Saturday, 28 April 2012
THE BRACKET-ROUND 1
With the NBA Playoffs starting today me and '24/48/82's newest addition Quett Walker are pleased to give you 'The Bracket' our new feature looking in depth at the playoff matchups. You ready? Take it away Q!
Well it’s that time of the year again. THE NBA PLAYOFFS are due to commence on Saturday April 28, 2012 after the shortened season of 66 games.
We are going to start by previewing the four Eastern Conference match ups in the first round.
Chicago Bulls vs Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers
THE GOOD: Not only does the Chicago Bulls finish the season with the best overall record in the league, but they have managed to achieve this amazing accomplishment while having last year’s reigning MVP in Derrick Rose miss 27 out of 66 games. That’s 41% of the season! However the Bulls have managed to go 18-9 without Rose in the lineup. No doubt his absence has led the way for bench players such as CJ Watson and John Lucas III to step up at the point guard position and exhibit their skills. And boy have they not disappointed! This should come as no surprise as the Bulls have one of the deepest benches in the NBA with Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, Mike James and Jimmy Butler just to name a few. With being the number one rebounding team in the league (boasting a frontline of Boozer, Noah and Gibson), having one of the best records against winning teams in the NBA, the genius defensive minded coach in Tom Thibodeau and oh yeah…having a guy by the name of Derrick Rose, its definitely easy to see why the Bulls are one of the most favoured teams to take the chip this year.
THE BAD: The main concern for the Bulls definitely has to be the health of Chicago’s Big Three, Derrick Rose (groin, ankle, shoulder), Richard Hamilton (shoulder) and Luol Deng (wrist). The injury bug has been very bad to the Chicago Bulls even though they have somehow managed to maintain a level of excellent play through the bad times. However one cannot overlook the notion of exactly how easy it would be to incorporate Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton back into the lineup. Obviously with the return of Rose and Hamilton for the playoffs there would be less shots to go around for the bench players that carried the Bulls during his absence. One has to take into consideration what this will do to the confidence level of the bench when faced with less shots. Finally even though the Bulls have definitely gotten deeper, have they’re acquired the type of players that can take pressure off of Derrick Rose? The biggest downfall and the reason for their playoff exit last year was due to the fact that Derrick Rose had to expend so much energy by doing everything to carry the team, he had nothing left in the tank by Game 5. Let’s hope for the Bulls’ sake that when those bright lights come on in the playoffs, the supporting cast is ready to perform.
THE GOOD: The Sixers have a good cast of talent that has definitely exceed everyone’s expectation over the last couple of years. Doug Collins has done a good job of instilling the necessary ingredients into this core of young players to not only play at a high level but to also make the playoffs for the second time in the last 3 years. With a back court of Jrue Holiday and Jodie Meeks, the dangerous front court of Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young and a talented Lou Williams and Evan Turner coming off the bench, the Sixers have good core to keep Philly entertained for years to come. Let’s not forget the explosiveness of Andre Iguodala which will keep crowds entertained. Overall this Philly team play hard and seem to complement each other and do show stretches of brilliance in their play.
It seems as if the excitement has been put back into the city of Philly which desperately needed it as it has been searching for some glimmer of hope since the days of Allen Iverson.
THE BAD: Now the question is, has any other team fallen so far from grace than the Sixers? Their season has sunk faster than the Titantic! After starting off the season with so much promise (20-9 within the first 2 months), which explains the reason why Andre Iguodala became an All Star this year, there have had an abysmal end to their season finishing it up on a 15-22 slide.Maybe their coach Doug Collins voice is beginning to wear thin on the players. Also Collins’ inability to develop a consistent starting lineup does not bode well for their playoff chances since players need to get into a flow to contribute their maximum effort to the team. This has created a problem regarding the lack of a go-to-guy that can take over the game in the clutch and this seriously hampers their hopes of beating the Bulls. They have been exposed as there have been moments where their waning confidence has gotten the best of them in the finally seconds of games. Unfortunately this is exactly what the playoffs are about. Weeding out the weaker teams that cannot finish when the time presents itself.This inexperience to finish games highlights the reason why the Sixers are not ready to be considered a contender and thus compete with the elite in the east for a NBA championship.
