Friday, April 16, 2010

Degenerate Friday - NBA Playoffs - EAST

Yesterday we broke down the Western Conference and now it’s time for the East……..By the way, great move by the Zen Master, Phil Jackson making his comments about Kevin Durant getting too many calls. It couldn’t have worked better. Yes, Phil had to make a donation to the league/charity, but he got in the head of all the officials before the series even began – just as he has done every single year he has ever coached (whining about the treatement of Shaq, the treatment of Jordan, etc.). And more importantly, Durant walked right into it, saying he felt disrespected. Durant should be focused on his team and his game, not comments from the opposing coach. Congrats Kevin, Phil now owns you and will destroy you from the inside out.

#1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #8 Chicago Bulls

Cavaliers odds: 1/2 to win the East, 7/4 to win the NBA Title
Bulls odds: 100/1 to win the East, 175/1 to win the NBA Title

And so the quest to keep LeBron James in Cleveland begins again. The question is whether a title helps or hurts the Cavs chances of resigning James. If he wins the title, does he then feel like he brought a title to his hometown and he could then move on to bigger and better things? Or would he feel the pressure to stick around and defend that title and create a dynasty in his home town? The Cavs have all the weapons to win the title surrounding James. They have the big man in O’Neal and depth with Ilgauskas. They have a forward who can score and rebound in Antwan Jamison, and a capable point guard in Mo Williams. Is Mike Brown a good enough coach? Is Brooklyn Decker a genius? It doesn’t matter when you have the best talent.

The Bulls have a solid group of talent on the floor, but the unrest between the coaching staff and management will be difficult to overcome. Vinny Del Negro knows that he is going to be fired after the season regardless of how the deep the Bulls go which has to have a psychological effect on him and the rest of the team. Perhaps the cause of the fight between GM John Paxson and Del Negro started because of Joakim Noah’s minutes, but maybe what pushed Paxson over the edge was Del Negro asking him why he traded a proven playoff perimeter threat in John Salmons that the Bulls could desperately use to try and match up with the Cavs. The Bulls are like Angelina Jolie in that they have some tremendous assets, but when you put the package together their brain trust is pretty messed up and she comes with a bunch of young baggage.

The Cavs have no value for gambling to get out of the East, but they are my pick to win the NBA title. LeBron is at the absolute peak of his game and I would love to see a Kobe-LeBron match up almost as much as ABC would love to see it.

First Round Prediction: Cavs in 5 games

#2 Orlando Magic vs. #7 Charlotte Bobcats

Magic odds: 10/3 to win the East, 6/1 to win the NBA Title
Bobcat odds: 65/1 to win the East, 125/1 to win the NBA Title

The Bobcats are a great story making their first playoff appearance in franchise history and are another success story for the oft-traveled Larry Brown. They play tough defense and gave up the fewest points per game in the Eastern Conference, which they needed because they scored the third fewest points. With the exception of Gerald Wallace and Raymond Felton, the Bobcats are a collection of cast offs and other teams’ unwanted assets – Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw, Tyrus Thomas, and Larry Hughes. Much like Kristin Cavallari, no one really likes her no matter what she does. Unfortunately for the Bobcats, their best all-around player, Gerald Wallace has struggled against the Magic, averaging only 11 points per game, more than 7 points below his regular season average. That will make it tough when their second scoring option is muffled.

The Magic brought in Vince Carter to be the difference maker and bring them an NBA championship. Prior to the season, I thought pairing a moody guy like Carter with a demanding coach like Ron Jeremy…errr…Stan Van Gundy sounded as dumb as Michael Kay’s pronunciation of Alex Rodriguez’s name on the YES network. Kay insists on calling him Alex Rah-DREE-giz unlike the other 99.99% of the world that pronounces it Rod-REE-gez. Just another example of why Kay stinks. Anyway…where was I? Oh yeah, Vince Carter. Carter gives the Magic a legit second scoring option behind Dwight Howard and makes the Magic the next best option to Team LeBron. Like Emmanuelle Chriqui, they have all the weapons needed, but they fly slightly under the radar. They present matchup problems for the Cavs if they both advance to the Eastern Finals and would be a good bet to win the title.

For gambling purposes, the Magic are a decent bet to win the East and might be worth throwing some cash at. For some reason, I can see the Magic winning the East but can’t see them beating the Lakers or Mavericks. That doesn’t make much sense since I see the Cavs winning it all, and if the Magic beat the Cavs, then they should be able to beat the West champ, right? Not in my mind.

