Great games last night, and a great way to start the playoffs. The Bulls make an amazing comeback, the Heat hold off a furious rally from the Sixers, Dwight Howard puts up a Superman-like 46 points in a loss, and the Mavs rally to beat the Blazers in a great game. It's going to be a fun two months.
(1) San Antonio Spurs v. (8) Memphis Grizzlies: Well hello Memphis, it’s good to see you again. It’s been since 2006 that you’ve been in the Playoffs, and you played your little butts off to get here, even without star Rudy Gay. That is, until you allegedly tanked the last couple games of the season to avoid facing the big, bad Lakers in the first round. As far as the Spurs, this team just won’t go away. You would think that age would have to show through at some point. Tim Duncan seems like he’s 50 years old. But this series should be a slobberknocker, as they split the season series 2-2.
Series Stud: Tony Parker. Tim Duncan’s got a lot of miles on the tank, and it’s Parker’s team now. He and Eva Longoria break up (why would you cheat on that?), and has one of the second best seasons of his career. Clearly, the City of Memphis needs to keep the women away from Parker to mess with his head a little bit. Parker’s calling card is his tenacity on both ends of the floor. He runs around sometimes like a chicken with his head cut off, and then you realize that he knows exactly what he’s doing at all times. He drives, he scores, he makes a decent amount of threes, he dishes to people in the post, and averages over a steal a game. He’s an exciting player, and should take advantage of the Grizz’s weak perimeter defense (especially Mike Conley) to make a huge impact on this series.
The Spurs: What a season for this team. They’ve lost a little bit of their defensive tenacity, but readjusted their offensive scheme, taking the focus off of sure-fire Hall of Famer Tim Duncan to give guards Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker more opportunities to penetrate to the hole and create. They’re a balanced team now, with basically six players averaging double figures. They finally have some young talent, with rookie Gary Neal providing a needed 3 point threat and DeJuan Blair banging down low in the post. I still don’t know how Blair fell to them with the 28th pick a couple years ago. That guy couldn’t be stopped at Pitt. The Spurs’ veterans in Ginobili, Parker, Duncan, and forward Richard Jefferson will keep this team moving along and keep everyone’s heads in the game. They will be focused, but I just don’t know if they have another title run in them. This team sputtered into the playoffs, losing 8 of their last 12 games after a blistering first two thirds of the season. But I think they have enough in the tank to get past the Grizz. After that may be another story.
The Grizz: The Grizzlies have returned to the Playoff realm playing a tough, hard nosed type of basketball. Zach Randolph got in shape and went into beast-mode all season, Mike Conley is the only player who played better AFTER signing a contract extension, and Marc Gasol is playing half as good as his brother, which is saying something. The defensive tenacity with Shane Battier and Tony Allen have given Memphis an edge it hasn’t had in years. When you look at their season records, it’s easy to peg the Spurs as favorites, but dig a little deeper and the teams are pretty even. They have similar offensive and defensive shooting percentages, and are both pretty average rebounding teams. The problem I see with the Grizz is that they don’t have that person who’s going to step up in the clutch. O.J. Mayo is a bit of a head case; condiments don’t carry a meal, they compliment it. And while Memphis played well without him, I don’t think the team can win a series without star forward Rudy Gay. I think the Grizz finally win a playoff game after being swept in their only three appearances; you have to start somewhere, and challenging a team with four titles in the last 11 years for a series is a pretty good start.
Prediction: Spurs in 6. Memphis is a tough team, but I see a “happy to be here” mentality. The tough, experienced Spurs are going to push down on the throttle, even though Memphis will grit its way out to a couple of wins
(2) LA Lakers v. (7) New Orleans Hornets: Another I-65 type of series where we know what’s going to happen. The season ending injury to David West killed my desire to watch this series. I love Chris Paul, but I hate the Lakers. And my hatred of the Lakers overrides my desire to watch the game’s greatest point guard play for four or five games.
Series Stud: Kobe Bryant. I can’t wait for the day until I can leave him off this spot. But the fact is that he’s one of the game’s 10 greatest players of all time. He’s only 33, even though it seems like he’s been playing since 1974, so there’s about four more years before I can consider dropping him away from the “best player in a first-round series” pedestal. I think I just dislike him as a person. From the Colorado raping incident to the derogatory comment about homosexuals that he made last week, there’s not many redeeming qualities about him as a person. Just own up to the fact that you’re a bad person, and stop making excuses. All of this doesn’t change the fact, and maybe helps explain why the Mamba’s a killer on the court. He’s one of the best clutch players ever, and has adapted his game to his aging knees by perfecting the turnaround midrange jumper, which is the same thing MJ did in the waning years of his career.
The Lakers: To start, let’s realize that Phil Jackson is beginning this playoffs in search of the fourth three-peat of his coaching career. Think about that for a second. He pulled off two three-peats with the Bulls (which could’ve been 8 in a row if MJ didn’t make an attempt at a “baseball career”), one in the early 2000’s with Shaq and Kobe, and now is going for a FOURTH. That’s just unfathomable. We could all probably learn a few lessons from the Zen master. As far as the Lakers, I keep thinking that this team just isn’t what last year’s was. I don’t know why I feel that way though. Kobe hasn’t practiced all year to keep his legs fresh, but he’s going to be fine. Pau Gasol has kept humming along churning out a double-double average, again. And Lamar Odom and Ron Artest have provided defensive length and tenacity. They’re going to whoop up on the Hornets, but I’m concerned about them from here on out. I like the point guard combo of the aging Derek Fisher and Steve Blake, who’s been a great addition, and Andrew Bynum is a force down low when healthy. And I think that’s what bothers me. Even though Bynum is going to play, I don’t think he’s healthy, and I don’t think he’s going to be the stop gap defender in the middle the Lakers need to make a third straight run to the title. They lost five straight games from April 3-10th, including losses to Denver, Portland, and Oklahoma City. Many of the analysts are picking the Lakers to roll through the West, but for whatever reason I’m skeptical of this team. I’ve watched them play probably 8-10 games and I just don’t see it. I’m hoping I’m not wrong, because I feel the same way about the Lakers as I do about the Duke Blue Devils and New York Yankees. I hate them because they’re so good.
The Hornets: The Hornets are going to have to stick with their 5th ranked defense in order to have a chance in this series. My advice? If you’re going to watch, just watch Chris Paul play. He’s the maestro of the point guard position for our generation, and with all due respect to Emeka Okafor, Carl Landry, and Trevor Ariza, Paul’s the only player on this team worth watching. On a side not, if you want to party, you should head to New Orleans for a weekend. Seriously, if you haven’t gone, just go. Take in the food, take in the music, and be sure to take down at least a couple hurricanes, drive-thru daiquiris, and sazeracs. Then see where the night takes you, because it’s going to be one wild ride. My girlfriend and I went there in January for three days an unbelievable weekend, at least what we can remember of it. Come to think of it, maybe Chris Paul and coach Monty Williams headed to Bourbon Street and drowned away their dreams of a title in alcohol when David West went down. At least that’s what I would’ve done. As much as I’ve bashed this team here, I have one last message: Hornets, I’m rooting for you.
Prediction: With David West healthy, I think the West/Paul/Okafor combo could push the Lakers to seven games. But with West out, that’s not happenin’. Bryant pushes himself to the next level on the first leg of another run. Lakers in 5.