THE SKINNY: Given the Bulls depth, their tenacious defense, their experience and increased confidence playing (and winning!) without Derrick Rose/Richard Hamilton and being probably the best team in the east, I cannot see the Sixers posing much of a threat to the top seeded Bulls. The Sixers’ inexperience and disappointing end to the season doesn’t help their case either as this series will probably be a rather quick and painless one for the banged up Bulls.
Bulls win 4-0
Miami Heat vs New York Knicks
THE GOOD: When Lebron James shocked the world by announcing that he was leaving his home state of Ohio to team up with buddies Dwayne Wade And Chris Bosh in Miami, that threw the global sports world into a tail spin. Not only did James help to create one of the biggest ‘super’ teams in sports, but he damn aimed the spotlight on the Heat’s back. However his gambled has paid off so far with Miami having taken a trip to the NBA Finals last year and them being only 2 games away from winning it all. Now in their sophomore year, the big three have not only had a year of experience playing together, but they now even have a better idea of what it takes to get to the promise land. Given Lebron’s explosive ability to charge to the basket at any given time he wants and Dwyane Wade’s quick and flashy moves and capabilities of changing direction at the drop of a hat, the Miami Heat definitely have a chance to win the East and perhaps the NBA championship.
THE BAD: Injuries come into play here for the Heat’s Big Three of Lebron James (finger), Wade (finger, ankle, knee) and Bosh (hamstring). Let’s face it this is of grave concern given the fact that the rest of the starting line-up (Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony) seems to be missing in action and the bench being atrocious. Shane Battier was brought in as a defensive specialist (still waiting on him to performance), James Jones and Mike Miller to provide sharpshooting skills (shooting very poorly) and Norris Cole’s performance has diminished significantly from the start of the season. We also have to factor in that Miami lacks serious size in the front court and are ranked in the bottom third (21stout of 30) of worst rebounding teams in the league. Furthermore their record in other teams arenas is only 18-15 and we have seen them lose very important games to elite teams such as Thunder, Bulls, Celtics and the Lakers all on the road. However we are yet to address the Miami Heat’s biggest problem. If you had a chance to watch any of the NBA Finals last year, you may have seen a certain Heat player come up short in the closing moments of the final 4 games. It seems as if Lebron James has a penchant for disappearing in the final minutes of pivotal games. This has led to constant ridicule and mocking of James’ ability to have any sort of impact on a game in the Final 2 minutes. Let’s be honest, James possesses too much talent not to be a factor in any games period! Let’s hope James has channelled all of the energy and learned from last year as he is definitely the key as to how far Miami will good into the playoffs.
NEW YORK KNICKS
THE GOOD: No story has been bigger than the emergence of Jeremy Lin in the basketball Mecca that is New York. That fact that a relatively unknown player has been able to step up when the injury riddled Knicks needed a saviour seems as if it was scripted out of a movie. The Knicks were relevant again after struggling with the marriage of Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire all due to outstanding play of Jeremy Lin. However after injuries to Lin (for the rest of the season and the first round of the playoffs) and Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony has taken over as the sole leader of the Knicks and has been on a tear towards the end of the season by putting up a series of 30+ point games. Not only has he been scoring but his leadership and unselfish play has enabled other players to gain confidence that was severely lacking in the earlier part of the season. Players such as Steve Novak and JR Smith have been playing very well, especially Novak as he led the NBA in 3 point shooting percentage this season at 47%. Also the additions of Tyson Chandler and Baron Davis and the great defensive play of Iman Shumpert have the Knicks looking like a contender in the east for years to come. This outstanding performance has transcended everyone’s expectations as to how good the Knicks would actually be without Lin.
