How about these NBA Playoffs so far? Derrick Rose has made me question whether he is half-man/half-god AND the second coming of MJ in Chicago, the Hornets made me look like an idiot (not that I'm complaining), the Big 3 is asserting themselves as the most dominant team so far, and Knicks/Celtics and Thunder/Nuggets are already shaping up to be some all-time great first round series.
So life got in the way this weekend and yesterday, and I really didn't have an opportunity to get this up on Sunday before the games. While yes, I do apologize, I'm not getting paid to do this, so whatever. We've only missed one game of these series, and my opinion on what's happened is NOT going to change. Check out these last two series previews, then my full NBA Playoff picks afterward.
(3) Boston Celtics v. (6) NY Knicks: I love everything about this matchup. You have the most storied franchise in NBA history against the most overrated franchise in NBA history. The Celtics have won 17 NBA titles, have been to the Finals two out of the last three years, love to play shut down D, and have three of the all-time greats and one future great playing for them. The Knicks have the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, years of futility haunting them (last title: 1970), are returning to the playoffs after a long absence, have two of the best young stars in the game playing their first season with the run-and-gun offensive minded Knicks. The Celtics started the season strong, the Knicks were on a whirlwind tour. Fact of the matter is, these teams could not be different, and you could flip a coin for this series. It’s going to be a doozy.
Series Stud: Carmelo Anthony. Alright ‘Melo, the spotlight’s on you now. You wanted to play in New York? Well you got New York. You want a shot to prove that you can hang with the big boys and carry a team in the playoffs? Here it is big guy, and the big, bad Celtics are staring you down. In March and April, he averaged 26+ PPG, 6.5+ RPG, and shot just under 47% from the field. Pretty impressive numbers for the big guy. He looked like crap in Game 1, but I’m sticking with him as my Series stud. He has to wear down Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on the offensive end and step up his game; if he doesn’t, this series is over quick.
The Celtics: The Celtics just don’t look like the same team since the trade that sent glue guy Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City in the middle of the season. They lost 10 of their last 21 games, unlike Celtics team of the past that got better as the season wore on. What do Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett need to get them going? A little blue pill, that’s what. When men are young and get lucky with a lady on a fateful night in the bar scene, they go home and can pull out all the stops. They have the moves that the ladies like, and it’s not a one track album, if you catch my drift. But as we age, something happens. When we men get older, something happens. We still have all the right moves, but then our back creaks a little bit, our stamina decreases, and it takes a hell of a lot longer to start the engine on the automobile. And once it starts, it’s probably not catching again until morning. That’s where the little blue pill comes in, and ladies and gentlemen, I don’t think the doctor wrote the Celtics a prescription this year. With the exception of PG Rajon Rondo, the Celtics look a little bit slower, have a little les s hop in their step, and don’t have that extra gear they did a few years ago. But if the Celtics can find that inner mojo, bear down on defense, and keep these games in double digits, they may be able to get the job done.
The Knicks: Not quite sure what to make of these guys. Starting March 10: lose nine out of ten games, including two losses to Indiana and Milwaukee, and losses to also-rans Detroit and Charlotte. Then go on a seven game winning streak, putting up 100 points in six of the seven games. Finish the season with double-digit losses to the Bulls and Celtics. I’m confused. They score the second most points in the league, while giving up the 28th most. They obviously have the Almost-Big 3, with Carmelo, Amare Stoudemire, and Chauncey Billups. Amare has been a forced to be reckoned with all season long on the offensive end, but couldn’t stop a sloth if it was coming at him at the lane. Hopefully Ronny Turiaf will continue his defensive presence in the middle all series. Billups has played great since coming over from Denver, and is playing with a chip on the shoulder since people seem to have written him off. With Billups out for Game 2 and who knows how long thereafter, guards Toney Douglas and Landry Fields really need to step up and contribute. Mike D’Antoni’s run-and-gun offense needs to get it going, or else this series is already over.
Prediction: Knicks in 6. I hate to do this, but I just don’t see the Celtics coming through. The Celtics limped into the playoffs, and can’t find that magic blue pill. They fizzle out as the Knicks wear them down under the brightest lights in the game: Madison Square Garden. (Editor’s note: I don’t like this pick anymore, with Billups out in Game 2. But I promised myself to stick to my guns).
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder v. (5) Denver Nuggets: I’m super excited for this one. I think this is the most electrifying matchup we have. Blazers-Mavs and Celtics-Knicks will be better, but this once has some pop. Lots of storylines here. The Boy Wonders against the Ugly Duckling. Does Kevin Durant use his World Championship experience to take that next step to superstardom? Or does Russell Westbrook assert himself as Derrick Rose 2.0? How does Denver use the motivation from being doubted after the Carmelo Anthony trade? Can Oklahoma City handle playing in Denver with the altitude change? Does Denver play their hearts out for cancer-free coach George Karl, who couldn’t even talk this time last year? Like I said, there’s a lot to look forward to. The end of Game 1 proved we’re going to see a crazy series.
