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A Rose is a Francis is a Marbury.

In the most recent attempt to revivify the moribund Knickerbockers — who, with the possible exception of 2012/13, have been terribad for as long as GitM has existed — Phil Jackson and new coach Jeff Hornacek decide to take a page from the 2010-2011 Chicago Bulls, adding PG Derrick Rose and very likely C Joakim Noah to the current nucleus of Melo and Porzingis.

Uh…yeah, hope springs eternal and all, but this doesn’t seem like it’s going to work. We already did the former-All-Star-PG-on-the-back-half bit with Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury, and those were not good years. And, to put it charitably, both Rose and Noah have Mr. Glass tendencies at this point. I know Rose, at worst, is a one-year-loaner, but wouldn’t it make more sense to build young around Porzingis?

Fan-Tastic 2011.

Since it’s that particular Saturday morning in April again, time for this year’s NBA playoff picks. (Note: accuracy of picks may well be impacted by the return of the Knickerbockers after seven years of ignominy.) Here we go…

[2000|2001|2002|2003|2004|2005|2006|2007|2008|2009|2010]

The East

Chicago Bulls (1) v. Indiana Pacers (8): What a difference a year makes. This time in 2010, Cleveland was the Court of King James and the Eastern powerhouse everyone was watching, while Chicago was the lowly 8-seed that everyone expected would just be happy to be there. Now, Cleveland is fighting it out with Minnesota for lottery balls, and it’s Derrick Rose’s multifaceted Chicago Bulls with the targets on their back. As in the past several years, the Eastern Conference 8-seed is an iffy squad — Indiana went 37-45 and are coming in on a 2-game losing streak — so I don’t expect Chicago to be tested here. Chicago in 4.

Miami Heat (2) v. Philadelphia 76ers (7): This was looking like a return to the Knicks-Heat series of old before New York went on a late-season streak and the Celts faded down the stretch. Anyways, the Heatles (Wade, LeBron, and Bosh — does that make Mike Miller Ringo?) have been a combustible squad all season, and, after watching LeBron mentally check out of the Boston series last year, I have much less faith in his multi-ring playoff potential than I used to. Still, they were designed with the post-season in mind, and the Sixers are only slightly better than Indiana. Gonna have to go Miami in 5.

Boston Celtics (3) v. New York Knicks (6): Hey, look, it’s the Knickerbockers! Now, all the smart money has the Celtics in this match-up, and my head tells me that’s probably true. In fact, they’ll probably take the Knicks in five or six — New York is still a work in progress, and we’re really one more star and 2-3 more role players away from really contending. Still, after an ugly March, Amare and Melo seemed to be finding their groove in the last few weeks of the season, while Boston — a team I’d root for in most other situations — has looked haggard and ornery ever since they traded Kendrick Perkins away at the deadline. And, hey, it’s been seven years, so why not say New York in 7.

Orlando Magic (4) v. Atlanta Hawks (5): Like the Mavericks in the West, Orlando is a team built around a force of nature (Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard) that I’m starting to think is never going to put it together. That being said, they’re facing a team they swept last year, and one who has been struggling (10-17) since the All-Star break. Orlando in 5.

The West

San Antonio Spurs (1) v. Memphis Grizzlies (8): Much credit to the Spurs — Their transition has been extraordinary. Even as Tim Duncan’s era of dominance fades, the Spurs have been consistent all season and even managed to win the West. I don’t see them having much trouble with the Grizzlies. San Antonio in 5.

Los Angeles Lakers (2) v. New Orleans Hornets (7): Ironically, this is the first season in a long time where I might have rooted for the Lakers. Should they manage to make it to the Finals versus Cleveland, sure, I’d root for Phil Jackson to get his twelfth ring. But, like Boston, they have been showing their age down the stretch, and Bynum being hurt — again — doesn’t help matters. They’ll beat Chris Paul and the Hornets, but I’m thinking they won’t make it to June this year. Los Angeles in 6.

Dallas Mavericks (3) v. Portland Trailblazers (6): As I said in the Orlando section, I have my doubts that they’re serious contenders anymore. Unfortunately for Dirk, who’s a consistently impressive and gutty player, I’m starting to think he’s going to end up like Barkley or Ewing, a star without a ring. Especially when they’re facing a young, hungry, and dangerous Trailblazers squad, the team nobody wanted in the first round. Portland in 6.

Oklahoma City Thunder (4) v. Denver Nuggets (5): With a legitimate second option in Russell Westbrook and a playoff veteran manning the paint in Kendrick Perkins, it seems about time for Kevin Durant’s OKC to make the leap. Still, after watching Gallinari, Felton, et al play for the first half of the season, I have a soft spot for “Knicks West.” Denver in 7.

The Rest

Chicago Bulls (1) v. Orlando Magic (5): One would think Orlando might have a slight advantage here because they’re a playoff-tested team. Unfortunately, they’ve failed most of those tests. Meanwhile, the Bulls enjoy the benefit of a great and hungry coach in longtime-assistant Tom Thibodeau, a superstar floor general in Rose, a dangerous set of second and third options (Boozer, Deng, Noah), and guys who know their roles all the way down the bench. (For example, Brian Scalabrine will happily wave a towel, Kurt Thomas will pay 10 minutes, flagrantly foul Howard, and scowl, etc. etc.) Chicago in 6.

Miami Heat (2) v. New York Knicks (6): See, this is what being a Homer gets you. Now I have the Knicks outperforming the first round only to play the hated Heat in the second. And damned if I’m going to pick Miami — particularly this Miami team, the most easily dislikable since the Mourning-Hardaway outfits of the late-90’s — to beat New York, even if, you know, that probably makes a lot more sense. New York in 7.