THE BAD: NO LINSANITY!! The very same player in Lin that led the Knicks into a media storm this year will be absent from the first round of the playoffs. Although the Knicks have been playing very well without Lin for the last few weeks, we all know the playoffs are a different beast. The concern is definitely at the point guard position as Mike Bibby has definitely lost a step or 5 and Baron Davis has never been the same since coming back from his injury. In addition how will Stoudemire’s presence back in the starting line-up affect the team’s new found cohesiveness developed during his absence?
THE SKINNY: Given the fact that the Heat have 2 of the top 5 players in the league in Lebron James and Dwyane Wade (arguably the best players at their respective positions) I see the Miami Heat beating the Knicks in this series. Yes the Miami Heat have a lot of weaknesses they need to overcome but they match up very well with the Knicks. Lebron James will dominate the Knicks as there is no one that can stop him as the Knicks’ best defender Iman Shumpert will have his hands full with Wade. Amare Stoudemire will need to play very big and dominate Chris Bosh in this series for the Knicks to even have a chance. This will probably be the most exciting series in the first round of the East with Carmelo battling against his buddies in Lebron and Dwyane but they will get the best of him.
Heat win 4 -2
Indiana Pacers vs Orlando Magic
THE GOOD: The Pacers have been a nice surprise in the Eastern conference this year. Frank Vogel is shouting for the Coach of the Year trophy after following up what others would say was a good year. The Pacers are a nice young core of players with Roy Hibbert making strides in improving his play in the post, Roy George an athletic swingman and Danny Granger shooting at a decent percentage. Adding David West this season provided this young team with a veteran who possesses playoff experience from his days of playing with Chris Paul in New Orleans. Darren Collison, Leandro Barbosa, George Hill, Dahntey Jones and Tyler Hansbrough round off a nice deep team that is definitely in a position to surely make a playoff run in the years to come.
THE BAD: As deep as this team is, they are in a similar position as the Philadelphia 76ers in lacking a go-to-guy. With the game on the line, who exactly will be the player to take the last shot? This coupled with the lack of playoff experience are really the only bad things with this team.
THE GOOD: Throughout all of the Dwight Howard drama, the Magic have actually played well considering all of the distractions that have been presented to them. There were 4th in the league in 3 point shooting percentage (37%) and actually ended up in the 6th spot in the eastern conference standings.
THE BAD: Ahhhh how about Howard’s absence from the playoffs? This creates a big hole in the middle as Orlando doesn’t have a backup shot blocker or a decent rebounder. In addition the drama with Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard is not going to help the situation. Orlando Magic takes too many 3 pointers and as the playoffs is all about a half court, grind it out of environment, with them having no inside-outside game, Orlando will more likely die by the 3 in this scenario.
THE SKINNY:Without Howard in the middle for Orlando, Roy Hibbert is going to have a field day down in the post. Look for Hibbert to be aggressive against the Magic and have high number in points and rebounds. In addition the athleticism of the Indiana Pacers winger defenders will be able to run Orlando’s perimeter players off of the three point line as the threat of inside scoring for Orlando will be absent. Look for the Pacers to dominate this match up and move into the second round of the playoffs.
Pacers win 4 -1
Atlanta Hawks vs Boston Celtics
THE GOOD:The Hawks have been a very consistent team in the East have made gradually improvements for the last 5 years now. They have an athletic power forward in Josh Smith, a lights out shooting guard in Joe Johnson and decent backup reserves in Tracey McGrady, Jeff Teague, Jerry Stackhouse and Ivan Johnson.
THE BAD: Although the Hawks have improved marginally year on year for the last 5 years now, the improvements haven’t been significant enough and thus have seen other teams leapfrog them into becoming contenders. Teams such as Chicago, Miami and now even Indiana seem to have not only invested more financially, but almost more intelligently to enable their teams to make vertical moves rather than horizontal as Atlanta has. The lost of Al Horford hurts them in the middle and the inconsistencies shown on the defense end and droughts in scoring puts doubt into whether this ball club has what it takes to compete with contenders in the eastern conference.
