Saturday, April 16, 2011

20 Questions NBA Playoffs Style

So March Madness concluded in less than dramatic fashion. In fact, I can’t remember a less entertaining championship game. Scratch that, I can’t remember a less entertaining game in general. I didn’t even watch a crucial stretch of the contest when Connecticut made their run and pulled away from Butler, who might as well have been Sacramento State because that is how awful they played. In my defense, it was an awful game and one of the most ground-breaking segments in Monday Night Raw history was taking place at the same time. It turns out I’m most likely going to be taking my talents to South Beach next April to watch The Rock and John Cena square off in the main event of WrestleMania 28… or so I hope. Despite the fact that the Championship game was as bad as Butler’s shooting percentage, it was still a terrific overall NCAA Tournament. And the same should be expected of this year’s NBA playoffs.

Don’t get me wrong, the NCAA Tournament is unlike any other sports postseason. The magic, the intensity, the passion. It’s special. I go banana sandwich every year when the brackets are announced, and I am then locked to the television for 3 straight weeks. Actually, the only game I didn’t watch this year was the Morehead State vs. Richmond game, and that’s because I was on my way home from Tampa where I saw Kentucky and Florida advance to the Sweet Sixteen. March Madness grabs ahold of even the casual sports fan, in particular my mother who improbably won The Captain’s Corner Tourney Pick’em where she not only ended up with the most points, but she also correctly selected Connecticut as the National Champion. Yes, March Madness is a fantastic event. But let’s not kid ourselves. The best “Basketball” post season isn’t March Madness. It’s the NBA Playoffs.

Let’s play a round of 20 questions focusing on the 2011 NBA Playoffs, among other things:

1: What should you readers not forget to do after reading this Playoff preview?
Listen to Paul Clark and I break down the NBA Playoffs in an edition of The Captain’s Corner! Sorry, that was a blatant and shameless plug… it had to be done though.

2: Which late season standings shift will prove to be most crucial?
Portland and Memphis both avoiding having to play the Lakers in round one. Portland by winning three of their last four games, including a win over the Lakers. And Memphis by blatantly tanking their last two games, putting New Orleans ahead of them in the standings (the 7th seed) which means the Hornets playoff run will come to a stop after four games. On the top half of the west, the Lakers snapped out of their late season slide just in time to get two wins in order to lock up the number two seed as Dallas goes in as the three, and Oklahoma City the four.

3: Which playoff team of this year won’t make the playoffs next year?
New Orleans falls out of the western conference playoff picture next year for four reasons:
A. Chris Paul mails it in next year, playing it safe so he can cash in on being a free agent in the summer of 2012. That’s even if he spends the whole season as a Hornet.
B. David West has a torn ACL, which means that even if he does come back next year there is no guarantee he will be the player he once was.
C. Outside of CP3, the rest of the Hornets team stinks. Chris Paul is going into the playoffs with Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor, Marco Belinelli, Carl Landry, Willie Green, Jason Smith and Jarrett Jack. Really? I pray that we don’t see Chris Paul waste his career with that bunch as his supporting cast.
D. The Clippers, Warriors and Rockets will post better records than New Orleans next season. That is my first 2011-12 prediction.

4: Who is the most hopeless team in the playoffs?
Record wise, it’s Indiana. But in reality, it’s either New Orleans (as mentioned above) or the Atlanta Hawks who for the second straight year are poised to get swept by the Orlando Magic. The main problem for the Hawks is Joe Johnson. Johnson reminds me of the prototypical 15 year old kid who throws a hissy fit to his parents because he feels like they don’t give him enough freedom and he deserves it. God, he’s 15 years old, he’s practically an adult!! After weeks of badgering, his parents appease to him and decide to give him more freedom, even though deep down they probably know he isn’t worthy of it. His curfew is extended an extra two hours and he gets an allowance. One month later he’s gotten his girlfriend pregnant, plus he’s suspended from school. When his parents hear about this news, it’s a guarantee that they are going to say “If you want to be treated like an adult, you better act like it!” That right there is my message to Joe Johnson. If you want to be treated like a franchise player, you better play like one. After banking in on the largest contract of all 2010 free agents, which is absurd considering he was probably the 7th best player who actually came from that free agent class (LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Amare, Boozer, Gay), Johnson has responded with his worst season as an Atlanta Hawk. Teams reflect their leaders, which isn’t a good sign for the Hawks.