San Antonio Spurs (1) v. Denver Nuggets (5): Like I said, I like this Denver team — but they’re gunners. If the shots aren’t falling, they are going to stink up the joint. And when you move deeper into the playoffs and the tension builds, those rims will start to clank more often than not. Plus, I have a feeling, even if the Spurs are built on speed attack these days, that Gregg Popovitch will figure out how to close Denver down with not much trouble. San Antonio in 5.

Los Angeles Lakers (2) v. Portland Trailblazers (6): WIth or without Bynum, I suspect Kobe has the killer instinct to put LA on his back and get them past the Blazers (or, at the very least, he’ll yell at Pau Gasol until he does it.) Still, LA may win this season, but Portland is going to tire them out, and that’s going to be a factor in the next round. Los Angeles in 6.

EAST FINALS: Chicago Bulls (1) v. New York Knicks (6): Ok, I think here’s where reality sets in. Even if New York makes it this far, they will have had to knock off two of the three main contenders from the East. Meanwhile, Chicago has had a pretty easy road of it — nobody’s really imagining Indiana or Orlando to go anywhere deep. Plus, let’s face it, the Knicks have a lot of exposed holes still…like Denver, they rely on offense and offense only. But wait ’til next year — Chris Paul will look great in the blue-and-orange. Chicago in 6.

WEST FINALS: San Antonio Spurs (1) v. Los Angeles Lakers (2): You again, I see — The two best teams of the last decade meet for yet another go-round in the Western Conference finals. And, this year, Tim Duncan has more fresh legs on his side than Kobe. San Antonio in 7.

FINALS: Chicago Bulls (1) v. San Antonio Spurs (1): Ok, they’re both one-seeds, but a lot of you have the Heat and/or Lakers here, right? Anyways, it’s hard to bet against Gregg Popovitch and Tim Duncan in the NBA Finals. But it’s also hard not to like this Bulls team, who are both well-rounded and deep. I’ll keep it real for the East and say Chicago in 7.

So, looking back on this, I actually find myself rooting for the Bulls and the Lakers at various points. Strange times we live in, strange times. Anyway, Game 1 is starting right about now, so let’s go to it! The NBA, it’s faaaan-tastic.

Fan-Tastic 2010.

Like last year, I’ve been something of a lousy NBA fan this season, partly because the Knicks stink and partly because I don’t get MSG anymore anyway. (I was going to plunk down for the NBA League Pass last fall, until I found out the games aren’t shown in HD ’round here. Not much point in that.) In any event, tradition is tradition, and since the first game’s already started, I should probably get up this year’s playoff picks…

[2000|2001|2002|2003|2004|2005|2006|2007|2008|2009]

The East

Cleveland Cavaliers (1) v. Chicago Bulls (8): Even if the Bulls weren’t down 19 in Game 1 at the moment of this writing, I’d have the Cavs mostly sailing through the first round. King James is not only rested right now — He’s hungry after missing the Finals last year. And while Shaq is nowhere near the force he once was, and I don’t think Antawn Jamison is the consistent second scorer Cleveland needs, this is the best squad LeBron’s gone to war with over his young career. (If they had an automatic 3-point shooter to spread the floor and keep the triple-teams off James, oh my.) Meanwhile, this iteration of the Bulls looks worse than the team that threatened Boston in the first round last year, and are really only in the playoffs because Toronto got sloppy down the stretch. Cleveland in 5.

Orlando Magic (2) v. Charlotte Bobcats (7): On paper, this is a better Orlando team than the one that made the Finals last year. But playoff games aren’t played on paper. And in the real world, I would much rather have last year’s Hedo Turkoglu in my corner than any iteration of Vince Carter, who’s more likely to crumple up under the basket like he’s been gut-shot after a touch foul than gut any team to a much-needed playoff victory. All that being said, Michael Jordan and Larry Brown’s Bobcats are a work in progress, and I don’t see Dwight Howard’s team having much trouble with Captain Jack, Theo Ratliff, and the like. Orlando in 5.

Atlanta Hawks (3) v. Milwaukee Bucks (6): This is a wild-card matchup for me — I don’t think I’ve even seen either of these teams play. But word on the street is early rookie of the year contender Brandon Jennings has been slumping something fierce lately, and Atlanta’s Joe Johnson will be wanting to show off the free agency goods to all the many losers of the LeBron-Bosh-Wade sweepstakes. (See also: Knickerbockers). So I’ll go Atlanta in 5.

Boston Celtics (4) v. Miami Heat (5): I’m not a big fan of Wade, whose game depends a lot on the zebras getting him to the line, or of Miami (residual distaste from the Alonzo Mourning/Tim Hardaway wars — It’s a Knicks thing.) But, with Garnett and Rasheed aging in dog years now, this version of the Celts has looked bad for awhile. The Celts are like the team of Old Guys (Garnett, ‘Sheed) and knuckleheads (Rondo, Nate) you don’t want to play in pick-up — calling ticky-tack stuff while shivving you in the paint, etc. etc. And, with that in mind and since the refs love them some D-wade, I’ll go Miami in 7.

The West

Los Angeles Lakers (1) v. Oklahoma City Thunder (8): The Lakers beat the Supersonics? Well, sort of. Although they haven’t deteriorated as badly as Boston, the title-defending Lake Show has a few screws loose right now also, with Andrew Bynum, as always, touch-and-go. I’m really hoping this series is a coming-out party for Kevin Durant, and Phil Jackson’s most recent head games totally backfire. But, much as I loathe Kobe, I gotta go with the champs in the first round. Lakers in 6.