THE GOOD: Championship Swagger, tenacious defense and the best passing point guard in the league are just a few of the reasons why the Celtics can make one more run at the championship. Kevin Garnett has been playing like a slight vintage ‘Big Ticket’ since moving to the center position and Ray Allen coming off the bench means that his legs will be fresher come playoff time. After a rough start to the season, Paul Pierce has gotten back to his usual self, making clutch shots and playing at a high level. Additions of Avery Bradley, who has played very well on the defensive end, a swingman in Mickael Pietrus and a body up front in Brandon Bass has allowed the C’s to still play a at dangerous level. However the performance of the Celtics is in Rondo’s hands. The Celtics will only go as far as their elite point guard takes them. As Rondo is the engine that drives this Celtics team, it needs to be in tip top condition to reach its destination of securing another NBA championship.
THE BAD: The main concern with the Celtics is their age. With Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett all in their mid – late thirties, it begs the question does this team have enough left in the tank to grind its way to another ring? Ultimately if Boston wants to win another championship, it will have to go through the Heat and the Bulls and frankly there has been too many miles on this Boston trio to keep up with the more athletic and younger legs of Miami and Chicago. Pierce, Allen and Garnett were brought together with the sole purpose of winning a championship, which they have done and have completely very well in the last few years but now it maybe time to actually honour the expiry date on this package and look to secure a new product.
THE SKINNY:This is a rematch of the infamous 2008 Eastern conference first round matchup where Boston was the number 1 seed and Atlanta was the 8 seed and the Hawks pushed the Celts to 7 games in the series. However that was then and this is now. As mentioned earlier, Atlanta hasn’t really made giant steps in becoming a better team, however Boston has become a bit older and aren’t quite the same defensively having lost Tony Allen and James Posey from that championship team. Josh Smith will pose quite a problem for the older KG while Atlanta doesn’t really have anyone to match up with Brandon Bass. Rajon Rondo wins out in the point guard category against Jeff Teague and Jannero Pargo and with Zaza Pachulia out indefinitely, this makes life a bit easier in the middle for the C’s. The bench of the Hawks (with Tracey McGrady, Kirk Hinrichand Jerry Stackhouse) is better than Boston so this will definitely be a problem for players like Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling and Sasha Pavlovic to match that level of productivity. Nevertheless the Boston Celtics have too many weapons, an elite point guard, 3 of the most productive players in the league and too much championship savvy to allow the Hawks to defeat them in a 7 game series.
Celtics win 4-2
Overall the First round of the eastern conference playoffs should be very entertaining with the Knicks – Heat the most exciting series. QUETT WALKER.
Now let's head out West.
San Antonio Spurs vs Utah Jazz
San Antonio Spurs
THE GOOD:The San Antonio Spurs are almost as old as the Wild West references they evoke. Still these rangers with true grit are dominating this young mans game even if they are the kind of timers that make the Celtics look like infants. Following last years league leading record resulting in a sweep to the claws of the Memphis Grizzlies, the Texan titans have growled back with another record season atop the Western Conference.
The Spurs are really clicking. Even when they're a walking wounded team guys like Ginoboli and Parker can still perform at their trademark high-level when they hop back on court. Boris Diaw and the return of the 'Whoo' of Stepehn Jackson certainly injects an underrated younger and more exuberant star power but until someone finally shuts him down, nothing is going to stop the robot of Tim Duncan from functioning at the highest level on the biggest stage. He must be bionic.
THE BAD:The Spurs surely can't lose another opening playoff series to a last seed. If they do you can sweep away the idea of them being this good again. Sure San An still belong with the big boys but its been a long time since they where the only other team aside from the Lakers to win anything. From injuries to age their window is closing. They can't afford to be put on a ledge in the first round. The tipping point of the doubt and reputation they garnered last year will haunt them until they exorcise something.
THE GOOD:The Jazz still sound good beyond the roster sheets. Sure their Malone/Stockton next generation days of Boozer and Deron Williams have gone with what would of been a great legacy but Al Jefferson, Josh Howard et al are still her. With big guys like Paul Milsap and points like Devin Harris this team has the kind of unsung talent that looks to get on the same song sheet. If that happens then the team will hit all the high notes, but you can't do that without everything being in perfect harmony.
