobe made the comments of how impressed he gets with young talent that are advance enough to recognize the areas of improvements needed in their game, and then put in the work in the off-season to improve...Kobe said Rose clearly is worthy of that praise...Now let's understand that Chicago is hardily a one-man show...DEEP squad...The big 3 of Rose, Carlos Boozer, and Luol Deng give the Bulls 50 points per game...Joakim Noah was injured for half of the season, but when healthy he averages a double-double...The role players after those 4 like Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson, Keith Bogans, Omer Asik, and Kurt Thomas all provide skill and depth for the Bulls...This team was wonderful on D under Thibodeau...#2 points allowed...#2 point differential...#1 Field Goal % D... #1 3-point FG% D

The Pacers also enter the playoffs with a first-time Head Coach...Frank Vogel took over for the fired Jim O'Brien on Jan 30/11 and led the team to a 20-18 record to end the season...Danny Granger (who the Raps should have drafted instead of Joey Graham) is a scorer, and the Pacers get 10+ ppg from Darren Collison, Mike Dunleavy, Tyler Hansbrough, and Roy Hibbert...Hibbert also gives the D a boost as a defender at the rim (1.8 blocks per game for the former Raptors draft pick)...Brandon Rush, Paul George, Josh McRoberts, and A.J. Price also provide depth

There are some nice pieces in place going forward for Indiana, but they will surely be overwhelmed by this Bulls team that is deep, and firing on all cylinders...Bulls in 4

#2 Miami Heat vs #7 Philadelphia 76ers

Coming into the 2010-2011 season many wondered if the Heat would surpass the 1995-1996 Bulls record of 72-10...The Heat won 58 games...You know me, I never understood why if you want to win a Championship then how was Miami the team to join for the Big 3?!?!  How is Mario Chalmers a Champ PG?!?!  How can you get a frontcourt in Miami that will be better than Boston, Chicago, or Orlando?!?!  Those questions may not come into play in Round 1, but that doesn't mean we should just sleep on this Sixers squad...

Philly is led by Elton Brand who gave the team a full season for the first time since joining them 3 years ago...Brand leads the O at 15 ppg...After Brand there are an impressive 5 players that average 10+ points per game for Philly...Brand, Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday (emerging 2nd year PG), and Jody Meeks (also a good 2nd year Guard) all score for the starting unit, while Thaddeus Young and Louis Williams are fantastic off the bench combining for 25 ppg...Add young C Spencer Hawes, and rookie Evan Turner and we see a lot of young, high-upside talent for this organization going forward...Head Coach Doug Collins (who also should have been given a look by the Raps to run their team) has done a terrific job with Philly, and he gets a lot of help from a great staff with former NBAers like Michael Curry and Aaron McKie, as well as former Marquette and D-Wade coach Quin Snyder...Iguodala is a wonderful perimeter defender and should give Wade and LeBron fits in this series, but of course only one at a time...

That is the thing with the Heat - they will be poor at the PG and C positions, good at the PF spot, but amazing at the SG and SF thanks to Wade and Bron Bron...Of the Big 4 (Miami-Boston-Orlando-Chicago) the Heat may have the toughest test in Round 1 as this Sixers team may be young enough to not understand that they are supposed to lose this series handily...They may be able to provide the Heat with a test...For Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra this is an opportunity to show his players that this is a test right out of the gate and get his guys to embrace playoff basketball right away...That may provide a competitive edge for the Heat in Round 2 as they will have survived a battle, while their opponent is possibly dealing with fools gold having easily dispatched an inferior Round 1 opponent...

