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NBA

Fan-Tastic 2008.

Yep, it’s playoff time again. As a lowly Knicks fan, I’m not sure I’m qualified to write up my picks this year. The only games I saw this season involved New York, and thus I haven’t watched any of these squads play against a real defense. And I haven’t seen the Chris Paul Hornets or the Pau Gasol Lakers play at all this season, among other teams. Still, tradition is tradition, so…

[2000|2001|2002|2003|2004|2005|2006|2007]

The East

Boston Celtics (1) v. Atlanta Hawks (8): I can’t say I’m all that pro-Celtics — In fact, I generally find Boston homers, with a few exceptions, to be some of the more aggravating fans around. Still, I’ve always had soft spots for KG, Ray Allen, and Sam Cassell. (I could take or leave Paul Pierce: I find him way too passive, tending to disappear in big games for quarters at a time.) And these Celtics are (sorry, Spree) not only the best team Garnett’s ever played on, but the best team the East has seen in awhile. They’re going to be tested at some point before the Finals, but it won’t be lowly Atlanta that push them. KG’s usual intensity alone will ensure no early slip-up, and Boston should scatter Bibby and the Hawks fairly readily. Boston in four.

Detroit Pistons (2) v. Philadelphia 76ers (7): A wily and versatile squad stocked with savvy veterans and playoff experience, Detroit is easily the scariest team standing between Boston and the Finals. But, they do have a tendency to coast…one hopes they’ve learned something from their playoff flameout against LeBron last year. Either way, I don’t see Andre Iguodala and the Sixers mounting much of a threat to Motown. Detroit in Five.

Orlando Magic (3) v. Toronto Raptors (6): I haven’t looked at the schedule yet, but I get the sense this and the Utah series are going to be the ones relegated to Wednesday nights on NBA TV. Regardless, Dwight Howard v. Chris Bosh should be fun to watch…and I feel pretty confident Howard has the edge. Orlando in Six.

Cleveland Cavaliers (4) v. Washington Wizards (5): These two teams seem to meet every year in the playoffs of late. Unlike 2007, however, the Wizards are healthy, with both Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler ready to play. That being said, and while the Cavs are still basically a bunch of journeyman scrubs, Cleveland has King James, who singlehandedly powered a similarly lousy Cavs squad to the Finals last year. This’ll be a hard-fought contest, but my money’s on LeBron (particularly given that Cleveland has beaten DC twice in a row — he’s in their heads.) Cleveland in Seven.

The West

Los Angeles Lakers (1) v. Denver Nuggets (8): As an inveterate and well-established Kobe hater of long standing, I’m still irritated with Memphis bailing out LA with that grotesquely lopsided Gasol trade. So, I’d like nothing more to see AI and ‘Melo rise to the occasion and knock the Lakers out early. But, against a team as good as Los Angeles and a player with as much killer instinct as Kobe, I can’t in good conscience back a George Karl-coached team. Los Angeles in Six.

New Orleans Hornets (2) v. Dallas Mavericks (7): As I said above, I have yet to see the Hornets in action, and there’s not a lot of playoff experience on this team. And, now that Dallas has Jason Kidd, it’s hard to see the Mavs folding as badly as they did last season against Golden State. But I still don’t have a lot of confidence in Dallas, and Coach Avery Johnson seems like he’s a net negative when the pressure’s on — at key moments, he just seems to wind up guys like Nowitzki further, instead of calming them down and getting them to play better. And, if Paul is as good and quick as everyone says he is, I’m not sure how Kidd is going to guard him. So, New Orleans in Seven.

San Antonio Spurs (3) v. Phoenix Suns (6): This should be fun. One would think I would know not to bet against the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs. Still, every dynasty ends at some time or another, and, particularly given their record over the back half of the season, I just have a feeling the Spurs have entered into that long twilight. (Plus, Big Shot Rob ain’t getting any younger, and after last year’s incident, the Suns have karma on their side.) Players like Barbosa will have to step up, and Shaq will have to find some of that playoff juvenation to help keep Duncan locked down and allow Stoudamire to thrive. But, I’m thinking Nash & co. weather a few big games from Ginobli/Parker and knock out the reigning champs in the first round. Phoenix in Seven.

Utah Jazz (4) v. Houston Rockets (5): I know Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer are apparently the real deal, but I still don’t have much faith in this incarnation of the Jazz. That being said, despite their 21-game winning streak without Yao, T-Mac has had, uh, some trouble winning a playoff series. Until he finally breaks that curse, I guess I have to go with those Salt Lake City bluesmen. Utah in Six.

The Rest

Boston Celtics (1) v. Cleveland Cavaliers (4): King James is amazing, but his retinue (Ben Wallace, Wally World) is still pretty pedestrian. And I just don’t see the Celts getting caught as flat-footed by a monster LeBron game as Detroit did last year. Plus, Boston has too many options, even if they don’t always know which one to go to in the fourth. But don’t fret, LeBron, you’ll be a Knickerbocker soon enough. Boston in Five.

Detroit Pistons (2) v. Orlando Magic (3): Unless Detroit has another one of their “senior moments,” they should dispatch Orlando rather quickly. And they’ll need to, in order to be at all competitive in the Eastern Conference Finals. Detroit in Five.

Los Angeles Lakers (1) v. Utah Jazz (4): Having to choose between Kobe and the Jazz is like choosing between the flu and measles. But I’ll go with LA, partly due to home court, partly due to Kobe no doubt getting a Jordan-like shield from the refs (who, I’m sure, have been apprised of the value of a Lakers-Celtics throwback final to the NBA.) Los Angeles in Six.

New Orleans Hornets (2) v. Phoenix Suns (6): Again, N’Orleans is an X-factor to me. But, the deeper you go in the playoffs, the more prior experience helps. (As does D, of course, but it’s not like the Suns are a defensive powerhouse.) So I’ll go with Nash, Shaq et al. Phoenix in Five.

EAST FINALS: Boston Celtics (1) v. Detroit Pistons (2): Now, this’ll be a great series. We have yet to see how Boston would handle having their backs to the wall, and given that [a] KG can sometimes get ratcheted up too tight and [b] Coach Doc Rivers is more than a little suspect in the strategy department, an early Detroit win could really scramble this one. But, even if he’s older than the hills, Sam Cassell is a legitimate fourth-quarter assassin, and I’m betting he (like Robert Horry and Derek Fisher in years before him) puts Boston over the top in a key game here. Boston in Six.

WEST FINALS: Los Angeles Lakers (1) v. Phoenix Suns (6): At long last, the main event: Shaq vs. Kobe for a post-Laker ring. Shaq’s only a (very big) cog in the Suns engine now, of course, but I’m sure he’ll find it sweet to have Phoenix knock off LA regardless. Phoenix in Seven.

FINALS: Boston Celtics (1) v. Phoenix Suns (6): It won’t be the Celtics-Lakers series Commissioner Stern spends his nights praying for, but this should be a solid Finals regardless. The main difference between these two exciting squads is that Boston can totally lock teams down on defense. Defense wins championships, and it will here as well. So, congrats, Celts fans — And don’t forget to thank Kevin McHale for letting Minnesota take a gimongous dive! 2007-08 has been a banner year for Boston…well, except for that whole matter of 18-1

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