Which means it's time for my rarely accurate predictions. See how this goes. There's the potential for some matchups this year I'd really enjoy, but also a lot of teams I'd like to see eliminated quickly.
Atlanta vs. Brooklyn:
The Nets gave it their best shot to miss the postseason, generally losing to Orlando for 3 quarters last night, but they eventually got it together enough to win. And it even slightly screws the Hawks, since they're swapping first round picks this year. The Hawks almost got a lottery pick. As for the Hawks themselves, they have some issues. I'm not sure how well Paul Millsap's shoulder is doing, and he's possibly their best player (it's him or Horford). Thabo Sefolosha is out with a fractured ankle, thanks to the NYPD. And in general, the Hawks haven't played well the last couple of months, though that could be disinterest as much as anything. They've had the #1 seed in the East locked up roughly since the finished that 19-game win streak. On the plus side, they're a 1 seed that can legitimately play the disrespect card. Jalen Rose has been saying for months the Bulls are the only team in the East with a chance to even slow down the Cavs, and he's not alone in this opinion. The Hawks aren't even treated as a potential speed bump for Cleveland.
I don't expect the Nets to present much of a problem, regardless. They were a sub-.500 team for a reason, and Atlanta didn't win 60 games by luck. Brook Lopez is moderately concerning for his offense, but he's not generally regarded as a great defender, so I expect the Hawks to pick the Nets apart on that end. The only thing is, I can't decide if the tendency I've seen out of Atlanta recently to let teams back into games in the 4th quarter is a real issue, or related to the fact they aren't going all out. I suspect the latter, because I remember plenty of games earlier in the year where they pulled away in the second half, so presumably that potential is sill there. Hawks in 5
Cleveland vs. Boston:
The Cavs helped Boston get this spot by playing them in back to back games and resting a lot of guys. I don't expect that to happen here, though this subplot about Kevin Love's back is interesting. His stats are much better when he gets 2 days off between games as opposed to 1, the latter scenario being more common in the postseason. It probably won't be a huge issue here. Even a Kevin Love who averages 16 points and 10 boards ought to be sufficient in a series where the Cavs could have the three best players, definitely the two best. The Celtics play hard, they're well coached, they defend fairly well, they spread the floor and try to shoot a lot. Except I expect Boston's lack of rim protection to be an issue. It's pretty hard to keep Lebron or Kyrie away from the rim once they start driving that way, and the Celtics don't have that shot blocker to stop them once they get there. Also, Boston may shoot a lot, but they aren't generally very good shooters. My guess is there will be a couple of blowouts in this series, and a couple of other games where Boston hangs close for 3 quarters, but Cleveland's talent takes over in the 4th and they pull away. I'm going to say Cavs in 5
, because I figure there'll be one game where either a couple of guys on Boston - Olynyk? Crowder? - shoot lights out, and Kyrie has a bad game.
Chicago vs. Milwaukee:
So on the one side, we have Chicago, loaded with veteran guys full of playoff experience, many of whom have played together for years at this point. There are some health questions with the Bulls, of course. Noah's had some knee issues this year, Hinrich is questionable for Game 1, Rose is always going to be a concern. Their defense hasn't been quite as strong this year, the injuries for one thing, and there's been some difficulty incorporating Pau Gasol into the lineups. But if everyone is healthy, their offense could be pretty good.
Which is good, because the Bucks have even better defensive numbers than Chicago, at least in terms of points allowed and most of the shooting stats. The Bucks are loaded with these young, long-limbed guys who can play (and guard) 3, or even 4 different positions. So there's no confusion about assignments, since a lot of them can just switch onto a different guy as needed, and it's hard for the other team to get a shot off among all these guys. Unfortunately, most of the guys on the Bucks can't shoot, outside of Jared Dudley, and maybe Khris Middleton. I guess the question is whether the Bucks can get out in transition. They've got the edge in terms of young guys who can run (I'm sure Gasol is going to love trying to chase some of these guys), probably be best to take advantage of that. Somehow, I can't see the Bulls letting that happen enough to swing the series in Milwaukee's favor, but I'm excited to get to see the Bucks. They seem like they're going to be a cool team to watch, even if these could be a lot of ugly, 85-82 games. Bulls in 6
Toronto vs. Washington:
Two teams that started well, then went in the crapper the last three months. Most Wizards' fans I see blame their problems on their coach and his awful offensive scheme, though these are the same people whose doom-n'-gloom last year convinced me Washington had no shot against Chicago. Then the Wizards won in 5. This is kind of an interesting matchup, because the Wizards have all those big men, from Nene and Gortat, to Kris Humphries and Kevin Seraphin. The Raptors don't seem to have a lot of real great bigs. Valanciunas is still a work in progress, Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson have their weaknesses. Dwayne Casey's even been starting Tyler Hansbrough lately, which sounds like a cry for help.
