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Saturday, April 28, 2012

NBA 2012 - The Second Season

"Playoffs? PLAYOFFS?!? Are you kidding me? PLAYOFFS?"
Jim Mora
Former Indianapolis Colts Head Coach
(2001)


Yes, Jim, playoffs! It's that time of year, again, in the NBA. There are a lot of things to love about sports. One of my absolute favorite things about every major North American team sport (except for college football) is the post season.

Everything is on the line. Every possession is big. Every pass is big; every shot is big; every pitch is big. Legends are made in the post season. What do Frank Reich, Robert Horry, and Francisco Cabrera have in common? Sports enthusiasts, like us, will be talking about them for decades. Younger fans who absorb the history of sports, will know who they are long after they have shuffled off their mortal coil. The playoffs, and nothing but the playoffs, have given these men immortality in their sports.


He isn't known as "Big Shot Rob" for his regular season efforts. 1

NBA PLAYOFFS…THEY’RE FAN-TASTIC!


Today, the NBA playoffs begin. Every sport offers a unique value to the consumer with their postseasons. The NFL separates the men from the boys and tests the very athletic soul of the best and toughest athletes. Major League baseball offers an incredibly deep tradition and often makes otherwise anonymous men into legends of the fall. In the NHL playoffs, entire seasons can change direction in the blink of an eye. The NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament reminds us of everything good about sports, reminds grownups of how it feels to be young, and gives children a glimpse into the positives that their life can offer one day.

I think that the theater of the NBA playoffs is what makes them unique. The regular season is (normally) 82 games long. It begins in November and ends in April – six months. There are four rounds of up to seven games, more than a third of the length of the regular season. It begins in late April and runs through late June – two months!

Every series has a story. Every series has drama. New rivalries between players arise. Up and coming teams almost always build up but are stopped short by a reigning power whose days are numbered, but still holds the upper hand. The NBA playoffs, more than any other major postseason tournament, offer an epic story. The story and the characters develop. The tale builds to a dramatic conclusion in which dreams are realized, renewed, or thwarted.


EASTERN CONFERENCE



With that said, let’s look at how the opening chapter of this saga is framed.

(8) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (1) Chicago Bulls



Key Players


Bulls: Derrick Rose, PG (22 PPG, 8 APG)
76ers: Andre Iguodala, SF (12 PPG, 6 RPG, 6 APG)

Chicago wins if: Their flights to Philadelphia touch down safely and their ground transportation arrives safely to the arenas.


Philadelphia wins if: Dr. J, Charles Barkley, Moses Malone, and Mo Cheeks have access to a DeLorean with a flux capacitor, import their former selves to the time right before playoff rosters are finalized, and sing with the 2012 Sixers. Philly also has a shot if several Bulls pre game meals are tainted by food poisoning.

Advantage: Bulls
Expectation: 4 game sweep
Official fan give away at the United Center. 2


(7) New York Knicks vs. (2) Miami Heat


Key Players



Heat: LeBron James, SF (27 PPG, 8 RPG, 6 APG, 2 StlPG)
Knicks: Carmelo Anthony, SF (23 PPG, 6 RPG, 4 APG)



Miami wins if: LeBron James is healthy throughout the series.


New York wins if: Melo gets blazing hot, the Heat make foolish, unforced, costly turnovers and the Knicks can steal the first game. Sound that happen, and the media circus infects the Heat’s locker room, and a key player like James or Dwyane Wade suffers a significant injury, the Knicks might have a (very) narrow window of opportunity in this series.
 
Advantage: Heat
Expectation: 5 games


Do you remember those intense, heated (no pun intended) Knicks-Bulls matchups from the late 1990s? This won't be one of them. 3
(6) Orlando Magic vs. (3) Indiana Pacers



Key Players


Pacers: Roy Hibbert, C (13 PPG, 9 RPG, 2 BlkPG)
Magic: Ryan Anderson, PF (16 PPG, 8 RPG)



Indiana wins if: They suffer no key injuries causing key players to miss multiple games.



Orlando wins if: Doctors can clone a new back from Dwight Howard’s stem cells and Howard plays (Howard is out for the season).



