Well, the playoff seeds are set, and for the 11 people in America (outside of the playoff teams’ cities) who still care about the NBA, this is a very exciting time of year. But before you get all worked up about the NBA playoffs, let me remind you of three things:
1. The NBA playoffs take roughly as long as the NFL season. Teams will play each other, inexplicably taking 2-4 days off between matchups, from mid-April to early June. As basketball breaks down on a micro level, so it does on the macro. As is the case with an individual basketball game, you don’t need to watch the playoffs until the very end.
2. Over half the NBA makes the playoffs. This is beyond ridiculous. If you
don’t make the playoffs when nearly 60% of your league is eligible, it doesn’t mean you’re a “bubble team” that got a bad bounce (like with the NCAA tournament) or that you had a good record but couldn’t win your division (like with the NFL). It just means you’re irreparably flawed. Having 16 of a possible 30 teams making the post-season just propogates the lack of parity that is predominant in this league, and is one of the big reasons it’s unwatchable. For instance, why watch the NBA playoffs when you already know that only 3-4 teams are in the same class, and in 7-game series the dominant teams almost always outclass the underdog? The most exciting part of this time of year for non-playoff teams (except for the Indiana Pacers, who do everything wrong) is finding out if their late-season tanking worked well enough to secure them the amount of lottery balls necessary to get a shot at drafting John Wall or Evan Turner (because, let’s be realistic, those are the only two guys in this draft who will be stars any time soon).
3. The NBA sucks. After a month of the most exciting basketball event imaginable, where athleticism, great coaching, sound fundamentals and excessive drama were in the forefront, we’re subjected to lengthy series between teams of surly, overpaid brats who don’t remember how to block out and can’t be bothered to play helpside defense. Making it all worth it is the opportunity to watch the 1% of NBA stars who actually get it and/or are legitimately entertaining thanks to their abilities (Durant, Wade, Kobe and LeBron come to mind). But that’s only if the NBA’s default offense, the stand-around-until-he-shot-clock’s-about-to-run-out-before-jacking-up-an-ill-advised-three-or-drive-to-the-basket-and-hope-for-a-foul “Pro Style” scheme doesn’t ruin the superstars’ chances of taking over a game in a somewhat exciting fashion. Well, that and the refs, the boring zone defenses and the unbearable sideline reporting.
Anyway, all pessimism aside, it’s on to my Eastern Conference playoff breakdown. I’ll handle the West tomorrow. Enjoy.
1 Cleveland (61-21) vs. 8 Chicago (41-41)
Why you should watch: For the first time since the 2004-05 season, it took a .500 record or better for an Eastern Conference 8-seed to make the playoffs. The East may finally be getting better, so there’s that. And oh yeah, there’s the growing concern that the Bulls coach might get into a fisticuffs with the VP, which could certainly be entertaining.
PG matchup: Derrick Rose vs. Mo Williams-Advantage Bulls
SG: Kirk Hinrich vs. Anthony Parker-Even
SF: Luol Deng vs. LeBron James-Advantage Cavs
PF: Taj Gibson vs. Antawn Jamison-Advantage Cavs
C: Joakim Noah vs. Anderson Varejao-Advantage Bulls
Bench: Advantage Cavs
Coaching: Advantage Cavs
Prediction: Cavs 4-0. Cleveland against the rest of the league outscored Chicago by 14ppg this season. Chicago allowed two more ppg than it scored. The season series between the two teams is tied 2-2, but the Bulls only won the last game by one, while LeBron watched from the sidelines with phantom injuries. While I agree with KCCB that Mike Brown can’t coach, Vinny Del Negro will make him look like the second coming of Red Auerbach. And one more thing…LeBron James is a freaking animal. He’s as unguardable as they get. Who on the Bulls’ roster is going to check him? Noah? He’ll take him off the dribble. Deng? He’ll body him up with his 40 pound weight advantage. LeBron’s on a mission, and the Bulls are in the way.
2 Orlando (59-23) vs. 7 Charlotte (44-38)
Why you should watch: I really can’t think of a good reason. If the Bobcats hadn’t traded Emeka Okafor away mid-season, this would be a compelling matchup…at least compelling in the sense that he and Dwight Howard were drafted back-to-back in the same year and there were a lot of people who though Okafor should’ve gone first…and now Okafor looks like Howard’s grandfather. Since the Bobcats traded Okafor for the skeletal remains of Tyson Chandler, I’m really not sure why you should watch. I guess to see if Larry Brown most likely wanting another job distracts his team enough for them to completely quit on him.