First Round Prediction: Magic in 5 games

#3 Atlanta Hawks vs. #6 Milwaukee Bucks

Hawks odds: 10/1 to win the East, 28/1 to win the NBA Title
Bucks odds: 65/1 to win the East, 150/1 to win the NBA Title

If someone asked you to name the top 3 teams in the East last weekend, you probably would have said, Cleveland, Orlando and Boston. The media is so hung up on the aging Celtics that they have failed to notice that the Hawks actually took care of the #3 seed with relative ease. The Hawks are loaded with talent, but all talent that doesn’t get many headlines. Most people know Joe Johnson because he is going to be a great booby prize that the Knicks land after they fail to land LeBron this summer as a free agent. Can you name the Hawks leading rebounder? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? It’s Al Horford, who averages 9.9 rebounds per game to go with his 14 points. They also have a veteran point guard in Mike Bibby, a scorer in Jamal Crawford, and an athletic wingman (that can match up with Rashard Lewis, Antwan Jamison or Paul Pierce) in Josh Smith. The Hawks are like John Malkovich in that they are tremendously talented and can fill a bunch of roles, but you never really think of them as a great leading actor.

The Bucks were dealt a death blow when Andrew Bogut suffered his elbow injury. With Bogut, they had the potential to beat the Hawks or the Celtics and put a scare into the Cavs or Magic in the second round. Unfortunately without him they are scrambling to have any sort of inside presence that would allow them to hang with any of those teams. The addition of John Salmons was pure genius and when combined with the signing of Jerry Stackhouse the Bucks found a perimeter game that more versatile and dangerous that what was being offered from Michael Redd. Scott Skiles has done a great job this season but the loss of Bogut will be too much to overcome when combined with the fact that rookie point guard Brandon Jennings is too small and not tough enough defensively. Jennings is an awesome offensive talent, but is a huge liability on defense. Atlanta is going to run continual screen and rolls with veteran Mike Bibby and Jennings doesn’t fight through the screens well enough, causing others to help out, leaving Joe Johnson or Jamal Crawford open jumpers. Like Lt. Dan from Forest Gump, the Bucks “ain’t got no legs” without Andrew Bogut.

The Hawks are an intriguing bet to win the East because of their ability to match up with any team in the East. The problem they have is that they don’t have a guy that can take over a game and carry the team on his shoulders. Joe Johnson can be clutch and Jamal Crawford could get hot, but do they have the ability to carry a team over an entire series? I’m not sure.

First round prediction: Hawks in 6

#4 Boston Celtics vs. #5 Miami Heat

Celtics odds: 13/2 to win the East, 12/1 to win the NBA Title
Heat odds: 40/1 to win the East, 90/1 to win the NBA Title

The Celtics are the Pam Anderson of the playoffs. They have aged considerably, but still have the headline grabbing assets and the ability to turn it on every once in a while. However, every time they make that big run and expend more energy, it’s going to take a toll on them and they will be slower to recover. Kevin Garnett was my favorite player in the league for nearly 12 years and it’s almost sad to see how much his knee has deteriorated and taken away his explosiveness. Ray Allen still has a quick and accurate trigger and together with the lightning quick play of Rajon Rondo they will be able to contain the Heat’s strength in the first round. Unfortunately, I see this as the final year of the Celtics window to win, and the window is not open wide enough for Big Baby Davis’s rear end or Pamela Anderson’s front court to fit through.

The Heat have quietly put together a nice season and are hoping that they have done enough to show Dwayne Wade why he should stay in South Beach and sign an extension this summer. They have allowed the second fewest points per game in the Eastern Conference and have the electric scoring option that has proven that he gets all the calls from the refs in Dwayne Wade. The question is whether the Heat has enough in their supporting cast to get them out of the first round and put some fear in the top teams. Jermaine O’Neal has played fairly well, but watching his old bones do battle against the ghost of Garnett will be painful to watch. Michael Beasley has shown strong improvement and maturity this season, but is still only shooting 45% from the field and is not a consistent threat. Like Sophia Veraga, the Heat have one outstanding asset that can only carry them so far.

Stay away from these teams for gambling purposes. The Celtics odds are a terrible value and should be avoided at all costs. The Heat are going nowhere even if they get out of the first round.

First Round Prediction: Celtics in 7 games

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