For the Heat to advance they need to get their last-second blunders figured out...This team was dreadful in the last 10 seconds of games with shots to tie or win a game...This team was also dreadful in games decided by 5 points or less (one the worst in the NBA)...For me the key in this series will be Bosh and the combined play of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Joel Anthony, and (if he can play) Erick Dampier...The key to beat the Heat is to be great at defending the rim so that you turn them into a jump-shooting team...This 76ers team has a tremendous future, but they are not equipped right now to turn Miami into a one-dimensional jump-shooting team which will ultimately be the difference in this series...Miami in 5

#3 Boston Celtics vs #6 New York Knicks

Wow...Do we see some intrigue folks?!?!  Great D vs great O...Boston with original Big 3 in Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce vs the latest Big 3 in Amar'e, Melo, and Chauncey...2 storied franchises...

For the second straight season the Celtics are sleep-walking into the playoffs...The difference to me is the 2010 C's were uninterested until playoff time, while the 2011 C's seem tired and somewhat worn down...Boston was able to turn the switch on last post-season, but that is a dangerous game...The organization brought back Doc Rivers and re-upped with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen all in the name of making another Championship run in '11...The D is still good, but perhaps not great since the trade of Kendrick Perkins...That trade left the C's with a different look, and perhaps to this day they are trying to figure out their identity now...The veterans on the team were devastated by the trade as they understood that Perk was a major contributor to the toughness in the paint their D had become great at...That now falls to Shaq...The big fella has been injured most of the season, but he and Jermaine O'Neal (also injured much of 2011) will need to combine with Nenad Kristic to provide the last line of D for the Celtics...Looks like the best chance is if Shaq can get healthy and give them 25-30 mins per game

For New York the story is on the other end of the floor...The Knicks have to win games by outscoring you in a shoot-out...This team plays zero D...Since their Feb 21/11 trade for Melo the Knicks are a pedestrian 14-14, including 0-2 vs Boston...Head Coach Mike D'Antoni's squad went 3-7 in games with Melo where they did not score 100+ points...That started at 2-0, so they lost 7 of their last 8 games where they did not score at least 100...The Celtics need the game to be 80-something to 80-something, while the Knicks need the game to be played in the 100's to be successful...For the Knicks to be able to impose their will on this series and turn it into a shoot-out they will need much more than their Big 3...Laundry Fields will need to be a scorer in this series , as will guys like Toney Douglas, Bill Walker, and Shawne Williams (all will have to be on fire from 3-point range to have the Knicks be competitive in this series)

Ultimately I will have faith in Celtics ability to get it on the right track for the playoffs...We have seen it before...This is one series that an upset would not shock me to be honest, but I will predict C's in 6

#4 Orlando Magic vs #5 Atlanta Hawks

Many seem to have Orlando as a distant 4th best team in the East, I do not...I like this team a lot...Dwight Howard is the true MVP in the NBA...No other player is as dominant on both ends of the floor as Howard (and the amazing thing is he will get even better)...His activity inside the paint is fantastic...He blocks shots on the regular, but he changes/alters sooo many opponents shots too...The Magic added pieces around D12 on the fly this season with the additions of Jason Richardson, Hedon't Turkoglu, and Gilbert Arenas...A real nice emergence this season was Ryan Anderson who gives the squad 10+ points per game...Anderson, Turkoglu, and J-Rich combine with Jameer Nelson and JJ Redick to give the Magic a ton of shooting options to surround D12...At some point  (likely not this series) the likes of Brandon Bass and Earl Clark will have to provide depth for the frontcourt of Orlando vs teams like Boston, Chicago, and Miami...Despite the on-the-fly roster changes Head Coach Stan Van Gundy still had his team play at a high level defensively...Only Boston and ChiTown play better team D than Orlando of any team in the playoffs...

The chance for any team vs Orlando is to have a defender to occupy D12 so you can stay home on Orlando's shooters...The Celtics do that very well for example, but this Hawks team is hardily a similar roster to Boston...Hotlanta gets a lot of athletic scoring from guys like Jamal Crawford, Marvin Williams, Joe Johnson, and Josh Smith...Hawks did take 3 of 4 games vs Orlando this season, but are struggling lately and for me I am disappointed in this team as they took a step back this season (IMO)...In this series Jason Collins will be they guy called on to slow down Dwight Howard, while Kirk Hinrich will be in his first playoffs with the Hawks...Those 2 will need to be huge, plus I think Horford will have to be huge too...1 of (if not both of) Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson is going to have to be on fire from downtown for the ATL to hang with Orlando...

