Yeah, I know the NBA Playoffs already started over the weekend. Big deal. Did anything that happened really change our perception going in? Especially in the East? Thought so.
Pretty much ever since Michael Jordan retired, the East has been significantly worse than the West. The East has only won three championships since 1998–two of them came in upsets of the Lakers, and the third came in one of the worst Finals of all time. This year, however, might be the first time since Jordan beat Russell that the postseason favorite resides in the East. LeBron James and the Cavaliers had the best record in basketball by a wide margin and will finally get to team James with Antawn Jamison and Shaquille O’Neal. And although the East lacks the same depth as the West, it is deeper than it has been in some years, with four 50-win teams and all eight playoff teams at .500 or better. Does that make the first-round any better? Well…
#1 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS VS. #8 CHICAGO BULLS
CAN THE BULLS DO WHAT THEY DID LAST YEAR? And lose in the first round? Yeah, I think they’ve got a shot.
I WAS LEANING TOWARD, “CAN THEY COMPETE?” Only in the loosest sense of the word. The Bulls will, I suppose, be playing the same sport as the Cavs at the same time in the same place. Beyond that, they will have little in common.
WHAT’S THE PRIMARY SUBPLOT OF THIS SERIES, WHICH IN FACT IS SO IMPORTANT, THAT IT’S PRACTICALLY THE SUPRAPLOT OF THE SERIES? The Bulls have cap space!!! LeBron is a free agent!!! He already said he’s not gonna wear 23 next season!!! These can’t all be unrelated stories!!!
WHAT ACTUALLY IS A SUBPLOT OF THIS SERIES? Revenge shall be served. I expect Craig Ehlo to be in attendance for the clincher.
DOES THAT VIDEO INCLUDE FOOTAGE OF THAT GREAT INBOUNDS PLAY THE CAVS RAN FOR EHLO MOMENTS BEFORE JORDAN SCORED? Yes, yes it does. Although upon closer inspection, the inbounds play isn’t as good as Ehlo’s finish. Here’s the thing about that game: Craig Ehlo was three seconds away from being the hero. And Michael Jordan stole it from him, and put him on a poster in the process.
YOU BUYING THE CAVS? I’ll grant that this year’s Cavs team is the favorite to win the title. That said, if given the choice between Cleveland and the field, I would not hesitate for a second in taking the field. We haven’t seen nearly enough of the Cavs’ presumptive best lineup (Williams, LeBron, Jamison, Varejao, and Shaq), and this team is still coached by Mike Brown. Furthermore, let’s remember that Cleveland wasn’t beaten in the playoffs last year; it was destroyed in a virtual five-game sweep by Orlando. That series wasn’t close.
WILL THIS ONE BE? No, Derrick Rose can lead the Bulls to a win in Chicago, but that’s it. Cavs in 5.
#4 BOSTON CELTICS VS. #5 MIAMI HEAT
NOW, TIM, YOU SAID YOU WANTED AN OPENING TIRADE: Yes, thank you, Kent. Here’s a message to the Bostonians who have denied this for the last several months now: The Celtics suck. Okay, they’re a bad basketball team. It’s not even that the Celtics aren’t good; they are bad. They have been bad for three months. Since the beginning of March, they lost to four teams that didn’t make the playoffs–at home! And one of those teams was the Nets. The Nets! It will be an upset if Boston wins this series, not the other way around. I would not pick the Celtics to beat any other Eastern Conference team in a 7-game series with the possible exception of the Bulls, and note the word “possible.”
Furthermore, Celtics’ fans that are surprised at how quickly the health of their team has denigrated have simply been ignorant. This is what happens when you trade your youth for a quick-fix championship. You don’t go from 17 wins to a title without long-term consequences. Did I expect Kevin Garnett to be the one saddled with injuries only two years later? Not really. I thought Ray Allen would be the first of the Big Three to go with Garnett following shortly thereafter. Nothing that has happened to this franchise this season has been especially surprising. Even going into the year, your expectations should have been for a second-round appearance and maybe—maybe—the chance to be quickly ushered out of the Conference Finals. This was not a championship-caliber team at any point in 2010.
A CHILLING PORTRAIT OF THINGS TO COME: For Celtics’ fans, yes.
NOW, ISN’T THAT A LITTLE OVERREACTIVE? I MEAN, HOW MANY CELTICS’ GAMES HAVE YOU ACTUALLY WATCHED? Low blow! You know I don’t watch NBA regular-season games! I’m just sick of seeing the Celtics blow a game on ABC’s Sunday Showcase at the Garden, then hearing Boston fans complain about how disappointing this season has been. When people talked about this team winning 70 earlier this year (and yes, “people” means Rasheed Wallace), I told John they’d be closer to 40 than to 70. I was right.
AND THE HEAT? It’s not like they’re a good team, either. The East has three legit teams, and by “legit” I mean teams that could have competed for a playoff spot in the West. That list ends with Atlanta. Whoever wins this series—and it will be Miami—won’t give the Cavs much in Round 2.
WHY DOES MIAMI WIN THIS SERIES? Dwyane Wade is far and away the best player on the floor. A player that good is enough to beat a mediocre team by himself.
