Where Analysis Happens: The Corsair Looks at the NBA Playoffs
With the 2009 NBA Playoffs officially underway, which started this past Saturday, The Corsair takes a look at the 16 teams competing in the postseason while predicting who will continue their season and, as one TNT NBA Analyst always says, "who will go fishin'!"
Before we give our predictions of which team will continue keeping their championship hopes alive and which one won't, here's a brief description of this year's playing field.
In the Western Conference, six of the eight seeds competing have won 50 or more games during the regular season - a feat that most teams have not accomplished in their totality of existence.
With the second highest overall record in the league at 65-17, this year's Pacific Division Champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, led by the reigning MVP Kobe Bryant, hold the top spot in the West, as they take on the formidable eighth seed, Utah Jazz (48-34), in the first round of the Playoffs for a best-of-seven win series.
Claiming the second seed in the Western Conference is this year's Northwest Division Champions, the Denver Nuggets, whose regular season record of 54-28 ties for the fifth highest in the league this season. The Nuggets face the seventh-seeded New Orleans Hornets (49-33) in the first round of play.
Holding down the third spot in the West is the seasoned San Antonio Spurs, who nearly lost to claim the Southwest Division Championship until the final game of the season as another Texas team (Houston Rockets) lost and thrust the Spurs to the upper echelon of the tournament. Regardless of their 54-28 regular season record, the veteran Spurs will battle the sixth seed and third/final counterpart of the Texas Triangle in the Dallas Mavericks (50-32).
Rounding off the upper crust in the Western Conference play is the fourth-seeded Portland Trailblazers (54-28) whose leadership of third-year guard Brandon Roy and his sheer heroics down the stretches of games will be put to the test when he and the rest of the Blazers face the fifth-seeded Houston Rockets (53-28) in a tough, gritty match-up for the ages.
Onto the Eastern Conference of this year's NBA PLAYOFFS, where a showcase of talent from all the seeds will be on display as the fate of five of the eight teams competing will be up in the air for the taking.
Starting at the top of list, this year's winningest team in the League, the Eastern Division Champion, Cleveland Cavaliers, whose 66-16 record is one of the best in league history, are expected to reach the Finals for the second time in three years led by their internationally known superstar phenom, LeBron James. The top-seeded Cavs will face the downtrodden eighth-seeded Detroit Pistons in the first round of play.
In the second seed is last year's NBA Champions, the Atlantic Division Champion, Boston Celtics (62-20), who have been on a bit of a slump heading into the playoffs with the loss of their star forward, Kevin Garnett when he injured his knee over a month ago. The reeling Celtics will play the upstart seventh-seeded Chicago Bulls (41-41) in the first round.
Placing third is the Southeast Division Champion, Orlando Magic (59-23), led by the man-child we like to call Superman- Dwight Howard, who will show the world if they can compete with the "big boys" throughout the playoffs. They start by taking on the young yet entertaining sixth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers (41-41) in the first round.
Onto the fourth competitor in the Playoffs, the Atlanta Hawks (47-35) whose young and inexperienced team, led by the underrated Joe Johnson, made the jump in this years postseason run from last year's eight place to the fourth spot this year. The Hawks' first round run is against the fifth-seeded Miami Heat (43-39)- whose made a name for itself by making the playoffs this year after sitting out last year with a franchise worst 15 wins.
Now, with that scratched off the list, let's get to the predictions of who will continue and who will end up fishing for the summer:
HOW THE WEST WAS WON
Starting in the West, the first match-up between (1) the Lakers and (8) the Jazz is a no-brainer. The Lakers dominance in the West will prove too much for the Jazz as they deal with plentiful woes in their franchise, one of which was the passing of their long-time owner, Larry H. Miller, in late February. Trying to cope with the heavy blow of Miller's passing, the Jazz have since been playing out of sync and as their hall-of-fame head coach, Jerry Sloan, put it, "They aren't a nasty team," said Sloan. "They just don't have that nastiness side to them that will make them win." The Lakers win the series in five games and move onto the second round of conference play.
