Latest in the NBA Finals series – by Matt from Hardwood Paroxysm. Worth noting that at the time of writing this, the blockbuster trade with Ben Wallace going to the Cavs had not happened…
The East is essentially a two-team race, as per usual. There are two contenders, four pretenders, and two pieces of fodder (whoever gets the 7th and 8th seed. There will be no Warriors-Mavericks here).
Washington: Even with Zero and a healthy Caron, they just don’t have the consistent shooters or inside presence to get past the top two. They could make a game out of it if they hit the playoffs on all cylinders, but odds are high that they’ll end up in the dreaded 4-5 matchup.
Cleveland: We know he went to the Finals last year. We know how amazing he’s been this year. But he won’t have a cakewalk Washington team without Caron and Zero in the first round, nor an inferior Nets team in the second. And while Hughes has been shooting better, it’s unlikely to hold. Throw in the injury to Varejao, putting more stressload on Z, and it’s unlikely they’ll have the umph to get to the ECF again this season. (Note: We reserve the right to pull the “You can’t predict LeBron” card.)
Toronto: IF Bosh can stay healthy, and IF TJ can provide valuable minutes, and IF Calderon can keep up his pace, and IF Kapono can find his shot, and IF their perimeter defense can improve to human levels, and IF Bargnani can have a few takeover games… they might push Pistons/Celtics to six games. Maybe.
Orlando: Such potential. But unless Rashard Lewis goes ballistic and their point guard situation gets resolved, they just don’t have the bench they need. Hedo and Dwight are good for 2 to 3 wins, but getting the fourth will be hard. This is a good team, and we think they’ll work out the shakes by playoff time and win their first round easy. However, it takes a special combination to beat either of the East’s Big Two. You have to have tremendous depth and a superstar that can take over a game. While Dwight is a special player, he hasn’t hit “takevoer” level yet, and it’s hard to when you’re a center. We think they can push either of the Big 2 if they get a series of things to go their way, but they’re not there. Yet.
The Big Two
Boston: Size. (Suprising) Depth. Speed. Superstar talent. An almost unhealthy commitment to winning. Swagger. And for all of that? Zero championship experience (unless you count James Posey, which we don’t). There’s no denying the Celtics have been one of, if not the, best teams in the NBA this season. They’re undefeated against the West. They have the best record. So why is it we all have reservations about just crowning their asses? Because we’re not entirely convinced they can pull it off in a seven game series. There’s no question they’ll be in the ECF. And as long as they’re healthy, there’s little doubt that series will go at least 6 six games. It’ll be interesting to see if the young guns can maintain their focus and form under the pressure of playoff-quality defense. And we’ll be the first ones to say it. Everyone does remember that KG has never been to the Finals, right?
Detroit: Old Reliable. Tried and trusted. Like a rock. There’s no reason to doubt that the Pistons will get back to the Finals except… not going back to the finals in the past three years. We like the new Pistons. There have been subtle changes in this year’s crew, a more wide open offense, a little more fun, some new young studs. In the end, it’ll come down to Rasheed, Billups, and Hamilton, as it always does. The inevitable series with Boston should be one for the ages.
The exact opposite is the case in the Western Conference. There are six teams that are legitimate contenders to the Western Crown. We’ll go ahead and toss out whoever gets the seventh and eighth seed from the clusterf#*k. We like Houston and Denver, if you’re keeping track. But neither have what it takes to knock off the top seeds. Here’s the rest, in order of least likely to most likely to win the West.
Hornets: We love David West, and of course, CP3 is out of this world. We even think a healthy Peja can win you a few games and Chandler is a pivotal kog. But their bench is just too shallow. We wish you could win with just this level in the West, but you can’t. One -8 stretch in a playoff game can be the end.
Jazz: We want to put them higher. We really do. But do we think they would have gotten past the Mavericks in last year’s playoffs? No. Great combination of talent. Terrific coaching. Decent size and excellent guard play. But the rest of the West just have more.
Spurs: Consider this the beggining of the “it wouldn’t surprise us at all to see them win” portion of the list. The Spurs look bad. Old. Out of shape. Tired. Running out of reliable options. But we’ve said that about them every year, haven’t we?
Lakers: The injuries are a real scare point. The Gasol trade looks genius, but it don’t mean a thing if Bynum can’t get back 100% before the Ides of March or if Kobe misses any significant time. Derek Fisher has been great for them, but he’s been strangely absent in big games. They can take the Suns or the Spurs, but the Mavs would give them fits, and the Jazz could sneak up on them. It’s not like their window is closing.
Suns: Will the big fella work out? We have no way of knowing and won’t know until the playoffs start. But we do know that they still have arguably the best pure point in the league, a tremendous scoring machine at power forward, a wily veteran in Grant Hill who is rejuvenated, and one of the fastest players on the planet in Barbosa. They have a great defender in Bell, and a promising young rookie point in Strawberry. If Shaq can go even 80%, they’re going to be scary dangerous.
Mavericks: Yes, we know they just traded the kitchen sink along with Avery Johnson’s teddy bear for Kidd. But the shift in responsibilities could work out really well for the Mavericks in the short-run. They’ve sacrificed their future, but they have Dirk, Josh Howard, Terry, Dampier, Bass, and now Kidd. They were a favorite of ours to win the title, and the Kidd traded didn’t effect anything negatively… this season.
Finals: Uh… Mavs over Pistons? We.. guess? The best part is that nothing is a lock. That’s refreshing. And interesting. And terrifying. Because if it’s LA versus Boston, we’re going to vomit out our eyes.
More up tomorrow – and Matt? Personally, I hope you get to vomit out your eyes…