We’re only four days into the 2012 playoffs, but if we’re basing our assessment off strictly the handful of post-season games we’ve seen thus far, there’s is plenty of knowledge to impart. Playoff games tend to follow the same tone and tenor throughout the duration of the post-season, and it has been my experience that one playoff game is often a better indication for how a team will perform for the rest of the post-season than the aggregate of the regular season. So in an almost immediately regrettable move, I’ve decided to prognosticate what will happen based on the one or two games we’ve seen from each series thus far.
The Celtics will eventually beat the Hawks but lose convincingly to Miami in the Conference Finals.
They’re second game against Atlanta just ended, and I would have said the same thing had Atlanta won. Look, character counts for a lot when you’re talking about a game with as much fluidity as basketball. Unlike golf or tennis or baseball or football or pretty much any mainstream sport outside of hockey (which is more organized chaos than anything else), there aren’t breaks between every play for everyone to gather their senses and re-focus. Each individual is responsible for staying committed and if someone is distracted or disgruntled, it’s his and/or his teammates responsibility to regather his priorities for him. The Hawks are incapable of doing this and have been so for at least five years. Boston is the perfect team to take advantage of such circumstances, but they simply don’t have the depth, youth or talent (anymore, at least) to go toe-to-toe with a team as loaded as the Heat.
The Thunder are not making the Finals with this current team.
I want them too for all the same reasons as everyone else: they’re from an uncelebrated market yet Westbrook & Durant re-signed regardless, they’re new and there’s something appealing about them that’s almost undefinable. But when your fifth highest scorer is Daquan Cook and you’re struggling at home against a seventh seed who arguably should have won the first two games on your home court, then obviously something is wrong. Their two biggest foes are LA & San Antonio, and outside of the Lakers lacking a really viable option to guard Durant with, LA has favorable match-ups at every other spot on the court and are considerably deeper. This implies, as you might suspect, that…
The Lakers and Spurs are clearly the two best teams in the West.
And it really isn’t even close. Of all the declarations I made in my two playoff previews, the one I most want to take back is the Thunder over the Lakers in a second round, seven game series. Shoulda stuck to my guns, but alas, I got sucked into the over-forced hype. Anyhow, did you know the Spurs are 41-3 since acquiring Stephen Jackson? Well, it’s true. Making it the least talked about story that should be talked about constantly.
If the Heat went on a similar tear after picking up, say, Andrew Bogut or someone, we’d have an army of online, hyperbolic a$$holes claiming them to be the best team since Jordan’s 72-10 Bulls. Instead, it’s swept under the rug of NBA discussions because the Spurs are old, in San Antonio, and everyone was just hoping their heyday was over and we could simply forget about them. But as long as they have Parker (who should be a top-3 MVP candidate) and Popovich (who rightfully won his second Coach of The Year award) this team will always be a high seed in the playoffs.
Look at their first game against the Jazz. The Jazz played exceptionally but, to put it bluntly, the Spurs are just better. Both teams brought their A-game and San Antonio was the runaway winner. No other favorite (except the Lakers, maybe) was contested so highly and responded so well.
The Lakers, on the other hand, are going to coast through this first round (though they might drop one on the road), head to Oklahoma City where they might actually feel Ron Artest’s and Jordan Hill’s absence, but while Oklahoma City has the two best players in the series – though this is highly debatable – Los Angeles is simply a better constructed, veteran savvy team with more depth and ultimately more talent.
Clippers-Grizzlies is inevitably going to end in four or seven games, with no in between.
The first game from this series was outrageously entertaining and the Clippers may have stolen the series in it, but the Grizzlies are too talented to go away quietly. If they come out for game two playing as well as they did for the first three quarters in game one, then all is well and we’ll see a competitive series. If they don’t, the Clippers could steal this one quickly and we’ll see the best point guard match-up (Paul-Parker) in round two than we’ve seen in awhile.
The Magic are going to end up losing in the first round, but do so valiantly.
As much as I’ve been bandwagoning the Pacers here, at this very site, fewer things would satisfy me more than seeing the Magic win a first round series against the fifth best team in the league (record wise, at least), if for no other reason than to listen to everyone disparaging Howard’s supporting cast all season either break their back, backtracking or make excuses for why Orlando would win under such circumstances. But it seems unlikely after watching game two and given the flukey nature of game one.