Dallas Mavericks (2) v. San Antonio Spurs (7): After a decade of dominance, Tim Duncan and the Spurs are finally fading. Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks should still have a chip on their shoulder about getting robbed by the refs in the 2006 Finals. While I expect Tony Parker will be pretty much torching Jason Kidd this series, the Mavs have time on their side. And with Caron Butler and Shawn Marion added to Dallas’ arsenal, they can come at the aging Spurs in waves. Dallas in 7.

Phoenix Suns (3) v. Portland Trailblazers (6): Two fun teams to watch here, and this would’ve been a great series, with a slight edge to Phoenix. But if Brandon Roy can’t play on account of the bum knee, that swings things in the Suns’ direction considerably. I don’t think Steve Nash’s team are good enough to contend for the championship, but they’ll probably dispatch a severely weakened Portland squad pretty handily. Phoenix in 6.

Denver Nuggets (4) v. Utah Jazz (5): After giving away Camby for nothing and shutting down the Iverson experiment, the Nuggets are another team that have probably taken a step back personnel-wise in recent years. Still, if his head is in the right place, I wouldn’t bet against Carmelo in a first-round series, even with coach George Karl sidelined for health reasons. Meanwhile, Deron Williams is a legitimately great point guard and Jerry Sloan is a legitimately great coach. But, as usual, the Jazz have already over-performed to get this far. Denver in 6.

The Rest

Cleveland Cavaliers (1) v. Miami Heat (5): It’s the Batman versus Robin series, as 2006 co-champs Shaq and D-Wade square off against each other. But, let’s be honest: This series is about Superman and, with all due respect to Dwight Howard, King James is gonna roll right over the Heat. Cleveland in 4.

Orlando Magic (2) v. Atlanta Hawks (3): Howard’s no slouch either, of course, and while I still think Vince is Orlando’s weak link, I don’t have enough of a sense of the Hawks to pick them here, and everyone wants to see the Cleveland-Orlando Eastern Finals. Orlando in 6.

Los Angeles Lakers (1) v. Denver Nuggets (4): Kobe returns to the scene of the crime. Part of me kinda wants to knock LA out in the next series, against the Mavs. Denver is a maddening team that never quite plays to their potential, and it’s hard to envision George Karl out-coaching Phil Jackson anytime soon. But, screw it, I’m picking an upset — Don’t let me down, ‘Melo. Denver in 7.

Dallas Mavericks (2) v. Phoenix Suns (3): Used to be my homey, used to be my ace. But there can be only one, and Dirk Nowitzki’s got considerably better back-up than Steve Nash. It should be interesting to see how Shawn Marion plays in this series. Dallas in 5.

EAST FINALS: Cleveland Cavaliers (1) v. Orlando Magic (2): LeBron versus his 2009 nemeses, except now Shaq’s around, and he should have enough left in his tank (not to mention 12 fouls with Big Z) to keep a body on Dwight Howard in the paint. King James will be looking to exact his revenge, and I suspect he’ll be playing out of his mind. And this is where I highly suspect that Vince Carter will pull his folding chair routine at some disastrous point in the clutch. Cleveland in 6.

WEST FINALS: Denver Nuggets (4) v. Dallas Mavericks (2): If Denver does pull off that upset over LA (you heard it here first), I still see them running into a wall against the Mavs. Dallas is hungry and they’re deep. I would even have them beating LA in this spot, although it might take seven games. As it is, Dallas in 5.

FINALS: Cleveland Cavaliers (1) v. Dallas Mavericks (2): Last year, I picked Cleveland over LA just because I couldn’t in good conscience pick the Lake Show. But this year, I’m picking Cleveland because they’re the best team. Speaking as a Knicks fan, I’m thinking it’s probably better for me if the Cavs get knocked out at some point, so that LeBron won’t feel the need to stay in Cleveland for a title defense. But, quite frankly, I don’t see that happening. The Mavs came close once again, but in the end, I’m going Cleveland in 6, for LeBron’s first — of many — rings.

And, hey look, they already won Game 1. Now let’s see how wrong I can be…The NBA, it’s faaaan-tastic!

Fan-Tastic 2009.

These are actually a weekend late now, and my knowledge of the league now that I’ve left New York (and thus haven’t been watching Knicks games) is at an all-time ebb. Then again, broadcasting uninformed opinions is pretty what much the Internet was created for, so, without further ado and as per tradition, some quick NBA playoff picks…

[2000|2001|2002|2003|2004|2005|2006|2007|2008]

The East

Cleveland Cavaliers (1) v. Detroit Pistons (8): As per the last few years, I still don’t think King James’ supporting cast quite matches up to the moment. (I like Mo Williams, but he’s no Scottie Pippen, and “Big Z” — Zyldrunas Ilgauskas — is definitely no Dennis Rodman.) That being said, Lebron is pretty much playing to his amazing potential and then some, and it’s clear that — while he may still be Jordan circa ’89-90 at the moment — his dynasty is right around the corner. Conversely, the Pistons look old, tired, and broken. Particularly without Allan Iverson on hand, they would seem to be in the shoes of the mid-00’s Kings: a former title contender now obviously in eclipse. Cavaliers in Five.

Boston Celtics (2) v. Chicago Bulls (7): The Game 1 upset was a certifiable coming-out party for all-around player and Rookie of the Year PG Derrick Rose. (The facet of his game that most needs work: post-game interviewing.) But, let’s remember: The Bulls won Game 1 because Paul Pierce uncharacteristically missed a clutch free throw. With Kevin Garnett reportedly out for the playoffs, I think Boston is dead in the water this year — it’s just a matter of time (And, to be honest, that’s fine with me. They deserve some horrible mojo after swooping up Stephon Marbury as they did.) But they’re still a better team than Chicago and, remember, they had trouble with Atlanta early on last year too. Boston in Seven.