THE BAD:Things aren't quite flat but its certainly salty in Salt Lake City after last years departure of Williams and the legendary long tenured coach Jerry Sloan. If losing the most loyal leader ever was bad enough D-Will's way out left the team even more gutted. The team just isn't the same or what it used to be. Its the potential not turning into promise blow that really knocks a team for six...or the eight seed in this case. Its a knock this team has not recovered from and therefore we can't see this team making six games.
THE SKINNY: The clicking Spurs look to silence the Jazz and all the doubters and critics from last years first in the league to first round loss.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs Dallas Mavericks
Oklahoma City Thunder
THE GOOD:When LeBron James assembled his superhero, Voltron Avengers in South Beach he thought he was taking his talents to the best unit in America's National Basketball Association. It may always be sunny in Miami but the superfriends forgot about the penchant for Thunder. Oklahoma City is pouring with talent and here comes the reign. Last year they lost to eventual champs Dallas, this one they get to show the reigning winners who the real Mavericks are. From scoring leader Kevin Durant to star follower Russell Westbrook these team aren't just the favourites. Their formidable and ready for a celebration.
THE BAD:Still until the Thunder actually remove Dallas' umbrellas they're not winning anything. To take the crown you have to go through the king and before the Thunder can even begin about facing LeBron's men they have to beat the current champs in the first round. After a recent big loss to the Lakers they look vulnerable and they're still young. Sure the Thunder aren't wet behind the ears, but if they don't listen carefully they could be heading for a drought.
THE GOOD:The Mavericks are the current Larry O'Brien holder and that's the gold. The silver lining is some of the best players are still here with their feet on the ground and their heads out the champion clouds. Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion still bring the hotness of their Phoenix days while Jason Terry can shoot down anybody on his day. Of course Dirk Nowitzki is the top gunner from the box score to the clutch hits. This could be another one of Dirk's greatest runs if he can just keep up pace with the changing weather in the NBA heading towards Oklahoma.
THE BAD:Then again from the inside champion experience of centre Tyson Chandler to the off the bench 'couldn't do it without him' heroics of J.J. Barea the Mavs have lost a lot of their championship alumni, especially the guys that helped them become winners. Even the Lamar Odom experience didn't work. In reality its best Lamar and Dallas broke up like Khloe's sister and Kris Humpries but if Odom shook off his problems he could have really opened things up in the playoffs. The versatile guy spreads the floor well like nobody. Now closed off and constricted Dallas have lost an extra element that could size up with Durant and co. It could all go to seven games but even so that doesn't matter. Its almost a formidable conclusion. The playoffs are a new season and Dallas aren't the champions anymore.
THE SKINNY: There is now way Oklahoma can meet Larry O'Brien without going through the champs and that's exactly what they're going to do.
Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets
Los Angeles Lakers
THE GOOD:Just when everyone thought the L.A. Lakers where down and out they upped the ante. To begin this lockout shortened campaign a trade for Chris Paul and the best purple and gold point guard since Magic was nixed by the NBA powers that be and after almost half a year and season of trying to lure Dwight Howard away from the magic kingdom the Lakers ended up looking like a mickey mouse outfit. Still Andrew Bynum showed everybody in the league that the Lake Show are more than alright without Dwight, whilst a mid-season trade brought in Ramon Sessions and the future of the Lakers point play. This young inside and out tandem can hurt other teams and that's still with the dynamic duo of Kobe and Pau Gasol and glue guys like Matt Barnes in reserve. No wonder they won a morale boosting double overtime game over West and league favourites Oklahoma.
THE BAD:With all that going to war however the Lakers don't have World Peace. Metta has received a 10 game suspension by the NBA for elbowing James Harden in said Thunder game. Many Laker fans hope to have him back. Some doubters think he's done for the season and possibly his Laker career. Either way if the Lakers make it past 10 games they'll need to the artist formerly known as Artest to take them further. Plus apart from players like Troy Murphy, Steve Blake and the potential of Jordan Hill, Josh McRoberts and Devin Ebanks the bench is wafer thin. Can the Lakers survive another potential breaking point?