The Knicks are the worst star-studded, most over-hyped team since the 2011 New York Jets.
The Jets went into last season pegged as Superbowl contenders ready to finally win the AFC after getting to two straight Conference title games. But they had/have a major liability: their quarterback. The Knicks acquired Amar’e two off-seasons ago, Carmelo halfway through last season after he refused to re-sign anywhere else, and Tyson Chandler after coming off a title season with the Mavericks the year before. But they had an unaddressed weakness after Baron Davis was said to be out for twelve weeks: their point guard.
Outside of maybe a month of Jeremy Lin playing for Mike D’Antoni, it has been a revolving door of Lin playing for Mike Woodson, who runs a half-court set that renders Lin virtually useless; Mike Bibby, who makes Bert Cooper look spry; a rusty and sorta out of game shape Baron Davis, and Iman Shumpert, who isn’t even a point guard and just tore his ACL (mere moments after Rose tore his). In short, their were embarrassingly thin at the position that’s more important than any other in a D’Antoni offense. Again, character, chemistry, cohesiveness: these things, as trite as they may sound, actually matter.
The Miami Heat will coast to the Finals.
This post-season looks to be a one-game series for the Heat, and that one series will be in the Finals. We’re hoping we’re wrong, as we’ll be in New York for the sixth game of this first round against the Knicks. But outside of the Pacers and/or Boston maybe taking a couple wins in the oncoming rounds, there isn’t much standing in their way to a second straight Eastern Conference Title.
The Chicago Bulls Might as Well Start Preparing For The Draft
I don’t think for a second that Rose will ever leave Chicago nor will he ever threaten too, but they need to acquire someone else to go head-to-head with the Heat, because the situation’s only going to get worse before it gets better. Watching them lose by twenty points, at home, to a team that’s played well under .500 since the all-star break, was pretty galling. Miami wouldn’t be railroaded like that if LeBron or Wade missed a single game, and now Chicago is likely to be the fifth ever #1 seed to lose to an #8.
For evidence of this just look at the Bulls roster. Noah’s a great defensive player, Hamilton is a scrappy veteran with a great jumper, Deng’s a decent third scoring option relative to the rest of the league (but currently their second) Carlos Boozer…sure is paid a lot, and they have some respectable bench players in their backup point guards, Kyle Korver and Taj Gibson. But all of these guys have inefficiencies in their respective games, and if they’re not living up to expectations in the one or two things they do well, then they’re out-and-out liabilities. You can’t win a title when only one guy on your team can still contribute when the best part of his game isn’t clicking.
The 2012 playoffs will ultimately be a war of attrition.
The team that can stay the healthiest and avoid the most suspensions will ultimately be your favorites to win the NBA Title. Ron Artest and Jordan Hill suspended for very different (although both very violent) reasons, Rondo canned for a game for bumping a ref after losing game one to Atlanta, Josh Smith exited the game last night with an apparent knee injury, Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard & Iman Shumpert are all out for the playoffs, and Amar’e Stoudemire punching the glass casing of a fire extinguisher after another frustrating loss to the Heat will likely have him sidelined for most if not all of the remained of New York’s post-season. What do all these things have in common? Outside of the Lakers, all these teams are effectively eliminated from winning the title. Mind you, we are, again, only four days into the post-season. The ball can be swayed either way, but with the way things are taking shape, we could see a Clippers-Pacers Finals if the two stay healthy.
I don’t know what or who is responsible for this. In Derrick Rose’s case, a lot of people want to blame Tom Thibodeau for leaving Rose in. But it seemed like his ACL was a ticking time bomb (as well as Shumpert’s). Neither of the season-ending injuries were the result of significant contact and they both just seemed to land their foot slightly awkwardly. When you take into consideration the nature of these two, combined with the plethora of injuries throughout the regular season, it would lead me to believe that the compressed schedule along with a non-existent preseason, is more responsible than any individual culprit. So we’ve come full circle. For all the kvetching about this season’s schedule being too physically strenuous on the players, we can see the consequences of it are having there greatest impact when it matters the most.
As a result, Miami’s going to end up reaping the benefits, much to most of America’s tremendous disappointment. At least for all dissenters of the merits of Miami Heat basketball, you can hang your hat on the fact that 80% of their potential opponents are missing at least one integral part to their team, thus explaining why and how Miami won the title. It’s a silver lining, I didn’t say it was ideal.