I probably should have picked the first round of the NBA playoffs, but I didn't. If I had, here's what I would have said:
CLE over CHI in 4
BOS over MIA in 7
ORL over CHA in 6
ATL over MIL in 5
LA over OKC in 5
DAL over SA in 7
UTH over DEN in 7
PHO over POR in 6
With 3 series (is the plural of series just series?) yet to be decided, I will have either gotten 1 series wrong, or 4. I whiffed on the Mavericks; should have known not to pick against Tim Duncan in the first round.
As it looks now, the Lakers are going to close out the Thunder (which makes me sad, though not surprised) and the Jazz are going to take out Chauncey's Nuggets. The Bucks-Hawks series could still go either way. I still give the Hawks about a 45% chance despite being down 2-3.
Technically I can't make round two predictions until round one officially ends, but it's almost over, and I won't be able to write anything over the weekend, so here goes...
CLE over BOS in 5.
A lot of buzz on the radio and online about the Celtics having a chance against Cleveland. I listened to Colin Cowherd's half-assed rationale for why the Celts will beat the Cavs for an hour today on the radio. To put it briefly, because while the Cavs have the best player in the series, the Celtics have the next 4 best players. There is some validity and good logic to this argument. Also, Boston has more experience.
But the thing is, LeBron isn't just the best player in this series, like Dirk was in the DAL-SA series or Roy was in the PHO-POR series. LeBron is the best player in the world, and nobody can come close to disputing that point right now. What's more, the Celtics don't have a defensive stopper to guard LeBron. They don't have a Bowen or Artest or even a Tayshaun. Their two defensive aces, Rondo and Garnett, would be way out of position against LBJ. No one can stop LeBron, but a guy like Artest can at least slow him down.
Nothing will matter in this series except how badly LeBron wants to go to the NBA Finals, and I think he wants it more than the entire Celtics team combined. Are Mo Williams and Antwan Jamison great sidekicks? Nah. But Varejo and Hickson and West are perfect role players and everyone rallies around LeBron perfectly like a bunch of dorky bench players hanging around the star quarterback in high school. Popularity by association. He's like the cool upperclassmen and they have no self-respect when it comes to gazing at him adoringly during time-outs. Cleveland has the best chemistry in the NBA, because nobody is close to challenging LeBron for alpha dog status, and they all look up to him like a big cool steroid-infested brother.
In mostly every other team, there's a numbskull (usually off the bench) who thinks he's better than he really is, and consequently becomes selfish at the wrong times and gets the team into trouble. The Mavs have a couple - Butler & Terry. The Hawks have at least 3 - Crawford, Evans, and sometimes Josh Smith. The Celtics have a couple too - Rasheed (the KING of numbskulls) and Nate Robinson. The Lakers are pretty neatly trimmed, but they have Artest, a numbskull with a side of psychopathia.
Cleveland is the only contender with no trace of numbskulls. Even Shaq, a numbskull a few years ago, has bought into the "LBJ is King" mantra and humbly accepted his role as a peasant. It's amazing to watch.
My theory, which shall henceforth be known as The Numbskull Theory, contends that the team with less numbskulls will usually win an NBA playoff series, unless there are extenuating circumstances.
Hey, I love Rondo more than just about anybody, and I think Pierce and Allen are still great players. They'll probably be competitive in just about every game against Cleveland. But Garnett is a shell of his former self and highly unathletic right now, and Rasheed is quite honestly the biggest liability in the NBA. You can't afford tantrums and technicals in the playoffs against LeBron. You just can't.
Cleveland is going to win this series, and it's going to be easier than most people realize. CLE in 5.
ORL over MIL in 5, or ORL over ATL in 7
If Atlanta comes back to beat the Bucks and advance, they'll regain some of their swagger and confidence, and push the Magic to 7. If Milwaukee moves on, I'll root for them like crazy (they're my new favorite Eastern Conference team), but the lack of Bogut in the middle will be absolutely devestating against Dwight Howard.
Kurt Thomas, the Buck's new starting center, is 3 inches and 30 pounds smaller than Howard, but that's the least of the Bucks' problems. He's also 13 years older. It could be very, very ugly if the Bucks advance, and Howard could average 30 and 20 to go with his 5 fouls and 7-20 free throw shooting each night.
Seriously, Orlando is the only team in the East with a shot to keep Cleveland from the Finals, and they have been all season. They've got the depth, and the outside shooting, and certainly the superstar in the middle. But, just like the CLE-BOS series, Cleveland-Orlando will be dictated by whether or not LeBron decides to dominate. And he will.
CLE over ORL in 5
You think LeBron won't remember losing to the Magic in last year's ECFs? You think he wants his legacy to be "that guy who couldn't make it past the Magic?" No way, he's gonna put on an absolute show in these playoffs, averaging a 35-10-8, and it just really makes me wish I liked him. Even a little bit. But I don't.
LA over UTH in 7
It'll take the Lakers 14 games to advance to the WCFs, and that's gonna be important ...
Against Utah, the Lakers will look outmatched and slow and very vulnerable, but ultimately Kobe and home-court advantage will make the difference. That, and the refs.
SA over PHO in 6
Polarizing styles, two of the decade's most successful superstars, and both teams have a "this is our last chance" feel. Going to be a great series.
San Antonio must slow down Phoenix to have a chance, and they've got to continue to get production from George Hill, who has emerged to say the least. Phoenix has to get some focus and some rebounds from Amare Stoudemire, who doesn't like tough matchups against guys like Tim Duncan. They've also got to keep making their outside shots.
Ultimately this series comes down to the Numbskull Effect. San Antonio is pretty clean, though Richard Jefferson isn't the smartest fella. But Roger Mason, DeJuan Blair and MiggidyMcDyess are great role players who know their roles. Phoenix has a potential numbskull in Jason Richardson (heightened by the fact that he's coming off a great series and might think he's all of a sudden turned into Larry Bird), no to mention that their second best player (Amare) sometimes struggles from Numbskullitous.
I'll take the Spurs here in 6. And that gives us a classic Western Conference match-up ...
LA over SA in 7
Both teams are frankly happy to have made it this far, but someone's got to to advance to the Finals. The Spurs old legs are weary and Tim Duncan is falling asleep in huddles, while Kobe's injuries keep piling up and Artest has locked Odom in a closet somewhere. This is gonna be a fun but exhausting series to watch. Throw in the two best coaches in the NBA and some superior strategizing, and shoot.
Again, I'll take the Lakers because of home-court and Kobe.
CLE over LA in 4
Yeah, I'm predicting an NBA Finals sweep, that's right.
Why? Because it's gonna take the Lakers 21 games to make the Finals, and Cleveland just 15. Because LeBron will be well-rested and on top of his physical game. Because the Cavs' size will be put to excellent use against Gasol and Bynum. Because LeBron is on performance-enhancing drugs. Because Kobe will be less hungry after winning it all last year. And because once the Lakers fall in a 3-0 hole after game 3, they'll implode and lose game 4 by at least 20 points.
The only unfortunate thing about this scenario ... well, one of the many unfortunate things ... is that if LeBron wins a title in Cleveland, he may be tempted to stay there. And that's bad for entertainment purposes, plus bad for the Pistons. It would take a real douchy douche to win a title, the first for the city of Cleveland in 55 years, and then leave town anyway. But let's not sell LeBron short of that just yet.