(By the way, was anyone else annoyed with the dubious and oft-repeated stat that Chicago hadn’t beaten Boston in a playoff game since 1948? Uh, well that may partly be because the Celtics were atrocious from the time Larry Bird’s back gave out until Michael Jordan retired. It’s not like the Bulls are the Bobcats, Wizards, or some other legitimately underdog franchise.)

Orlando Magic (3) v. Philadelphia 76ers (6): I’m fond of Superman (Dwight Howard), but, for all the hype surrounding Orlando mid-season, blowing an 18-point lead at home against the lowly Sixers is not something a real title contender would do. And, in the one (nationally-televised) Knicks game I have caught recently, the Magic looked terrible. But I’m not a particularly big fan of this Sixers crew either, so I’ll give ’em the benefit of the doubt and say Orlando in Seven.

Atlanta Hawks (4) v. Miami Heat (5): To be honest, I don’t know the first thing about this iteration of the Hawks: I hadn’t seen ’em play until yesterday, and the last news I heard about their franchise was when Josh Childress went to Europe. But they looked pretty dominant yesterday, and they’ve got a proven clutch performer, Mike Bibby, running the point. So, even though the refs love them some D-Wade, I’ll go with Atlanta in Six.

The West

Los Angeles Lakers (1) v. Utah Jazz (8): Always a tough call, for, as longtime readers well know, neither Kobe Bryant nor the Mormon church tend to be in my Fave 5. (And Carlos Boozer is his own case of bad mojo.) Still, the Lakers are deep, Kobe is an undeniable talent, and he’s got arguably the most underappreciated No. 2 in the league right now in Pau Gasol. I think, barring injury, this could very well be the Lakers’ year. In any case — sorry, Jerry Sloan — Deron Williams, Andre Kirilenko, & co. won’t stop ’em. Los Angeles in Four.

Denver Nuggets (2) v. New Orleans Hornets (7): This is one of those series where all my old intel isn’t of much use. Chris Paul and the Hornets looked deadly last post-season — exactly the type of team you didn’t want to run into early on. But I haven’t seen them play this year and don’t know if they’ve lost a step or if they’ve found a way to score when Chris Paul gets triple-teamed. Meanwhile, on paper Chauncey Billups running the Nuggets seems like a huge boon for them — he’s had experience managing hotheads (Kenyon Martin, meet Rasheed Wallace) and can successfully distribute shots among a bunch of players who all need the ball. But is he really enough to stop a George Karl team from choking early on? Given that they’re already one up, I’ll say Denver in Six.

San Antonio Spurs (3) v. Dallas Mavericks (6): With Ginobli out, the aging, injured Spurs got a spot of luck when they matched up against another fading West Coast giant, the Mavericks. I doubt the Spurs are good and/or healthy enough to get to the Conference Finals this year, but I don’t have much confidence in Dallas either. San Antonio in Seven.

Portland Trailblazers (4) v. Houston Rockets (5): I’ve gotten the impression from various sources that Portland is a much better team than they displayed in Game 1. And they’ve certainly got an impressive core of young talent in Roy, Aldridge, Oden, etc. (I kinda wish Channing Frye had continued to develop, but oh well.) Still, just by the law of averages, I think Yao et al are due to break out of the first round. (And there’s a certain irony that they’d finally get to do it after perennial loser T-Mac sorta checked out on them.) Houston in Seven.

[Hmm. With one exception, I picked the top seed every time again. Way to go out on a limb.]

The Rest

Cleveland Cavaliers (1) v. Atlanta Hawks (4): LeBron and the Cavs have pretty much been playing a higher-level of basketball than the rest of the East this year, particularly at home. And I think King James is too focused this year to screw things up in the second round. Cleveland in Five.

Boston Celtics (2) v. Orlando Magic (3): Like the Spurs-Mavs, I don’t have a lot of faith in either of these teams at the moment. But, while I had Boston winning this at first, I think I’m going to switch to the Magic. Perhaps the first round will work out the hiccups for Stan Van Gundy’s team, and — without Garnett on Boston — I’ll go with youth and energy over age and guile. Orlando in Seven.

Los Angeles Lakers (1) v. Houston Rockets (5): I’m going to be rooting quite hard for Yao Ming and the Rockets here. But, as with the Cavs in the East, the Lakers are just operating at a different level right now. Los Angeles in Six.

Denver Nuggets (2) v. San Antonio Spurs (3): Unless they psychologically implode, and there’s always a chance of it with this combustible squad, I have to think Denver has enough weapons to take care of injury-ridden San Antonio. Denver in Five.

EAST FINALS: Cleveland Cavaliers (1) v. Orlando Magic (3): Third verse, same as the second and first. The Cavs are playing better ball that most everyone in the East at the moment, and James will not be denied. Cleveland in Five.

WEST FINALS: Los Angeles Lakers (1) v. Denver Nuggets (2): With Phoenix, Dallas, and San Antonio on the way down, Denver now looks to be one of the premier contenders in the West. But, unless Carmelo has the type of break-out, monster playoff performance that many think he’s capable of but that we’ve yet to see, I don’t see this being all that close. Los Angeles in Five.

FINALS: Los Angeles Lakers (1) v. Cleveland Cavaliers (1): If you read what’s come before, you may have noticed that I deemed this the Lakers year a few paragraphs ago. And that’s probably true — they’re hungry, they’re experienced, and I don’t see how Cleveland’s going to manage once Phil Jackson uncorks his own version of the Jordan rules on LeBron. But, I’ve gotten pretty far in life rooting against the Lake Show…so, no reason to stop now. Cleveland in Seven.

