Friday, April 27, 2012
Posted by Anthony Canton | Friday, April 27, 2012
From the long lockout that finally ended in December to now, this is what we've been waiting for. The NBA Playoffs to come back. Last year ended with Dirk and the Mavericks getting the 1st championship ever at the expense of Lebron, Wade, and Bosh. Now we have new storylines, new tandems, and one question that will always be in the back of everyones mind about one Lebron James. Can he get it done? That remains to be seen, but we'll get answers in the next two months. For now, let's take a look at all the series that will start Saturday or Sunday. For the basketball fan, this is our time.
WESTERN CONFERENCE BRACKET
1)SAN ANTONIO SPURS vs. 8) UTAH JAZZ
This series will not get a lot of attention and obviously because of the two markets that are involved. Looking at the Spurs, once again you can't give them enough credit for their play during the regular season. Coach Pop (My Coach of the Year pick) deserves all the props for finding a way to make it work around his aging big three. Tony Parker has been sensational, Tim Duncan in limited minutes has been efficient and a great leader as always, and Manu Ginobili is healthy. With the support of guys like Neal, Bonner, Capt. Jack, Leonard, Green and more; this is as deep a San Antonio team we've seen in the Duncan era. The one issue with them, the one weakness that Utah needs to take advantage of this series is post play. Besides Duncan, the Spurs don't have a guy you can trust to protect the paint. (No I'm not ready to elevate Tiago Splitter to that level, I gotta see it.)
What Utah has is 4 bigs in Milsap, Jefferson, Kanter, and Favors who all play hard and all can have an impact on the game. If Utah dominates up front, this series will be long. The other key in my opinion is Devin Harris against Tony Parker. Parker has had his way with everybody all season. He's been easily one of the most dominant players in the league this year. Devin Harris will have to step it up. I think San Antonio wins this series, but Utah will have it's moments.
SPURS IN 6.
2) OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER VS. 7) DALLAS MAVERICKS
I think this the perfect test for the OKC as they try and get to the next step which is the NBA Finals and ultimately a championship. This is the rematch of last year's Western Conference Finals which was memorable for Dirk's two 40+ point games especially the one that broke the Thunder in Game 4. Are Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook ready to take the next step? I believe they are. The experience that they've gotten in the postseason the last two years has been vital and will spur their growth going forward.
Dallas presents different challenges for them. None of their bigs have the ability to cover a now healthy Nowitzki. The question is how much does Dirk have in the tank? Can he carry this weaker Mavs team against a Thunder team ready to move forward and I'm sure a team who hasn't forgotten that series of last season. James Harden should be healthy, and I think the Thunder's homecourt and young legs will outlast this older Mavs team. Dallas is the defending champ and you know they'll show grit, but this is Durant and Westbrook's time. If Dallas has any chance, you need to see last year's Dirk, Terry playing clutch, and Dallas' bigs playing at a very high level. I just don't think they'll get all 3 going at the same time.
OKC in 5
3) LOS ANGELES LAKERS vs. 6) DENVER NUGGETS
This is what you would call the ultimate contrast of styles. The Lakers who have primarily become a walk the ball up and pound it down to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol play a meat and potatoes game, surrounded by the two skilled big men and the greatness of Kobe Bryant. Now they have added Ramon Sessions to the mix, a point guard who has made their lives easier on offense with quicker attacks, pick and roll attacks, and a creator with a different dimension.
The Nuggets who while fighting injuries have had a great season, playing a breakneck pace with Ty Lawson running the team and winning with strength in numbers. Obviously the Lakers are heavily favored here, and if the Lakers were looking for a situation where they didn't necessarily need Metta World Peace (6 games left on suspension) , this would be it. As long as the Lakers don't get caught in a fast paced high scoring duel with the Nuggets, they will overpower them with their size. The question for Denver is this, can they push the pace enough where they can sucker the Lakers into their style? I just don't think it will happen. Lakers win.
LAKERS in 5
4) MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES vs. 5) LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
I love this series. This is my favorite non Knicks series of the 1st round. It's simply because you have the team with the 2 stars in the Clippers with Paul and Griffin going up against everybody's sleeper team in the Grizz. With the Grizz having homecourt, I like them here. You always have to question their consistency shooting the ball from the perimeter, but as far as every other component required to win in the playoffs they have it. A tough post up tandem of Gasol, Randolph, and Speights. Great perimeter defense in Tony Allen, a steady point in Mike Conley, and a fire starter off the bench in O.J. Mayo.
