Friday, April 19, 2013

It's NBA Playoff Time!

Which means it's time for me to make some really bad predictions!

Miami vs. Milwaukee: If you told me that Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis were each going to shoot better than 50% from the field in this series, I might think the Bucks had a shot. I don't think that's gonna happen. Hopefully the Bucks can at least make these games competitive, but unless the Heat suffer catastrophic injuries, or complete sleepwalk through a game, it's Heat in 4.

Brooklyn vs. Chicago: I kept wanting to type "New Jersey". I doubt this is going to be an aesthetically pleasing series, since it matches a defense first (and second, and third) team against one with a very methodical offense. Whether Joakim Noah will be available for the Bulls is still up in the air. I figure he'll play if it's at all possible, but if he isn't ready, he'll just injure himself again. But I don't believe the Bulls can win without him. They need his defense, they need his scoring, and I recall he was a pretty good passer when it came to hitting wing players cutting to the hoop. Not sure how the Nets would guard that, since I don't think their big men can keep up with Noah if he drives. So if he sets up 15 feet from the basket, do they play off so he can't drive, and maybe cut off his passing lanes, but surrender open jumpers?

Like I said, it may all be academic if he's hurt. And if he is, I wonder if the Bulls have enough up front. Still, it's hard for me to picture the Nets winning when their starting lineup has two guys who are practically useless offensively in Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace. Telling the Bulls they only need to guard three guys is making it too easy. Hard to picture or not, I guess I'll take the Nets in 7.

Indiana vs. Atlanta: Apparently the Hawks did a very poor job of disguising their attempts to tank their way out of the Miami side of the bracket. Not sure why they bothered. I guess the hope is the longer you put off facing Miami, the better the chance something happens, like LeBron blowing out his knee. Not that it matters. Atlanta's not getting past the Pacers, and even if they did, you wouldn't expect them to beat the Knicks or the Celtics. I guess

But that's not relevant, because it's the Pacers that are in front of them now. As good as the Hawks' big men might be, with Horford and Josh Smith (assuming he's fully engaged), the Pacers have Roy Hibbert and David West, who are both bigger. As the Pacers like to play slow and pound the ball inside, that works to their advantage. I don't know, the Hawks started out well, but seem to have gradually unraveled, while the Pacers started off slower (especially Hibbert), and seem to have found their stride as the season progressed. Their offense still isn't much, but against the Hawks, it doesn't need to be. Pacers in 5.

New York vs. Boston: Both teams are banged up, but Tyson Chandler and Kevin Garnett seem ready to go. That's good, you'd like to at least see both teams near full strength for this. I tend to think the Knicks have too much firepower for the Celtics to overcome over 7 games, but I still expect Boston to win a couple, and the rest to be close. I figure their defense can slow down the Knicks enough for that. Then it comes down to getting one randomly huge game from someone (Jeff Green, Jason Terry), and then another win when the Knicks' shooters have simultaneous misfires. But I don't see those two things happening enough for Boston to triumph. Knicks in 6.

Oklahoma City vs. Houston: James Harden's Revenge! if he really wants to prove a point, he better step up his defense, because he can't expect Omer Asik to bail him out every time he lets someone blow past him. I imagine this will be a pretty fun series to watch for a casual fan (or a Thunder fan), but I doubt the Rockets can go bombs away from 3 enough to beat OKC, when Houston probably can't even slow Durant, Westbrook, and the rest down on the other end. Thunder in 4.

San Antonio vs. Lakers: Well, there's two L.A. teams. What did you expect me to do? Boy, I would love for this to be a sweep. Two weeks ago, that's pretty much what I predicted. Since then, the Spurs have looked bad, and the Lakers have looked. . . not terrible. Even without Kobe. It's like Mike D'Antoni finally realized Pau Gasol is a useful post player. Only took him the entire season, but hey, better late than never. For the Spurs, I'm not sure Tony Parker's fully ready to go, and Manu Ginobli certainly isn't. And they cut Stephen Jackson and replaced him with Tracy McGrady. A fine idea 10 years ago, but I'm not so sure it is now.

The Spurs just seem off-kilter right now, and I don't think it's Popvich playing possum before the playoffs. But I have to believe they have enough to get past a team whose starting backcourt might be Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks. They have to be able to triumph over that. Right? Spurs in 6.

Denver vs. Golden State: Oh, this should be good. Denver loves to get into the paint, and with little to no Andrew Bogut, the Warriors are ill-equipped to stop them. The Warriors love to shoot 3s, and as far as this season's contests went, the Nuggets couldn't stop that. Both teams like to run, both teams like to score. This might be the series that most makes me wish I had cable here.

I think the edge goes to Denver. I know the don't have Gallinari right now, but as I said a couple of weeks ago, the Nuggets already spread the load around pretty well. I think all it really takes is for Wilson Chandler to see more minutes, and for everyone else to increase their production just a little, and they should be able to cover it. If this was the Andrew Bogut of a few years ago, pre-horrible elbow fracture, I'd be more concerned about the Warriors, but I don't think they have the horses down low. I know David Lee can score, and Carl Landry's a good player, but they seem kind of thin past that. I suppose there's always the chance JaVale McGee could self-destruct, but I think he's getting better about avoided dumb decisions. Steph Curry's potentially terrifying, and I'm sure he can win at least one game on his own, but I don't think he can win enough. Nuggets in 6.

Clippers vs. Memphis: I know there's been some concern about the Grizzlies offense minus Rudy Gay. That there isn't enough spacing, the passing lanes are too narrow, and teams are going to clamp down. I'm sure that is a problem, I'm just not convinced the Clippers are the team to do it. Their defense has improved, but it isn't on par with the Grizzlies, not yet. Also, I think Gasol/Z-Bo beats Blake Griffin/DeAndre Jordan. Griffin's a good passer, but Gasol is some kind of an artist. he's practically a second point guard out there. And between Randolph and Jordan, there's no comparison. One of them can't even be on the court at the end of close games, and I'm not talkin' about Zach Randolph.