So, there you have it — Cleveland rocks. And, if they’re this good now, just wait until James get some legitimate help…I just hope it all happens on the Knickerbockers’ watch.

The Way the Bull Bounces.

“After this season, we needed a break and I think we just got one tonight.” Take that, D’Antoni: With only a 1.7 percent chance to procure the #1 pick, the Chicago Bulls beat the odds last night in the NBA lottery, thus knocking the Knicks down to No. 6. Well, bleah.

Meanwhile, as far as the NBA Finals go, I got three of the Final Four correct (So much for the Suns.) That being said, Lakers-Spurs in the West is sort of a worst-case scenario for me. And while I can’t believe it’s come to this, I may actually be rooting for Kobe and the Lakers in this series. Ugh, I feel dirty.

The Court of King James.

Senators Obama and Clinton aren’t the only people sending reinforcements to Ohio. At the trade deadline, Lebron James gets some much-needed help in Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith, and Delonte West, giving up Drew Gooden and the underperforming Larry Hughes to Chicago and Donyell Marshall to Seattle. Elsewhere in the league, Bonzi Wells and Mike James went to N’Orleans, and former Knick Kurt Thomas ended up in San Antonio (which will help take the sting out of the Spurs winning another championship, if that’s in the cards, around these parts.)

Speaking of the 16-38 Knicks, they…stood pat. I must say, it’s been a tough season to be a Knicks fan. My TiVo conscientiously tapes all of their losses for me, so I caught the second half of Wednesday’s 40-point stinker against the lowly Sixers, 124-84. Look away! It is hideous.

Fan-Tastic 2007.

Our world has revolved around the sun once more, and just like that, it’s time for the NBA playoffs again. As befitting tradition, here’s the pretty much always patently useless GitM breakdown:

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

The East

Detroit Pistons (1) v. Orlando Magic (8): I had Detroit winning it all last year, and I still think when they firing on all cylinders the Pistons are far and away the best team in the East, particularly now with CWebb joining Antonio McDyess as another quality back-up in the paint. They may not have stars along the lines of Shaq and D-Wade (which, sadly, means less love at the free-throw line), but they’ve got post-up people, they’ve got outside range, they’ve got tenacious defenders and they’ve got savvy veterans. Orlando, meanwhile, has Dwight Howard (young and untested), Grant Hill (aka, sadly, Mr. Glass), and Darko Milicic (who couldn’t even break into the Piston’s rotation back in the day.) Not much of a match-up here. Detroit has had a tendency to coast until fourth quarters this year, so I’ll give Orlando a game. But that’s it. Pistons in Five.

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) v. Washington Wizards (7): Alas, the Wizards — a fun team to watch with a talented and likable superstar in Gilbert Arenas — are Dead Men Walking. With both Arenas and Caron Butler injured at the moment, Washington just doesn’t have the firepower to hang with the Court of King James. As such, this series, which might’ve been a good test to see if LeBron can shake off his regular-season doldrums, will instead be a walk. If the Cavs are too, um, cavalier, DC might take a game. But I seriously doubt it. Cleveland in Four.

Toronto Raptors (3) v. New Jersey Nets (6): Now, this one’s a little tougher. My gut tells me that New Jersey has the veteran experience to win this round against the young, up-and-down, better-ranked Raptors. But, however much I like Jason Kidd, I just can’t bring myself to pick Vince “I phone it in” Carter over Toronto, the team he screwed over back in the day. So here’s hoping Chris Bosh throws a coming-out party. Toronto in Seven

Miami Heat (4) v. Chicago Bulls (5): Until last night, I might’ve picked the Bulls to take this, just because Scott Skiles is a take-no-prisoners-coach and the returning champions have looked suspect this entire season, particularly now that Dwyane Wade has a busted shoulder. If former Piston Ben Wallace could keep an aging Shaq even slightly in check, one would think the young, hungry Bulls — Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich — might light up this series. But then I saw a flat Chicago team lose the second seed in a must-win game last night against New Jersey, and my opinion changed. In short, the Bulls are basically just a jump-shooting team with no real inside game to speak of. Jump-shooting teams can get hot and win a game or two, but they don’t win championships, or even first rounds. (Funny enough, the Bulls could really use Eddy Curry these days, whom they gave to the Knicks for, in essence, several quality draft picks — But Chicago might still get the last laugh if they pick up Greg Oden or Kevin Durant this summer with our pick. Stay tuned.) Miami in Six.

The West

Dallas Mavericks (1) v. Golden State Warriors (8): With all due respect to Sam Cassell, who’s a seriously clutch guy I’ve always rooted for (well, except in the Knicks-Rockets series back in ’94), I’m glad Golden State ended up taking the eight-seed last night over the LA Clippers. With a big, talented backcourt in Baron Davis and Jason Richardson, and with former Mav coach Don Nelson manning the sidelines, the Warriors have a slight chance to make the first round in the West really interesting. Emphasis on slight. From Avery Johnson to Jerry Stackhouse, Dallas is one of my least favorite teams in the league (although, as a digression, I do kinda like Mark Cuban — he’s a good blogger, he’s smart and passionate about the game, and, notwithstanding throwing money into the political process and behind social causes, which I’d like to think I’d do more of, he’s doing what I’d be doing if I were uber-mega-rich.) That being said, Dallas has too many guns, and is too peeved from last year’s loss in the Finals. Dallas in Six.