The second match up in the West is between (2) the Denver Nuggets and (7) the New Orleans Hornets. This match-up prediction isn't as clear-cut of an answer like the previous one but isn't too hard to figure out. The Nuggets boost of production started when Nuggets General Manager, Mark Warkentien, made the trade for Detroit's 2004 NBA Finals MVP, Chauncey Billups, a hometown boy from Colorado, for the oft-disruptive Allen Iverson. The acquisition of Billups has done wonders for the franchise as they too have made a jump in their usual postseason ranks from last year's eighth place to this year's second spot. They haven't made it out of the first round in more than a decade, but with the way the team's been playing, that is sure to change in a just matter of days. The Hornets nucleus core group of players are standing on supremely thin ice down in New Orleans as one of their most important players, center Tyson Chandler, was an ex-Hornet for a couple days after he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, but came back to the Hornets when he passed a physical and the Thunder backed out of their deal. The Nuggets win in four games and move into the second round.
In the West's third match-up, that's between (3) the Spurs and (6) the Mavericks, the final result of which team will move on really comes down to a toss-up. Both the Spurs and the Mavs have been playing great as of late, but when both franchises meet up against each other in the playoffs, no one can really tell what's gonna happen. As we go to press, the series is tied at a game a piece with the first game earned by the Mavs and the second by the Spurs. The seasoned veteran trio of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan is no more with Ginobili sitting out of line-up indefinitely due to an injury he sustained on his ankle a few months ago. The Mavs are only hoping to ride the success wave they've had recently for as long as possible, especially against their hated home state rivals. Tough call, but the Spurs win the series in seven games.
The final match-up in the West belongs to (4) the Portland Trailblazers and (5) Houston Rockets. This match-up is also a tough series to call because of the West's strong and overbearing conference. The entertaining Blazers are too young and inexperienced against a team that's been to the playoffs every year for over five years. Plus the fact that they are a jump-shooting team doesn't bode well with the sporting gods when it comes to decoding who stays and who goes home. The overwhelming presence of 7'6" Houston center, Yao Ming and forward Ron Artest will prove too much for the Blazers as the Rockets take the series in six games.
BEASTS FROM THE EAST
As for the East's first match-up between (1) the top-seeded Cavs, who hold home-court advantage throughout their title run, and (8) the Detroit Pistons, there is no doubt who will win. The Cavs have won a franchise best and league history second best 39 out of 41 games at home (39-2). They can out-play the Pistons in every position starting with the guards all the way to the center, this after the Pistons have made it to the top of the standings for the past six years. All of that was lost when they traded their MVP point guard, Chauncey Billups, to Denver for the tumultuous Allen Iverson only after the third game of the season. The Cavs stomp over the Pistons in four games.
In the second match-up out in the East, between (2) the Boston Celtics and (7) the Chicago Bulls, the answer of who will make it is a definite one, but how they'll do it is a tricky one. The Celtics, last year's NBA Champions, will win the series over the Bulls but it won't be an easy one to say the least. With their star forward and driving force in Kevin Garnett (out indefinitely due to a knee injury he sustained in March) out for the postseason, the Celtics fate doesn't look to bright as they need to bring more effort and energy to every game, now that he's out. The upstart Bulls, led by their 20-year-old rookie phenom, Derrick Rose- who tied for the single best score in a rookie's playoff debut with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for 36 points- will try to bring success to his team but will ultimately fail when the Celtics move onto the next round after edging out the Bulls in six games.
For our third match-up in the East between (3) the Orlando Magic and (6) the Philadelphia 76ers, the answer is clear. The Magic is just too much for the inexperienced Sixers who have no player that can take on the man-child beast known as Dwight Howard. It's simple. The Magic win it in five games.
the East (and overall in the Playoffs) is between (4) the Atlanta Hawks and (5) the Miami Heat. Even though they are such a young team, Atlanta has been playing great heading into the postseason. The Heat, though, have not. Even though they Dwayne Wade, the only guard and one of four players in the League to earn block more than 100 shots, won't be able to lead his team past the Hawks who have a string group of players in the back court but even more so in the front court, that Miami simply can't match. The Hawks win it in four games.
