Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Predicting The NBA Conference Finals

Now that the dust has settled on the second round of the NBA playoffs, we are left with four teams standing - three of them are returnees from last year's final four, while the Mavs somehow pulled out a win over the champs, despite their best efforts to pooch the game in the second half.

I went 2 for 4 in the second round, nailing both of series in the East (along with the correct number of games for the Heat), but missing both Western semis (though I did correctly predict that they'd both go seven games). What does this mean? For one, my Western Conference pick, the Clippers, are out. Fortunately, the Heat are still standing, so half of my prediction for the final could come true. Secondly, on the heels of my 6/8 performance in round one, I'm still batting at a respectable clip of 8/12. So maybe I'm not horrible at picking in every sport - just most of them.

Now, on to the picks. Before I call the Conference Finals, my predictions for the winners in tonight's draft lottery:

1. Toronto Raptors
2. Atlanta Hawks
3. Portland Trail Blazers

I thought about picking the Bulls to win (they have New York's pick), since the basketball gods can't seem to stop kicking Knicks fans. But instead, I decided that New York will win it next year, when the Bulls have the right to swap with them. Therefore, Chicago will get uber-prospect Greg Oden, and an angry mob will drag Isaiah's bloody carcass through the streets of Queens. You heard it here first.

Now, the Conference Finals:

Eastern Conference
Detroit Pistons vs. Miami Heat
This is a rematch from the 2005 conference final that the Heat would have won were it not for an injury to Dwayne Wade and a collapse at the end of Game 7. The Pistons bring back pretty much the same squad, while the Heat have reconfigured the supporting cast around Shaq and D-Wade. The Pistons have the better starting five, but the Heat have the depth. The Pistons as a team have championship experience, but the Heat boast players such as Shaq and Gary Payton who have either won the championship, or made it to the finals.

At the start of the playoffs, I predicted that the Heat would come out of the East, and I still think they will. The Pistons have played too many games the past two seasons, and I sense that they're starting to wear down. They blew out the Cavs in Game 7 at home, but the Pistons teams of the past two years would not have let them hang around that long, and LeBron or no LeBron, would not have let them get ahead 3-2 in the series. And with all due respect to Chauncey Billups and his playoff prowess, the Heat have the two best players on the court this series, and no Guaran'Sheed is going to change that.

It will be close, but there will be a new champion coming out of the East

Prediction: Heat in 7

Western Conference
Dallas Mavericks vs. Phoenix Suns
After manhandling the chronically-underperforming Grizzlies in round one, Dallas nearly blew a 3-1 series lead against San Antonio, before miraculously saving their season with a late Game 7 rally. Having conquered the city of Los Angeles, the Suns begin moving East, hoping to knock off the Mavs, then eventually, either the Pistons or the Heat. Too bad it won't happen.

I like the Suns, they're fun to watch, and have a lot of talent on the floor. Unfortunately for them, the Mavs match up with them, or exceed them, in every category but one - three-point shooting. Can the Suns hit enough treys to make up for the difference in size, defense, and depth? Maybe, but I don't see it happening. After two grueling seven game series, I think the Suns are also going to start to wear down. If they are going to pull this off, they need to have the edge in most, if not all of the following categories:

• Speedy point guard playing at the two (Leandro Barbosa vs. Devin Harris)
• Shot-Blocking (Whoever technically plays Center for Phoenix vs. DeSagana Diop)
• Least Egregious Defensive Performance by a Point Guard (Steve Nash vs. Jason Terry)
• Clutch performance from a forward picked in the 1997 lottery who most of us cannot believe is playing a key role on a potential championship team (Tim Thomas vs. Keith Van Horn)
• Energetic courtside cheerleader (Amare Stoudamire vs. Mark Cuban)

I can see them taking 2 or 3 of these matchups (Barbosa, Thomas for sure, and Amare's actually giving the owner a run for his money). I'm not sure I like the idea of Nash defending anybody, much less Terry. The x-factor is Raja Bell, who has been clutch defensively, and has developed a three-point touch. The problem is, the Mavs have a very similar player in Josh Howard.

So here's the way I see it breaking down. All but one or two of the games will be close, but the Mavs' size advantage and depth will eventually wear the Suns down. I wouldn't be surprised to see it go either way, but I will be much more surprised if Phoenix wins than if Dallas does.

Prediction: Mavs in 6.

Enjoy the games everyone, and remember to root for the Celtics in the lottery tonight!


At 2:18 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

That picture of the question mark is awesome!

At 2:25 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

And weren't Thomas and Van Horn actually traded for each other in that lottery?

At 2:44 PM, Blogger Alex said...

They were. Good call.

At 3:41 PM, Blogger Alex said...

On a personal note, I should add that, when he came out of college, I was convinced that Keith Van Horn was going to be the next Larry Bird. I was devastated when he was taken one pick before the Celtics were up.

That's right, if you had asked the fifteen year old version of me who the best players (respectively) in the NBA and NFL would be nine years later, I probably would have picked Keith Van Horn and Jake Plummer.

And while we're on the subject, had Van Horn and Plummer gone to the right teams......nah, I won't get going. Though had KVH landed with the Celtics, Pitino probably would have traded him for Otis Thorpe 25 games into his rookie season, so maybe my point is moot.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Dude, Otis Thorpe was money.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger sacamano said...

Anyone who gets traded for Clyde the Glide must have somthing going for him.

At 7:39 PM, Blogger Alex said...

I went 1 for 3 with the draft lottery, nailing the Raptors as the winners.

It's a shame that Rob Babcock's not in charge anymore. It would have been impressive to see how he would have managed to screw it up.

At 7:16 AM, Blogger sacamano said...

Nice work on the Raptors call.

Too bad this is such a weak draft year and that nobody wants to play in Toronto.

At 8:25 AM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Agreed about draft depth, but who cares if they want toplay in T.O.? No one wanted to play for the Clippers, either. All it takes is for a couple guys to stick around, and others will follow.

Any thoughts of who will go 1st, anyways? I don't suppose Reddick or Morrison will go number 1.

At 11:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Morrison was seen as having a chance earlier, but he's more likely to go in the 3-6 range, given who's drafting at the top.

There's no clear cut number one, but most people think the Raptors will take the Italian kid, Andreas Bargnani, if they don't trade down. He's said to have a similar game to Dirk Nowitzki; I must be the only one who remembers when the same thing was said about Nikoloz Tskitishvilli. Tyrus Thomas (PF, LSU), Brandon Roy (combo guard, Washington), and LaMarcus Aldridge (Texas) could also get consideration, though Aldridge is a longshot since he plays the same position, and has a similar game to Chris Bosh.

With that being said, am I the only one who is trying to envision a scenario where Morrison falls to the Celtics at #7?


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