So things are fully underway in the NBA Playoffs, and thankfully the Los Angeles Lakers are still alive. As such, I’m able to be here writing this preview, as opposed to curled up in the fetal position in my closet playing with my Kobe Bryant action figures. That’s not really a surprising revelation. This was a strange first round, somehow very predictable but utterly surprising at the same time.
You may scoff (and, to be fair to myself, I had a vague intuition about this very thing happening) but I can’t stress how big Derrick Rose’s injury is both to this playoffs, and potentially the next few years in the NBA. I mean the fact that Doug Collins’ 76ers defeated the Chicago Bulls completed changed the landscape of the East. First of all, congrats to Doug Collins. I like that dude. Second of all, their second round matchup against the Celtics is actually a totally winnable series.
Hell, they almost stole game 1 in TD Garden two nights ago, and the Celtics are only going to get more exhausted and geriatric looking. Speaking of the Celtics, they beat the Hawks. Because they’re the Hawks, so, duh. They continue to be excitement kryptonite. Meanwhile the Heat steamrolled the Knicks, who did a great job of making themselves look foolish (and leaving the Big Apple understandably worried about the future. Theoretically, this should’ve been the best version of the team we’ll see in the Carmelo/Amar’e/Chandler cycle. Uh-oh. Nothing about that longest-playoff-losing-streak-in-history snapping victory felt good at all.
Also, the Heat played well in 4th quarters (and did again last night against the Pacers). Fuuuuuuuck. Speaking of the Pacers, after a bizarre Game 1 loss that I’m going to chalk up to some Illuminati placing a big bet, they made quick work of the crippled Magic. No surprises there. The West played out pretty predictably is well. Spurs had no trouble and continue to fly under the radar looking great. Tim Duncan has presumably just been in a hyperbaric chamber for the past week just… knitting I guess. He probably knits.
The Thunder/Mavericks series, despite ending as a sweep for Oklahoma City, was actually a little closer than the result suggests. Dallas was actually this close to stealing two (two!) games in Oklahoma City, and you know what Dirk is like when he gets on a winning streak. Alas, repeating is hard (unless you’re the Lakers/Celtics/Bulls) and it just wasn’t Dallas’ year. Nevertheless, the apparent lack of home field dominance (weird for a team who’s city is so insanely obsessed with them) bodes well for the Lakers, who blessedly scraped by the Nuggets in a maddening 7 game series that saw Kenneth Faried going off for Denver and Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum playing like Darko Milicic and Joffrey Baratheon, respectively.
But World Peace is back, so all is well. I felt bad for the Grizz, who put up a hell of a fight, but came up against the unstoppable force that is Chris Paul. Watching that series made my blood boil thinking about CP3 in the yellow and purple. I will never, ever forgive David Stern for that. Let’s take a look at round 2!
2. Miami Heat (Def. Knicks 4-1) Vs. 3. Indiana Pacers (Def. Magic 4-1)
Well, let’s just get it out there: we all saw last night’s game right? This is bizarrely possible. Not probable, no, but it’s in the realm of the real. Sebastian Pruiti, a guy who knows much more than me about the hyperspecific x’s and o’s of the game seems to think this is a rough matchup for the Big Three and after watching last night’s game I would have to agree. Especially since the Big Three has dwindles to two, as Bosh is out indefinitely with an abdominal strain.
If Danny Granger can really kick it into gear, and the Pacers can stay out of the deeply weird foul trouble they found themselves in last night (seriously all their stars either did, or were on the verge of fouling out) we could have a good one on our hands. All that being said… fucking Lebron and Wade. If they play like they did in the second half last night, then forget about the Pacers, I don’t think anyone can take them on. You don’t know how much it pains me to type that. Also, FYI, the Pacers are the only team in the East with a vague chance to stop the Heat’s road to the Finals. Still, Heat in 6.
4. Boston Celtics (Def. Hawks 4-3) Vs. 8. Philadelphia 76ers (Def. Bulls 4-2)
First of all, I can’t help but feel like either of these teams would get slapped around something fierce by either competitor in the other East matchup, but I also called Knicks over Heat so clearly I’m short a few brain cells. Listen: Philly is a perfectly fine team, but they’re not a championship contender team. Point to someone on that roster who will take the last game seven shot and dagger it into their opponent’s heart with aplomb. Yeah, didn’t think so.
So the fact that they almost took the Celtics in Game 1 really makes this feel like the losers bracket. If the Celtics can keep up physically, I think they should have this one, but I really can’t imagine how exhausted they must be. They do have stars though (the Sixers don’t) and never put a playoff series past Paul Pierce and his gross, gross facial hair. Celtics in 7.
1. San Antonio Spurs (Def. Jazz 4-0) Vs. 5. Los Angeles Clippers (Def. Grizzlies 4-3)
I’m actually really excited for this series as well. This should be a real bruiser. I imagine that finally getting past the first round of the playoffs will be a big influence on the way this Clippers team plays, and hopefully somebody (anybody!) will step up to help Chris Paul get it done. Now really is the place where Blake Griffin proves himself and becomes the Kobe to CP3s Shaq (don’t call me out for position discrepancies, it’s a feel thing) or fades into the melange of medium-good players that surround a star (like Cleveland era Lebron).
Meanwhile the Spurs… it’s just so hard to say anything exciting or new or interesting about them. Yes, Tony Parker continues to play great. Yes, Boris Diaw was a great, great pickup for them. Yes, they currently have easily the best coaching in the league. No matter what they are a very, very hard team to beat. As always. Spurs in 6.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (Def. Mavericks 4-0) Vs. 3. Los Angeles Lakers (Def. Nuggets 4-3)
Divorcing myself from fandom for a second, this is a series that really “means something” no matter who wins it. In a way, it will define the tone of the West for the next few years. This is the perfect test for the Thunder: can the young upstart team upset the vets? Are Durant and Westbrook enough to take on Kobe? Will someone named “World Peace” murder a guy on the court?
Really though, if the Lakers have any chance of beating the Thunder they’re going to have to play like they did in Game 1 of their Nuggets series. That team can easily go to the finals and contend. The Laker team of Game 6 doesn’t even belong in the playoffs. Time to step up Bynum. Lakers in 7, because back off.