The real season is set to begin in “The Association”, and not not a minute too soon. The 2009-2010 NBA season was exciting, but not overwhelming with drama. Most fans have been looking ahead to July 1 at 12:01 for the real drama to unfold. The ho-hum regular season has finally ended and so have the seasons of the NBA’s D-IV division. With such a top heavy league, you may not have noticed just how bad the league’s bottom feeder teams are. The Nets were on a mission to break the Philadelphia 76ers ’72-’73 NBA record of 9 wins. I was pulling for them to break the 9 win “milestone” just for kicks. With the “Give-Ups”, as I call them, (Nets, T-Wolves, Sixers, Pistons, Knicks, Clippers, Warriors, and Kings) out of my NBA world until the summer, it gives me a fresh start to focus on teams and players who are worthy of praise…and a little ball busting. You know, it’s not me if I’m not making fun of some player (Pick a Celtic), coach (Insert Mike Brown joke here___), and executive (Really Pax?!). The Playoffs allow us to start fresh and forget about past mistakes–kind of like paying off your credit cards, working out after a long night drinking, or praying you don’t remember all of the details after a long night of drinking. With the slate being clean, let’s look at some of the story lines for the 1st round of the NBA playoffs. Series predictions to follow…..
The Champs Are In Trouble: The Lakers enter the post-season as the defending champs, but they look as mortal as ever. Injuries, awful point guard play, The Ariza factor, Kobe’s wear and tear, and Phil Jackson’s weed smoking problem are major concerns for L.A. Yes, I’m making that last one up (I think), but I’m just making sure you haven’t fallen asleep yet. These Lakers remind me of the ’96-’97 Bulls…..Defending champs, injuries, long playoff run the year before and age all derailed that Bulls team from winning 70 games for the 2nd year in a row (69-13). These Lakers have had numerous injuries, and with Andrew “I’m always hurt…Thank God they paid me already” Bynum iffy for their opening round series, The champs could be in trouble. My love for the Thunder is known, and who on L.A. plans on stopping Kevin Durant? Certainly not Artest, who will look like a 57 year old in an old-timers game guarding Durant. This is where the Ariza factor comes in. Ariza was a perfect role guy for the Lakers last year. He stepped up in the playoffs and upped his numbers ( 11.3 pts, 4.2 reb, 2.3 ast, and 1.57 steals) and, also, led L.A. with 40 3-pointers made. Artest didn’t go into “Rodman” mode this year, but Ariza will be missed in these playoffs. Unfortunately for L.A., it may happen a lot sooner than the Finals.
The Mavs Are A Legit Threat.. Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler were gift wrapped by Wizards GM, Ernie Grunfeld, to the Mavs at the deadline positioning the Mavericks to make a run at the finals. Grunfeld should be fired for his preposterous moves. Knowing he’s on the hook for Agent Assbag’s (Arenas) albatross contract with no way of voiding it, ( 4 years left at $18 million average) he decided to purge Butler and Antawn Jamison to clear cap space. Two questions Ernie….What free agent wants to come to D.C. and what free agent wants to play with Arenas? These NBA GM’s boggle the mind. Having said that, the Mavericks are a deep and talented squad capable of making a Finals run. Jason Kidd has found either HGH, the hot-tub time machine, or mental freedom from ridding himself of ex-wife Joumana. His play since the all-star break has been tremendous. He is averaging 12.1 points a game giving the Mavs a scoring option at every turn. The Spurs are old, tired, hurt and bad. That’s not a good combo going into the playoffs. If it weren’t for Manu Ginobili, this team would be in the lottery. Dirk Nowitzki is a top 5 MVP candidate playing his best ball since ’06. He’s as clutch of a 4th quarter scorer as there is in the league. That alone will make this team a bitch to deal with in the next few weeks. I haven’t mentioned Jason Terry, who can make big shots to alleviate pressure off Dirk in big moments.
It’s the Cavs Time To Man Up: I know many Bulls fans are getting into “Meatball” mode, but stop it right now. The Cavs will roll through the Bulls in 5– tops. This team has the best player, the best record, role players who know their roles (Yes, even Shaqozuna has accepted his role 3 years later), a coach who makes Vinny Del Negro look smart (I told you I had a Mike Brown jab in me), and did I mention the best player? Much like when Jordan finally broke through in his 7th year and won his first championship in ’91, James is at that point. He talks about wanting to be a “Global Icon”, and the best ever, and the only way to do that is win titles. At some point he will break through but, if he falters this year, then what? Will he leave feeling pressure to win? Will he stay and be loyal to his team, despite an aging roster? These are things that are, no doubt, on his mind and something that he absolutely is thinking about. It’s why he feels he has to win now. His season has been ridiculous…..29.7 pts, 8.6 ast, 7.3 reb, and 1,386 Justin Timberlake dance moves. It will all go for naught if the Cavs don’t win the title this year. No pressure Cavs…
Side Note: Right now Clevelanders are collectively biting their nails and shaking at the prospect of not winning a title and losing the best basketball player on the planet– all in the span of a few weeks. Don’t bet against LeBron bouncing out of Cleveland faster than Usain Bolt in the 100 if the Cavs don’t win the title.