Too much going for Orlando these days vs not enough going right for Hotlanta these days = Magic in 5


#1 San Antonio Spurs vs #8 Memphis Grizzles

How do you handicap these Spurs?!?!  The first 85% of the season was marvelous for this squad...They do however end the season on a bad 4-8 finish, and have stars like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli banged up...Spurs enter the playoffs as the #1 seed in the West despite the poor finish...When the Spurs are healthy they of course are led by their big 3 of Duncan, Manu, and Tony Parker...Those 3 are the veterans and leaders, but this Spurs team is sooo much more...Duncan averaged a lower ppg (13) than ever in his 14 year career, and still the Spurs stacked 61 W's...Guys like George Hill, Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair, Gary Neal, Antonio McDyess, and Raptor fan fav Matt Bonner all combine to provide a ton of talent and depth for Gregg Popovich...Truth is if you coach in a time where Phil Jackson coaches then you are going to be #2 at best as Jackson will get all the press...I am a huge admirer of Pop and the job he has done in San Antonio...He is the longest serving Coach in the Association currently, and a 4-time Champion...BIG UP POP...This current squad scores better than you may think, and defends poorer than you may think

On the other bench we have Lionel Hollins leading the Memphis Grizzles to a 46 win season...I would feel so much better about this team if they hadn't lost Rudy Gay recently (out for the season)...They were able to still have a strong season thanks to their depth...Zach Randolph had a fantastic season (averaged 20 ppg and 12 rebounds per game) and Marc Gasol is also a contributor to this team down low...Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Sam Young, and Darrell Arthur all contribute to this team, while Tony Allen and Shane Battier lead the D...Memphis went 2-2 vs the Spurs (won the 2 most recent) and scored 100+ points in 3 of those games so this team will have confidence...There are several in fact who believe that the Grizz were not at all displeased to lose their final 2 games thus "dropping" from #7 and a date with the Lakers to #8 vs a Spurs team they feel they can beat...

I cannot get away from wishing Memphis had the minutes and scoring that Gay gives them...without him I would say if we find out that Manu's elbow injury is bad then perhaps Spurs in 6, but other than that Spurs in 5

#2 LosAngeles Lakers vs #7 New Orleans Hornets

The Lakers are an un-inspired 3-5 in April...The 5 loses in fact coming in a row, with 3 of those being at home...Terrible finish...Inexcusable lack of effort, focus, and execution...What is stunning is this all came on the heels of a post-All-Star run that was brilliant...LA was winning game after game with dominant 3rd and 4th Q's as their Championship D was on display...I would have to say that despite the poor finish the board #1 through #8 couldn't look any better for LA...By finishing #2 they avoid any of Portland, Denver, or Oklahoma City in Round 1...They also have 2 rounds to have a team eliminate San Antonio which would give the Lakers Home Court in the Conference Finals...LA also draws the one team where a banged-up Bynum will not be needed/missed...New Orleans is terrible on O, and just lost leading scorer David West for the season so with Kobe, Pau, Lamar, Ron Artest, D-Fish et al the Lakers should have significantly more than enough fire power to outscore the Hornets with or without Bynum...On D we know the Lakers traditionally struggle with quick and talented PG's like Chris Paul...in the 2010 Finals we saw the Lakers put Kobe on the previously unstoppable Rajon Rondo and the result was a success, so perhaps if CP3 can create miracles for the Hornets we may see LA go to that strategy of Kobe guards the PG while D-Fish and Steve Blake guard the SG...Last years Round 1 was a 4-2 good series (especially last 4 games) vs OK City...The Lakers would love dearly to advance with more ease this season...The 3-time defending Western Conference Champs have played a lot of basketball games over the past 3 years and do not want to add unnecessary wear and tear by allowing this series to get lengthy

The Hornets have Paul, and can defend very well as a unit, but they are out manned in this series...Carl Landry is a guy that will have to be big for this team, especially with the loss of West...Paul and Marco Belinelli will have to be on fire from 3-point range to give the Hornets a shot at any game in this series...Trevor Ariza will surely need to score more than his season average of 11 points per game...Emeka Okafor has to be a beast down low...