PG: Raymond Felton vs. Jameer Nelson-Even
SG: Steven Jackson vs. Vince Carter-Even
SF: Gerald Wallace vs. Matt Barnes-Advantage Bobcats
PF: Boris Diaw vs. Rashard Lewis-Advantage Magic
C: Theo Ratliff (seriously) vs. Dwight Howard-Advantage Magic
Prediction: Magic 4-1. The ‘Cats have come a long way. Brown has turned Michael Jordan’s steaming scat pile into a decent squad, and the best defensive team in the league. That said, they aren’t much for offense. The Magic? They’re pretty much good both ways (they rank 4th and 3rd respecively in offense and defense). The real catalyst of course is Dwight Howard, who will be matching up against a taller, goofier version of Shaun Livingston or Theo Ratliff, who up until a year ago, we all referred to as “Theo Ratliff’s Expiring Contract.” A big part of the Magic’s success this year has come from the inside-out strategy. They’re the best 3-point shooting
team in the league, and at any given time can surround Howard (who requires a double-team) with four shooters. Gerald Wallace and Steven Jackson are good perimeter defenders, but not good enough to keep up with Orlando’s endless supply of long distance gunners.
3 Atlanta (53-29) vs. 6 Milwaukee (46-36)
Why you should watch: Because no one in Atlanta will be. Seriously. In each of the last ten years, despite the fact that there are almost 5 million people living in the Atlanta metro area, the Hawks have ranked in the bottom 1/3rd in the league in attendance, and have ranked second-to-last, or dead last five times. You can’t blame the product anymore. The Hawks have now made the playoffs in three straight years, increased their wins each year and are one of the most exciting teams in the league to watch. So even though by and large, the NBA sucks and nobody will be watching in Atlanta, you should.
PG: Mike Bibby vs. Brandon Jennings-Advantage Hawks
SG: Joe Johnson vs. John Salmons-Advantage Hawks
SF: Marvin Williams vs. Carlos Delfino-Advantage Hawks
PF: Josh Smith vs. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute-Advantage Hawks
C: Al Horford vs. Kurt Thomas-Advantage Hawks
Bench: Advantage Hawks
Coaching: Advantage Hawks
Prediction: Hawks 4-1. This could’ve been an interesting series until the greusome Andrew Bogut injury. Bogut was having a career-year, and with his passing skills and touch he would have been a nightmare for the jump-happy Josh Smith if he ever got caught up with him in a mismatch. Kurt Thomas, however, hasn’t been relevant since Knicks fans hated Reggie Miller. Scott Skiles doesn’t get enough credit for pounding his defensive philosophy into this Bucks team, and it shows with how close each of the games between these two teams with such different styles has been (the average spread has been 5 and the Bucks have held the Hawks well under their league average in each contest). The expectations were low this season after losing Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Session in the off-season, then Michael Redd early in the year. They’ve remarkably persevered, but they’re not in the same league as the Hawks.
4 Boston (50-32) vs. 5 Miami (47-35)
Why you should watch: Because it should make you feel good inside to watch the once haughty, irritatingly well-put together Celtics deteriorate before your very eyes. Even professional Celtics fans can no longer talk themselves into this team making any post-season noise. Besides, the only player on Boston’s roster who can remotely handle Dwyane Wade is Rajon Rondo, who is by far the Celtics’ most entertaining player himself. Could be a clash of the titans, that.
PG: Rajon Rondo vs. Carlos Arroyo-Advantage Celtics
SG: Ray Allen vs. Dwyane Wade-Advantage Heat
SF: Paul Pierce vs. Quinten Richardson-Advantage Celtics
PF: Kevin Garnett vs. Michael Beasely-Advantage Celtics
C: Kendrick Perkins vs. Joel Anthony-Advantage Celtics
Bench: Advantage Heat
Coaching: Advantage Heat
Prediction: Heat 4-3. The Celtics have won their last three against Miami. That’s about all they have going for them. This series pits the league’s hottest playoff team (Miami is winners of 12 of its last 13 games) vs. its coldest (Boston’s won 3 of its last 10). I just can’t see the Celtics swinging themselves out of this funk. The oldsters are breaking down, and the Heat’s younger legs (Jermaine O’Neal, you obviously don’t count) and solid bench rotation of reliable bigs will be too much for the Celtics, suddenly devoid of healthy, talented interior defenders after Kendrick Perkins. If the Cs get hot, the Heat can match. And star-for-star, D-Wade’s on the LeBron/Durant/Kobe plane, while KG and his geriatric crew, even though they look better on paper, don’t come close to that career-pinnacle level that Wade’s at right now.
Check back tomorrow for my breakdown of the Western Conference.