|No. 1 Boston Celtics (66-16) vs. No. 8 Atlanta Hawks (37-45)
Comments: The Celtics have had the luxury of preparing for the playoffs pretty much since the All-Star break, so they should theoretically enter fresh. Their 42-win improvement from last season is nothing short of remarkable, and their stout defense is the main reason why. It’s nice that Atlanta made the postseason for the first time since 1999 (and ending the NBA’s longest drought in the process), but with a 37-45 record, the Hawks’ feel good story will be short-lived. Think they still don’t regret taking Marvin Williams over Chris Paul? Boston won all three regular season games when these two matched up and all by double figures. Expect more of the same.
Prediction: Celtics 4-0
No. 2 Detroit Pistons (59-23) vs. No. 7 Philadelphia 76ers (40-42)
Comments: Philadelphia was a pleasant surprise this season, and it would have been ironic had they made the postseason and Allen Iverson’s Nuggets didn’t. Still, the 76ers ended the season losing four straight, while the Pistons finished with a four-game winning streak and 9-2 over their final 11 games. Detroit does lose focus at times and only split the season series with Philadelphia (2-2), but the intensity the playoffs bring should largely curtail that. Andre Miller had one of the best seasons of his career at age 32, but in the end, the Pistons’ stifling defense will overwhelm the outmatched 76ers.
Prediction: Pistons 4-0
No. 3 Orlando Magic (52-30) vs. No. 6 Toronto Raptors (41-41)
Comments: The Magic are one of the most disregarded 50-win teams in recent memory, and Toronto does have a sizeable advantage at the point guard position. If Chris Bosh can negate Dwight Howard, things could get interesting. Still, that’s easier said than done, considering Howard is one of the five best players in the league. Hedo Turkoglu’s 19.5, 5.0, 5.7, 45.6% line was the single most surprising in the NBA this season, and the Magic did take two out of three against Toronto on the year. Jose Calderon ended the year handing out 45 assists without turning the ball over once and posted a sick 78:2 assist:turnover ratio over the season’s final 10 games. He became just the 11th player since 1989 to record a ratio of better than 5:1 in a season with his sparkling 5.53:1 mark in 2007-08.
Prediction: Magic 4-2
No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers (45-37) vs. No. 5 Washington Wizards (43-39)
Comments: The fact these teams split their four games against each other during the regular season is irrelevant, since Gilbert Arenas was out for all of them. Finally healthy, Washington is certainly more dangerous than its record indicates. And the Cavs were mediocre at best after completing a major trade midseason. Homecourt should play a big role in this series, and LeBron James is the type of player who can single-handedly win four games all by himself. This is the third straight year these two teams meet in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, and this one ends the same way the first two did, with Cleveland prevailing.
Prediction: Cavaliers 4-3
No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) vs. No. 8 Denver Nuggets (50-32)
Comments: The Lakers won the season series 3-0, and that was before Pau Gasol came to L.A. No Andrew Bynum hurts, but Gasol, Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant form a trio capable of winning it all, evidenced by their No. 1 seed in one of the most competitive conference’s in NBA history. To illustrate this point, the Nuggets were just seven games worse than the Lakers this year yet barely reached the postseason as a No. 8 seed. In the Western Conference playoffs this season, there is no such thing as an upset.
Prediction: Lakers 4-1
No. 2 New Orleans Hornets (56-26) vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks (51-31)
Comments: Last year, it was Dallas as the No. 1 seeded favorites getting bounced in the first round. This year, they are the lower-seeded squad easily capable of pulling off the “upset.” The Hornets are a very good basketball team but probably not quite as good as their 56-26 record suggests. Chris Paul was the NBA’s most valuable player this season, and he should be able to abuse a slowing Jason Kidd. However, the Mavs are deeper, and Dirk Nowitzki played the final month with determination, which should lead to Dallas coming out on top.
Prediction: Mavericks 4-2
No. 3 San Antonio Spurs (56-26) vs. No. 6 Phoenix Suns (55-27)
Comments: A terrific matchup to begin with gets added intrigue by the fact had Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw not been suspended for Game 5 when these two teams met in the semifinals last year, the Suns might be the current defending champs. Phoenix went 3-1 against San Antonio this season, including 2-0 after acquiring Shaquille O’Neal, who was brought to the desert in no small part to defend Tim Duncan. With most of the superstars involved aging, this might be one of the last times these teams meet with so much at stake, and this matchup could easily qualify as NBA Finals worthy. Manu Ginobili, who was the best crunch time player in the league this season, is the difference maker, as San Antonio wins it.
Prediction: Spurs 4-3
No. 4 Utah Jazz (54-28) vs. No. 5 Houston Rockets (55-27)
Comments: Despite being the lower seed, Houston has homecourt advantage because of its superior record. Still, Utah was able to win in Houston during Game 7 last year in the postseason, and while the Rockets have had a fine season that included a 22-game winning streak, they enter shorthanded with no Yao Ming. The Jazz posted a remarkable 37-4 record at home this year, but the fact they have to win at least one road game could be an obstacle, as they finished with a subpar 17-24 mark away from home. Still, Deron Williams is probably one of the 10 best players in the league, and Tracy McGrady enters ice cold, having shot worse than 44 percent from the field in each of the past six games, including 28 percent (14-of-50) over the season’s last three contests.
Prediction: Jazz 4-2
Posted by Dalton Del Don at 4/17/2008 6:32:00 PM
|The Sonics played what could be their last game in Seattle on Sunday. A few days ago, emails surfaced that showed owner Clay Bennett lied about wanting to keep the team in Seattle. But that's only a shock to those not paying attention or the supremely naive. (Since the former can't be said of Washington Governor Christine "I'm shocked" Gregoire, and the latter is not likely of a politician, the only excuse left for her is what? Stupidity? This is, after all, the woman who spoke of the Seahawks winning the "national championship" when they went to the Super Bowl a couple years ago.)
It did, however, confirm obvious suspicions that Bennett is a world-class ass kisser (seriously, read this email (pdf) to David Stern and tell me it doesn't violate the boundaries of man-crush). The guy looks like a major-league suck-up, but even that's not surprising when you consider that he wormed his way into a billionaire media mogul family when he started dating his future wife as high school sophomore. Bennett has Eddie Haskell written all over him.
The only revealing part is that Bennett is dumb enough to use email, the communication tool that never dies, to talk inside baseball (or basketball, in this case).
In contrast, Stern, ever the master, keeps his response clean. He was in on the Bennett-Oklahoma City plan (conspiracy?) from the beginning, so he obviously knew he was being lied to when Bennett used eight paragraphs of school-girl gushiness to assure him that the ownership group had not discussed moving, even though one owner spilled the beans to a reporter like Uncle June's girlfriend blabbing to her pals. But Stern restrains himself from smashing a lemon meringue pie in Bennett's face, instead simply totes the NBA line and plans a meeting with Bennett -- at which he no doubt served a few pies. "Look, Clay, this is the NBA, not the CBA! Stop making rookie mistakes, you hick! How can we spin this into a 'good faith effort' if you're guys out there telling people the truth?"
A June trial will determine if the Sonics can void the two remaining years on their arena lease. At least at the final game Sunday, the crowd got in some good "Bennett Sucks!" and "Save our Sonics" chants.
Posted by Jason Thornbury at 4/14/2008 5:01:00 PM