Seeds 1 and 8— Chicago Bulls vs. Indiana Pacers (Bulls win in 4)
The Bulls are a much better team than Indiana. That is an objective fact. The Pacers are a division foe, and have been heating up lately, but I just can’t give them a win the series. I’m not feeling charitable. Who are we kidding? The Bulls will dominate this series. Chicago is deeper, and more athletic. They also have the only superstar in the series, the very-probably-2011-MVP, Derrick Rose. Plus, Carlos Boozer should still be healthy; I don’t think the oncoming unavoidable freak injury will play in until at least halfway through the second round, though it will happen eventually. Indiana is a nice story, and the team is set up pretty well going forward, (cap space, young pieces etc.) but this team is just not ready to make any noise in the playoffs right now. People really seem to want Danny Granger to be a superstar, but unfortunately he plays like a great #2 option. Roy Hibbert has really come along this year, but he’s still crazy inconsistent, and I can’t see him steadily produce in a playoff series. Tyler Hansbrough has been OK lately, as well, but he’s also an awkward white guy, and unless you’re Larry Bird, that formula doesn’t work in the NBA. Mike Dunleavy is back in the rotation, and he brings some good things to the table, but OH MY GOD the Pacers are boring. I’m done. The Bulls are the #1 seed for a reason, and they’ll win the series with ease.
Seeds 2 and 7— Miami Heat vs. Philadelphia 76ers (Miami wins in 4)
I really like this Philly team; they’ve got moxy. Doug Collins has done an amazing job maximizing his roster. This is basically last year’s team, but with the addition (subtraction?) of their whiffed-on #2 overall pick Evan Turner. In all fairness he’s growing into a decent rotation player, so he might become a Marvin-Williams-type complete bust, and not the Greg Oden or Sam Bowie variety. Jrue Holiday (not an R&B singer, surprisingly) has been developing quite nicely. He probably could have used another year in college, but in a few years he might be a top tier point guard. Out of the blue, Andre Iguodala has become an amazing defender this year, as in one of the top 3 perimeter defenders in the league; I’m not sure why, but it’s good for them, I guess. Elton brand has somehow put together a respectable season- oh wait, that’s what they’re paying him? Never mind. Anyway, this Philly team really isn’t half bad. Having said that, Miami will annihilate the 76ers. Dwyane Wade and his teammate from Ohio ended the regular season on an impressive 8-2 run, and are heating up (I know, I know) for the playoffs. You really get the feeling they’re ready to take out the frustration of a disappointing season on someone, and it looks like Doug Collins’ crew will be those someones. Chris Bosh is there too, so people tell me, but he’s softer than fresh laundry, and I think in this series Brand will be able to handle him pretty well. I don’t know whom else on the Miami squad I can talk about, since that rotation is as thin as that one Olsen twin that’s really skinny. Let’s see–Big Z is a comically hollow shell of his former self, which wasn’t so great anyway, and Mike Bibby’s corpse has been re-animated an impressive second time after his 3-year haunt in Atlanta. Who else? Mario Chalmers…no. James Jo—no way, whatever. Philly is a really great feel-good story, but Wade and his teammate from Ohio are Ballers, with a capital B, and they’re going to treat the 76ers like Kobe treats Denver Hotel guests, which is why they look so happy in that picture up there.
Seeds 3 and 6— Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks (Celtics win in 6)
I will never lie to you, and so I won’t lie now. I really wanted a Miami-New York first round series, which would have been an offense-fest featuring 5 of the top 15 players in the league, and 30% of 2004 Chauncey Billups. Unfortunately, Miami worked their butt off and got the #2 seed, and the Knicks pulled enough of their s♥♥ t together to stumble into the 6th seed. So now we get to see a lackluster series in which Boston beats up a paper-thin New York team. Seriously, the Knicks rotation is two players deep; their bench is even thinner than whichever Olsen twin is the skinny one. I’d make a Calista Flockheart reference, but that stopped being topical six years ago. Melo can of course score in bunches, and Amar’e is a beast, but I’m just not really buying the D’Antoni system with those players. Maybe next year, once Chauncey has learned to pick and/or roll, and Melo has given up holding onto the ball for four minutes at a time, the team can have success. But not this year. I’m giving New York a couple of wins because all my other Eastern Conference round 1 series end in 4 games, and I wanted some variety. Also, the way the Celtics ended the regular season is garners some pause. They just couldn’t beat anyone the past ten games. Of course, they faced a similar situation last year, and got within 7 minutes of winning the championships, so they deserve the benefit of a few doubts—the problem is there are more than a few doubts. Something has happened to Rajon Rondo. The past few games he’s looked like a kid wandering the mall looking for his parents. He could never finish at the rim to begin with, and watching him try to make jump shots elicits the same reaction as listening to a king with a stutter give a speech, but now he can’t even get the ball to his teammates anymore. Rondo does traditionally seem to find another gear in the playoffs, so I’ll show some faith. I’m actually a fan of the Perkins trade (pause for gasp). Really, in a vacuum it wasn’t such a bad move. He had been hurt all year, and they weren’t going to pay him top dollar at the end of the season, so dumping him for a wing who could defend the Carmelos and LeBrons of the Eastern Conference wasn’t such a bad idea. Relying on the 2 O’Neals to be healthy, and your only true centers, though…that’s a bad idea. They’re basically relying on Mr. Glass as an insurance policy for the boy in the bubble. However, KG, Pierce, and Jesus Shuttlesworth are Ballers, also with a capital B. Doc Rivers, for all his faults, is a better coach than Mike D’Antoni, which should be spelled without the D, in my opinion. The Knicks will give some semblance of a fight, but Boston is moving on.