That's it for the first round, but let's continue onto the semifinal rounds:
In the West, (1) the Lakers will take on (5) the Rockets for a match-up that can very well go to seven games. We think otherwise as the Lakers outmatch the Rockets in the guard and forward positions en route to the Conference Finals for the second year in a row only after beating the Rockets in six games.
Also in the West's second round play will be the (2) Nuggets and (3) Spurs who will definitely take the series to seven games. The Nuggets will pay back the Spurs for knocking them out of the playoffs in the first round for two of last three years. The Spurs will try to prevail but will ultimately lose because of the loss of Ginobili who is key to their success. Nuggets win it in seven and face the Lakers in the Conference Finals.
In the East, (1) the Cavs will face the (4) Hawks and also topple all over them as no one on the Hawks, not even Johnson, can contain James. The Cavs advance to the Conference Finals after beating the Hawks in five games. At this point, when the Most Valuable Player of the year award is given, LeBron James will accept the award with great honor of being the youngest player ever to receive an MVP.
Finally, the last match-up before the Conference Finals will be between (2) the Celtics and (3) Magic with the Magic surprisingly winning the series, knocking off the reigning Champions and making it to the Conference Finals for the first time since Shaquille O'Neal took the franchise there 15 years ago. The fundamental reason the Magic win will be because the Celtics don't have anyone who can match-up against Howard in wake of their loss of Garnett.
Ok folks, the time has come to predict who will be the respective Conference Champ thus making it to the Finals and who will go home fishin' trying to rebuild their team to become and even better force next year:
In the West, (1) the Lakers will edge out the (2) Nuggets in six games, but only after Denver puts up a good fight. The Lakers will advance to the Finals for the second straight season and try to make up for their sixth game debacle in last year's championship series that made them loss to the hated rival Celtics.
In the East, (1) the Cavs will finally face their match in the conference when they take on (3) the Magic. Howard will prove too much for the Cavs' aging starting center, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, as will James be too much to handle for the Magic's starting forward, jump shooter Rashard Lewis. In the end though, when push comes to shove, James and star point guard, Mo Williams, will single handedly eliminate the Magic from contention in six games and face the Lakers in the Finals.
OUR FEATURE PRESENTATION
The finals match-up will prove to the League to be one of the highest rated Finals series, aside from last year's Lakers-Celtics Finals series that shot up ratings to soaring heights after a few years of being in murky waters.
Lakers-Cavs. Kobe-LeBron. This is what every one has been waiting for since the start of the season, or at least when the Celtics started slowing down and the Cavs picked up the tempo in their play.
Although the Cavs hold the season's best home record of 39-2 thus having home-court advantage against the Lakers, the Lakers have the season's best road record of 29-12 and the second best home record of 36-5. This means that even though the Cavs think they can beat the Lakers in seven games, with the first two and last two games being played in Cleveland, the Lakers can still hold their own when on the road and beat the Cavs.
Look at the Cavs home record closely and you'll find that the first of the two losses the Cavs suffered came from the Lakers earlier in the season and the second loss came on the last day of the season when the Sixers came to town and at the buzzers knocked down a three-point game winning shot that beat the Cavs by one point. So, if you really think about the only team that could be the Cavs at home was the Lakers.
It's gonna be a tough match-up for both teams with Bryant against James in the backcourt and the Lakers' center Andrew Bynum against Ilgauskas battling underneath the basket in the frontcourt.
Either way, it's going to be a classic with the Lakers edging out the Cavaliers in seven games and earning them their first championship in seven years (since 2002.) Bryant will be named the Finals MVP and finally prove the doubt and naysayer that he could win "one" without the Big Diesel, Shaquille O'Neal, on his side. Another sweet story to come of the victory: the 10th championship Lakers hall-of-fame head coach, Phil Jackson, will earn while topping the legendary Red Auerbach who won nine championships as the Celtics head coach in the '60s and '70s.
Whatever will come of the Playoffs will be nothing short of exciting but whatever will come can be watched on the NBA's family of networks broadcasting the games through TNT Sports, ESPN and the League's very own, NBA TV. You can also get up-to-minute information and analysis of all the games and match-ups throughout the Playoffs by visiting the League's official website: www.nba.com.