5: Who is the most surprising starter on a playoff team?
I’ll go with Sam Young for the Grizzlies. Not so much because he isn’t a good player or anything like that. I just never would’ve thought he would be a starter for a playoff team, in the western conference especially. He would fit right in playing for Indiana or Philadelphia, but Memphis who had 46 wins? It’s mind-boggling. We can however give Sam Young the award for best shot fake in the league. He could very well win this pseudo award every season he plays in the NBA. In fact, in 2025 it will be named “The Sam Young Award.”

6: What is the best first round matchup between two players?
Marco Belinelli v. Kobe Bryant- Strictly for comical purposes.

7: What is the best first round matchup between two teams?
From a historical standpoint, you have to love the Celtics/Knicks first round matchup. It just makes sense that in the Knicks return to the playoffs they would be facing Boston. From a point scoring standpoint/excitement standpoint, it’s Oklahoma City/Denver. They are the third and first highest scoring teams in the playoffs respectively, plus I’m very intrigued by this Nuggets team. I’m totally convinced they got the better of the Carmelo trade, but I still have questions about who takes the big shots down the stretch for them now. JR Smith surely won’t be afraid to take them. But do the end of game plays get ran for Gallinari? Felton? Lawson? Plus I’m excited to see the Durant, Westbrook and Co. in their first playoff series as the favorite/a title contender. But the series that I think will be the best doubles as my sole upset of the first round. I like Portland to take down Dallas in six games in the first round. It seems like when Dallas blew their 2-0 series lead to Miami in the 2006 finals, their championship window was violently and abruptly shut. Then it was sealed shut after they lost to Golden State the following year. And last year the metaphorical window was taken out and replaced by a brick wall with a first round loss to San Antonio. Dirk is basically a one man show for a hurt and aging Mavericks team. Plus I am super high on Portland. Speaking of Portland…

8: What trade deadline move will have the biggest effect on the playoffs?
The sneakiest great trade deadline move was Portland stealing Gerald Wallace from Charlotte for the Vanilla Gorilla, Joel Pryzbilla. My only logic for how Michael Jordan decided to make this trade is that he felt awful for Portland. First they draft Sam Bowie instead of him with the 2nd pick in 1984. Then he rips out Clyde Drexler’s heart in the 1992 NBA Finals. But that move gave Portland a very intriguing 8 man rotation heading into the playoffs. Aldridge, Camby, Wallace, Matthews and Miller make up the starting line-up with Batum, Fernandez and Brandon Roy coming off the bench. If Roy could play like half the player he once was before we found out his knees were made out of Sam Bowie’s jersey, Portland could be a playoff sleeper.

9: Hypothetically if the NBA refs were told to fix games, which finals matchup would they absolutely not allow?
David Stern's
Worst Nightmare
Granger! Mayo! It’s the Pacers and the Grizzlies! The NBA Finals on ABC!

