Thursday, April 15, 2010

Degenerate Friday - On Thursday! NBA Playoffs - West

The NBA playoffs begin this weekend, so let’s break down the each conference, starting in the West because my brain is still in California. The biggest difference between being in California and New York – aside from the weather? The driving. Out west for an entire week, and I never heard a single car horn honk. They don’t use them at all. In New York? The horn is a way for cabs to let the pedestrians know he is about to mow them down. It is a way to let people know they can’t just stop in the middle of the road. And it is a way to let cars know they haven’t jumped on their gas pedal 0.2 seconds after the light turned green. The other difference while driving is that in California, the people wave with all of their fingers when they’re allowing you to merge in front of their Toyota Prius, Lexus Hybrid, or 1987 Mercedes (no snow means no salt which means no rust on the cars so there are an inordinate number of 20+ year old cars that are not collectors cars yet still in great condition). And instead of the “Jersey Special” cars – white cars with ultra black tinted windows, there were the “Low-Rider Special” cars – pick-up trucks dropped down low over 24 inch chrome rims with Spanish writing across the top of the windshield.

Anyway, let’s get to the Western Conference…….(odds from

#1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #8 Oklahoma City Thunder

Lakers odds: 2/3 to win the West, 5/2 to win the NBA Championship
Thunder odds: 20/1 to win the West, 40/1 to win the NBA Championship

This series has all the makings of Michael Jordan and the Bulls going up against the Celtics in 1986. That was the series where Jordan put up 63 in the double overtime game and produced that memorable clip where he crossed over between his legs multiple times before hitting the fade away jumper on Larry Bird. Kevin Durant will be playing the role of Jordan, and the defending champion Lakers will be playing the role of the 1985 (and eventual 1986) champion Celtics. The Thunder have an incredible young nucleus but their lack of playoff experience will be exploited by Phil Jackson and his veteran team. Like a match up of Miley Cyrus against Jennifer Aniston – you appreciate the young and vigor of Cyrus and know that she will likely have her day as a champion eventually, but not right now. Right now, it’s still a league that is dominated by a veteran like Aniston even if she has picked up a few scars along the way. The Lakers have showed some signs of tiring as the season wound down, but they may have just began to coast sooner than the rest of the league. They still have the inside game of Pau Gasol and they have the most clutch player in the entire league in Kobe Bryant.

Unfortunately for gambling purposes, the Lakers are not a great value bet either to win the conference or to win the title. However, as much as I want to find a team that can beat the Lakers, I really can’t see it happening until the Finals. I guess sometimes it’s better to get the bet correct than it is to get the best value (see, I’ve learned from the NCAA tournament)

First Round Pick: Lakers in 5 games

#2 Dallas Mavericks vs. #7 San Antonio Spurs

Mavericks odds: 6/1 to win the West, 12/1 to win the NBA Title
Spurs odds: 9/1 to win the West, 20/1 to win the NBA Title

The Mavs reloaded with the trade for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, which has revitalized the team and given them a great shot. The best comparison I can think of for the Mavs is Kim Kardashian – she had an attractive face and a great body, so she just added a little talent to the front court and she’s ready to compete with anyone. The Mavs added a little to their front court with Haywood and Butler and they present the biggest challenge to the Lakers in the West. They also still have one of the best scorers in the league in Dirk Nowitzki who will pose match-up problems for the Spurs. The Mavs have the diverse scoring options which should be enough to exploit the strong defense fo the Spurs, carrying them into the second round.

The Spurs still have the experience and heart of a champion, but they are on their last legs. The addition of younger players like Richard Jefferson and rookie DeJuan Blair was basically like Harrison Ford getting his ear pierced. He thinks it makes him look younger and more hip, but in reality, it just shows even more that he is old and past his prime. Like the Spurs, he was great in his day – among the best ever – but that day has passed. The Spurs can still play defense, as evidenced by them allowing the second-fewest points per game in the Western conference and holding teams to the lowest field goal percentage in the West. That will allow them to keep the series close, but they are an aging fighter with a few good punches left in their arsenal. Maybe a better comparison for the Spurs would be Sylvester Stallone rather than Harrison Ford.