We see a Lakers team that does not need to be at 100% to beat this Hornets team...And we have a Hornets team that needs their guys to all be at 120% due to already being outclassed plus losing David West...Tooooo much to like here for LA despite sloppy recent play...Lakers sweep

#3 Dallas Mavericks vs #6 Portland Trail Blazers

I was really surprised in this past off-season when the Mavs kept Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki, and Jason Terry...This team has been bounced in Round 1 of the playoffs 3 of the last 4 seasons and I figured Mark Cuban was not going to have a sense of humor about that, thus trades were coming...not so...The Mavs re-signed Brendan Haywood, and continued to build around Disco Dirk and The Jet by adding the likes of Tyson Chandler, and on-the-fly moves like Peja Stojakovic and Corey Brewer...Dallas gets contributions from Rodrigue Beaubois, Jose Juan Barea, and DeShawn Stevenson too...I would feel much better about the Mavs if they hadn't lost Caron Butler to injury...There are a lot of pieces here to like and if they had the creative/multi-dimensional scorer that Butler is to go with it all I would like this team much more than I do...If this team gets tossed in Round 1 for a 4th time in 5 years we will surely look for the Mavs to blow up the roster this summer...Head Coach Rick Carlisle has this team playing team D at a very high level, including The Matrix Shawn Marion

The Trail Blazers are a roster just coming together...Brandon Roy is just getting back to 100% health and game speed, while Gerald Wallace is getting more and more comfortable in his role with Portland...This was a breakout season for LaMarcus Aldridge as just about every stat increased for this 22 points per game scorer...As usual the team is asked to perform without Greg Oden as he was (again) lost for the season with an injury...The health of Marcus Camby will be big as he will need to provide a partner down low with Aldridge...Wesley Matthews can shoot, and Andre Miller and Nicolas Batum contribute too...Rudy Fernandez can certainly be a weapon off the bench for Coach Nate McMillan who does have depth to work with

This series is the toughest to call IMO...I will say Dallas takes Game 7 on home court

#4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs #5 Denver Nuggets

OK City was a Top 5 O this season, but you have to wonder if that will take a step back as they traded a scorer like Jeff Green at the Trade Deadline for a defender like Kendrick Perkins...Perk only gives the Thunder about 5 points per game, while Green was more like 16 ppg...GM Sam Presti thought that in order for his team to get out of Round 1 and actually compete in a playoff run they were going to need to get tougher on the interior hence the Green for Perkins trade...OK City was always a good rebounding team, and that only improves with a guy like Perkins...The team is led of course by Kevin Durant...Last season Durant became the youngest scoring champ ever (21) and this season he won the scoring title again...PG Russell Westbrook continued his development this season with increased #'s across the board...James Harden provides a spark off the bench, as does Eric Maynor...Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison contribute to the Thunder too...Wonderful job being done for this organization by Coach Scott Brooks

Since the Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony for a ton of Knicks players they have gone 19-7...stunning achievement for Coach George Karl and his squad...The roster is now better suited to play some good Team D, and be able to shoot the ball well too which has Karl all-smiles...Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, and Wilson Chandler have all provided skill and depth to the Nuggets...Ty Lawson, Aaron Afflalo, and J.R. Smith are major contributors too...Kenyon Martin, Chris Anderson, Nene, and Al Harrington all provide skill and depth to the frontcourt...

Things are rolling for Denver since the Melo trade, and the Perkins trade may have the Thunder wondering about their identity...but...all that said I am taking OK City to win Game 7 at home

craig.ballard@hotmail.com ...follow me on twitter @craigballard77