Series Stud: Kevin Durant. He’s got the sweetest stroke in the game, and is a pure scorer. Sometimes you don’t even realize he’s playing then, look at the box score and he’s got 30 points. Durant’s been one of the game’s brightest young stars, but his toughness and ability to win big games has been questioned since his days at Texas. Then he carried our country to a gold medal at the 2010 World Championships, something we hadn’t won in quite some time. Now people are waiting for the big step in the NBA. I think he does it this year.
The Thunder: GM Sam Presti has built Oklahoma City into a contender through solid drafting, savvy trades, and key free agent pickups. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant lead the way, but ladies and gentlemen, when you look in the dictionary for the definition of “team,” the 2011 OKC Thunder are staring right back at you. Durant and Westbrook provide the bulk of the scoring, and Westbrook is backed up by steady as she goes floor captain slick (E)ric Maynor. Sharp-shooter James Harden has finally settled into his role, and 2009 Three-Point Challenge champion Daequan Cook can come in if needed. Thabo Sefolosha brings a defensive intensity that carries over to the entire team. Even 10th or 11th man Nate Robinson brings much needed intensity from the bench.
But this team needed a fiery presence down low; someone who could scare the crap out of teams. Kendrick Perkins has been that man, guarding the rim wreaking havoc while letting forward Serge Ibaka roam to block shots on inadequate minions who attempt to come anywhere near the basket. The two have averaged 17 rebounds and over 3.5 blocks per game between them. With twin towers down low, the perimeter players can roam the three point line, and I look for the OKC D to turn it up a notch come playoff time. Perkins may have been the missing piece to this jigsaw puzzle, and I see OKC going a long way in these playoffs. No one wants to play them.
The Nugs: What a season. Marred by the Carmelo rumors all year, the was struggling to remain in the playoff race. Then after the trade, the Nuggets go on a tear. They reel off 18 wins in 25 games to take the five seed, without a star player. These guys are a mish mash of role players: Nene Hilario and tattoo freak Chris Anderson dominate in the post, Ty Payson and Ray Felton split point guard duties, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler play as swingmen, and Kenyon Martin somehow continues to find a place in this league. Basically, these guys play with heart, and little else, because there is no such thing as a superstar anywhere near this roster. If this team goes anywhere in the playoffs, they’re going to do it because they band together and play like Milan High in Hoosiers, or rally around Denver figurehead Coach Karl and win one for the Gipper.
Prediction: Thunder in 7. The Nuggets are playing their hearts out for George Karl, and are going to take the Thunder to the brink. But I’m pretty sure this is the end of the line. They have no star to carry them through Durantula and Westy.
Playoff Picks (after the first round):
Conference Semis: Bulls over Magic in 5 – DRose, Noah, and Boozer are too much for Dwight Howard and the Magic; Heat over Knicks in 6 – Big 3 > Big 2 + Billups. The Knicks need to wait ‘til 2012 when Chris Paul or Deron Williams is wearing the blue and orange.
Conference Finals: Heat over Bulls in 7 – Sorry Chicago fans, mainly my buddies Gross, Koon, and Fetta, I think the hunger of the Big 3 will overcome the drive of the Bulls in a series for the ages that we haven’t seen in years. The Bulls will have their time, but not this year. A great series that is reminiscent of the Bulls-Celtics first round matchup in 2009. No one wants to lose, and both teams will be hard-pressed to keep the momentum going into the Finals.
Conference Semis: Thunder over Spurs in 7 – The youth prevails. Kind of like the Celtics, I think the Spurs wear down because they miss their little blue pill, and the Thunder’s pace will take them over the top in Game 7. Blazers over Lakers in 6 – Team ball takes down Kobe’s team. The matchups are horrible for the Lakers in this series, as Portland’s depth and perimeter defense makes the Lakers find someone else to take over the series. The problem is there’s no one else.
Conference Finals: Thunder over Blazers in 6 – In an unusual matchup for the conference Finals, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook arrive in a big way. A great series of two true “teams” ends up with the Thunder shutting down the Blazers on the road in Game 6.
NBA Finals: Heat over Thunder in 6 – The cities of Cleveland and Seattle cry themselves to sleep every night watching the former star (LBJ) and beloved team (the SuperSonics) duke it out for the title. The experienced Heat overpower the Thunder in a fun, exciting series that we may see a few more times in the next few years. The average age of Harden, Durant, Westbrook, Perkins, and Ibaka is only 23 years old, the Heat’s Big 3 are locked up for five more years each. Wow. When you consider all this game has to offer right now, the NBA is up for exciting times in the near future. With so many great teams and even more superstar players, here’s hoping there won’t be a lockout next year as it seems that we’re heading toward another momentus era in NBA history.