Kevin Durant Might Have A ’86 Jordan Playoffs In Him: My basketball man- crush keeps getting better. I don’t know if the league has seen a guy like this. He’s got the George “Ice Man” Gervin body type, Jordan’s scoring ability, an unselfish demeanor (opposite of early career Kobe), a way of getting off any shot against any defender, a quick first step to the cup, and the rare talent to drop you off for 40 without breaking a sweat. His performance in Utah a couple of weeks ago was unreal. It goes beyond his stat line….45 pts, 7 reb, 4 ast, 2 stl, and 1 blk. It was him coming off screens and releasing 25 foot 3-pointers in a split second. He is the NBA’s version of HHH…..The Cerebral Assassin. When LeBron says he could lead the league in scoring, he’s being extremely ignorant. Even more so than usual. Durant became the youngest player (21 years old) to win the NBA scoring title, and is on his way to win that race for the next 7-8 years, if he wants. Look at his stats from this year. Remember, he’s only 21……30.1 pts, 47.6% from the field, 36.5% from 3, 90% from the free throw line, and 21, 927 kicks the nuts of every Portland Trailblazers fan who were oh so close to having him on their team. As I said earlier, I don’t see Ron Ron Artest being able to stay with him. Nobody on the Lakers can guard him straight up. He will need to be double teamed. Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook will have plenty of opportunities to take and make shots. By the time Game 3 of this series rolls around, Lakers fans will be asking……”Where the hell is Trevor Ariza, and why isn’t he still on our team?!!”. I want you to start remembering the name Serge Ibaka. I don’t know how good this kid is nor am I saying he’ll handle Pau Gasol (Because he won’t), but he can play. I’ve never been a Nick Collison fan ( Because he is extremely mediocre, and because he’s a slow, un-athletic, white guy with bad shoulders) so I’m hoping Ibaka shows he’s the defensive minded center the Thunder need going forward. Lookout world, This Thunder team is a year away from doing BIG things…..At least until all of their young talent starts demanding hefty raises on their 2nd contracts.
Derrick Rose Will Leap Into The “Best Point Guard In The League” Discussion: If he isn’t already– He certainly is in my world. I’m not being a homer when I say this…..Derrick Rose is the best point guard in the NBA. An argument can be made for Deron Williams, and Chris Paul hasn’t retired, but I’m going with Rose. CP3′s knee is a question mark going forward, and that’s why it’s a two horse race for me. Steve Nash has been brilliant this year getting the Suns to the 3 seed in the West. Nash shot 50.7% from the field, played in 81 games (Not bad for an old man huh?), 93.8% from the free throw line, 42.6% from 3, averaged 11.0 ast per game, and scored 16.5 points per game. He continues to amaze. Rose, however, is playing better than any of them. He is the Bulls franchise player and savior. If the Bulls are to attract James, Wade, Bosh, or Joe Johnson this summer, it will be because they have Rose. He’s hitting step back 3′s now. Where did that come from?!! His mid-range jumper has become lethal. The way he’s playing right now makes him virtually impossible to guard. Play him tight on his jumper and he’s by you faster than a Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn fastball. Play off him and he’s burying jumpers in your face. These playoffs may be short for the Bulls, but seeing Rose go against the Cavs will be great television for any NBA fan. We are seeing the beginning of something really special in Chicago. Something we haven’t seen since The Greatest left town in ’98.
Joakim Noah Continues To Make Me Look Like David Kahn: I almost threw a fit on draft night when the Bulls took the clown from Florida. He was making me look good as a rookie by getting suspended by teammates, showing up late for practice, being out of shape, being bad at basketball, and even sporting the Pervis Ellison goggles. Oh, how that has changed. I’ve never been happier about being so wrong on a 1st round pick. He has made my uncle “Big Lou” look real good. Big Lou had it from the start saying how good he’d become, and he was right. If Rose is the Bulls franchise player, then Noah is it’s heart. He has become a vocal leader, a great defender, a hard worker (He is constantly working on his game before every game), added an elbow jumper Tyrus Thomas wishes he had, and become a pretty decent offensive player. His lefty hook off either shoulder is sneakily effective, and I’m not about to put a cap on what his offensive game may become. I don’t think he’ll be a 20 point a game guy, but I could see him averaging 15 ppg, 14 rpg, and 2 blocks. My hats off to the one of the top centers in the game. Yep, I just went there. After Dwight Howard, Brook Lopez, Al Horford, and Andrew Bogut, what other center would you definitely rather have? You can’t name one so don’t try.