Phoenix Suns (2) v. Los Angeles Lakers (7): A rematch of last year’s 7-game series (where, it should be recalled, Kobe stopped taking shots in the second half of Game 7 as some strange form of protest.) That is, except this year Phoenix, with Amare Stoudamire and former Knick Kurt Thomas back at full health, is better, and Los Angeles, with Lamar Odom ailing, is worse. My inordinate dislike of Kobe is a matter of record around these parts, so I’ll waste no more time presuming to be impartial here. Suffice to say, Phoenix in Five.

San Antonio Spurs (3) v. Denver Nuggets (6): What with the ignominious circumstances surrounding his trade to Denver Allan Iverson has had a rotten year. And, I’d like nothing more than to see he, Melo, Nene, Marcus Camby, and K-Mart take the boring San Antonio Spurs to school this year. (Although, give ’em credit, it was interesting to see Tim Duncan’s inveterate whining finally send Joey Crawford over the border to Crazytown — What, you mean NBA refs carry grudges against certain players? Who knew?) But, it’s not going to happen, particularly with coach George Karl — playoff choker par excellence — still at the helm of the Nugs. I’ll be rooting for Denver, but San Antonio in Five

Utah Jazz (4) v. Houston Rockets (5): Riding Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, and a recently flailing Andrei Kirilenko, the Utah Jazz have overperformed all year. Struggling with injuries at various times to both Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, the Rockets have underperformed. In this series, I expect Houston to even the score. Van Gundy’s a great coach, T-Mac is hungry, Yao is due, Houston in Six.

The Rest

Detroit Pistons (1) v. Miami Heat (4): With Wade hurt and Shaq still dominant but aging in dog years (as all centers ultimately do), I’d be surprised if Miami has the wherewithal to beat the Pistons two years in a row. One hates to bet against the returning champions, but they’ve been too erratic all year, I think, to get past Detroit, who should be looking to rectify for last season. And, without Riley on the bench, Detroit in Six.

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) v. Toronto Raptors (3): Ideally, Chris Bosh would give LeBron James a run for his money here in the second round, and solidify his burgeoning superstar status for the 2007-08 season. But, even with a slightly suspect supporting cast (Eric Snow?), I expect LeBron will begin to taste the NBA Finals right around now, and show us an upside that’s been AWOL for months. Cleveland in Five.

Dallas Mavericks (1) v. Houston Rockets (5): Dallas has been the best team in the league all year, and Nowitzki is a player who not only can get red-hot, but knows how to get his calls when he doesn’t. I’d love to see Houston take this series, but I gotta say Dallas in Six.

Phoenix Suns (2) v. San Antonio Spurs (3): This will be the first really marquee match-up of the playoffs, and I’d argue the Suns are still rising. Duncan, Ginobli, and Parker will no doubt make it interesting, but Phoenix ultimately puts too many points on the board. Phoenix in Seven.

EAST FINALS: Detroit Pistons (1) v. Cleveland Cavaliers (2): It makes historic sense — LeBron has to get past the Bad Boys of Detroit, just as Jordan did back in 1991, to get to the NBA Finals. It won’t happen this year, though:The Pistons are too deep and too experienced. Detroit in Six.

WEST FINALS: Dallas Mavericks (1) v. Phoenix Suns (2): The two teams that gave us arguably the best game of the season will also end up choosing between themselves the 2007 champion. Dallas is probably a safer pick, since they’ve got a better half-court game than the run-and-gun Suns. But, I’m going Phoenix…I like ’em more as a team, and when they’re in the groove they can’t be stopped.

FINALS: Detroit Pistons (1) v. Phoenix Suns (2): Detroit is a better defensive team, and defense wins championships. But, with Steve Nash, Amare Stoudamire, and Shawn Marion, I’d guess Phoenix has more game-breaking X-factors than do Detroit, and, as noted before, the Pistons have looked sluggish to me this year. So, here’s guessing Nash gets a ring to help quell the naysayers about his two-time MVP status. Phoenix in Seven.

Looks good on paper, but that’s why the play the games. Let’s play ball.

Fan-tastic 2006.

If it’s late April, it must be time for the NBA playoffs. And, while the Knicks’ sheer terribleness made it especially hard for me to evaluate the rest of the league this year (since all the halfway-decent teams generally just ran right over ’em), a tradition is a tradition. [2000|2001|2002|2003|2004|2005] So, without further ado:

The East

Detroit Pistons (1) v. Milwaukee Bucks (8): Ok, they didn’t crack 70 wins — Still, with four All-Stars on hand (Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince), championship experience, the best team mentality in pro basketball right now, and an unsatisfied hunger after the Game 7 Finals loss last year, this Pistons squad has the look of a Team of Destiny. I actually watched Milwaukee completely dismantle the Knickerbockers from near-courtside at the Garden last Friday (Thanks, Gill and Ethan), and they definitely have some weapons — Michael Redd from behind the arc, TJ Ford in the open floor. Still, they’re overmatched against Detroit. Pistons in 4.

Miami Heat (2) v. Chicago Bulls (7): Scott Skiles seems to be a great coach, and Chicago is an exciting young team. Plus, they’re bound to get even better next year, since (grumble, grumble) they’re getting a Top-5 pick from the Knicks. But the Heat is home to two superheroes in Superman and Flash (who get along better these days than do Supes and Batman [via DYFL]), and Alonzo Mourning (albeit hurt) is no slouch either. Provided the Glove doesn’t revert to his terrible-LA days, and ‘Toine or White Chocolate don’t shoot ’em out of it, the Heat should get through the first round with little trouble. Heat in Five.