Advantage: Pacers
Expectation: 4 game sweep


Differences aside, I'm sure Stan Van Gundy, right, is missing Superman, left. The rest of his team is a bunch of Clark Kents. 3

(4) Boston Celtics vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks



Key Players
 
Celtics: Paul Pierce, SF (20 PPG, 5 RPG, 5 APG)
Hawks: Joe Johnson, SG (19 PPG, 4 APG, 4 RPG)



Boston wins if: It continues to be playing contender caliber basketball like it has been since the All Star Game. The possible absence of Ray Allen is a glaring concern. However, Allen has not played in over a month and the Celtics still look like they drank from the Fountain of Youth at some point, playing high level basketball after a rough start to the season.



Atlanta wins ifGarnett, Pierce, and Allen).
 
Advantage: Celtics
Expectation: 7 games



WESTERN CONFERENCE

The West will offer the drama that is best.



(8) Utah Jazz vs. (1) San Antonio Spurs



Key Players



Spurs: Tim Duncan, C (15 PPG, 9 RPG, 2 BlkPG)
Jazz: Al Jefferson, C (19 PPG, 10 RPG)



San Antonio wins if: They do not allow Utah to dictate the pace of the game. San Antonio’s key players are all over the age of 30. A younger, faster, more physical, eighth seeded Memphis Grizzlies team exploited the top-seeded Spurs’ lack of stamina in 2011 and pulled off a minor upset in the first round. The fact that an 8 seed over 1 seed series win can be described as a “minor” upset and not “shocking” is an indicator that the Spurs have matchup weaknesses that can be exploited in a seven game series, though they have far more talent than the Jazz.



Utah wins if: They can take advantage of the game on their home court and exploit mismatches, when they occur. If that happens, the Jazz have a puncher’s chance.



Advantage: Spurs
Expectation: 6 games

Duncan was listed as "Will not play - old" in a Spurs game program earlier this year. That is funny. What will not be funny is if the Spurs get eliminated in the first round for the second year in a row after having the best record in the Western Conference for the second straight year. 4
(7) Dallas Mavericks vs. (2) Oklahoma City Thunder



Key Players


Thunder: Kevin Durant, SF (28 PPG, 8 RPG, 4 APG)
Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki, PF (22 PPG, 7 RPG)



Oklahoma City wins if: They can contain the Dirk Nowitzki and the defending champions. Dallas is an old team, with eight players on their 15 man roster on the wrong side of age 30. OKC is the real deal and the complete package. Dallas cannot beat them in seven games. The Thunder can only beat themselves.



Dallas wins if: They can force the Thunder to make foolish mistakes with the basketball. If the savvy, 39 year old, future Hall of Fame veteran point guard Jason Kidd can get into the, sometimes erratic and trigger happy, head of Russell Westbrook, Dallas can steal a game or two in this series.



Advantage: Thunder
Expectation: 5 games



Besides the fact that I think this is OKC's year, I don't want to ever have to hear Dirk Nowitzki do this...ever again!

(6) Denver Nuggets vs. (3) Los Angeles Lakers



Key Players


Lakers: Kobe Bryant, SG (28 PPG, 5 APG, 5 RPG)  
Nuggets: Ty Lawson, PG (16 PPG, 7 APG)


Los Angeles wins if: They control the tempo of the games. Denver is young, quick, confident, sharp-shooting, and has absolutely nothing to lose. They can and will take big risks. The Black Mamba needs to go “Black Mamba” and control the ebb and flow of the game, singlehandedly if need be. That said, Kobe has had a look in his eyes this season that should make every opposing coach be afraid; be very afraid!



Denver wins if: They take advantage of the absence of Metta World Peace, who is serving a six game suspension for elbowing James Harden of the Thunder in the head last Sunday. World Peace is an absolute menace defensively had a nightmare for defenders in the post. He won’t be there. Denver is built to exploit this weakness.



Advantage: Lakers
Expectation: 7 games


Even without Metta World Peace in the lineup, the Nuggets have to contend with...(scroll to 0:35).

(5) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (4) Memphis Grizzlies



Key Players



Grizzlies: Rudy Gay, SF (19 PPG, 6 RPG)
Clippers: Chris Paul, PG (20 PPG, 9 APG, 4 RPG, 3 StlPG)



Memphis wins if: It successfully defends its home court. The Grizzlies are a potent mix of shooting, strength, and speed. They have a balanced attack. They have the defensive post presence to frustrate Blake Griffin of the Clippers should they choose. The Grizzlies have to get physical with the Clippers.



Los Angeles wins if: Chris Paul rises to the occasion like he does every year he is in the playoffs. Paul is suffering from a minor groin injury, but that has never slowed him down much in the past.



Advantage: Clippers
Expectation: 6 games  

"Lob City, chick! Lob-Lob City, chick!" 6
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