THE GOOD:The Nuggets know all too well about indecision situations like Dwight Howard. Or should we say the LeBron James syndrome. Carmelo Anthony left them hanging for a year before heading to the Knicks for a New York and an empire state of mind. Now purgatory isn't a great place to be, especially with a bitter taste in your mouth but the Nuggets have still managed to mine themselves some success. Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov all came over from the Melo trade and add that to the underrated star power of Al Harrington and Andre Miller to go along with good guys like Corey Brewer, JaVale McGee and Rudy Fernandez and you really have a good team here. Plus the birdman Chris Anderson is still here. What more do you want?
THE BAD:A franchise player perhaps. This really would make this franchise a top team again. The loss of Carmelo has calmed down the Nuggets competitive advantage and taken the air out of the team. Without Anthony how can a team like this go toe-to-toe with the Kobe's and the Durant's of the West, let alone the LeBron's. Even the famous rocky mountain thin air won't be as much as an advantage as it used to be. The Nuggets will have to get used to the fact that there are hills to climb and the road is going to be rocky and tough. Sure they secured a solid playoff spot but its trades like the 'Melo one that make the 'West best/East least' days a thing of the past. The Nuggets are going to find it real hard to get past Kobe and his Lakers.
THE SKINNY: The Nuggets have a chance of surprising the streaking Lakers like they did the top seeded Sonics back in the day, but Kobe's ready for war without World Peace looking to prove every critic wrong making the Lakers right for the second round.
Memphis Grizzlies vs Los Angeles Clippers
THE GOOD:This is THE matchup of the first round. Last year the eight seeded Memphis Grizzlies clawed the San Antonio Spurs and their league best record out of the first round and shocked the league. This year they're surprising nobody, but they're still going bringing awe to arenas and some shock value to those who still don't know. There's the big and bold Zach Randolph who really is one of the leagues top interior talents and then there's his even more underrated wingman Rudy Gay. Then there's the younger Gasol brother March who is showing one day he could be just as good as his elder. I bet the Lakers wish they didn't use him in the trade to get Pau now. Add a potential garnish of O.J. Mayo, the pronise of Mike Conley and the eccentric enthusiasm of Gilbert Arenas and you have one crazy mix.
THE BAD:A mix however that isn't a surprise anymore as said or as deep as it used to be despite guys like Tony Allen and Jeremy Pargo. One their day Memphis can rock and roll far but they're still a few elements or consistent years away from being a true West power house. Time or this series and playoffs will tell us just how good this team can get. Especially against an evenly matched opponent who has rose to prominence even quicker.
Los Angeles Clippers
THE GOOD:The Los Angeles Clippers are no longer the laughing stock of the association. They're barely even Los Angeles sister or secondary team anymore either. After taking the Lakers nixed Chris Paul and adding him to the dunking revolution that is Blake Griffin, the lay up line opened for even more top talents like Caron Butler, Kenyon Martin and Mo Williams. With DeAndre Jordan and Randy Foye also welcome in Lob Angeles this LAX team have been cleared for takeoff...and they're soaring. Just how sky high is this teams ceiling? It looks like Blake Griffin could jump out the gym most nights.
THE BAD:Still perhaps its time for this young and hungry team to keep their feet on the ground before they get taught a Grizzlie lesson that even the precision perfect Tim Duncan and his San Antonio Spurs had to learn. The exciting Hollywood basketball highlight show in Clipperland is even taking some of the showtime away from the purple and gold of the Lake Show but that doesn't mean the Clippers are going to always entertain. They need to get more fundamentally sound before they can look up to big brother and the second round of the playoffs. They can certainly go seven game but could they go round for round?
THE SKINNY: Sure the Clippers are only a piece or season away but this is why they really need the veteran experience and big clutch shots of injured former champion and Finals MVP Chauncey Billups. Its almost like it wasn't meant to be...yet.
Now let's play ball. TIM DAVID HARVEY.