18 April 2008

Playoff predictions, Part 2

Picking the East winners this year was easy. I'm not worried about the fact that I didn't pick any upsets among the four series, as I believe no series will be close, with the exception of the Cavs/Wizards matchup.

The real work begins here. The West is the deepest and possibly the best collection of eight teams in one conference ever. Last year's champion, San Antonio, is currently in possession of the three seed, while a New Orleans team with little to no playoff experience has the two seed.

That's crazy.

So let's get into it.

Los Angeles (1) vs. Denver (8)

This 1 vs. 8 matchup is very different from the East's Boston vs. Atlanta. Denver is a 50-win team with three valid All-Stars. Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony and Marcus Camby are all great players who can score and play defense. They can beat you inside and outside and on the run.

Everyone will bring up the fact that they gave up 4 million points a game in the regular season. I firmly believe this was a matter of laziness and not a matter of inability. Camby was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2007, and AI's freakish quickness lets him stay with anyone. And for all I dislike about Melo, he can defend, as well.

On the other side, the Lakers scare me (as a Jazz fan) more than anyone but San Antonio. Kobe is a top-3 player in the game, and he's very motivated to show he can win without Shaq. Add an All-Star forward in Pau Gasol (a stolen forward, but a great forward nonetheless) and a very talented small forward who loves being the third option in Lamar Odom, and this is a dangerous team. If Andrew Bynum can return and be the same Bynum he was in January, they've gotta be favorites to win it all.

Game 1 is going to tell us a lot. If Denver is serious about playing defense, they've got a real shot to beat the Lakers. If not, they lose in five.

I'll play the middle here.

L.A. in seven.

New Orleans (2) vs. Dallas (7)

The Mavericks have been to an NBA Finals. No one other than Peja Stojakovic and Bonzi Wells for the Hornets has any decent playoff experience. Chris Paul and Jason Kidd are both great point guards, but they aren't exactly strong defenders.

Dirk Nowitzki is a shooting guard disguised in a seven-foot frame. David West is one of the better post players in the league.

Peja is hitting over three 3-pointers a game and shooting 44% from behind the arc. Josh Howard has been performing well in the playoffs since 2005, and will be a major factor on both ends of the floor.

These teams match up very well, making this another tough call. In the end, I'm going to go with Dallas. Their experience is just too much for the young Hornets. But it won't be easy.

Dallas in 7.

Phoenix (6) vs. San Antonio (3)

This is hands-down the best series in the first round. It might end up being the best series of the entire playoffs. Phoenix traded Shawn Marion for Shaq last February for the express purpose of getting past the Spurs in the playoffs. At the time, I was not a fan of the trade, but Shaq's been playing well enough that I think their plan just might work.

Phoenix was thiiiiiiis close to beating Tim Duncan's team in the 2nd round of the Western Conference last year, and minus the completely bogus suspension of Amare Stoudamire for game 7, they would have won the series.

Cons for the Suns: Steve Nash is one year older, Boris Diaw isn't the same player he was last season and neither is Leandro Barbosa.

Pros: Amare is playing like a monster with Shaq taking some of the attention from him down low. Raja Bell is still good for physical defense and outside shooting. The Suns' run-and-gun style might be enough to tire the Spurs out this time around.

San Antonio is still San Antonio. Duncan is as efficient as ever in the post, no one on the Suns can guard Tony Parker off the dribble, and if Manu Ginobili is healthy, he's good for at least 27 a game in the playoffs.

My heart says pick Phoenix, especially since they have homecourt advantage, but my head says go with the Spurs.

San Antonio wins in seven games, but it's ridiculously close. We're talking overtime games, multiple game-winning buzzer-beaters, that kind of thing.

Utah (4) vs. Houston (5)

Number-crunchers love the Jazz. ESPN's resident stat geek, John Hollinger, picks then to come out of the West. Adam Hoff, of Section F Sports, plugged the season numbers into his own mathematical contraption and came up with the same result.

As an admitted Jazz fanatic, even I don't like Utah that much. The Jazz have zero interior defense, and when they get down, I question their ability to stay tough under the pressure.

I think the reason we see so much love from the spreadsheets is that the Jazz blow out teams at home and don't ever get blown out themselves. As Hollinger noted, Utah was beaten by 20 or more only once this season; and that was the last game against the Spurs. That doesn't mean there haven't been some bad losses, as well. The tank job against the Spurs on Wednesday and the awful defense that led to a Mavs win last week come to mind.

Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur have shown the ability to defend well in the playoffs. Last season they performed admirably against the Rockets and again against Golden State in the second round. I personally hope we see Kyrylo Fesenko, rookie center out of the Ukraine, get some good minutes. His scoring ability is raw, but he's a legit seven-footer with agility you rarely see in big men.

However, coach Jerry Sloan refused to use center Rafael Araujo last year against Duncan in a situation where I think he could have done some good, so who knows if Fesenko will even see the floor?

The Rockets are a good team, as evidenced by their 22-game win streak earlier this season, but they just don't match up well against the Jazz. Utah can stick either Andrei Kirilenko or Ronnie Brewer on Tracy McGrady and slow him down. Houston has no answer for Boozer, Okur or Deron Williams. The Jazz have proven they can win in Houston.

This is the least interesting of all the West's first-round matchups.

Jazz in six, with a couple blowouts by Utah along the way.

There you have it. This is my first time ever going so in-depth with my playoff predictions, so if my picks are way off ( like they were with March Madness), maybe I'll think twice about doing it next year.

Feel free to post your comments on where I'm dead on or way off. I allow anonymous comments, so if you want to tell me how much I stink, feel free to do so without any fear of retribution.


Graham & Heather said...

Nice job, I do have to disagree with one. I think the Suns will take out the Spurs in 7 games. I really think that chip on the shoulder from last year might play a decent factor. But I do think it will be close the whole way. The fans in Pheonix won't be nice to the Spurs.

Filbert Karo said...

7, 7, 7, 6. Lots of games. Ugh

The Village of Randomity said...

So far so good on the Spurs/Suns series...

Filbert Karo said...

Smoke the Spurs! http://www.nba.com/media/suns/gorilla_smoke_spurs_220.jpg