I really don't know who to pick here. Toronto's mediocre to bad in most defensive categories, but the Wizards are mediocre to bad in most offensive categories, because they shoot so many midrange 2-point shots (which teams are happy to concede). Plus there are rumblings the Wizards' players aren't real happy with Randy Wittman, but who the hell knows if that'll mean anything. Presumably they still want to win games and advance at least as far into the postseason as they did last year. I guess I'll take Toronto. You'd think I'd learn my lesson from last year, but I'm going to listen to depressed Wiz fans again. Plus, that game Washington had against the Pacers a couple of nights ago was a goddamn disaster. 2 overtimes and neither team can break 100 points? Fuck, get these guys out of the playoffs before they drag everyone down with them. Toronto in 6
Golden State vs. New Orleans:
Credit to the Pelicans, they played a Spurs team that wanted to win, and beat those Spurs' assess for 3 quarters, then held on at the end to get in. Now they get to play the best team in the league this year. Of the Warriors two possible first round matchups, this is the one I wanted to see. I know it might have been fun to watch Westbrook nearly kill himself winning the series (some of the dunks he threw down against the T'wolves last night. I thought he was trying to destroy the whole arena and kill everyone in it so he could be declared winner by default), by the Thunder's defense is terrible. Calling Enes Kanter a turnstile would be an insult to actual turnstiles, which can present resistance on occasion. The Warriors would have averaged 135 points a game and cruised.
Don't get me wrong, I still expect the Warriors to win the series, but the Pelicans at least seem to have some familiarity with the concept of defense. And watching Anthony Davis do ridiculous should be a lot of fun, too. Unfortunately, I think even his ability to close out on open shooters is overmatched against Steph Curry. As long as whoever it was from Golden State doesn't decide to fire up the Pellies by telling them they're an easy win for the Warriors again. I don't have a lot to say. The Warriors were the best team all year, and I don't see any reason to pick against them when they're facing an inconsistent young team that barely made it in. Warriors in 5
Houston vs. Dallas:
Well, if you can shut down James Harden, you can probably stop the Rockets. I don't think the Mavericks are the team to do that. Maybe if Rondo really can find that playoff gear he used to bring out against the Heat, but I'll believe he still has it when I see it. Rick Carlisle's a good coach, and I'm sure he can come up with some schemes to slow down Houston. He did it last year against the Spurs, for awhile, but eventually the limitations of the roster came through. Having Tyson Chandler should help, assuming he can stay out of foul trouble, between guarding Dwight Howard and dealing with Harden's constant drives to the basket.
I'll be curious to see whether Houston, which focuses so much of their offense on free throws, can survive all the guys on their roster - Dwight, Josh Smith, Terrence Jones, Joey Dorsey - who are anywhere from poor free throw shooters, to godawful. You know if it's close late, the Mavericks will be trying to get those guys on the line. Even so, I'm picking the Rockets. They've demonstrated through the season they're better than Dallas. I don't necessarily like Houston's style of play, but I feel like they've constructed a roster where most of the pieces fit and compliment each other. Dallas feels a little mismatched, guys who need the ball but can't shoot, crossed with guys who also want the ball, but aren't good on defense. It just feels like all their lineups are weak in some critical area: rebounding, outside, shooting, defense, something. Rockets in 5
Los Angeles vs. San Antonio:
You think the Spurs feel pretty stupid, blowing that game to the Knicks a couple of weeks ago? If they win that one, they'd have finished with the same record as Houston, and gotten the 2 seed because they won the season series. Instead they're 6th, but eh, it's the Clippers. They have 3 really good players - Paul, Griffen, DeAndre Jordan - a couple other useful guys, and a bunch of crap. The Clippers will undoubtedly be playing Austin Rivers in playoff games, against the defending champs. I don't see any way that ends well for the Clippers. I am curious to see what San Antonio does with Kawhi Leonard on defense. Putting him on Matt Barnes or J.J. Redick is kind of a waste of his time, and I'm pretty sure Tony Parker can't handle Chris Paul. So do they throw him on Paul, let Parker chase J.J., and put Danny Green on Barnes? That seems doable, and shutting down Paul is the key. He makes everything go, sets up everyone else's shots. They need to wear him down and frustrate him, if possible. Maybe he'll get mad and nutpunch another guy, get suspended.
The Spurs are going to need Tiago Splitter, too. I don't think he can neutralize DeAndre Jordan, but if he can just slow him down some, get some points of his own, that ought to be enough. At any rate, I'm picking the Spurs in 5
. I went against them last year in the Finals, even though I thought they were the better team, because picking against Lebron seemed foolish. Then the Spurs trucked Miami, so until the Spurs actually lose a series again, I'm not picking against them. Certainly not against a Clippers team I despise. The Clippers are like one of those yappy little dogs that circles around your ankles growling and nipping, but hightails it behind its owners' legs the moment you glance at it. The Clippers talk a bunch of junk, act tough, act like they're champions when they haven't won shit, but then spend all their time flopping and bitching at the refs for calls. They're good, but still, fuck those guys.
Portland vs. Memphis:
The Grizzlies get home court, because they have the better record. Both these teams are beat to hell. Portlan doesn't have Wes Matthews, or Aaron Afflalo, and their 3rd string 2-guard, C.J. McCollum had an ankle sprain. Kaman has a back issue, and Nic Batum has a knee contusion. Aldridge is playing through a torn thumb ligament. Memphis, meanwhile, is hoping Mike Conley and Tony Allen are ready to go for game 1, which would be nice, seeing as that's 40% of their starting lineup.
I feel like this is Memphis' series to lose. They still have Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, most of their key guys have played together for awhile. Portland is massively banged up, their defense is porous - though Memphis isn't necessarily the best team to take advantage of this - and they just seem to be much more in flux. But Memphis has seemed so out of it the last month or so, it worries me. It could be complacency, kind of like with Atlanta, but even banged up, the Blazers are a better team than the Nets, and the West is not the conference to drop your guard. Aldridge and Lillard can light things at any moment - just ask Houston - and Memphis is not a team that's terribly good at playing catch-up. I still expect them to win, though. Portland is going to have to lean too heavily on too many limited players. Grizzlies in 6
Now we sit back and see how badly I did.