Seeds 4 and 5— Orlando Magic vs. Atlanta Hawks (Magic win in 4)
I was raised in Atlanta, and I am a Hawks fan. I’m the kind of person who talks himself into Dan Dickau starting for his team at the point. When we drafted Marvin Williams over any of the roughly 28 all-star point guards to come out of that draft; I was there. When we passed over Brandon Roy and Randy Foye to draft and undersized center who was the second best player on a Duke Sweet Sixteen team, I was there. I’ve been through it all (post 2002; I was not aware of basketball before then other than what could be gleamed through Space Jam and Teen Wolf), and am still a Hawks fan. As an abstract, unspecific idea, I love the Hawks. As an actual team, I can’t stand them. Joe Johnson is beyond overpaid. Let me show you a number: 24,894,863. No, that’s not the distance to the Sun in miles, or anything cosmically concerned; that’s not even Joe Johnson’s salary this year. No, that is actually the amount, in U.S. dollars, the Hawks will pay Joe Johnson 6 years from now, at age 35. This year, at age 29, which should pretty much be his peak, JJ is averaging 18.6 ppg, with 4 assist and 4 rebounds per game, to boot. You know who’s been averaging more in all 3 of those categories as a starter? Jordan Crawford, the rookie whom we buried in our bench until February, and then traded to Washington for Kirk Hinrich. By the way, Crawford’s salary is about $1 million, $15 million less than J-squared’s. I just don’t understand Hawks management, if you can even call it that. Johnson completely disappeared during the Orlando series last year, and the badmouthed the entire franchise’s fan base after they had the gall to criticize his historically awful performance, and we reward him with Kobe money? Who were we bidding against? His own mother wouldn’t give him that kind of contract! I’m already crying, so let’s move on…Josh Smith is a complete head case, for whom it took 4 years to realize the best offensive game plan wasn’t jacking up threes right and left even though his shooting percentage beyond the arc was in the .20’s. Al Horford is a solid player, but he went to Florida, so f♥♥ k him. Marvin Williams is a wonderful little role-player coming off the bench; it’s just too bad we had to use the 2ND OVERALL PICK in a fairly deep draft to get him. I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. Oh, Jamal Crawford, you’re OK in my book. Sure, you take awful shots in the final minutes of games, often dooming your team, but you’re a reserve shooting guard; that’s what you’re supposed to do. Anyway, I think I’ve made it clear I’m not so hot on the Hawks. However, they’re 3-1 against Orlando this year in the regular season, which would be promising, except the only person on the team who could check Dwight Howard, Jason Collins, is out with an injury. I know in last year’s playoffs——-I seem to have blocked that memory, but I don’t think it went well for the Hawks. They also ended the season on a 23 game losing streak. The previous sentence may be hyperbole. I’d like to say they stumbled into the postseason, but that would still imply some kind of forward progress. A more accurate analogy might be someone getting shot in the chest and falling backwards 5 miles into a postseason berth. The Magic will destroy Atlanta. Vae victis!