For gambling purposes, the Mavs are a pretty good buy to win the West, as they have the talent and momentum to do battle with the Lakers. They have experience and talent at the key positions to match up with the defending champs. However, just like in 2006 when the refs gave Dwayne Wade the benefit of every single call the entire series, they don’t have the biggest superstars who will get the calls down the stretch. Dirk is a star, but will not get the benefits that Kobe, Carmelo, Wade or LeBron will.

First Round Prediction: Mavericks in 6 games

#3 Phoenix Suns vs. #6 Portland Trailblazers

Suns odds: 15/1 to win the West, 25/1 to win the NBA title
Trailblazers odds: 25/1 to win the West, 45/1 to win the NBA title

The Suns Jared Dudley has always been an idiot, dating back to his days as a spaz at Boston College. Well, some things never change. He commented this week that he wanted to play the Blazers because of the Brandon Roy injury. Why would he want to give the Blazers locker room material? Because he’s an idiot. Thankfully for the Suns, they still have Steve Nash playing as well as he has in his entire career and Amare Stoudemire has decided to put his contract worries aside and get back to playing basketball. The Suns are like Heidi Montag – their plastic surgery was removing Terry Porter as coach – so they fit the profile of a strong contender, but like Heidi’s flaw of her messed up self image, the Suns have a fatal flaw which is a lack of defense. The NBA playoffs slow the game down and teams have to grind it out by playing defense and half court offense. That’s where the Suns fail.

The Blazers with a healthy Brandon Roy would have been very well positioned to win this series. However, without Roy – even if he plays, he is not going to have the same explosiveness – the Blazers will not be able to keep up. The Blazers are also defensively challenged despite the fact that they allowed the fewest points per game in the western conference. They allowed the highest opponent field goal percentage of any playoff team in the West, meaning they slow the game down (they score the second fewest points in the west), but give up too many easy or open looks. That will be a problem against the Suns, especially since they won’t have a full version of their best scoring option. Like Kate Hudson, who supposedly had a boob job recently, you wanted to root for her but the surgery makes you rethink whether she has some major issues.

There’s nothing to see here from a gambling perspective. Neither of these teams will be able to advance past the Conference Finals at best.

First Round Prediction: Suns in 6 games

#4 Denver Nuggets vs. #5 Utah Jazz

Nuggets odds: 6/1 to win the West, 12/1 to win the NBA title
Jazz odds: 8/1 to win the West, 20/1 to win the NBA title

The Nuggets have the superstar in Carmelo Anthony that is needed to succeed in the NBA playoffs. They have the motivation of playing for their cancer-stricken coach, George Karl. They have talent across the board. Yet there is just something generally unlikeable about this team. Is it because of Kenyon Martin? Is it that although the Birdman, Chris Anderson, has a game you can like, he looks like a complete idiot? Or is it Carmelo Anthony himself? As good as Anthony is, he comes across as a pouting, immature player who can’t quite raise his game when the team needs him the most. They resemble Ashley Dupre, the infamous hooker that was caught up in the Eliot Spitzer scandal. As much as she tries to rehab her image with help from the NY Post, she’s still a former (maybe still current?) call girl who just recently posed in Playboy. Just like as much as Carmelo rehabs his image, he’s still the same guy who got busted with weed and made the video telling kids not to be a snitch.

The Jazz and Jerry Sloan continue to cruise along as one of the better teams in the league that no one really talks about. Is there a better coach out there than Jerry Sloan? He has made the transition from Karl Malone and John Stockton to a team led by Derron Williams and has remained among the better teams in the competitive Western Conference. Like Ed Norton, you never think of him first among the best actors out there, but look at his filmography and you can’t help but be impressed. The Jazz play fundamentally sound basketball which is why this first round match-up is among the most difficult to predict. They have the talent and discipline combined with Sloan’s coaching to make a really deep run in the West, but will that be enough to overcome the talent of the Nuggets?

I’m going to take another lesson from my NCAA spanking, and not go against a team just because I don’t like them. I’m going to put money on the Nuggets using the motivation of their ailing coach to come together with their talent across the board. I think they are the gambling pick to win the Western Conference.

First Round Prediction: Nuggets in 7 games

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