Wanna know what's going to happen? Read on, good people
So, on we go …
No. 1 Cleveland (61-21) vs. No. 8 Chicago (41-41)
Talking points: No question about which is the better team (there’s that little 20 game discrepancy) so forget for a minute that the Bulls won two of four over the Cavs this year. Only issue for Cleveland might be getting Shaquille O’Neal back up to speed but when the James dude is there, things seem to work pretty well, regardless. Oh, and there’s no chance LeBron rests for a game now, I don’t think.
Bulls have no plans for pre-game steel cage match between Vinny Del Degro and John Paxson but the distraction of fightin’ and fuedin’ coaches and GMs can’t be a good thing.
Question time: Can the Bulls mirror their epic first-round performance of a year ago?
Answer time: Not a chance.
And the winner is: Cavs in four.
No. 2 Orlando (59-23) vs. No. 7 Charlotte (44-38)
Talking points: For a team that almost won 60 games, the Magic went through all kinds of bumps along the way, what with Dwight Howard critical of Stan Van Gundy’s criticisms and Vince Carter slow to fit in. But it really doesn’t matter, this is when the season begins and they seem ready. Series may turn on Orlando making three-pointers because they’re going to take a lot.
Bobcats are making their playoff debut and, yes, they are athletic and defend and work hard. But experience counts wonders in the post-season and even with Larry Brown at the helm – I’m not sure there’s a better in-game coach than him – that’s too much to overcome.
Question time: When it comes down to the last second, is Vince Carter still a big-shot kind of guy?
Answer time: Sure, much to the chagrin of fans around these parts.
And the winner is: Magic in five.
No. 3 Atlanta (53-29) vs. No. 6 Milwaukee (46-36)
Talking points: All Mike Woodson’s done is coach the Hawks from a group of silly young kids into an excellent unit that has improved every year. So why are there whispers that he’s on his way out when his contract expires this year? I don’t get it either because the Hawks are really good. But, and this is a big but, do they have the discipline necessary to win two series?
The Bucks have been a huge second-half surprise, the additions of Jerry Stackhouse and John Salmons have really energized them. But, and this is a big but, they have little up front with Andrew Bogut injured. Oh, and I’m sure it’ll do Raptors fans proud to see Carlos Delfino out there.
Question time: Can Bucks coach Scott Skiles weave enough magic for his team to pull off a huge upset?
Answer time: Nah, not a chance. But he’ll look intense trying to do it.
And the winner is: Hawks in seven.
No. 4 Boston (50-32) vs. No. 5 Miami (47-35)
Talking points: So, I’m watching the Bulls-Celtics earlier this week as part of my professional duties and I had to shake my head at how old the Celtics looked. I mean, old. Very old. But with age comes wisdom and they know that they don’t have many kicks at the can left. Trouble is, can they summon the energy seven times?
The Heat are mystifying. They seem to be Dwyane Wade and a bunch of guys and all of sudden they’ve won 47 games? At times, it doesn’t look like Michael Beasley and guard a stool, I have no idea how they get production out of the PG spot – which might be the key to this series – but they just keep on winning. Oh, right, Wade. Dwyane Wade.
Question time: How come Rasheed Wallace didn’t tell anyone he’d retired before he signed in Boston?
Answer time: Because then we wouldn’t have as much about the Celtics to mock.
And the winner is: Heat in seven.
No. 1 Los Angeles (57-25) vs. No. 8 Oklahoma City (50-32)
Talking points: So Kobe Bryant got all kinds of rest down the stretch so he’d be ready for a good, long playoff run and what’s he get right out of the box: The crazily athletic Thunders. Lucky fellow. Oh, and we’ll once again be treated to tales of Pau Gasol’s softness right up until he wins a title or something. The dude is good. Scary good. As are the Lakers, who will need bench production somewhere, though, to win it all.
Kind of a storybook season for the Thunder, Kevin Durant emerged as The Next Big Thing and the rest of the kids got better in every facet of the game. But, you get the sense there’s a Just Happy To Be Here sentiment and that gets you your headed handed to you on a platter in the post season.
Question time: How do you think they feel in Seattle?
Answer time: Ouch.
And the winner is: Lakers in five.
No. 2 Dallas (55-27) vs. No. 7 San Antonio (50-32)
Talking points: How energized did Dallas get after the acquisition of Caron Butler, who takes some of the stress and attention away from Dirk Nowitzki? The Mavs really don’t do anything pretty (how can any team with a Shawn Marion jump shot in its highlights be considered pretty anyway?) but they do win and Jason Kidd still does have some magic left in his game.
The Spurs are this year’s enigma. Took them about 60 games to really figure it out and are finally getting what they need from Richard Jefferson and Manu looks like Manu again. Tim Duncan? He looks somewhat aged but something makes me think he’s got something left in the tank for now.
Question time: Who looks more dour on the sidelines: Rick Carlisle or Gregg Popovich?
Answer time: Let’s just say neither will win Jolly Coach of the Year honors.
And the winner is: Mavs in six.
No. 3 Phoenix (54-28) vs. No. 6 Portland (50-32)
Talking points: I’ll say this again, I think this might have been the best season of Steve Nash’s career. The 23-6 run that Phoenix finished the regular season on was mightily impressive and came about after the annual Amar’e Stoudemire Is Getting Traded Any Second rumours went away and he became arguably the best centre in the NBA over the second half. I’m told he’s even defending.
From the department of cruel and unusual punishment, the injury-riddled Blazers have now lost Brandon Roy for the series and you know the best fans in the NBA up in Portland have to be wondering if their team is cursed. But it means one really good thing: More Rudy Fernandez and he’s a hoot to watch. Too bad we won’t see a lot him in short post-season for Portland.
Question time: Can Marcus Camby have a huge impact against the high-powered Phoenix offence?
Answer time: Sadly, no, but he’s still one of the best interior defenders in the game.
And the winner is: Suns in five.
No. 4 Denver (53-29) vs. No. 5 Utah (53-29)
Talking points: This one could be ugly in the kind of grind-it-out-hit-‘em-hard-defend-‘til-you-die kind of old school basketball some of you love. The biggest loss the Nuggets are going to feel isn’t the pain in Kenyon Martin’s knee but the absence of coach George Karl, who’s probably going to miss the entire series because of cancer treatments. That’s a shame because it would have been a truly great story and just the tonic the somewhat listing, and still overly-emotional Nuggets need.
There is nothing pretty about the Jazz but I don’t imagine anyone out there cares a lot because they just keep on winning. But, Carlos Boozer is banged up and that could be a crippling blow. Oh, and Deron Williams vs. Chauncey Billups should be a treat to watch.
Question time: Do these two teams like each other even a little bit?
Answer time: Nope, that could make this series a doozy.
And the winner is: Jazz in six.
So, there you have it. Don’t hold me to any of the predictions unless they come true.
Remember, mail tomorrow and Monday we’ll know just what we’re doing for any in-game stuff for the first of the week. Lots of love for Phoenix-Portland, although the games are all stupid late; and the Orlando-Charlotte series has a lot of you interested. I’m thinking maybe we follow one of those? Whaddya think?