New Jersey Nets (3) v. Indiana Pacers (6): I still haven’t forgiven Vince Carter for his folding on Toronto a few years back — Still with he and Richard Jefferson on the wings and the inimitable Jason Kidd manning the point, New Jersey look to be a frightening playoff team, and I doubt they’ll have much trouble moving past Indiana, a squad who, post-Reggie and post-Artest, seems as if their time has passed. (That being said, I haven’t seen all that much of the Peja Pacers.) Nets in Six.

Cleveland Cavaliers (4) v. Washington Wizards (5): Will the District’s ballers manage to topple King James,or will LeBron make the Wiz look like the Washington Generals? Gilbert Arenas‘ big-game tendencies notwithstanding, I tend to favor the Cavs here. LeBron has already shown he can pretty much do it all, at least during the regular season. And while he alone probably isn’t enough (yet) to get this somewhat second-rate squad past the second round, I expect he should be able to carry Cleveland past the lowly Wiz. Cavs in 7.

The West

San Antonio Spurs (1) v. Sacramento Kings (8): Like Indiana, their partner in the Peja-Artest trade, the Kings feel like a team whose time has come and gone. Sure, Mike Bibby is a playoff performer, but the Kings just don’t have enough weapons to get past the returning champions, even with Duncan and Ginobli slightly gimpy these days. Spurs in Five.

Phoenix Suns (2) v. Los Angeles Lakers (7): The fast-break-happy Phoenix Suns are easily the most watchable team in the NBA, but let’s face it — I’m really just looking forward to rooting against Kobe. Is there a pro athlete less likable this side of Barry Bonds? Particularly given that Phoenix tends not to play D (and are missing their strongest defender with Kurt Thomas out), Kobe will undoubtedly find a way –remorseless gunning, perhaps? — to score his points. Still, I expect even the Amare-less Suns can carry the day against this iteration of the Lake Show. (Yes, LA beat Phoenix by 20 last week, but Steve Nash sat out that game.) Suns in Six.

Denver Nuggets (3) v. Los Angeles Clippers (6): Here’s where the West gets screwy. Not only are the Clippers — the Clips! — actually in the NBA playoffs, but they also have home court over the higher-seeded Denver Nuggets. This one’s really a toss-up. On one hand, Denver has proven playoff performers in K-Mart and Marcus Camby and the NBA’s best clutch shooter in Carmelo Anthony. On the other, the Clippers have Sam Cassell at the point, who — like Robert Horry and Nick Van Exel — is one of those take-no-prisoners fourth-quarter guys who can pretty much singlehandedly will a team to victory. And all that being said, it may ultimately come down to who’s a bigger playoff choke artist — Nuggets coach George Karl or the entire Clipper franchise. My money’s on Karl. Clippers in Seven.

Dallas Mavericks (4) v. Memphis Grizzlies (5): The other strange seeding in the West — by records alone Dallas should be the #2 seed — the Mavs probably won’t be challenged very much by Memphis, although Nowitzki versus Gasol should be a fun matchup. Dallas still doesn’t buckle down on D, but they should have enough O to tame the Grizzlies. San Antonio, however, is another story… Dallas in Five.

The Rest

Detroit Pistons (1) v. Cleveland Cavaliers (4): The bottom five teams in the Eastern bracket can’t really hold a candle to New Jersey, Miami, and especially Detroit, and it’ll show in this series. I expect a variation on Detroit’s old Jordan Rules will more than suffice in keeping Lebron in check. Pistons in Four.

Miami Heat (2) v. New Jersey Nets (3): This should be a fascinating series. Still, if Shaq is close to playoff form, I think Miami should pull through…While Flash should be able to run with Jefferson and Carter, the Nets don’t really have anyone who can match up with the big fella in the paint. Heat in Seven.

San Antonio Spurs (1) v. Dallas Mavericks (2): The Western Finals may seem like they’re coming early this year…still, we’ve been here before. If it’s San Antonio’s defense versus the Mav’s offense, advantage San Antonio. Spurs in Six.

Phoenix Suns (2) v. Los Angeles Clippers (6): Sorry, Clips fans. You got to the second round for the first time since 1976. But, even with Sam Cassell, that’s all you get. Suns in Six.

EAST FINALS: Detroit Pistons (1) v. Miami Heat (2): As with the second round, if Shaq’s feeling it and the Heat start clicking, Detroit could be in serious trouble. But all-in-all, I’d say the Pistons are too deep, too experienced, and too hungry. Pistons in Seven.

WEST FINALS: San Antonio Spurs (1) v. Phoenix Suns (2): If Amare and Kurt were healthy, this could be a contentious series…but I just can’t really see Phoenix knocking off San Antonio without better interior defense. Spurs in Six.

FINALS: Detroit Pistons (1) v. San Antonio Spurs (1): Wow, two #1 seeds — looks like I’m going out on a limb again. At any rate, this match-up has been in the cards ever since last season’s seven-game Finals, in which the home team won every game. And given that this year Detroit has home-court advantage and Duncan’s playing through serious pain…well, you do the math. Detroit in Six.

Fan-tastic 2005.

With the Knicks stinking up the joint even worse than usual, the NBA posts have been few and far between this season, despite the league having a banner year. But that doesn’t mean I’m not greatly enthused about the NBA playoffs beginning this weekend. So, in keeping with GitM tradition (2000/2001/2002/2003/2004), here are my picks for the 2005 postseason:

The East:

Miami Heat (1) v. New Jersey Nets (8): I think it’s safe to say most of the NBA fan base was looking forward to the Shaq/Flash v. King James matchup here. But, give ’em credit: Jason Kidd and Vince Carter — proving this season he flat-out gave up in Torontomade a run and knocked Cleveland out of contention. If Shaq stays gimpy, the Heat could be in a spot of trouble. But Dwyane Wade is one heck of a player and Stan Van Gundy is one of the league’s top coaches, and I’m willing to bet they and the Big Fundamental take care of business in the first round. Miami in Six.