What the Clippers are going to have to do is play up tempo, and get Blake free in a free flowing game. If the Clippers make this ugly, they will not win this series. I don't think their frontline especially Blake will be able to deal with the forces that are Gasol and Randolph. Pending Z-Bo's complete health, while this will be an entertaining series, ultimately the Grizz will wear this thin Clippers squad down.
Grizzlies in 6
EASTERN CONFERENCE BRACKET
1) CHICAGO BULLS vs. 8) PHILADELPHIA 76ers
One of the biggest questions before the start of the playoffs; how healthy is Derrick Rose? He's missed a bunch of time with a various assortment of injuries, and one has to wonder how effective he'll be during a long playoff run. As for the Bulls themselves, once again with the best record in the NBA, still haven't gotten the respect one would think they deserve. I'm pretty sure both the Knicks and Sixers would've preferred playing Chi-Town over Miami, but once again, the Bulls are strength in numbers and effort. This is the most energetic team in basketball in terms of defense, with the will to win. From what I've seen, you're not going to beat this team from an effort standpoint.
Unfortunately for the Sixers, that's what a lot of their game is based on as well, and they just don't have enough offensive talent and skill to counteract the Bulls tough minded and ferocious defense & rebounding. Sixers get a game at most, but the Bulls come in motivated.
BULLS in 5
2) MIAMI HEAT vs. 7) NEW YORK KNICKS
For the Heat it's this simple; championship or bust. With a lot of people wondering what will happen if the big 3 fail to win the title this year, the race to survive commences. Lebron James will deal with more pressure and more consequences from losing this year more than any other year. The eye is on him, Wade, and Bosh to get the job done, or there'll be plenty of changes in Miami. As far as this series goes, think about this; when was the last time we had a mano a mano battle between superstars in the playoffs? It really doesn't happen often.
We have Melo vs. Lebron, a rivalry we finally can talk about instead of dream about. You'll see them guard each other, you'll hear the stories about Melo, Lebron, and Wade coming into the league together. You think Carmelo Anthony won't relish the opportunity to defeat both Wade and James at the same time, especially James, someone who he's grown up with basketball wise? This matchup is juicy from that standpoint, and my question as far as Melo is concerned is how high is his level going to get here? He's been on a tear for a reason this past month, because he's seen this coming from a mile away. This is his time.
As far as James goes, this round might be the perfect test for them to start out. They'll be playing a team in the Knicks who defensively have improved, and offensively are dangerous with Melo, (STAT?) and some 3 point shooters. I enclose Amar'e cause I'm not sure what he'll bring to the table. The Heat need to be ready, or they'll be in for a longer series than they bargained for. Miami is more vulnerable than we thought, and if they're not running and alley ooping and dunking, this may be a long series. I say six.
HEAT in 6.
3) INDIANA PACERS vs. 6) ORLANDO MAGIC
It's safe to say that this is easiest series to go chalk with in the 1st round. The Magic with no Howard, have been essentially left for dead by everyone, including me. What a weird and controversial filled year for that team. Nonetheless, I like this Pacers squad. Deep and athletic, capable of getting hot from 3, and overall not a bad defensive squad. This playoffs in my opinion for them will be a good learning experience together as they'll win this series, in what I think should be a sweep, but to borrow every experts opinion, there'll be a game where the Magic just hit 20 threes and that will be their win. No X's and O's here. Pacers are just a better and healthier squad.
PACERS in 5
4) ATLANTA HAWKS vs. 5) BOSTON CELTICS
An interesting series in this retrospect, actually two. One, I'll be in Boston for Game 3 and I'm expecting a really good crowd there. Two, this series is actually evenly matched. While the Celtics have had a great 2nd half, I'm just not convinced they're a powerhouse. In fact, they're just not. When everything is right, they're capable of beating anyone. The thing is now, it isn't just one game, it's 4 out of 7. I just don't think the C's as tough as they are will be able to bring it the whole way.
As far as this matchup goes, I look for Rondo to control the tempo, and get everybody shots and make the game easier on everyone. To be honest, Jeff Teague in my opinion is the key to this series for ATL. We basically know who these two teams are, but do we know enough about Teague? Can he challenge Rondo enough on both sides of the ball to make this series more than just a toughly won battle by Boston? Or does he have something more, and give the Hawks a legit chance in this series? Remains to be seen. One thing I do know, there will be 4 or 5 games in this series that will come down to the final two minutes, and Boston will win enough of those games to advance.
CELTICS in 6.
I'll review the weekend on Monday, be sure to check out anthonycanton.podomatic.com for my latest shows on the NBA Playoffs. Stay Tuned!