HOW MANY DOES IT TAKE? I originally had Miami winning Game 1 and dropping Game 2. Since they lost Game 1, let’s flip that. I now like Miami taking the next three, Boston holding the Heat off in Game 5, and Miami closing the door in South Beach.
#3 ATLANTA HAWKS VS. #6 MILWAUKEE BUCKS
AND THE MOST INTERESTING SUBPLOT IS…: Here are two teams that underwent rebranding measures a few years ago. In my opinion, one failed while one became the best look in the NBA.
INTERESTING. WHICH IS WHICH? You can’t tell? To the majority of NBA fans, the Hawks are red. The other teams in Atlanta are red. Why they switched to navy still flummoxes me. If they kept the same uniforms with red instead of navy, they’d be great.
Milwaukee, meanwhile, understood its roots and went back to green and red. They updated and stylized their wordmark, they added excellent trim, and they have the best uniform set in the Association, even though the red alternate leaves something to be desired.
WHY ARE YOU SPENDING SO MUCH TIME ON UNIFORMS? First, don’t you know me? I love uniforms. Second, this series—and the Bucks’ potential postseason run—lost so much of its momentum with that gruesome Andrew Bogut injury. As saddened as I am by the injuries to Greg Oden, Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, and Yi Jianlian (remember, he missed like 20 games this season), the Bogut injury bothered me the most. Not because of how nasty it was, but because Bogut was breaking out, and I was excited to see some fresh blood on the second-round playoff stage. Not gonna happen.
THEY CAN’T BEAT THE HAWKS? They can; it’s just going to be very tough. I don’t know if I would pick Milwaukee over Atlanta even with a healthy Bogut. As I said, the line of demarcation in the East is between Atlanta and Boston.
THAT’S WACK, THOUGH. BOSTON WAS ONLY THREE GAMES BEHIND ATLANTA: Yeah, but the Hawks aren’t reeling from the fact that they’ve already played 82 games this season.
WHAT’S TO LIKE ABOUT ATLANTA? Josh Smith is as fun a player as there is to watch in the NBA, Joe Johnson is fantastic, and Al Horford has done so much more than I ever expected him to out of Florida. It’s nice to see a team draft wisely and reap the benefits.
EXCEPT…: You know, that whole passing on Chris Paul and/or Deron Williams to draft Marvin Williams. That was bad.
DIDN’T YOU FORGET? The Shelden Williams thing, too. Everyone knew that was a mistake.
AND THE WINNER IS…: I kind of gave it away already. Atlanta in 5, even though many of the games are tight.
WAIT, WHAT’S THAT? I just want to add that I really like Brandon Jennings, even though I can honestly say I never expected to. He just has to become more consistent and more prudent with his shot, and he’ll be another iteration of the American Point Guard Renaissance, which is the best thing to happen to basketball this decade.
#2 ORLANDO MAGIC VS. #7 CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST! Now that I get NBA TV, I suppose I could watch the customary “series that gets relegated to NBA TV.” But it’s the principle of it, you know?
SO THE BOBCATS ARE IN THE PLAYOFFS. THAT’S COOL, I GUESS: Yeah, they made it with very little fanfare or momentum, unlike other long-suffering fan bases like Milwaukee this year, Portland last year, or Golden State in ’07. I can’t say that I actually feel happy for the people of Charlotte.
WHAT’S TO LIKE ABOUT THE B-CATS? They rebound well. Gerald Wallace is a player who you can accurately and unhyperbolically refer to as “unique.” Boris Diaw is on the roster, and when I look at Boris Diaw, I think of Beethoven and the Age of the Romantics. They got rid of those orange uniforms.
WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE? They replaced those orange uniforms with a very odd-looking blue pinstriped jersey that’s “different” but not in a good way. I’m already sick of the “Where’s Larry Brown gonna go?” conversation, largely because Larry Brown hasn’t given a crap about coaching since 2004. They don’t shoot the ball particularly well. And Bobcats is a terrible name for a professional sports franchise.
OH WOW…THIS IS A BATTLE OF THE PINSTRIPES! Yeah, we’ll have to see if guys like Wallace and Ray Felton “earn their pinstripes” in this series. Because, you know, you have to earn the right to wear that jersey.
JJ REDICK HAS BEEN PLAYING WELL: Yeah, he doesn’t look like that much of a reach at No. 11 that year, considering guys drafted ahead of him like Ty Thomas, Shelden Williams, Randy Foye, Patrick O’Bryant, and Mouhamad Sene haven’t lived up to their potential.* Moreover, there are only two players taken behind Redick that I would definitely trade him straight-up for in Rajon Rondo and Paul Millsap. And everyone missed on Millsap.
*Except Williams, whose potential was always, “10-11th guy.”
CAN ORLANDO REPEAT IN THE EAST? Absolutely. The major areas of concern for the Magic are Dwight Howard’s free-throw shooting and their lack of a crunch-time scorer. They’re kind of interrelated, but one of the reasons they haven’t hurt the Magic yet is that Orlando is beating teams so easily since the All-Star Break. Do those things worry me long-term? Of course. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to the inevitable Eastern Conference Finals rematch.
HOW DOES THIS SERIES GO? As in some others, I’m willing to give the Bobcats a win but nothing more. Charlotte wins its first-ever home playoff game, sandwiched by four losses. Magic in 5.