Detroit Pistons (2) v. Philadelphia 76ers (7): I love AI — the guy’s all heart. And, with his quickness and lethal shooting touch, he once again put a sub-par Sixers squad (even after picking up an underachieving C-Webb) on his back and carried them to the playoffs. But they’re running into the 2004 Champions here, and I just don’t see them getting past the precision team-basketball of Larry Brown & Ben Wallace’s crew. Detroit in Five.

Boston Celtics (3) v. Indiana Pacers (6): This one’s tough. To his credit, Reggie Miller helped right the ship after the Ron Artest fiasco and got Indiana back on pace for his final season. Meanwhile, the return of ‘Toine to Boston has given the Celts the much-needed fire they missed most of the year (and which the intermittently disappearing Paul Pierce seems unable to provide.) Jermaine O’Neal et al are a formidable bunch, and I’m willing to bet Reggie wins at least one game on his own for old time’s sake, but I think I’m going to go Boston here, particularly as Gary Payton, so terrible last year, should play better on a Kobe-less team where he’s allowed to touch the ball. Celtics in Seven.

Chicago Bulls (4) v. Washington Wizards (5): Bulls-Wizards? This is a playoff match-up? Apparently so — both teams have finally started to thrive after their respective post-Jordan eras. I haven’t seen much of either squad this year, although I’ve heard amazing things about Chicago’s Ben Gordon, and DC’s Gilbert Arenas was a stud in Golden State in 2004. I get the feeling this’ll be the NCAA-style match-up of the playoffs, and just for the heck of it I’ll take Washington in Seven.

The West:

Phoenix Suns (1) v. Memphis Grizzlies (8): With Steve Nash leading the break and Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudamire on the wings, the Suns are an extraordinarily fun team to watch. That being said, Phoenix’s type of speedy O-first play generally ends up looking suspect in the D-oriented playoffs — just look at Nash’s old Mavs teams. But, Memphis doesn’t have the talent or the firepower to expose the Suns — if Minnesota had gotten their act together a few games earlier, this could have been a great first-round matchup. As it is, Phoenix in Four.

San Antonio Spurs (2) v. Denver Nuggets (7): The Spurs are as dull as Phoenix is exciting, but you have to hand it to them — they win games. Denver is loaded with talent and players I tend to root for: Carmelo, K-Mart, Andre Miller, Marcus Camby, the 5’5″ hellion Earl Boykins. But, with notorious playoff choke artist George Karl at the helm, I just don’t see Denver getting by the Spurs…unless more trouble befalls Duncan’s ankles. San Antonio in Six.

Seattle SuperSonics (3) v. Sacramento Kings (6): Just as Seattle’s star is rising this season under Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, the much-loved Sacramento team of the early ’00’s has been dismantled, with Vlade in LA, Christie in Orlando, and Webber in Philly. Sacramento still has a lot of playoff experience on this outfit, and Mike Bibby is remorseless come the post-season, but I’ll wager the Sonics get by Sactown with relatively little furor. Seattle in Six.

Dallas Mavericks (4) v. Houston Rockets (5): This one should be interesting. Dirk Nowitzki’s been having a banner year, but the Mavs are still too soft on D, and picking up the likes of Keith Van Horn doesn’t help in that regard. On the other hand, Jeff Van Gundy teams specialize in D, but will Yao and T-Mac be able to score enough to get past the Mavs? I for one hope so. Rockets in Seven.

The Rest:

Miami Heat (1) v. Washington Wizards (5): After slogging past the Nets in a tough first-rounder, the Heat’s series against the inexperienced Wizards should be relatively simple. Miami in four.

Detroit Pistons (2) v. Boston Celtics (3): Boston overperformed to beat Indiana, while Detroit justs keep doing what they do. Advantage: Pistons. Detroit in Six.

Phoenix Suns (1) v. Houston Rockets (5): I still think Phoenix is flash over substance for the most part, but they’re probably too quick for the aging, offense-limited Rockets. I want to pick Houston here, but my head says Phoenix in Six.

San Antonio Spurs (2) v. Seattle Supersonics (3): Not a very TV-friendly match-up here…but, despite their being my least-favorite team in the playoffs, I’ll go with the Spurs. San Antonio in Five.

EAST FINALS: Miami Heat (1) v. Detroit Pistons (2): Shaq’s been waiting for this match-up all year, and if he’s healthy I see him having a monster series. And I’d also expect a ‘Zo sighting or two — they’ll need him to bang under the boards against the Wallaces. Still, it’ll be tough. Miami in Seven.

WEST FINALS: Phoenix Suns (1) v. San Antonio Spurs (2): Having hated on them somewhat in the past two rounds, I’d really like to see Phoenix get past Team Duncan. But, I’m just not sold — perhaps they’ll prove me wrong beginning this weekend. San Antonio in Six.

NBA FINALS: Miami Heat (1) v. San Antonio Spurs (2): It’s Shaq v. Duncan all over again (provided they can both stay off the IR), with Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobli providing the speed and flash we’ve come to expect from the Finals. And, what with Shaq’s renaissance, the prospects of a Van Gundy title, and the sheer Kobe schadenfreude of it all, I pretty much have to go Miami in Seven.

So, that’s that, then: The East celebrates its second title in two years, with a little help from Finals MVP Shaq. Either way, with all the new faces and teams around in this transitional year — Miami, Phoenix, Seattle, Washington, Chicago, etc. — it should make for a very enjoyable postseason. Let the games begin!

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