The Clippers' offense concerns me, especially at the end of games. Their offense is essentially, "let Chris Paul figure something out". It's not a bad strategy, but it might be a good idea to have a little more structure in place. especially since Paul will be getting hounded by Tony Allen. I suppose that helps the Clips' defense, since they can basically ignore Allen as a scoring threat, but I think the Clippers want high-scoring games more than the Grizzlies. A bunch of games in the 80s probably suit Memphis just fine. I'm gonna say Memphis in 6.


Saturday, April 06, 2013

Let's Talk Of Several Sports

Starting with baseball. Since the last post, Jason Motte went on the DL, and so did David Freese. Carlos Beltran's trying to play through a broken toe, and Adam Wainwright got a nearly $100 million contract that starts next year.

He promptly went out and surrendered 4 runs on 11 hits in 6 innings on Opening Day. I know, only one start, and hey, he didn't walk anybody, while striking out 6. Still, the results are what ultimately matter, and those weren't so great.

That makes me sound more down than I really am. It's too early in the season for me to pay much attention, what with it being a six-month long haul. Besides that, I don't find myself with particularly high expectations for the Cardinals. Oh, I expect them to finish with a winning record, but I'm not sure they'll make the playoffs. There are quite a few teams that ought to be good in the NL this year. Cincy, the Nationals, Atlanta, probably San Francisco and Arizona, maybe the Dodgers. I've seen several people who are high on Milwaukee, though I'm not as sure. They might have better pitching than last year, but their offense is suspect. Especially considering MLB's pursuit of Ryan Braun is reaching vendetta levels at this point. I expect them to conjure up some trumped up charge they can suspend him for at some point. If so, I'd expect the Brewers' offense to tank completely, like the '07 Cards when Pujols would take a day off. Even so, there's also the Pirates. I don't know, maybe this year they manage to stay above .500 all season. They made it into July in 2011, and August last year, so they ought to at least be a winning team into September this year.

Anyway, there's a lot of competition for those 5 playoff spots, and I'm just not sure about the Cardinals. The middle infield looks poor, and I'm not totally sold on the pitching staff. But if guys like Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal can get some solid innings under the belt, and perhaps Matt Adams (and eventually) Oscar Taveras and Kolten Wong can get some at-bats to prepare them for heavier loads next year, I'd feel pretty good about that. The Cards have been pretty consistently good for awhile now, I'm not going to panic if they slip a little this year.

Over in the NFL, Arizona traded for Carson Palmer. Yeesh. Sadly, he is an upgrade over Skelton or Lindley (Skelton's been cut loose), and also over Drew Stanton or Brian Hoyer. I'm not sure he's that much of an upgrade, but at least this hopefully keeps Arizona from wasting a high draft pick on one of the sorry QBs in this year's draft. Go for the offensive line! Or linebackers! But not Manti Teo!

Part of the reason I'm not much concerned with baseball is that I'm preoccupied with the NBA. The playoffs are about to start, which means this is the time of year I most regret not having TV around here. The Western Conference looks stacked, though the Nuggets took a hit with Gallinari having knee surgery. Still, they seem like a deep enough team to be the one best suited to surviving losing their #2 scorer. They spread the load around so much already, it just means everybody else needs to pick up a little slack, which they theoretically can do. The Spurs without Parker, or the Thunder without Westbrook would have a tougher challenge, I think (though it's not the same thing, since those guys perform different roles for their team than Gallinari does for Denver).

It looks like the Lakers might get the #8 seed, though Utah holds a tie-breaker. Even though I'm a big Nash fan, I would thoroughly enjoy Los Angeles missing the playoffs entirely.  This trainwreck of a season has been a joy to behold. Even if the constant dissecting of a team that spent most of the season below .500 has been tedious. I don't really care that Utah will likely be destroyed by OKC or San Antonio, just as the Spurs did to them last year. Does anyone really expect the Lakers, with their shoddy defense and lack of any consistent offensive strategy to do any better? So what if Utah (or the lakers, or the Mavs) gets obliterated? They're the 8 seed, that's what usually happens, occasional Golden State over Dallas, or 76ers over Derrick Rose-less Chicago notwithstanding. The Bucks are probably gonna be the 8 seed in the East. Is anyone going to be surprised if Miami curbstomps them 4 straight games and moves on? No, because Miami's a 1 seed, and the Bucks are an 8, and that means Miami's vastly better than Milwaukee. And if the Lakers are an 8 seed playing #1 San Antonio, it means the same thing.

As to Miami, I'm not sure there's anyone in the East who can beat them. The Bucks have no chance, and Atlanta's fallen apart over the course of the season. Boston (even if they had KG), Chicago, and Indiana all have top-notch defenses, but so does Miami. They might slow the Heat offense down, but the Heat will do the same to them, and they don't have nearly as much wiggle room there. I'd give the Knicks a chance if they could shoot 3s the way they did the first month and a half of the season. Otherwise, I don't think they can keep up. Which leaves the Nets. Brooklyn has some big men that are useful, which is still Miami's weakness, assuming you can keep the game slowed down enough. That was Indiana's problem last year, or OKC when Perkins was on the court. A lot of the time the Heat were too fast for the other team to bring their big men into play. If the Nets could slow it down, ugly it up a little, they might have a chance, but I wouldn't call it a good one. It'd be pretty cool to see Miami play in the Western Conference playoffs instead. Let them go at it with the Spurs, or the Thunder, maybe throw Memphis at them, or the Clippers. At least they'd get a challenge.

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