Eastern Conference 1st Round Playoff Predictions
(8) Chicago Bulls vs (1) Cleveland Cavaliers: Nothing would make me happier than seeing the Bulls somehow knock off the Cavs. I can’t go there. Too much LeBron for the Bulls. What I would love to see is Vinny Del No-Mind give rookie James Johnson more burn. He is raw, but he’s athletic and skilled enough to eventually supplant Luol “Cement Feet” Deng as the teams small forward. Speaking of Dung, I’m setting the over/under at 14 for the amount of times he does something that will make you want to throw something at your TV. Losing the ball in traffic, getting the ball stolen from him, clanking 17 footers off the front of the rim, or stepping on the out-of-bounds line. Are you taking the under? I didn’t think so. The Bulls best hope? Have the Cavs invite the Cubs to Game 2 as their personal guests. The Flubbies were the kiss of death for the Blackhawks in Game 1 of their 1st round series, so maybe this could work. Hmm…..This will be a good showcase for Rose and Noah, but the Cavs are too good. The Bulls REAL season begins July 1…..Cavs in 5
(5) Miami Wade’s vs (4) Boston Celtics: As good as Dwyane Wade is, I’m going with the 2001 All-Stars in this series. Wade will be brilliant, but as a Bulls fan who wants Wade on my team next year, I’m hoping the Heat lose and lose big. Not that I like the Celtics. Kevin Garnett has pushed me to the hate threshold with his antics. He’s more annoying than The Miz is on Monday Night RAW. It’s a shame KG can’t come to grips that he’s like a 1980 version of Muhammad Ali. Rondo vs Wade is the matchup to watch…..Celtics in 7.
(6) Milwaukee Bucks vs (3) Atlanta Hawks: This would be a great matchup if Andrew Bogut didn’t shatter his elbow in 39 pieces. I love Brandon Jennings, but I can’t see the short handed Bucks winning this series. This is a playoff season that could earn Joe Johnson a “Max” contract this summer. He’ll probably get one regardless, but he can prove he’s worth it with a strong showing. Scott Skiles will have the Bucks prepared, but they can’t hang without Bogut…..Hawks in 6.
(7) Charlotte Bobcats vs (2) Orlando Magic: Having watched the Bobcats the last couple of weeks I am quite certain this will be a walk through for Orlando. That’s tough to say going against a Larry Brown team, but I don’t know who on MJ’s squad can come close to guarding Dwight Howard. He’ll be dominant vs Tyson Chandler. The key for the Magic in these playoffs will be the play of Jameer Nelson. Simply put, if he’s good, the Magic could get to the Finals again. If not? Forget about it. This is Vince Carter’s time to finally have a note worthy playoff run. He’s A-Rod pre-2009 playoffs due…..Magic in 5.
Western Conference 1st Round Playoff Predictions:
(8) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (1) Los Angeles Lakers: I wish these two teams weren’t playing each other in the 1st round. I love the Thunder, but I don’t want LeBron winning the title (Lakers can beat the Cavs). It’s tough, but I can’t see Kobe getting beat 4 times in the 1st round…..Lakers in 6.
(5) Utah Jazz vs (4) Denver Nuggets: I wish Nuggets coach George Karl was healthy and could coach his team. That’s the biggest story for me. From a basketball standpoint, the Nuggets have forgotten how to play defense lately. Deron Williams has been spectacular, but losing Andrei Kirilenko will hurt the Jazz vs the Nuggets long front line. In the end it’s Chauncey and Carmelo over D-Will…..Nuggets in 7.
(6) Portland Trailblazers vs (3) Phoenix Suns: The Blazers should get their own trophy just for making the playoffs with all of their injuries this year. Losing Brandon Roy adds another kick to the nuts for Blazers fans on top of the Oden over Durant pick. Amare Stoudemire in the customary “Free agent year” mode, and has been beasting anyone in his path. This series would have been great if Portland was healthy. Marcus Camby will do what he can, but…..Suns in 5.
(7) San Antonio Spurs vs (2) Dallas Mavericks: We are about to witness the fall of an NBA mainstay. The Spurs have finally reached “That” point in their run. It was great while it lasted with 4 championships (’99, ’03, ’05, ’07), but they have become Apollo Creed in “Rocky IV”. Need I say more?…..Mavs in 5. Then again maybe the Spurs regain their “Edge” like Rocky did for the 2nd Clubber Lang fight…..I’ve counted the Spurs out before, and it’s come back to bite me. It will be a great show either way.