10: What’s your overall grade of the Heat’s regular season?
I give the Heat season an A-. Consider the following points:
-At one point they were 9-8, and I was getting ready to jump off of the hypothetical Heat Bandwagon while it was in motion and Erik Spoelstra was really close to becoming an ESPN analyst.
-This was the most hyped and hated team possibly in NBA history. The target was on their back every single night, and it was bigger than the target on any other team in the league. They still manage to finish with 58 wins, the third most in the league… But they were supposed to break the wins record?!? Jeff Van Gundy said so. Well, the truth is…
-This team is not that good. Sure, they have two of the five best players in the league, both of whom had unbelievable seasons considering the teams dynamics, but let’s take a look at the rest of the team. Carlos Arroyo entered the season as the Heat’s starting point guard, and was so bad that they released him to sign a seven-years-past-his-prime Mike Bibby. Bibby is a complete defensive liability who needs to be hidden by lightning quick rotations and great hustle plays by the other four players. I am happy to say that Bibby has impressed me thus far. He is their most reliable crunch time point guard which he very well should be since he’s taken plenty of big shots in his career. Behind Bibby at point guard there is Mario Chalmers who is an alright player, not great but okay. Better defensively than Bibby, but turnover prone at times. Also, Miami has Eddie House who did this: And that’s about it. Working our way through the rotation there is Mike Miller who missed a good portion of the season with a broken thumb, and since has as many concussions as Billy Bob from Varsity Blues and Troy Aikman combined. James Jones is a knockdown three point shooter when he is completely wide open, but something tells me the pressure of the playoffs might get to him. Besides Chris Bosh, the Heat are limited when it comes to inside scoring, or production in general. Udonis Haslem has been out nearly all season, and most likely won’t be back for the playoffs. The fact that no one has talked about this all season is a shame, and shows how underappreciated he is. His absence is like the Lakers missing in 2008 or the Celtics playing without Kendrick Perkins last year. Not that he is as talented as those players, but he plays a similar role. Juwan Howard, more past his prime than Mike Bibby backs up Bosh at power forward. The three headed monster at center is Joel Anthony (noted for his hustle, but lacks an offensive game or ability to catch the ball), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (has the ability to knock down an outside shot and recently developed a mean streak which is actually an underrated asset for a team that some have called “soft”) and Erick Dampier (I’m still trying to figure out exactly what Dampier brings to the table) In case you were wondering, the Heat’s three headed monster at center average a combined 9 points and 11 rebounds per game. To sum up around 500words in just four: The Miami Heat overachieved. It was foolish for anyone to think that they could win 70 games. We all got a little too hyped up in the YES.WE.DID campaign, the welcoming ceremony, LeBron’s mental notes and the Heat Index to realize that Miami has a lot of holes. And they still might win the title.

11: Just for the record, what are your official first round selections?
Bulls over Pacers in 5, Magic over Hawks in 4, Celtics over Knicks in 6, Heat over 76ers in 5, Spurs over Grizzlies in 6, Thunder over Nuggets in 6, Blazers over Mavericks in 6, Lakers over Hornets in 4.

12: What are some fun made up prop bets relating to the playoffs?

The Most Intimidating Face
in the NBA.
-How many times we see “The Kobe Face”- O/U 7.5
-How many times Mark Jackson says, “Hand Down, Man Down!”- O/U 29.
-Total minutes Shaq plays in the playoffs- O/U 110
-How many between-quarter interviews which Phil Jackson makes a sarcastic/snarky comment to the sideline reporter- O/U 15
-How many text messages/Facebook wall posts I receive after LeBron and the Heat lose in the playoffs- O/U 4.5
-How many times I’ll say the following phrase when watching the Bulls and Kyle Korver hits a three pointer, “You can’t leave the white guy wide open in the corner!!!”- O/U 15.5
-How many technicals given in a potential Miami v. Boston series- O/U 11
-How many girls Leroy hooks up with the rest of the Real World season- O/U 6.5

13: What are the most interesting potential future playoff storylines?
-The .00001% chance that at the first sign of trouble for Miami, Pat Riley fires Erik Spoelstra and takes over as head coach.
-LeBron unleashing basketball hell on the Bulls after Derrick Rose’s MVP ceremony before game one of the conference finals, similar to the Olajuwon/Robinson scenario from 1995.
-Dirk v. Kobe in the 2nd round, their first playoff meeting ever.
-The awkward moment when NBA TV analyst Brent Barry is forced to talk about how well Tony Parker played.
-Lakers vs. Celtics: The rubber match.
-Steve Blake’s chicken pox infects the entire Lakers team.
-Finding out that Reggie/Cheryl Miller is actually one person when a disgruntled Phil Jackson takes off Cheryl’s wig in the middle of an interview.
-Chris Paul demanding a trade immediately after New Orleans gets trounced by the Lakers in the first round.