Seeds 1 and 4—- Chicago Bulls vs. Orlando Magic (Chicago wins in 6)
The Bulls are a better team than Orlando this year. It’s that simple. I don’t think people really understand how different this year’s Orlando squad is. These are not the same guys who reached the Finals 2 years ago, or the conference finals last year. Jameer Nelson has regressed. Turkoglu is back, but he’s older and less effective. Jason Richardson gets you 14-20 points a game, but so did Vince Carter, and that didn’t help them win any championships. Let’s not forget, they contracted Gilbert Arenas disease from Washington, which is very contagious. It destroys locker rooms and tweets incessantly about bullshit. Sidebar: does anyone remember how 4 years ago, at 25 years old, Arenas was one of the most exciting players in the league, capable of blowing up against the Lakers in L.A. for 50+ points? And now, he’s playing 20 minutes a game and netting 6-8 points on a good night. Dwight Howard is a beast; no argument. He is an amazing player, and the best center in the league, but he spends half the time garnering technicals, and disappears in the last 3 minutes of games. I also don’t like this whole LeBronish Howard-wants-to-leave Orlando vibe going on. Most of it may be manufactured by the media, but, as they say, where there’s smoke, there’s an unhappy superstar who want to play in L.A. The Magic do have a decent, yet admittedly bat- s♥♥t insane, coach in Stan van Gundy (I think it’s Stan. It’d better not be Jeff), who can be a great motivator, but I just don’t know how much he has to work with this time around, and honestly, Thibodeau might already be a better head coach just one year into his career. I do have Boozer going down in the 4th or 5th game, which will affect the conference finals. The Bulls will still take the series though.
Seeds 2 and 3— Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics (The Heat win in 5)
There will be blood. These teams hate each other, which is ironic (in the popular sense of the word, not the dictionary definition) because both teams feature 3 superstars who gave up max money to play together and compete for championships. No one blames the Boston Three Party because they all came together through trades and shunned the limelight as they went to work to try and win a title. Everyone hates The Heatles because LeBron announced he was leaving Cleveland in front of an audience of homeless kids on national TV. It didn’t help that Wade, LeBron, and Bosh jacked each other off onstage and celebrated a title before the season even started. Boston owned Miami in the regular season, but all of the Celtics’ victories came in the first 3 months of the season, when The Heat were still searching for an identity. Miami deconstructed the Celtics in their last meeting, and will continue to do so in this series. I know we’ve been saying this for 3 years, but Boston’s Big Three are old. At some point they’re going to run out of gas. Last year, it was during game 7 of the Finals, and I think this year they’re going to sputter out in the second round. Allen has kept in good shape, and is still capable of those nights where everything he touches glides into the net, but he also completely disappears for geological ages at a time. KG is still a beats defensively, but on offense he will get you 15 and 8, and that’s it. And Paul Pierce—meh, just don’t care for him at this stage. I also don’t think nearly enough has been made of Thibodeau’s absence. He kept people in line. KG is still a great defensive leader, as I’ve mentioned, but I don’t know if he can exert the same control over the other players as Thibby did. I don’t know if “Thibby” is even his nickname, but I like it. Boston does tend to shut down Wade, but they never seem to have an answer for King James. Last year, when still in Cleveland, he was basically on the way to single-handedly winning that series against Boston before he just stopped. I hope someone digs up the dirt on what exactly happened between games 3 and 4 of that series. Honestly, I think Miami is hungrier right now, and Boston has been giving off dysfunctional vibes. The Heat will win the series easily.
Eastern Conference Finals
Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat (The Heat win in 6)
I’m torn. Chicago was hands-down the best team in the East during the regular season. They beat everybody handily, and had a winning record against all the other teams ranked in the top 5 in wins, in either conference. Here comes the but–they have yet to get out of the 1st round in the Derrick Rose era, and reaching the NBA Finals just seems like a lot to ask at this stage. If the Bulls were healthy, I would have them edge out the Heat and reach the Finals, but we know Boozer is going to be out at this point. Chicago is a very deep team; they’ve been running a 10 to 11 man rotation during the season, which is pretty impressive, so they’ll still be able to hang with the Heat and exploit that bench. It comes down to stars though. Superstars play better, that’s true, but they also get preferential treatment from refs, so the series boils down to Derrick Rose vs. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. I just can’t pick against Wade and LeBron. After reaching the conference finals, they’re going to be smelling the blood in the water, and there’s no way they’re going to lose out on making the NBA Finals. Deprava tells me I use the term “pole ride” too much, so I’ll just say I’m a fan of Rose’s. Ever since he lit it up in the first round against Boston his rookie year, while being guarded by Rondo, who is maybe the best defending pg in the league, I’ve been all over Rose. If you were using the Weird Science computer to generate the ideal point guard, that product would be less physically impressive than D-Rose. Well, its tits would be bigger, but anyway, the man is a monster and quick as lighting. It looks like he’s teleporting around the court like Nightcrawler; no one can keep up with him. He’s got the intangibles, too. The way he kept his team together through Noah and Boozer begin out half the year, and consistently beat top-tier teams short-handed was beyond impressive. Unfortunately, beating teams in a single regular-season game is one thing, and winning a 7-game playoff series is something else entirely. DwyBron will kick it into gear, and the Heat will win the series in 6 games. Let’s regroup before the NBA Finals and see how wrong I was.