14: Who is the most important player in the playoffs?
Derrick Rose might not be the best player in the playoffs (as far as we know right now) but he is the most valuable to his team, which is exactly why he will win the MVP award, and why he is the answer to this question. Nobody played harder over the grinding 82 game schedule than Derrick Rose. In case you were wondering, Vince Carter is last on the list. Rose kept Chicago at the top of the Eastern Conference standings even when Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah were both on the sidelines. He’s dismantled everyone that has gotten in his way by developing an infinitely more consistent jump shot than he had last year, he gets to the basket quicker than anybody in the league, and like I mentioned above he busts his ass like 98% of guys who play this game don’t. And most importantly, he got his teammates to bring intensity and constant effort over the regular season. It takes a special player to have that kind of effect on his teammates.

15: Can this potentially be the greatest 2nd round in NBA Playoff history?
As Marv Albert would say, “YESSS!”

16: Why?
-Chicago/Orlando- Very intriguing, very competitive. The number one and number two MVP candidates going head to head in the playoffs in only the 2nd round… sign me up. How does Chicago, a great defensive team play Orlando, in particular Dwight Howard? Is Rose as effective getting to the basket with Dwight Howard in the middle? Who steps up besides the two stars?
-Miami/Boston- Bitter rivals, opposing styles. Did Boston destroy their chances of another title run by trading Kendrick Perkins or does the addition of another perimeter defender help them against Wade and LeBron? Do Wade and LeBron get bounced by Boston for a 2nd consecutive season? And the chance for fights/scuffles in this series is greater than any other potential playoff series. Nobody would complain about a 7 game Miami/Boston series.
-San Antonio/Oklahoma City- Old school v. New school, teams with similar management styles (build from within/high character guys). I don’t know for sure how much Duncan, Ginobili and Parker have left, but I am not counting them out. I don’t know for sure if Durant, Westbrook and the Thunder are ready for the big moment yet, but I am not counting them out. Plus, we finally see how important Kendrick Perkins is to OKC in this series.
-Los Angeles/Portland or Dallas- With Portland we see a team that matches up with LA about as good as any other team in the playoffs. Super long and athletic front line that rebounds the ball well. Big guards that might give the LA guards a little trouble. And an X-factor in Brandon Roy coming off the bench. With Dallas it might not be as competitive as a series, but we as fans deserve a Kobe v. Dirk/Cuban series.

17: What are your regular season awards?
MVP: Derrick Rose
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard
Coach of the Year: Tom Thibadeau
Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin
Sixth Man of the Year: Lamar Odom
Most Improved Player: LaMarcus Aldridge

18: All-NBA Teams?
1st Team: Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard
2nd Team: Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Amare Stoudemire, Pau Gasol
3rd Team: Chris Paul, Manu Ginobili, Zach Randolph, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Garnett

Boston Rob, the greatest
Survivor of all-time.
19: Besides the NBA playoffs, what are other good TV options over the next 2 months?
What a time for television in the months of April, May and June. Besides the NBA playoffs, I will be watching Survivor Redemption Island, praying each of the remaining weeks that Boston Rob remains in the game. The Real World Las Vegas is a good television option, even though I am counting the days until the premiere of The Challenge, which debuts after the Real World Las Vegas season concludes. Of course I will be watching WWE Raw every Monday night. About three months ago I was skeptical of the direction in which the WWE was heading. I’m happy to say that I’m back fully on board. Plus, we have the NHL playoffs, which for some reason I get into despite the fact I don’t watch a single regular season hockey game all year. FYI: my prediction for the Stanley Cup is San Jose, which is based on… well nothing. And if that isn’t enough, the first Saturday in May kicks off the Triple Crown. I think I’m one of about 300 people in the world that watches ALL 6 hours of pre-race coverage before each of the three races. Between now and mid-June I will be spending approximately 800 hours watching television. That isn’t even an exaggeration.

20: Who wins the Championship?
Lakers over Bulls in six games. 20 years ago, Michael Jordan won his first NBA Championship against the Los Angeles Lakers. He went on to win a total of six titles. Kobe Bryant has five, and will win his sixth NBA Championship against the Chicago Bulls. The NBA has come full circle.

The Captain's Corner NBA Playoff Preview